Why This Week's Darth Vader Comic Is Causing Controversy

The protagonist in the latest issue of the Vader anthology series has drawn some concerns from fans. (Image: David Lopez, Javi Pina, Muntsa Vicente, and Joe Caramagna, Marvel Comics)

Where Darth Vader: Dark Visions has gone, controversy has followed—mainly thanks to its origins as a replacement for another Star Wars comic project scrapped almost immediately after its announcement. But this week, it found itself enmeshed in an altogether different controversy.

Each issue of Dark Visions, like the scrapped Shadow of Vader’s intent before it, has looked to portray Darth Vader through a series of lenses, cast in the eyes of the people in the galaxy around him—alien beings who glimpse him on the field of battle, Rebel fighters who see him as a grim specter stalking their very existence, officers of the Empire to whom he is the universe’s most petrifying boss. This week’s third issue, by Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum, David Lopez, Javi Pina, Muntsa Vicente, and Joe Caramagna—titled “Tall, Dark, and Handsome” — casts the Dark Lord of the Sith not as an empowered foe or ghoulish reckoner, but as the object of affection of a low-ranking, unnamed female nurse aboard the Death Star.

Throughout the story, the nurse is looked on with a scornful attitude by not just the people around her — from Vader himself to her boss in the medbay — but also the narrative’s framing. She’s constantly given menial tasks to do, and dragged about and screamed at for failing to do them promptly by her superior. But we aren’t really invited to feel any sympathy for the nurse, because we don’t really learn anything about who she is as a person. We don’t even learn her name. But what we do learn, throughout her internal narration guiding “Tall, Dark, and Handsome,” is that she is desperately, madly in love with Darth Vader.

The nurse’s obsession with Vader grows. (Image: David Lopez, Javi Pina, Muntsa Vicente, and Joe Caramagna, Marvel Comics)

The nurse collects scraps of flesh and detritus from the medbay from Vader’s many visits, as trinkets of her affection. She shirks duties in the hopes she can catch a glimpse of him skulking down the battlestation’s many corridors. She fantasizes dancing with Vader, taking off his mask as the Christine to his Phantom. Eventually — after receiving another verbal dressing-down from the doctor for attempting to keep Vader’s cape for herself when he leaves it in the sickbay, leading to the discovery of her collection of Vader accoutrements — she fantasizes joining him as a Sith, clad in black and choking the life out of her boss when he throws her collection into the trash compactor.

It’s this loss that breaks the nurse entirely, leading to her diving knee deep into the garbage chutes in a vain attempt to find her memories of Vader — before marching right into the Dark Lord of the Sith’s private chambers, bleary eyed and desperate to get a glimpse of the man she is obsessed with. Her reward is the first time Vader directly engages with her in the story...by promptly thrusting his lightsaber through her chest and ordering a subordinate to come “get this garbage out of my quarters.”

The nurse glimpses under Vader’s mask, seconds before he murders her. (Image: David Lopez, Javi Pina, Muntsa Vicente, and Joe Caramagna, Marvel Comics)

It’s hardly a magnanimous end for the nurse, but “Tall, Dark, and Handsome” is hardly magnanimous to her as a character. She isn’t painted as a sympathetic figure, but a deranged lunatic, looked down upon by the world around her (and that the world is right to do so) for her self-destructive delusion. Even in the fantasies where she is given a position of imagined strength, it rings hollow. It’s less of a love story and more of a dire warning about obsession—one that feels like it mocks its protagonist as much as the people around her do.

Reaction to the story online in the wake of its release has been...well, as you might expect from the headline of this blog, one filled with controversy—especially for female readers. A part of Star Wars fandom, and especially within female fan circles, that’s been around for as long as fandom itself are people who are fans of the franchise’s villains. From the Imperial cosplayers of 501st to Reylo shippers, there are people who champion these characters as their favourites as much as there are people who laud the heroes of the Republic, Rebellion, and Resistance — or fantasize about them (I mean, we all saw Ben Swolo, right?). Being attracted to villains is a tale as old as fiction itself.

And yet Dark Visions’ view of the nurses desires takes established feminine power fantasies and treats them as delusional jokes, right up until the moment it leaves its female protagonist a crumbled heap on the floor. Threads like the one above from female fans lambasting the story have even lead to Dark Visions writer Dennis Hallum reaching out to defend the nurse’s portrayal as one that’s meant to be heroic — and that the story is meant not to depict the medic as someone mentally unstable:

Which would be fair if Lopez, Pina, and Vicente’s artwork didn’t repeatedly depict the nurse as looking manic, even before her breaking point near the issue’s climax.

But what’s also what’s stoked the controversy around the story even further is that Chuck Wendig — the writer rapidly removed from Shadow of Vader when it was first announced despite having already written multiple issues, before the entire book was cancelled and replaced with the similarly-premised Dark Visions — also took to Twitter to make a comment. The author revealed that in Shadow there would’ve been a similar tale from a male perspective, framed as a commentary not on female obsession, but toxic masculinity:

Whether the story was inspired by Wendig’s pitch for Shadow of Vader or just a matter of awkward coincidence is unknown — when reached for a statement about reaction to Dark Visions #3 and Wendig’s statement, Marvel Comics declined to offer further commentary. It would seem that this is just the latest shadow Shadow of Vader’s cancellation has happened to cast over its successor.


Comments

    Not really controversial for me so much an unbelievably lazy, I saw the ending in the first paragraph because it's so ridiculously mundane and overdone.

    On another note, the alternative doesn't sound much better (though I was enjoying the Vader comic before)
    I go to Star Wars for the galaxy far far away, not the Twitter chatter as far away as my phone.

    6 people on Twitter isn't really a controversy

      Yeah, Twitter users NEED things to get upset about in order to maintain their Twitter related past times. It's not really a controversy so much as a series of opinions and interpretations.
      It's like how you can't just decide the Liam Neeson is racist because he owns his past and decides to communicate it publicly in a very Irish manner. Not everyone talks and tells stories like Americans expect them to. It's getting outta hand and the rest of the world needs to realise what's actually happening with the way one country's online culture has dicated expectation to the rest of us we can give less fucks about.

    Isn't this exactly what happened with Harley Quinn and the Joker, only Joker was happy to use her for his own means?

    Harley Quinn nuff said.

    She'd make a great Sith. Possession, passion (don't mistake for love), greed, fantasies of killing those who get in her way (or in this case, her boss telling her to do the job she was employed for) And a lack of self control.

    Her fanaticism is so on point where it negatively affects things outside of her selfish world, as well as negatively affecting her own life. I just can't sympathise with that.

    I like how the OG writer say's that the stroy is basically the same except the woman was a man and that somehow makes it okay. because Vader isn't supposed to be a monster that's light is almost impossible for all but, his own son to see. seriously if Obi-Wan who was as close to him as he could get didn't have hope for him... Well I suppose nuianced ideas and accurate portayals don't mean much next to the agenda.

    Sounds similar to the story that was a run in Vol 2 Deadpool with Dr Ella Whitby. She kept his parts as well and spawned the Evil Deadpool arc.

    https://marvel.fandom.com/wiki/Ella_Whitby_(Earth-616)

      Ah, such a good arc!
      I suppose the only difference being Wade was still the the most damaged by a long shot.
      I've always enjoyed that about DP comics, the hilarity was always offset by some pretty messed up and tragic stuff by runs end.

        Yeah I enjoyed the read. I agree. No matter the mental issues of Ella, they were nothing compared to Wades.

    This story is not worth a controversy nor an outrage.
    It's greatest crime seems to be lazy writing.

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