The review was originally posted to my review blog here.
Of late, Dark Horse has been putting out a lot of 4-6 issue mini-series set all over the timeline. Some of these have been good, such as John Ostrander’s Dawn of the Jedi: Force Storm, and some not so good, such as John Ostrander’s (again!) Agent of the Empire: Iron Eclipse. And of course, there is the classic Crimson Empire series by Mike Richardson and Randy Stradley which is one of the best Star Wars comics to date. Joining the ranks of Richardson and Stradley’s work is Hayden Blackman’s 5-issue Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison, which is quite frankly one of the best comics mini-series I’ve read in the last 10 months. It has some great characters, both old and new, and takes a great look at the galaxy far, far away in a post-Episode III era.
The premise of this mini-series, being collected in hardcover later this month, is that as Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader move to consolidate their power over the galaxy, there are already forces moving against them. Headmaster Gentis, formerly a celebrated Republic General and now the leader of all Imperial academies, has betrayed the Emperor and seeks to bring his downfall. Joining him in this endeavour are several highly-placed officers of the new Empire and almost the entire (first) graduating class of Imperial cadets. The story focuses on one in particular, Lieutenant Tohm, and charts his rise as an adjutant to Darth Vader in one of the Empire’s most troubled times.
Without a doubt, Tohm was one of my favourite characters here. Disfigured and handicapped, he nevertheless manages to rise to a position of authority within the newly-formed Empire, and eventually comes to the notice of the Emperor. It’s almost a fairy-tale story of sorts, and Blackman has written it really well. The story itself is written as a report to the Emperor from Tohm, recounting the events of Gentis’ betrayal. Thus we already know how things are going to end, since after all, nothing short of an alliance between Anakin Skywalker and Luke Skywalker can kill the Emperor. The fun is in seeing how things unfold. Tohm makes for an excellent protagonist, quite an ironic one at that, considering the Empire’s stance on “non-perfect” people. Doubly so since Moff Trachta, one of the supporting characters, is also a deeply disfigured man.
In Ghost Prison Blackman is able to provide readers with a great sense of continuity and a close of sorts given the entirety of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. The script explores quite a bit of Jedi intrigue and the secrets that were kept from Anakin despite Obi-wan’s insistence otherwise, as is revealed over the course of the story. The betrayals of the Jedi, as Vader sees them, are front and center here and we get Tohm’s own angle on these events since he is essentially Vader’s side-kick for the majority of the story. It is in these moments, when we see Vader mentor Tohm, that we see both characters shine. It is perhaps a foreshadowing of larger events later on in the timeline, when both Vader and the Emperor taught several Force-users and created their own small army of Sith practitioners. Which is apt, since Blackman has worked on Force Unleashed, a video game that explored this very concept.
The artwork in the book, by Agustin Alessio, is stunning, and one of the best I’ve seen to date. There is a strong vitality to every character. For the “good” ones like Gentis, there is an air of nobility and honour to them. For the “bad” ones like Vader and Trachta, there is an air of menace and treachery to them, which is entirely fitting, and it all matches up really well with Blackman’s script and dialogue. Vader is always a challenge since he is all about the body-language and in any panel involving him, Alessio has performed admirably in making the character standout. In general, Alessio’s artwork is always detailed and, frankly, stunning. Combined with the cover art by Dave Wilkins, Ghost Prison is one of the most visually-pleasing graphic novels for 2013 (or single issues for the last year!).
The ending is one that hits you out of the left field and the slow lead-up to it also ties up with Brian Wood’s Star Wars #1 and how the Emperor treats Vader after the events of Episode IV: A New Hope. That ending alone is worth the entire cost of the book, if I do say so myself. So in short, this is one Star Wars story that you don’t want to miss. Easily one of the best offerings from Dark Horse for the year. The only negative point of the book is that Gentis’ treachery seems to be a little too wide-spread and that perhaps some time should have been taken to explore more of his backstory in relation to the script, but that’s by and by.