Darth Vader is undeniably one of the most iconic characters in all pop culture history. The ominous former Jedi is primary focus of the first six films in the Star Wars saga and has a presence that stretches across all media, from film to television to video games to radio dramas and beyond. The former and future Anakin Skywalker has also had a strong presence in comic books, most recently in the pages of multiple acclaimed series published by Marvel Comics. This April, Marvel launched its latest miniseries in its Black, White & Red line with Star Wars: Darth Vader – Black, White & Red, featuring tales of the Emperor’s enforcer and hand from some of comics’ most talented creators.
One of those creators is writer David Pepose, who consistently produces compelling and resonant stories in books from Savage Avengers to Elektra: Black, White & Blood to Avengers Unlimited. He has a talent for getting to the heart of a character and showing them in novel ways that keep the audience engaged and guessing to the end of a tale. Mr. Pepose was kind enough to speak with us recently about the conceit of his story in Star Wars: Darth Vader – Black, White & Red #2, “The Endless Mercy,” how his personal history with Star Wars has informed with work writing the Dark Lord of the Sith, who he thinks Vader is at his core, and what other characters from Star Wars he’d love to tackle.
FreakSugar: Before we get into your story, what is your personal history with Star Wars?
David Pepose: Oh man, where do I start? My earliest memories of Star Wars are watching A New Hope on VHS at my grandma’s apartment — I remember the destruction of Alderaan in particular leaving an impression on me as a six-year-old. [laughs] I was also the perfect age when the Special Edition trilogy came out — I celebrated my 11th birthday seeing The Empire Strikes Back in theaters, and then stayed up all night playing Shadows of the Empire on my Nintendo 64. And of course, the opening of Return of the Jedi is just my favorite — even as a kid, I loved Luke Skywalker’s progression from a wet-behind-the-ears farmboy to a confident Jedi Knight. I was really lucky to grow up in such a Star Wars renaissance, and it’s such an honor to be able to contribute to that universe in Darth Vader – Black, White & Red.
FS: How did you become involved with the anthology comic Darth Vader – Black, White & Red?
DP: My editors Mark Paniccia, Danny Khazem, and Michael Basso had read my work over in Savage Avengers, and I assume it was that series’ balance of action and darker-themed characters that led them to reach out for this anthology!
FS: Without spoiling anything, is there anything you can discuss about your story?
DP: As someone who loves pop culture, I always enjoy genre-splicing and cross-pollinating, and so I’m thrilled that we were able to draw influence from one of the other great sci-fi franchises in modern history. Without giving too much away, Vader is going to find himself face-to-face with a creature who is every bit as savage and deadly as he is — outnumbered against an implacable enemy, Vader is going to have to harness the power of the dark side like never before if he hopes to survive The Endless Mercy.
FS: Every creator has their own idea as to who Darth Vader is. Who is he to you? What makes him tick? Who is he at his heart?
DP: Darth Vader is the most dangerous man in the galaxy. Sometimes that means he’s watching you ominously like a rattlesnake; other times, he’s a complete force of nature, striking relentlessly and without mercy. There’s something about Vader’s mask that makes him appear utterly unrecognizable — but when you hear his deep baritone voice, you know that Vader is both wildly intimidating and surprisingly human. Whenever Vader walks into the room, you should feel a cold shudder running down your spine — he is a figure that is larger-than-life, and whether it’s using his lightsaber or using the Force, Darth Vader is a man whose very nature seems to personify a sense of impending doom.
FS: Darth Vader has been interpreted and re-interpreted so many times over the years. What was your process for tackling your own Vader tale?
DP: For me, I approached Vader from the outside moving inwards — because this is a short story, you want to make every panel count, so I drilled down on the choreography first, to explore how Vader would inhabit a particular space against such inhuman adversaries. But beyond that, it was also about digging into Vader as a character, working as a counterpoint against an enemy with no higher ideals beyond pure assimilation and survival. Darth Vader is a true apostle for the dark side — he’s a warrior-priest in many ways, one whose faith in the Force has never really wavered since his escape from Tatooine. That was a super-fun angle to build on, getting to explore Vader’s philosophy as much as his fighting technique.
FS: What can you tell us about the collaboration with the rest of the team on your tale? When you’re approaching a Star Wars tale, it has to be an extra special labor of love.
DP: I’ve been a huge fan of Alessandro Vitti since his work in Red Lanterns, and so I was thrilled when my editors said he was going to be drawing this story. He has such a great sense of mood that he not only conjures up with his hyper-detailed inks, but also by leaning into the black, white and red palette of this anthology — the reds in our story slowly sneak up on you before drenching the page in crimson carnage. Alessandro is a guy who was born to draw Darth Vader, and I’m excited to be working with him on this!
FS: This is your debut in writing for the Star Wars universe. Do you have any characters or time periods in that world you’d like to tackle next?
DP: As a child of the ‘90s, I’ve already asked my editors to tell me the moment Dash Rendar and Boba Fett become available, so hope springs eternal. [laughs] Honestly, I also love BT-1 and Triple-Zero, the homicidal droids that Kieron Gillen created — I’d love to tackle a story with them someday! And beyond that, what self-respecting Star Wars fan would ever turn down a chance to write Luke, Han, and Leia? But luckily for me, it’s a very big universe out there, and I’m honestly thrilled to have tackled my all-time favorite Star Wars character with this story in Darth Vader – Black, White & Red.
Star Wars: Darth Vader – Black, White & Red #1 is on sale now from Marvel Comics. Issue #2, which feature’s Mr. Pepose’s story, goes on sale Wednesday, May 24th.
From the official issue description of issue #2:
JASON AARON CONTINUES HIS RETURN TO THE GREATEST VILLAIN IN THE GALAXY! Along with artist LEONARD KIRK, these two titans of comics tell a tale of horror and intrigue! PLUS, David Pepose makes his STAR WARS debut!