The Phonogram and Wicked + Divine scribe is also the writer behind the bestselling Darth Vader solo series from Marvel. Rich Edwards finds out more about taking on an icon...
On his work on Darth Vader for Marvel.
Comic Heroes: Darth Vader is arguably the most iconic screen villain of the last 50 years. Was he a daunting character to take on? How much did you have to think about it before signing up?
Kieron Gillen: A lot. Empire was the first movie I ever saw in the cinema. Writing canon, in the leadup to it, for my own first cinematic vision of evil... well, am I the guy for the job? I had to really consider that carefully. In the end, I realised I’d probably written more morally dubious characters than anyone else presently working for Marvel, so... well, maybe I am he right guy for it. I’m also Evil. That helps.
CH: What makes Vader work as a comic book character? And what are the challenges of writing him?
KG: A great visual. Never underestimate the power of a great visual in comics. The biggest problem is that he’s taciturn, gains most of his power from us being at a slight remove from him, and – trickiest of all in a still medium – is wearing a mask the whole time. So, trying to communicate an inner life while maintaining the necessary majesty is the trick. There’s a lot of effort in that particular balancing act.
CH: You’ve said in previous interviews that Vader finding out he has a son struck you as a key unseen moment. How much did you scour the movies for ideas for the character’s evolution?
KG: Oh, constantly. That was the job. I sat down with a notepad and did a complete close reading of all the movies, with a pen and notepad in hand. That’s covered in scrawled notes and random thoughts. It’s all real deconstructionary readingbetween-the-lines stuff. There’s masses of things on that notepad I’ll never use, but I was looking for everything interesting, especially related to Vader’s arc.
The implied arc is the main one, but there’s a lot more – things like Vader’s briefing of the Bounty Hunters in Empire made me realise that Vader knew these people. He was briefing with a lot of obvious knowledge (“No disintegrations”). That implied experience on the seedier side of Star Wars life led to a lot of the things he gets up to.
The trick is not to overdo it. As I said, Star Wars is an enormous universe. Part of you wants to tie everything together and all these characters so closely, but that just becomes artificial. In Vader Down when Aphra [a scientist who forms an alliance with Vader] and Han meet, there’s part of you wants to make them old acquaintances, but that’d just be too much.
I sat down with a notepad and did a close reading of all the movies
CH: You’ve worked with iconic characters before in your Marvel work. How does writing Vader compare to that?
KG: It’s an experience. I’ve written iconic villains before, but none as [iconic] as Vader, and none of those villains were the lead. I’ve always wanted to do a villain book in my career, but I never dreamed I’d get to do it with Darth Vader.
CH: Has working in the Star Wars universe changed your outlook?
KG: It’ll be better to ask me when I’ve finished writing Vader. When you’re in the world and working, you’re constantly doing the aforementioned deconstruction. You’re dissecting it for all the potential aspects. You’re trying to transform it. I’ll be interested what I’m like when I’m finished, and see how much I can disengage and how much the experience has changed me. It won’t go back to how it was before – I wouldn’t want it to, as life is change – but I’ll be interested to see how I look at the world.
This page: Gillen’s Darth Vader series is set between the end of A New Hope and the start of The Empire Strikes Back, and it’s not only compelling, it’s officially all canon. All of which makes it unmissable for any fan of comics or Star Wars.
High Phonogram (“it’s warped autobiography”)
Now Darth Vader
This page: Gillen has said giving Vader an internal monologue would destroy his “looming, monolithic” quality, but the writer has been inspired by character-driven thrillers like I,Claudius, TheGodfather and HouseofCards.