Since George Lucas completed the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy, Dark Horse and the other licensees focusing on the Expanded Universe have made an effort to follow and focus on the rich area between Episodes III and IV, the dark times of the galaxy. This has included an intense following of Darth Vader during those early years following Revenge of the Sith. Darth Vader and the Ninth Assassin continues this trend, with an ongoing story that serves itself as a new mystery that the Sith Lord must get to the bottom of.
Hired by a wealthy unnamed industrialist, at the cost of his eyes, an unknown assassin (who may potentially rival Boba Fett in coming years) tracks down Vader as his new target. For the time being, this Ninth Assassin follows the Sith Lord from a distance, ostensibly able to anticipate his next moves and actions, as he lies in wait for the inevitable confrontation to arise in future concluding issues.
Darth Vader, on the other hand, is tracking down a quarry of his own. Following an attempted assassination of Emperor Palpatine by a group represented by the symbol of a headless coiled snake, he leads a team of two Imperial Royal Guardsmen on the hunt, conducting him to the discovery of the destroyed Star Destroyer also eliminated by the same headless snake group.
The discovery provides data to Vader, indicating a massive laser beam weapon of considerable magnitude – comparable to the celestial Centerpoint weapons of the novels – but never yet seen in the comic book realm of the Expanded Universe.
He pinpoints the location of the weapon to a small moon, covered with treacherous jungle terrain and predatory beasts that will test Vader and his companions, while the mysterious Ninth Assassin awaits an opportunity to take out the Sith Lord.
In Dark Vader and the Ninth Assassin #3, the writing continues to be of a very decent standard, though there is not much of it honestly – in this specific episode, particularly during the sequences on the mysterious jungle moon, the creative team instead let the artwork tell the story, driving it at the readers as opposed to dialogue and exposition. The technique works well for this single installment of the series, providing a break in the text, and letting the visuals direct the plot and the pace.
The artwork is significant in this issue with Ivan Fernandez, Denis Freitas, and Michael Atiyeh continuing to render and portray Darth Vader very nicely – extremely close to the likeness of the character in the movie. The colors are beautifully applied, particularly with reference to reflections and shades around Vader’s profile, and a few sequences delightfully show some of the things we’ve always wanted to see Vader do.
These elements include him using the Force (and his own suit for survival) in the vacuum of space, while he examines the remnants of the Star Destroyer himself. This sequence is absolutely killer, and I loved every minute of it.
We also see Vader use Force telekinesis to control his lightsaber remotely when attacking the monsters of the jungle planet – and these actions are also deliciously (and very particularly) portrayed in the artwork.
Meanwhile, there are a couple pieces of dialogue that would have probably best left omitted. “Mind the step,” is a very un-Sith like thing for Vader to say; though there are some very Anakin-like discourse sequences also during his investigation of the destroyed ship. It’s very out of character for Darth Vader, even though he is not long into his new life as a servant to the Sith Master Palpatine.
A further interesting tidbit I picked up on was how fairly useless and yappy the Imperial Royal Guardsmen were in this issue. At first, I considered this to be a continuity flub on the writer’s part”¦ but now on reflection, it makes logical sense. By the Original Trilogy era, members of the Royal Guard are the most elite soldiers representing the Empire and protecting Palpatine – some of whom are selected because of their slight Force sensitivities (see the Crimson Empire series).
It would make sense that (particularly with a majority of the Jedi wiped out), there wouldn’t be many Force sensitives to fill the rank, and that the Royal Guard of the early Empire wouldn’t nearly be as brilliant as the ones of the Original Trilogy era.
I thought that was an enjoyable touch by writer Tim Siedell and the events of this issue may partially explain why Palpatine shaped the Royal Guard into being the way they are.
At this point, the mystery endures, but as a standalone story, The Ninth Assassin still has me on the edge of my seat. I’m curious to see what happens, and I’m even more interested to see the work of the Assassin against Vader. It’s also entertaining to follow Vader as a protagonist of a story as well, and I think this fact will keep even casual fans interested.