Not able to trust Imperial resources, Darth Vader looks to the Ghost Prison for sanctuary in this week's Star Wars comic: Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison #3. GONK is back for the prison break!

Nothing like Comic Con (and finally finishing a big work project) to get me back into the Star Wars comic reviews. I hadn't planned on taking this long to get back into the swing of things, but here we are. Issue #3 of Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison, out today from Dark Horse Comics.

The story so far: Cadet Laurita Thom, one-armed valedictorian of the Raithal Academy, has come to Coruscant for the commencement of the first class of Imperial officers from several academies. Loyal to the Emperor, his graduation celebrations are cut short when his classmates, led by the academy headmaster, General Gentis, stage a coup to oust the Emperor. Locked inside a starfighter by his friends, Thom ejects into the middle of a battle at Imperial Plaza, and joins Vader in rescuing the Emperor, dying from an airborne virus. Joined by Moff Trachta, Palpatine's saviors realize that Gentis' rebellion could extend to any Imperial facility, and so Vader and Thom head into the abandoned Jedi temple for a record of a secure medical facility: the Ghost Prison.

Issue #3: Thom's narrative of the events surrounding Gentis' coup attempt continue, as he details his role accompanying Darth Vader. Reviewing the Jedi Council recordings, Vader and Thom learn the location of a prison secretly run by the Jedi to house the worst of the war criminals from the Clone Wars, including hundreds of people arrested by Anakin Skywalker. Flying out to the Diab system, Trachta and Thom exchange the tales of their disfigurements: Trachta was caught by a thermal detonator from one of Dooku's Jedi recruits in the war, while Thom barely survived a Separatist bombing on his family's tibanna refinery, that killed twenty of his kin. Reaching Prism, the self-contained prison station, the trio easily defeat the prison's lone Jedi guardian and her droids, and get the Emperor into the medical center. With Gentis attempting to consolidate his power on Coruscant, Thom recognizes that they have a potential army in the prison: the inmates. Meanwhile, Trachta gets his sadistic revenge on a former Jedi prisoner.

Haden Blackman has developed a great sense for telling Vader stories in this timeframe - the Dark Lord of the Sith is still really ticked off about the Jedi, and hasn't quite become the cooler-headed ruthless leader we see decades later. However, the focus here is on Thom. In the previous issue, Thom refocuses his goal of rising in the Imperial officer ranks to simply being worthy of Vader's respect, and in this issue, he gets a little test in loyalty from Trachta (who would, as a Grand Moff, later lead a conspiracy to overthrow Palpatine and Vader in Empire: Betrayal). While most of this issue is setting up exposition to move us into the final act, we get a small snippet of action - the brief attack on Prism. Mostly we learn that the Jedi were conflicted about having a secret prison to house the worst of the Separatists, that Gentis' hold on Coruscant might mean taking on Grand Moff Tarkin, and that Trachta really likes punching people with his cybernetic arms.

Augustin Allesio has some nice art in here - capturing the geometric precision of the Empire and mixing in some good color to establish mood. He creates a great-looking Vader and Trachta (and holographic Mace Windu), though his holographic Obi-Wan Kenobi isn't quite dead on. Allesio's cloudy space scenes do earn an additional thumbs-up from me. Dave Wilkins has the cover depicting Vader's mask with a bit of a skull thing on the right. We don't get close-ups that often, and perhaps the skull bit is too subtle for my taste (though it would make for an awesome trading card) - I prefer the Wilkins covers to #1 and #2.

Overall, I think I am enjoying Ghost Prison even more than its predecessor, Darth Vader and the Lost Command. Maybe because Thom is a more sympathetic character (even if he is a loyal Imperial officer), or maybe that all of it makes a good story that makes sense - we see Gentis' motivations for overthrowing the Emperor, as well as his problem of trying to retain control, and we have a good pairing between the loyal rookie, Thom, against the sadistic Trachta. While all three men on the mission to save Palpatine's life are disfigured, not all are monsters, twisted and evil.

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