Star Wars Adventures: Return to Vader’s Castle #5 – Review

October’s end is upon us, as is All Hallows’ Eve. And the fifth week of the month brings with it the culmination of IDW’s Return To Vader’s Castle anthology, a handful of spooky tales set within the Galaxy Far, Far Away but as darkly flexible with historical accountability as the folk tales within our own.

We open with the Dark Lord’s chief attendant, Vaneé, delighted to have the Rebel Lt. Thom Hudd back in custody in the Mustafar stronghold. But this relief soon turns to fury, as one of the Emperor’s Inquisitors has arrived to commandeer the prisoner and escort him off-world. Sensing all may not be as it seems, Vaneé tells a tale of another headstrong visitor to the castle, and the events which occurred to drive him insane in the ‘Night Of The Lava Zombies’.

When the Emperor’s Advisor Rersey begins to impatiently belittle Vader during a routine visit, the obsequious manservant’s defence of his master is interrupted by a furore outside. Within moments, a swarm of glowing-eyed Mustafarian warriors and Lava Fleas have broken through the outer doors. Worse still, they’re being assisted by a growing number of Imperial troops, rising to join the horde after being bitten by others. Something in the planet’s lava has made these monsters all but unstoppable. Even armed with his lightsaber, Darth Vader has limits when it comes to hand-to-hand combat, and this is a numbers game pure and simple. But their survival will rely on more than brute strength, as Vader has a strategy of his own…

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Issue five tweaks the structure slightly with the standard two page lead-in from the framing device, followed by just thirteen pages for the main story rather than the usual sixteen. And it’s entirely possible that this slightly shorter presentation of the main feature could contribute to it being the weakest of the series – this is a constant hurdle with Star Wars Adventures‘ flagship title, after all. That said, writer Cavan Scott is very upfront at this point about the story itself being a delaying tactic rather than a tool to instill fear, and he spends relatively little time focusing on the lava zombies themselves as a result.

But the saving grace is the visuals, with Francesco Francavilla continuing his bold, expressive artwork in the wraparound as tempers flare to match the Inquisitor’s light-staff. Within the main strip, Charles Paul Wilson III provides the pencils and inks, providing more detail while still retaining an exaggerated, cartoon quality. And the artist is on firm ground as he also illustrated the final part of last year’s Vader’s Castle series, which also centred on a riotous uprising within the same building.

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Colours for the lava zombies come courtesy of David Garcia Cruz – his first contribution to Star Wars Adventures. The reds and purples of Rersey’s and the Royal Guards’ robes bring colour to the pages that’s in keeping with the drama unfolding, although it still reflects the coolness (both literal and emotional) within the castle walls. Meanwhile, the depth and shading on display within the panels is a perfect match for Wilson’s rendering.

Ultimately though, ‘Night Of The Lava Zombies’ feels somewhat disposable, serving only as a buffer until we return to the present for the four-page finale. Vaneé’s instincts were right, there was more to the newly-arrived Inquisitor. To tell more would be spoiling the fun, but Cavan Scott provides a satisfying end to this year’s macabre outing.

We’ve reviewed Star Wars Adventures from its beginning here at Set The Tape, and while the title is always intriguing, its progress has often been uneven. Return To Vader’s Castle, on the other hand, is by far the strongest Star Wars work that IDW have published to date, with deft writing threading through a varied yet tonally consistent gallery of outstanding artwork.

We await next Hallow’een with bated breath…

Star Wars Adventures: Return To Vader’s Castle #5 is available from IDW Publishing and your preferred comic outlets.

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