One of the latest Star Wars comics released in spring 2019 is Marvel’s “Vader: Dark Visions”. This series focuses on the character of Darth Vader in somewhat unusual way, showing him in aless familiar context. While he is the central character, the stories are narrated from the point of view of others. The Vader represented in the comics is, therefore, rather a representation of how different people (a primitive alien, an Imperial commander, an Imperial nurse…) perceive him, which differs somewhat from the “objective” perspective we are used to from the films.
“Dark Visions” are not one continuous story. Rather, it is a series of five short narratives (as of May, three published) told by different characters. As far as the Star Wars lore is concerned, they are canonical. However, as I have mentioned, the subjective perspective makes them very different from what we are used to and in a sense, very “un-Star-Wars-y”.
The Black Knight
The first story I probably liked the most, and I daresay the series owes its popularity chiefly to the cover image of the first volume: Vader sitting on a black horse-like creature like some sort of dark medieval knight. The story itself is set on a planet inhabited by primitive aliens, and is narrated from the perspective of one of them. That lends the story a specific atmosphere and makes it very original.
The point-of-view character lives in a post-apocalyptic wilderness, ignorant of the Empire or the Rebels. Except one day, a “god falls from the sky”, a powerful black knight with his magical flaming sword, and interferes with the life on the planet.
The idea itself is superb, as is the atmosphere, and the visual art for the comic depicts the scenery wonderfully. The setting allows the story to portray Vader outside his usual context, to show him how he would seem to a primitive alien. It kind of reminds one about the Ewoks encountering the Rebels in Return of the Jedi. Based on this encounter, “the Black Knight” becomes a legend even after he is gone – a legacy left behind on one inconsequential world and among its people.
There is possibly only one thing to complain about, I think the comic missed on a chance to show Vader in a little more complex manner. On the other hand, to have him for example establish a closer relationship with the natives would result in a problem for the big scope of things (Vader needed to stay true to the “more machine than a man” image from the films). In any case, Vader remains the Vader we know – and that holds true also for the other comics.
Two Disturbed Minds
The second story, “Unacceptable”, is probably the closest to what we are familiar with. It is a classic “dumb Imperial officers meet Vader” scenario. A lazy commander brags about his results where there are none, setting up Vader’s expectations too high, with disastrous consequences. The entire narrative is a whirlwind propelled by the officer’s stressed psyche. Just like the other stories of “Dark Visions”, it is slightly on the verge of a joke, everything is exaggerated, but given the commander’s state of mind, unsurprisingly so.
If I say all this about the second story has the elements of a joke, then the third, “Tall, Dark and Handsome” is a sick joke. We venture into the mind of a young Imperial nurse who has a crush on Darth Vader. The story is pretty much playing with the “romantic fantasy” trope, to the point that it gets rather… disturbing. Another question that came to my mind was whether the author was not aiming to jab at the genre of “reader x villain character” fan-fiction, because the similarities are rather notable.
Change The Perspective
If I were to evaluate “Vader: Dark Visions” as a whole, I would say that they present good ideas that could have gotten still a lot better treatment. The idea to present a familiar character in an unfamiliar way is great, and it would be equally interesting to see for instance Leia or Luke or others presented in such a way, from the perspective of someone whose point of view is very different from ours, the audience’s. Vader, of course, is the best choice for this because how iconic he is. For that reason, I would hope that someone might pick up on the “black knight” idea presented in the first story and expand it further.