Hiring an assassin to kill Darth Vader: it's probably better to pay AFTER the job is done. Vader's the target in this new series, kicking off this week.
This week's sole issue of a Star Wars comic is the start of a new Darth Vader post-Revenge of the Sith storyline, and it seems that someone really, really wants Vader to pay. So much that he's willing to hire not one, but nine assassins to exact revenge on the Dark Lord of the Sith. After the first eight have failed, we get Star Wars: Darth Vader and the Ninth Assassin #1 (DarkHorse.com profile). So is this story about Vader, or is it about those plotting to kill him? For now, the latter, as a wealthy man seeks to buy vengeance at a steep price. Spoilers ahead!
Summary: The first part is a flashback narrated by the wealthy mine operator on an iceball of a planet, of how his only son, a grown man, was killed by Vader after attempting to defend his family's honor when a Vader-enforced business negotiation humiliated them. Now, the mine operator has assembled an army of mercenaries to escort him to a secret lair on in a swamp, so that he can make contact with a top assassin. After finding the entrance and using an amputated hand to pass the scanner, the team reaches the guards, who are mowed down after denying the miner access. Inside the audience chamber with his forces, the old man pleads to the master that he will pay anything to fulfill his quest for vengeance, and that eight have already failed to complete the contract, though he only knows that three of them are dead. When the master assumes that all of the previous killers are dead, the miner turns to discover that his entire force of eighteen has been quietly slain behind his back, with the assassin he seeks to hire, lurking in the shadows with a metal blade drawn. The masked assassin warns the miner to not look upon him, but the mine operator insists on seeing the man he will be doing business with. Setting terms that the miner will not see or hear the assassin again, but will know the job is done by Vader's head is dropped into his lap, the assassin departs, knowing where Vader will be, leaving the mine operator with the master to work out the details of the payment. Meanwhile, Vader is busy subjugating another world with his clonetroopers. A few days later, the father is back at his icy base, happily pondering his day of vengeance, though he's now bandaged heavily over his eyes and ears - the price of witnessing this most lethal assassin in person.
Review: Wow.. how lethal is this new unnamed assassin? Eighteen mercenaries dropped in the span of a few sentences. And the cost that the miner pays for his vengeance - even happily so? What a way to immediately build up a mysterious killer that could be a real match for Darth Vader - the type of assassin that leaves no witnesses, and that doesn't have clients seek him out. And we know what the ninth assassin looks like - and lucky for us, this masked weapon of death is just fictional. Tim Siedell, a freelance writer, who as @badbanana was chosen by Time Magazine as one of the 140 best twitter feeds of 2011 for his humor, serves up some serious and scary stuff in this first issue. I'm hooked.
Despite the lack of names (the only name mentioned in the entire story is Darth Vader), the story is easy to follow as the focus is on the graying portly mine owner, clearly with no spending limits on his quest for avenging his heir. We get some flashbacks at the start, and then as he confronts the master of the lair, a final coda of the flashbacks, with a full-page scene of him cradling his dead son, while Vader looms overhead. We know immediately that the businessman and his son are not good people, though some excellent tell-us-don't-show-us use, as the father expressed pride in his son's accomplishments: the brutal treatment of the kobold-like miners (probably slaves, judging by the presence of collars and rags).
Plenty of enjoyable art here, with Stephen Thompson (who had previously done work on Republic #50: The Battle of Kamino) doing the pencils, Mark Irwin inking, and colorist Michael Atiyeh. There's a lot of good expression on the mine operator's face as he sweats through the swamp and his disdain for his dumb mercenaries, then sweats fear when confronted with an eliminator of such caliber. Also, check out the action panel of Vader killing the son - was it really murder, or stopping the killing of the other faction in the business dealing? There's some great detail on the mercenaries, and the alien 'master' and his guards, who brokers the deals for the assassin. Despite not appearing much, Vader gets the focus for two full-page spreads, and both work well. Ariel Olivetti does the cover, which captures the assassin's broker, with the Vader's mask as a silhouette behind him.
Random speculation: there's eighteen mercenaries that enter the inner audience chamber (and in an earlier shot in the swamp), but only seventeen bodies in the next big shot - was the assassin unmasked secretly serving as one of the mercenaries? or is the last body simply off screen?
So a bad man hires a bad man to kill a bad man out of revenge. Who to root for here? Smart money's on Vader obviously, but I can't wait to see how this plays out!