arth Vader stands as the greatest and most iconic villain ever created. There are many aspects of Star Wars to debate, but few things are agreed upon as much as these: John Williams' score is immaculate, and Darth Vader is a perfect villain.
While the fallen Jedi have less than 30 minutes of screen time in the original trilogy of movies, the expanded universe gives us a lot more opportunities to see Darth Vader. Comics are thankfully the perfect place to explore his history, actions, and powers.
Even as his birth at the hands of Emperor Palpatine and death in the arms of his long-lost son are shown in the films, there are years of Vader co-running the Empire, hunting rogue Jedi, and terrorizing the Galaxy that are ripe for expansion in novels, games, and comics.
Historically, characters who habitually cover their faces with masks are rarely chosen as the main characters of a comic book. The lack of malleable features tends to make it difficult to express emotion, since humans use their faces to express emotion more than any other part of their body.
With Darth Vader in particular, though, dozens of amazing artists have stepped up and produced some of the most iconic images of any Star Wars character for the comic page, let alone one that wears a mask.
Knowing that, let us explore the Canon series that show us how to walk on the dark side and see how these incredible writers and artists have taken on the nearly impossible task of taking a stoically masked character and portraying the ripping emotion that rules Darth Vader’s life.
Legends VS Canon
At the risk of retreading ground already covered, we should cover the big divide: the separate continuities that are the Star Wars Legends and Canon Timelines. We at Youtini have many resources outlining the major differences in the two eras of Star Wars publication, including articles and videos, so hopefully you can use them to your advantage!
Thankfully, Vader's characterization and history are set in stone, so you could jump between Canon and Legends comics and still get the same feel from most of his stories. The main difference is that the Canon comics tend to be long-form series and tell their stories over 25+ issues, while the Legends runs tend to be confined to shorter, 6-issue runs.
Seriously, though. It’s as easy as that. Legends are great for short stories, while the Canon stories are series with much more supporting characters and longer story beats. Both are well worth your time and must-reads for any fans of the Empire or black capes.
There are three main Canon runs, and while they are all named exactly the same, it is best to differentiate them by the year of first publication. All three Canon Vader series were written, drawn, and edited by different teams and give decidedly different portrayals of Darth Vader. Each series is incredibly unique and definitely worth reading, so let's get started sorting them out so you can tell the difference.
Mindset for Reading
This might be a minor point, but I do want to say again that Darth Vader is a villain. That means that he performs heinous acts throughout his comics. The deaths of heroes and innocents are common in nearly every issue, and there are times when readers of these series’ might find themselves emotionally affected by these events.
This is a testament to the power that these writers and artists wield through the medium of comic books. Darth Vader is a character who triumphs over good time and again. Sometimes, he will find himself in conflict with other, or greater, evils.
It’s at these points that we can cheer and root for the Sith Lord without reservation, but you should ask yourself before you start if you are in a good headspace for darker tones and themes. If not, consider the mainline Star Wars series instead. There are plenty of lighthearted adventures there for you to enjoy!
These comics also clearly have the same issue that permeates most spinoff or supplemental material in any universe: you know the ending. We all know how Darth Vader meets his end, in the arms of his son aboard the DS-2 battle station, after destroying his master, the Emperor.
These comics, like most prequel series, have the follow-on effect of letting the reader know that mortal danger may not present the same stakes as it seems to on the page. This is not uncommon in Star Wars comics, but also remember that these are exactly that. Comics. Anything can and does happen within these pages, and no holds are barred.
Like reading most Superman comics, the reader knows that nothing in the galaxy is more dangerous or powerful than Darth Vader, the Dark Lord of the Sith. While there are times he is beaten down and hurt in these books, the joy of these stories is seeing him rise above these challenges. Oftentimes, readers will find themselves watching him interact with allies and foes, wondering if anyone on his warpath will survive.
So with that table dressing done, let us get into the three main series that Darth Vader has starred in and talk more about what sets them apart from each other and which you should read first.
Darth Vader Comics
Darth Vader 2015
Written by Kieron Gillen with art by Salvador Larroca, first published in February of 2015.
Kieron Gillen might go down as one of the best comic writers of the last decade; his award-winning works include Young Avengers, The Wicked + The Divine, Die, and Once & Future, and his work on Vader stands among these titans of comics.
Salvador Larroca has over 20 years of experience at this point with X-men, Ironman, and many other Marvel properties and really brought some humanity to the cold, dark mask of Vader before going to the main line Star Wars 2015 run.
The series itself takes place right after the ending of Episode IV. The Death Star has been destroyed, and Vader is sent on a special assignment by his Emperor. Stripped of all his Imperial resources, Vader must gather his own forces and resources to win back the Emperor's favor.
This series is monumental because it introduces Doctor Aphra, an icon of the new canon of comics. She was spun off into her own series, written by Kieron Gillen as well. There are also several other foils and camouflages, such as Black Krrsantan and Boba Fett.
It is tied to the main line series, specifically with the crossover of Vader Down, in which the Dark Lord is pitted against an entire Rebel army, so if you are reading this series, you might want to pick up some of the 2015 Star Wars series as well.
This series succeeds in showing that Vader’s strength is not in his imperial backing and limitless resources but in the power of the Force. He blasts through obstacles with dogged determination and sets himself up as the true right hand of the Empire.
Darth Vader 2017
Written by Charles Soule and Pencils by Giuseppe Camuncoli first released in June of 2017.
It is not hyperbole to say Charles Soule has done the most for the current quality level of Star Wars comic content. He has written over 100 issues since 2015, including his Poe Damron run, the Lando miniseries, the 2020 Star Wars series, and the War of the Bounty Hunters. His non-Star Wars works are equally impressive, including writing for She-Hulk (a great fit since Mr. Soule is also a lawyer), Daredevil, and Eight Billion Genies.
With no disrespect intended for any of the other artists mentioned in this article, Giuseppe Camuncoli’s art might be the best Vader has ever looked. Many times you can feel the emotions drip off the page. He has also worked on both The Amazing Spider-Man and Hellblazer, the Constantine series.
Despite coming out after the 2015 Gillen run, This series actually takes place right after episode III, with a newly minted Darth Vader working to finish the purge of his newly minted empire. If you were ever curious about how he got his iconic red lightsaber, this is the series for you.
This series is part of our Foundational Five series of comics because of how easy it is to read and how much it ties into the movies and other comic series. We see the ending of many side characters from the films and the introduction of the Inquisitors, including the High Inquisitor, from the Rebels and Obi-Wan TV shows. And in the last arc, we see the construction of Vader's castle on Mustafar. As an added bonus, Charles Soule loves to relate his comics to each other, and this is no exception. There are a myriad of ties to his other comic works.
While being the middle of these three series, it makes the best jumping-on point for the greater Star Wars canon as a whole. Specifically because the references to Soules’s other works, it is immediately rewarding to read the Lando miniseries or jump to the 2020 Star Wars run and see the callbacks to characters and locations found in this comic.
Darth Vader 2020
Written by Greg Pak and art by Raffaele Ienco with the first issue released in February of 2020
Greg Pak is most famous for his run on Marvel’s Hulk series, so writing another unstoppable, emotionally-fueled engine of destruction in Darth Vader was definitely not outside his comfort zone. Pak is the creator most famous for the Planet Hulk storyline, which was turned into its own animated movie and influenced the film Thor: Ragnarok.
While Raffaele Ienco has many credits, his work on Vader might be his most famous current work. He really draws on the reds of Vader’s lightsaber to highlight his menacing suit and has a real eye for putting his figures in dynamic action poses. Reading these issues almost feels like watching the action figures fight each other in full motion. His credits also include work on Avengers Assemble and Postal: Deliverance.
At the time of this article, Vader 2020 is an ongoing series, so fair warning if you start it: there is no published end. Honestly, this just makes it more exciting since you can be current with a series right along with everyone else as it's being produced. So if you start this series, feel free to join the issue-by-issue discussions with everyone on our Discord server and all of our social media channels.
This last series thankfully takes place last in the timeline. Set after Episode V, Vader has just disarmed his son and is furious at Luke’s rejection of his proposal to "rule the galaxy as father and son." Since we are counting down to the end of Anakin Skywalker’s arc, the stories seem to focus more on him tying up loose ends; the first arc features Vader hunting down and discovering how Padmé could have had a child, and confronting ghosts of his wife’s past.
This series focuses more on Vader’s sadness and all he has lost since his fall. If you want a more introspective view of Vader, this is the best place for it. One thing to note is that, in the current run of comics, there are a lot more crossovers with other series. This includes crossovers with War of the Bounty Hunters and Crimson Reign. So, to get the most out of these issues, you might want to pick up companion books. You could also potentially have a digital comic subscription to keep up with all the other parts of the story.
Vader: Dark Visions
We should also talk about Vader: Dark Visions, by Dennis "Hopeless" Hallum. Like the Disney+ Visions series, this is a collection of five short stories using different artists to dive into the horror of the Dark Lord of the Sith.
Each issue is a stand-alone story not set in any distinct period, so you can read these comics at any point in your comic reading journey. Each story explores a different aspect of the fear the Dark Lord carries around him like a mantel. If you loved Vader’s appearance in the hallway of the Tantive IV in Rogue One, this series is well worth your time.
Conclusion and Final Recommendations
Here at the end is how we recommend you read Darth Vader comics:
First, Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith (2017), issues 1–25. This is the best introduction to Vader’s path as the leader of the Empire. We see several important steps he takes right after being beset by his new cybernetic body. This comic sets the reader up for future success in Star Wars comics.
Second Darth Vader (2015), issues 1–25 This is the next series in the timeline, even if it skips 15+ years. Again, there are amazing moments in this series. It shows us how Vader learns that he has a son and handles the introduction of Doctor Aphra. There are a few crossovers, but reading this whole arc will have you cheering for Vader at the end.
Lastly, Darth Vader (2020), issues 1–12. This is the latest series, which is still ongoing. I would recommend the first 12 issues to any Star Wars fan, but they have more weight if you have read the previous series. You can definitely keep reading past that, but you will quickly run into crossovers that will require additional reading outside the one Vader series for maximum enjoyment.