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    Review: Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison #1

    By | May 24th, 2012
    Posted in Reviews | % Comments

    Darth Vader, ghosts, and prisons? Now that’s how you sell a comic! The latest Star Wars miniseries from Dark Horse Comics has one of the more ridiculous titles that I have heard in a while, but you know what they say about what’s in a name, or judging a book by its cover.

    Written by Haden Blackman
    Illustrated by Agustin Alessio

    The graduation celebration for the first class of Imperial cadets is disrupted by a sudden terrorist strike! But the real targets of the attack are the new Emperor and his second in command, Darth Vader.

    Only one man–a disabled, brilliant cadet who, up until the moment of the attack, was experiencing the best moment of his life–stands ready to fight alongside Vader for the life of his Emperor!

    Haden Blackman understands that, unless you’re a Brian K. Vaughan or someone else on his level, only so much characterization can be fit into a first issue before any sense of action or progress disappears. As such, he only gives the reader what is necessary to sympathize with protagonist Laurita Tohm; sure, there may be some ambiguity regarding his personality, his drives, and his flaws, but Blackman gives the enough of a sense of who Tohm is and what makes him tick that the reader will want to pick up the second issue to find out more about him, especially considering the contrary position he finds himself at the end of this issue. This, however, is also the issue’s flaw; Tohm is the only character with any real depth, though it certainly seems like there is more to his commanding than meets the idea. If the reader finds Tohm interesting to read about –  which, granted, is likely, considering Blackman’s solid character work in this first issue – then the reader will almost certainly want to pick up the next issue. If, however, there is no connection, there is no one else for the reader to connect to as of yet, and this comic will find itself short one more reader.

    From a purely Star Wars-related perspective, though, this comic is particularly interesting. Star Wars is, above all, a franchise embedded in war. Luke, Leia, and Han found themselves in the middle of a war, a war which they won; likewise, the prequel trilogy centered around the escalation of smaller wars to a larger, galactic scale. “Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison,” though, puts things in a slightly different light. What we see in these early stages of the Rebellion is less the glamorous side of freedom fighting, and more terrorism – terrorism for a right cause, but terrorism nonetheless. Blackman is one of the many writers who is interested in bringing a bit of gray to the otherwise morally black and white realm of the Star Wars franchise, and considering the rest of this miniseries, presumably, is located in a prison, there is sure to be even more instances of this to come.

    Agustin Alessio is one of those artists who does everything: both lines and colors are all handled by him and him alone, which can easily be guessed before looking at the comic’s credits. Sometimes the distinction between when a penciler inks their own work and when they use an inker can be hard to tell without being very familiar with the artist’s style, but the difference between someone coloring their own work and using a colorist – when the penciler colors their own work – is usually easy to spot; the line work is usually done with specific coloring techniques in mind, which shows in the finished product. Alessio’s work on both factors shows, and in a great way. Unlike a lot of comics, even by artists who both draw and color, his finished product looks like one cohesive whole, and a finely refined one at that.

    Alessio veers more toward the photorealism side of the realism/stylization spectrum that artists need to find their niche on, but he does not go so far as to sap any sense of motion from his artwork; there are plenty of lines and gradients of definition, but Alessio stops just before approaching too much. In fact, his figures are almost perfect. The only things that could use some more work, though, are his backgrounds. It’s not that they are not detailed, which is a common problem in comics and has been for a long time, but they seem incredibly flat. It shows particularly in the first splash page, but there are more than a few panels where the dull background distracts the reader from the action at hand. Once Alessio has this down, though, his work will be some of the best around, and, with a three-for-one deal in the picture, Dark Horse is going to have to fight to keep the Big Two away from him.

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    This first issue does not have too much Darth Vader action, and no ghosts in prisons, but don’t let that discourage you. This first issue does what most #1s have trouble with: not only is the reader given everything we need to know about the main character, they are also provided with an interesting hook by the issue’s end. Typically, writers can have a problem with providing both of these within a single twenty-two page issue, but Haden Blackman handles both without a hitch. On top of that, Agustin Alessio’s art is very impressive, considering his role as the sole artist, and it will most likely be worth keeping tabs on him for the next few years. That being said, “Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison” does not offer too much that non-Star Wars fans will be terribly interested in, but that might just be the case with this first issue; it looks like this miniseries could be one of those few Star Wars properties that actually brings something new and intriguing to the massive Extended Universe.

    Final Verdict: 7.5 – Buy it!

    Walt Richardson

    Walt is a former editor for Multiversity Comics who just can't quit the site, despite the crushing burdens of law school and generally being tired all the time. You can follow him on Twitter @waltorr, but he can promise you you're in for a terrible time.