Lord Vader and Tarkin play a round of “The Most Dangerous Game” in Darth Vader #18 – Bad Ground.
This review contains plot details for Darth Vader #18 – Bad Ground.
Darth Vader #18 – Bad Ground
Writer: Charles Soule | Layouts: Giuseppe Camuncoli | Finishes: Daniele Orlandini | Colors: David Curiel | Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna | Cover Artists: Giuseppe Camuncoli & Elia Bonetti | Assistant Editors: Heather Antos & Tom Groneman | Editors: Jordan B. White (with Mark Paniccia)
In “Burning Seas,” Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin lead the Empire’s campaign to subdue Mon Cala. That campaign is over. However, during the battle, Vader and Tarkin had very different missions. While Vader tracked down a rogue Jedi, the Emperor tasked Tarkin with conquering the planet. Tarkin asked Vader for a favor in capturing King Lee-Char. Vader complied. It is time for Tarkin to make good on that favor. In Darth Vader #18 “Bad Ground,” Charles Soule crafts a captivating story that illustrates why Vader and Tarkin have so much respect for one another.
A Non-Spoiler Summary
Tarkin and twenty men are hunting on Chandar’s Folly. At least, Tarkin started with twenty men. Now, he has eight. Why? There quarry is none other than Darth Vader. Although unknown at the beginning of the issue, Tarkin pursues Vader in a space opera version of “The Most Dangerous Game.” Readers begin this issue undoubtedly confused as why two Imperial allies might find themselves on opposite ends of this conflict. All becomes clear as Tarkin hunts Vader and the Dark Lord eliminates his allies.
No Worlds Left to Conquer
So, why is Tarkin hunting Vader? The answer is complicated. Vader called in his favor from Tarkin. Although he was confused at first, Tarkin figures it out. Darth Vader and the Inquisitorius have done their job too well. There are virtually no Jedi left in the galaxy. As Tarkin puts it, Vader is “a killer with no one to kill.” He needs the challenge, and he selects Tarkin.
Tarkin speculates that reason Vader picked Tarkin for this challenge was that Vader somehow learned of Tarkin’s past. That past is detailed in James Luceno’s novel Tarkin. As a youth, Tarkin received a brutal education on the planet Eriadu involving hunting and, as he puts it, savagery. Tarkin credits his experience there as a significant factor in his success in his career with the Empire. In fact, Tarkin also considers Vader’s selection of him as a hunter as flattering.
The Techniques of a Hunter
Charles Soule thoughtfully crafts Tarkin’s hunt in “Bad Ground.” He isn’t burdened with concern for his men. Tarkin recognized Vader’s effectiveness with his lightsaber. So, he sacrificed six men to steal it. Tarkin considered it a bargain. He is also aware that Vader’s breathing apparatus is a weakness. Therefore, he brings along Chadra-fans for their ability to hear him from a distance. He sacrifices more men to learn Vader’s range with the Force. He is very methodical if nothing else.
The Hunted Becomes the Hunter
Tarkin isn’t the only one hunting in “Bad Ground.” Indeed, Vader hunts back. Tarkin brought twenty men with him. By the time this issue begins, only eight of those men are left. Just like Tarkin, he has tricks of his own. Of course, as a Sith, he has the Force. He uses it in brutal fashion. More than one of Tarkin’s men die from a Force choke from Vader. He uses the Force to throw others and cripple them. With the Force alone, he is an efficient killer, but he doesn’t just rely on that one trick.
At some point during the hunt on Chandar’s Folly, Vader found, killed, and skinned a Valath. The Valath is the apex predator on the planet. It’s hide provides the beast with the ability to blend in with its background like a chameleon with super powers. The fact that Vader killed one with only the Force is impressive enough. However, he now can evade Tarkin and his men. He flaunts this trick by making himself observable to Tarkin’s camp from a distance.
Vader is cunning. Recognizing the abilities of the Chadra-fans, he lures Tarkin and his hunters into a crystalline ravine. His breathing then echoes all over the place and negates the usefulness of the Chadra-fan’s superior hearing. Combined with the Valath hide, Vader picks off several hunters in short order. Tarkin wisely leads his party out of the ravine. Then Vader does something very unexpected. He turns off his breathing apparatus to avoid detection by the Chadra-fans while cloaked. This is very effective even if Vader is dying while doing it.
Observations on Vader in “Bad Ground”
Tarkin makes several obligations about Darth Vader over the course of this issue. Vader is most dangerous with his lightsaber, but he is deadly without it. He is a cunning warrior. When attacked with flame, Vader attacked the flamethrowers when he couldn’t deflect the flames itself. The Dark Lord does not care if he is tracked or pursued. He invites conflict. Furthermore, Vader comes to life when he takes life. Tarkin believes it is the only reason he exists now.
In the end, Vader and Tarkin nearly killed each other. “Bad Ground” might be a dossier from everything he learned about Vader on this adventure. The conclusion is the most striking. Vader’s will and strength are immense and incalculable. Every ounce of his will is devoted to the Empire. Tarkin considers the Empire lucky for this.
Concluding Thoughts on “Bad Ground”
“Bad Ground” is simply brilliant. The idea that Tarkin might have a legitimate reason to hunt Vader was spectacular. Soule obviously knows Star Wars. This book has roots in the Tarkin novel by Luceno and other stories. The Carrion Spike makes an appearance. It is unclear exactly when this issue occurs in relation to Tarkin, but it touches on similar issues. The Grand Moff made several observations about Vader in both stories that cloud the matter.
If Vader hadn’t already earned his reputation as a nightmare and killing machine before, he earned it here. The deadliness of Vader as a predator is highlighted by his silence. The only words he speaks in this entire issue are in a flashback when he commanded Tarkin to hunt him to the death. Otherwise, the only noise Vader makes comes from his breathing apparatus. One can almost hear his theme as he decloaks and kills Tarkin’s henchmen.
There aren’t enough accolades for “Bad Ground.” This will be an issue that readers talk about for a long time.
Dennis Keithly is a graduate of the University of Missouri, North Texas attorney, husband, father of two, and co-host of Starships, Sabers, and Scoundrels. In addition to Star Wars, Dennis is a fan of science fiction, fantasy, and super heroes in general. When not engaged in fictional universes, Dennis is reading a good book or watching the NHL, football, or studying the NFL draft.