Comics has an accessibility problem. After decades of existence some books can be really hard to ease into. That’s why the infamous “jumping on point” was created — single issues designed to garner new readers and lure back old fans. Each week brave surveyors Luke Miller and Jamil Scalese will venture into the comics abyss and let you, the consumer, know just which series are worth JUMPING ON, and which are better left to be revisited at a later date.
Darth Vader #20
(Kieron Gillen; Salvador Larroca; Edgar Delgado; Mike Norton; David Curiel; )
Luke: We had something of slim pickings this week for books we thought would qualify for this column. I picked Darth Vader because we haven’t done Star Wars yet, and because I didn’t really want to do another Marvel book. (Yes, Star Wars is published by Marvel, but you know what I mean.) Going into this I thought I might have some trouble getting behind Darth Vader as a protagonist. I mean, Boba Fett? Fine. I can roll with an anti-hero. But Vader, post-fall and pre-redemption is one of the evilest characters fiction has to offer. Well, guess what? I was right. I had a really hard time with it. A voice in the back of my head kept saying, “Think of the younglings! Won’t somebody please think of the younglings!”
Not that it wasn’t interesting – we get some Machiavellian scheming from the Emperor in the form of a long rambling expositionary speech to Vader. We get Vader not giving a good goddamn one way or the other which rang true to the character for me. Then Vader is hunting someone for some reason? And kills a guy because… well, I got a little lost, but I think to silence him. I lost the plot a bit after the Emperor meandered through his machinations. But, by far, the highlight of the book was the backup story: “The Misadventures of Triple Zero and Beetee”. These guys are Vader’s murder droid counterparts to C-3PO and R2D2, and they are phenomenal.
Jamil: No doubt. Triple Zero and Beetee are a hoot. That Mike Norton illustrated backup is one of the better Star Wars comic offerings I’ve ever read. They’re simple Bizarro-like reversals on classic characters but there’s a certain shameful joy in reading a demure robot ramble on about death and mayhem.
I’ve heard good things about Darth Vader, Triple Zero chief among them, but I have/had similar reservations. Anakin Skywalker is one of science fiction’s premiere characters. Indefinable around the world by name, appearance and breathing pattern he’s a titan among pop culture figures. But yeah, as protagonist he’s a bit of a tough sell. Though there’s been numerous Vader miniseries over the years it’s a lot easier to frame him as “good guy” in a shorter story as opposed to a longer piece. Justifying one seedy or ignoble act can be done within the context of a single tale but watching this guy float around the galaxy slicing people into portions can bother an audience if not done correctly.
Maybe Marvel agrees with this as they announced Darth Vader will end at #25 just as we were starting this piece. They say timing is everything…
In a funny way this slides right into the leitmotif of Jumping On. We earnest comic readers are trying to take the traditional path of starting a new series by hitching onto a book at the start of a new arc but the industry is not complying. How many readers does Marvel, DC, et al lose by trying to acquire more readers? I’d argue there’s a wash effect there.
Anyway, issue #20 wasn’t too bad. I also had a little bit of trouble following the story right around the Emperor’s long-ish speech about his overarching plans but for the most part I understood Vader’s thought-process and motivations. I’ve always found Gillen to be an extremely capable writer who has a great sense of mythology and scope and is willing to do to adventurous things with the status quo (I’m still a bit blown away by the brash and soulful “The Secret Origin of Tony Stark”). All in all I liked this issue, even if it now looks like it’s the third act of the writer’s grand plan.
Luke: Gillen is solid. I tend to think of him as “The Wolf” from Pulp Fiction. He takes over a situation that might not be in the best shape – maybe something with some continuity bugs to work out – straightens everything out, steers things in the right direction, and then moves on to the next title that Marvel needs him to work on. I’m guessing that analogy doesn’t apply to his original work with Image and Boom! but I feel like it works for Marvel when he’s asked to write X-Men after Fraction or Thor after Straczynski or Iron Man after… well, Fraction again. Taking over Darth Vader after George Lucas seems to fit the bill, too.
But Marvel announcing that cancellation really messes with the theme of our column. I can’t really recommend jumping on now that I know the series is ending. Even if it was the best comic ever produced I couldn’t in good conscience recommend jumping on with the last arc. It’s like the friend who tells you to start watching Firefly – you’ll have a blast, fall in love, and then it’ll be taken away from you way too fast leaving a giant hole in your heart which can never be repaired. I don’t actually think that’s likely to happen to anybody with this series, but still, it’s the principle of the thing.
In all honesty, 25 issues seems to be pushing it for what we can expect from a series anymore. If it goes any farther, it’ll get renumbered as #1 to bring on new readers. Or in cases like Action/Detective Comics or various Marvel stalwarts like Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Spider-Man, etc., where they’ve already done a new #1 in the recent past, they’ll revert back to issue #739 or wherever they would’ve been if they hadn’t done the new #1 in the first place. I know I’m going off on a tangent here, but it’s getting to be a pet peeve of mine. I mean, hell, look at this for Iron Man which I stole from Wikipedia:
(vol. 1): 332
(vol. 2): 13
(vol. 3): 89
(vol. 4): 35
(vol. 5): 33
(vol. 1 cont.): 29 (#500-527 plus #500.1)
(vol. 6): 29 (#1-28 plus #20.INH)
(Superior Iron Man) 9
(Invincible Iron Man) vol. 2: 9 (and counting)
(And I’m 95% sure “vol. 4” includes retitleing to “Invincible Iron Man” and then “Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.” but they just kept the numbering constant through those. Then “vol. 5” and “vol. 1 cont.” are also an unbroken series/storyline with the numbering just jumping from 33 to 500.)
The numbers are the number of issues each volume had (and I’m not even sure if I should throw in International Iron Man or not.) All of those have #1’s except the (vol. 1 continued) listing. We’re at the point now where it’s far more confusing to figure out which Iron Man #1 we’re talking about, let alone a #20, than if they’d just kept the thing rolling. But I get it. #1’s sell like hot cakes, but when you’re relaunching something every year or two, you’re losing a lot of it’s punch.
Anyway, this is supposed to be about Darth Vader, which I seem incapable of properly discussing now. Calm me down or get me back on track, Jamil. Or rile me up more, it’s your call.
Jamil: Damn, Miller, you broached a subject that I feel like we can chat about for eons. In fact, one could argue that the Comics’ numbering dilemma is the bedrock of this column. At the very least is goes hand-in-hand with “jumping on points”.
I, too, was more than a little irked by so many classic titles losing their prestigious triple digits and starting from one again. The coup de grace was the New 52 which went a level deeper and actually wiped out many of the stories attached to those issues. Renumbering is the feeling of being gutted, of having substance and sinew ripped right out of your head-canon.
But…I got over it. The market today is what it is, and the more “seasonal” approach makes a whole lot of sense in terms of business. Even as an avid reader I’m definitely way more inclined to give any #1 a try (shit, I used to write a column based on that inclination) over just about any series with crooked numbers. Number ones are meant for all new readers, from the encyclopedia-brained fanatic to the reader with only faint interest in sequential art, and in that way they allow for everyone to participate in the art and discussion at an equal footing. I’ll never deny that power.
Yet your Iron Man list perfectly demonstrates the fallacies that run bigger than numerical erasure. These companies with massive franchises/continuities are looking to amass bigger profits in the immediate might be hurting themselves in the long term as it is getting increasingly hard to follow the linear narrative of most characters. Furthermore, the cohesiveness of everything is falling apart, the “comic by season” approach is making it so characters are pinned under new circumstances just about every year. Yes, this event-style method can be fun, however there is/was something about picking up Amazing Spider-Man #632 or Action Comics #733 and moving backwards to the beginning. The older numbering isn’t completely dead, see DC’s Rebirth (and believe me, Luke, we will) —
Luke: Oh, good God, will we ever
Jamil: — but the intangible gravitas is lacking. In one set of a dozen issues your favorite character is wearing a new colored suit and fights his or her classic enemies, in the next they’re on the run as their secret identity is now exposed, a few trades later that same character is hanging out with ninjas and doesn’t seem concerned with the previous costume switch or personal trauma. Part of that is comic book wackiness, but it sometimes feel a little arbitrary, as if we’re reading version of the character. Almost like a What If? that counts, and not the ongoing history of the character itself.
I’ll try to tie this back to this week’s (supposed) subject. Do you believe the lovable Sith Lord is truly done at Marvel? Darth Vader been a top ten stalwart since its launch! Undoubtedly, a follow up series will be announced here shortly, likely featuring some hotshot creators, possibly putting a fresh spin on the vintage villain. Instead of just making this new venture issue #26 the company will roll out a fresh #1. And why not? It’ll likely net them another 50k in sales, at least, and a good bit of press.
Darth Vader #20 was decent. Salvador Larroca’s art is smooth and precise as ever and Gillen’s standard for strong, biting dialogue holds true to form, but unless Triple Zero is the main feature of the last five installments it’s best not to jump on something that’s stopping shortly. That’ll get you nowhere.
Luke: I totally agree. While Vader isn’t going anywhere, he’s also not staying put here. Be it a miniseries or, for all intents and purposes another *cough* miniseries *cough* “ongoing” with a planned 3 story arc, he’s coming back. Although I do wonder how much sales for the last six issues of this series will drop due to the cancellation, and if Marvel really makes up that ground and then some with a new #1.
So, on the one hand, I’d say jump on and say what the youngling-murdering Lord of the Sith is up to with his Mirror Universe droids. But on the other, you may as well wait for whatever new status quo comes out. I’ll defer to your judgement on this one, dear reader. Pick up the new arc if you have the inclination (the backup alone is worth the price of admission), or wait if that seems like the better option to you.