Published: December 22, 2021
Writer: Greg Pak
Penciler: Guiu Vilanova
Colourist: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover Artist: Ryan Stegman & Richard Isanove
In the bowels of Bespin, DARTH VADER told his son he wanted to bring order to the galaxy. Now Vaders’ promise is put to the test as he leads an unlikely crew of heroes and assassins against the criminal organization known as CRIMSON DAWN. What does “order” mean to a DARK LORD OF THE SITH? How far will he go to fight for it as the depth of Crimson Dawns’ infiltration becomes clearer? And what fate awaits the heroes who follow him into battle?
Stegman’s direct cover for Darth Vader #19 is only black and red, yet it evokes a sketchy and dark figure of the Sith Lord. It’s extremely moody and one of the most unusual covers that has been released so far. A similar colour palette graces Dauterman’s variant, with an amazing close-up of Vader’s helmet in profile, debris raining down around him. Then it’s a jump to Vader’s grandson as Kylo Ren poses ready to battle on Sprouse’s anniversary variant, clearly inspired by the famous throne room battle from The Last Jedi.
Crimson Dawn is a disease threatening the healthy might of the Empire, and Darth Vader is on the hunt to put a stop to the cartel. However, they’ve infiltrated cracks from the underworld all the way up to bureaucracy, so finding them all will be a challenge. On the planet Vincorba is a secret Crimson Dawn outpost which contains information on their ranks. As Vader seeks to obtain the traitors’ names, he questions the side on which his tenuous allies stand.
It was Anakin’s misplaced and manipulated loyalty that kept him beside Palpatine, and this continues when he becomes Darth Vader. In the Prequels fans see him undergo a crisis of faith in Republic democracy, but it’s not something that seems apparent once the Empire is formed. Most would conclude that Vader’s conflicting loyalties only arise once he learns about Luke. Yet here Pak takes Vader in a direction of crisis, perhaps fuelled by knowing of Luke’s existence, and has him question the motives of those within the Imperial ranks. Darth Vader #19 is incredibly interesting as the Sith Lord breaks from the traditional mould of simple, blind loyalty.
Once Vader is part of the Empire there’s no turning back for him – he has nowhere to go. However, throughout this issue he keeps having flashbacks to his conversation with Padmé about how galactic politics should work. Suddenly Vader is using Crimson Dawn as an excuse to be suspicious of his troops and other associates. It seems deeper than that though. Yes, Vader wants to hunt down traitors to the Empire, but at the same time it’s like he wants to make the Empire better.
While on the planet of Vincorba he actually steps in to save a group of villagers in the reversal of a very similar scene from The Force Awakens. While not completely out of character, as Vader turns his blade on stormtroopers who are traitors, it is unusual for the Dark Lord to not turn a blind eye to collateral damage. It’s not the only time either. Ochi of Bestoon, being the self-centred assassin he is, tries to make others put themselves at risk while he does nothing. Vader won’t stand for that and uses to Force to literally shove Ochi into the thick of battle. He’s not being nice, because there’s always motivation to Vader’s actions, but Pak’s storytelling is adding to the many layers of this already complicated character. Pak is almost bringing out parts of the former Jedi beneath that armour.
Vader’s murky head space is reflected in Vilanova’s artwork, which places emphasis on the shadows for many of the panels. It’s as if the Sith Lord is in the dark recesses of his mind, trying to piece things together, and even his flashbacks are not only tinged red, but also very dark. There’s an incredible panel where Vader faces off against stormtroopers in a Dracula-esque style, his cape nearly swallowing the trooper’s whole. Then when hunting Crimson Dawn he’s just a black shadow highlighted in red by his lightsaber, which is very reminiscent of that terrifying hallway skirmish from Rogue One.
Pak is definitely trying to bring the focus back onto Vader now that the War of the Bounty Hunters tie-in is complete, and that can be felt in Darth Vader #19. The story is prodding at Vader’s wounds and misgivings, causing the Sith Lord to be suspicious and doubtful. Now that he knows just how far up the Imperial ranks Crimson Dawn have infiltrated, and who some of the moles are, then there will be no stopping his vengeance. Who will he be hunting first? Find out in Darth Vader #20 in 2022!
Star Wars: Darth Vader (2020) #19 was published December 22, 2021, by Marvel Comics. This issue retails at $3.99 and is available via The Marvel App and from all good comic book stores.