A series of Darth Vader-centric comics has been continuously released since 2020. It started with the Dark Heart of the Sith - a story set after Episode V, just after Vader’s fateful encounter with his son Luke. Until 2022, nearly 30 volumes of the comic had been released, further exploring what was going through Vader’s mind in the months following the events of The Empire Strikes Back.
The first five volumes showed Vader dealing with this sudden change in his life: the revelation that his and Padmé’s child survived. In trying to uncover the truth about Padmé’s death and the son (so far he assumes it was just one child) who had been hidden from him, Vader revisits familiar places that might hold clue to the past: the Lars farm on Tatooine, Padmé’s tomb on Naboo, or the abandoned asteroid complex on Polis Massa where the children were born.
The comic series has since continued, showing more Vader-centric stories with different plots. Volume 6-11, under the blanket “Into the Fire”, deal with Palpatine forcing his doubting apprentice back in line, just as Vader uncovers the Emperor’s backup plan and the planet Exegol, known from The Rise of Skywalker.
Vader-centric comics appeared also as part of the War of the Bounty Hunters and Crimson Reign series (both were composed as sort of “crossover” arcs between various existing Star Wars comic series featuring multiple characters). There, Vader can be seen hunting Han Solo (in flashbacks) or duelling Qi’ra during the resurgence of the Crimson Dawn criminal organisation.
A new story arc, “The Shadow’s Shadow”, opened in 2022 with issue #25. It brings back some characters of the first arc as well as the theme of Vader revisiting Anakin’s past. Major part is played by Padmé’s former handmaiden and double, Sabé.
I have reviewed the first few volumes when they came out. “The Dark Heart of the Sith” was definitely a blast, both in story and visuals. The same writer (Greg Pak) and illustrator (Raffaele Ienco) are responsible for majority of the comics from the same series.
The art continues to be superb, the quality of the story varies however. Much of it owes to the fact that after “Dark Heart of the Sith”, the plot had to be put “back on track”. Meaning that Vader’s loyalty to the Emperor, which in “Dark Heart of the Sith” had been shaken by the revelation that he had been lied to regarding Padmé, had to be reinstated before Episode VI.
Thus in volumes 6-11 we have Vader tested, broken and remade by the Emperor during a trial on Mustafar. The authors further tied this arc to Episode IX and Palpatine’s contingency plan. The connection to The Rise of Skywalker is solidified by the appearance of another character - Ochi of Bestoon, the Sith assassin whose corpse Rey and co. find in episode IX. Ochi eventually becomes a major character, accompanying Vader also in subsequent volumes. While he starts as something of a cool assassin who is not afraid of even someone like Vader, as his future sidekick he rather becomes something of a comic relief.
Lore-wise, the second arc clearly attempts to retcon and give background to Palpatine’s master plan as seen in The Rise of Skywalker. However, it creates more questions than answers (if Vader knew what the Emperor was planning, why didn’t he make sure Luke found and destroyed Exegol?). Vader’s reasons for rejoining his master also seem rather flimsy.
While “Dark Heart of the Sith” portrays Vader as someone who had killed the memories of his former self but now he needs to deal with them coming back, the subsequent stories make him seem like a chaotic person who does not know what he is doing. At one moment, we have him obsessed with Luke, the next, Emperor forbids him from it, so he stops and instead becomes obsessed with bringing the order back to the Galaxy. In the latest story arc, we are back to the Vader haunted by Anakin’s memories. We therefore cannot speak of anything like the development of Vader’s direction of thinking. It is more like a rollercoaster.
I would personally say that volumes 1-5 and then from 18 onwards (18-24 is the Crimson Reign arc, 25-31 the Shadow’s Shadow arc) are the best because they have the same theme: they consistently follow the plot of Vader revisiting Anakin’s memories (to a degree). It is obviously down to personal preferrence, someone might enjoy the story of Vader’s visit to Exegol, however I think that Vader in that story arc seems like a different Vader than that of the previous AND subsequent arcs.
In conclusion, I would heavily recommend the Darth Vader comic series to anybody who likes Darth Vader and especially those who want to see more of the Anakin/Vader connection. This theme has been recently addressed e.g. in the Obi-Wan Kenobi series, but otherwise, it has been rather neglected. If there is one thing the Darth Vader comics deserve praise for, it is showing this by providing an insight into Vader’s psychology. The visual portrayal helps to make the scenes and Vader’s recollections emotionally powerful and it is a delight to read.