In Review: Star Wars Adventures: Return to Vader’s Castle #1

A fan favorite foe appears to cause trouble, though the colors make the book hard to see. 

The covers: Five different covers to find before they crawl out of the darkness to find you! The A cover by Francesco Francavilla is a hot mess. This looks like a quick convention sketch scrawled out in half an hour. I don’t like Maul and I don’t like the setting. The coloring only draws attention to how sloppy this is. An utter disappointment. Much better is the B by Megan Levels and Charlie Kirchoff. This features Darth Maul with his spider body. He’s in a tight cave and states, “There’s no escape now…” with “BEWARE THE HORNED DEVIL!” written on the far right. Great image of the Sith and terrific coloring. This is the cover I wish my local store had. The Retailer Incentive A cover by Francavilla is the same as the A, just without the colors. This is slightly better, but still looks incredibly unfinished. The silhouette of Vader in the background can at least be clearly seen on this frontpiece. The Retailer Incentive B cover by Derek Charm has Darth Vader on Mustafar. The Dark Lord is leaning slightly to the right, allowing his castle to be seen in the distance on the left. Within his body four famous Star Wars villains can be seen: Grand Moff Tarkin, Jabba the Hutt, Asajj Ventress, and Darth Maul. I’m always impressed by Charm’s work and I like this cover. The final cover is the Convention exclusive by Charm, which is the black and white version of his Retailer Incentive B cover. I like this, too, and will be hunting this one down! Overall grades: A D-, B A, Retailer Incentive A C-, Retailer Incentive B A, and Convention cover A

The story: On Mustafar within Darth Vader’s castle, insane Vaneé is happy that his captive wakes. The identity of this individual is not revealed until the last page. The mad minion hits a button and is surrounded by holograms of several unsavory characters. As he wields a lightsaber menacingly he says, “…I have my stories. Stories to chill the blood and chill the soul. Stories of nightmares past and terrors yet to come. And, of course, stories of my master. Darth Vader — scourge of the Jedi, fist of the Emperor. Dark Lord of the Sith.” He decides to tell the story of a devil in the darkness and writer Cavan Scott moves his tale to Lotho Minor, the Junk World. Captain Spikewheel drops four candidates to join his crew on the surface. If they survive one night in the haunted labyrinth underneath all the scrap without losing their minds they’ll earn a place on his ship Salvage-1. There’s trouble with Gritz instantly, who teases Riki and pushes over Seles, until Brennar intervenes. Once underground one is taken by a familiar face, who will do anything to leave the world that serves as his prison. This is a decent scary tale for little ones, with the antagonist being a solid visual threat and what happens to the four wannabes fun. Vaneé is definitely coming off like the classic EC Comics Crypt Keeper in this story, which is okay, though I prefer the format for the tales from last year’s series. Still, this should please younglings looking for a good scare and older fans will be incredibly happy to be reading a tale that features this popular foe. Overall grade: A-

The art: Two different artists on this issue with Francesco Francavilla (Pages 1-2 and 19-20) doing the issue’s opening and closing, while Megan Levens (3-18) does the majority of the book working on the main story. I’m not a fan of Francavilla’s work. It’s really loose and comes off as quick illustrations. I would love to see Dan Parent doing these stories, who has never done a Star Wars story before and whose style would be much more finished for this series. Better is Levens’s work. I like the design of Captain Spikewheel and I was glad to see that he didn’t only appear in the opening. The falls at the bottom of 3 were fun to see. The close-up of Spikewheel on the fourth page makes him look like a twisted individual. I liked the fall on the next page and the character who looks fearful in the last panel. The first four panels on Page 6 are a neat progression of action with something important happening to the character who was the last in the group. The way the missing character is discovered on 7 is neat, making his appearance look supernatural until the page is turned with a full-paged splash revealing who’s holding this individual. This is a terrific entrance for this iconic villain and he looks fantastic. I honestly thought that the two running protagonists were going to be killed, given how close the antagonist was as he pursued them on 10. The first panel on the next page was an excellent surprise and I could tell exactly what was being done to him before it was shown and explained in the next panel. The weakened image of this baddie on 12 is a great predecessor to the the third panel on 13, with the close-up in the fifth panel and excellent visual for the reader to understand what’s occurring. Levens’s final page is a great scary image to give younglings nightmares. I do like the layout of the final panel on 19 that has Vaneé seemingly pointing at the reader. The last page is a full-page splash that shows the character that the minion is telling the story to. This character is being tortured and it will be obvious to even the smallest reader. Overall grades: B

The colors: Francavilla colors his own work, while Charlie Kirchoff colors Levens’s pages. The opening and closing pages employ a lot of red and blue; the former to create a hellish tone and the latter to show holographic images. Kirchoff’s work is okay, though it is more than a little dark at times. Take a look at Page 3, panel two and Pages 6 – 10. These five pages have the characters blending in too easily with the settings. Even the bottom of 11 is too dark. It is a comic book, so any reality in the colors could be changed up. Aboard Salvage-1, its steel interiors blend in with the characters too much, making for a murky reading experience. The best colored page is the final image on 18. The final page is okay, but would probably look better uncolored, as, once again, the visuals blend in with each other too much. Overall grade: C-

The letters: Andworld Design is responsible for the text which includes scene settings, dialogue and narration, sounds, yells, weakened speech, and transmissions. I like the opening scene setting done in a futuristic font that tilts slightly to the right to lead the reader into the setting. I do wish that the dialogue and the narration had been two different fonts since they are two different forms of speech, though they are differed by the shape and colors of their balloons and boxes. The sounds are fantastic in this issue, with the villain’s TIKs shiver inducing. There are several different types of yells, clearly indicating to the reader how they should be heard, with the second one in the top panel on 17 the best. The weakened speech is a smart visual to tell the reader how injured a character is. Overall grade: A-

The final line: A fan favorite foe appears to cause trouble, though the colors make the book hard to see. This was a decent read, with the story being good scary stuff for young readers, and the art full of several frights. Unfortunately the colors are not great, making several panels difficult to discern. Not a bad read, but not a great one. Overall grade: B-

To order a print copy go to https://www.idwpublishing.com/product/star-wars-adventures-return-to-vaders-castle-1/

To order a digital copy go to https://www.comixology.com/Star-Wars-Adventures-Return-to-Vader-s-Castle-1-of-5/digital-comic/796191?ref=c2VhcmNoL2luZGV4L2Rlc2t0b3Avc2xpZGVyTGlzdC90b3BSZXN1bHRzU2xpZGVy

To see the covers visit my Instagram account: patrickhayesscifipulse

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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