In the wake of the disastrous revelation that Imperial officer Colonel Bircher was actually a deep cover operative for the Rebel Alliance, Darth Vader assembles an elite Stormtrooper squad to assist him in hunting down those responsible for such a colossal failure of security. Joining him as his "special assistant" for this mission is Ensign Nanda, a young officer fresh out of the academy who finds that she may not quite be prepared for such an intense assignment.
What a relief! After last month's less than stellar issue, I was a little worried about where the series was headed. And while we'll still have to return to that mess of a Rebel Alliance plotline in March, for now Brian Wood has given us the first of a two-part Darth Vader story that is simple, straightforward, and awesome.
One of my biggest complaints in Issue #12 was how easy it seemed for the Alliance to insert Bircher at such a high level. Seeing Vader's anger at the situation and witnessing the fallout from it in this issue almost earns Brian Wood a little bit of leeway for this plot point.
It would have been easy to sweep the entire thing under the rug and proceed with the new story arc, but Wood wisely and bravely confronts it here. He even uses several Imperial commanders (who don't last very long) to voice many of the same opinions myself and other readers of the series have about Bircher's deception being so successful. Now if he'd only explain how Vader didn't sense anything through the Force when he was face to face with Bircher…
Telling the story from the perspective of young, naďve Ensign Nanda is another smart move here. It offers a different view of the Empire, that of a low level functionary, which adds another layer to what Star Wars literature can often portray as a joyously evil organization. It's easy to forget that for every Tarkin or Thrawn there are literally millions of men and women working to keep the Imperial machine going who aren't in it to amass personal power for themselves. Seeing one of them, especially one so vulnerable, lends a feel of authenticity to the proceedings and prevents the "bad guys" from being one note.
I missed Carlos D'Anda's pencils in this issue! The expressive way he draws Darth Vader would have been an amazing fit for this story, which is built upon Vader's quest for redemption in the eyes of not only the Emperor, but the Imperial hierarchy at large. This is an extremely emotional Vader, and I think D'Anda would have translated that emotion amazingly.
That said, Facundo Percio's work here is very good. There's an urgency to his art, an efficient sense of purpose that fits Vader's single-mindedness in the story. The way he draws the characters' eyes effectively interpreted their restrained emotion, especially in the panel in which one of the stormtroopers insults Nanda after their mission to Bothawui. His eyes look almost haunted, in contrast to his bravado.
Star Wars #13 delivers an excellent issue at a time when an excellent issue was needed. It's an exciting read, and a really good Darth Vader story that gives the Sith Lord a newfound sense of purpose that's stronger than it's been at any other point in the series.
RATING: BUY IT