The fifth and final installment of Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison is set to arrive in comic book stores this week. We sat down with writer and Star Wars veteran Haden Blackman to discuss the final installment of this arc, as well as his thoughts on comic publishing, future X-Wing comics, and much more.
EUCantina (EUC): If you were in charge of how Dark Horse published comics, what would your first decision be?
Haden Blackman (HB): Hire myself to write even more comics… Aside from that, I think Dark Horse is doing some really great things with Star Wars, especially the focus on self-contained story arcs that can live on beyond their single issues. I might try more graphic novel-length stories, mostly because the first comic I ever read was Marvel’s graphic novel The Death of Captain Marvel. I’d also experiment with digital first for some of the riskier stories – those that feature second-tier characters or are shorter or longer than the standard formats.
EUC: In addition to Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison, you co-author Batwoman with J.H. Williams III. DC Comics re-imagined Batwoman as a gay character in 2006, causing a stir in the comic fandom. Diversity in storytelling – particularly gender – has been analyzed by Star Wars fans this year. Why do you think diversity matters?
HB: From a writing standpoint, taking two characters with vastly different backgrounds, points-of-view, prejudices and passions, and slamming them together can yield great drama. The more groups you exclude, the harder that becomes. And practically, it’s easier – and more rewarding – for me to write for and about the types of people I know, and I’m fortunate to know a lot of different types of people. Finally, on a personal level, I think it’s important to represent the world we live in – even if that’s through the lens of a galaxy far, far away.
EUC: Excluding omnibuses, the last X-Wing comic was published 6 years ago. There’s renewed interest in the X-Wing heroes following the success of X-Wing: Mercy Kill. As the writer of X-Wing: Rogue Leader, are you interested in penning another X-Wing comic? What’s your take on the Wraiths?
HB: Absolutely. Whether it’s Rogue Squadron or the Wraiths, I love the concept of a squad of pilots from diverse backgrounds, with dramatically different personalities, coming together for a common cause. And the hardware is totally cool.
EUC: I’m really impressed how the art and writing mesh. How do you and penciller Agustin Alessio keep everything in sync?
HB: I’ve been extremely fortunate that Dark Horse keeps pairing me with really incredible artists who can take one of my scripts and produce something far better than I ever envisioned. I tend to write really detailed panel descriptions, but I always try to give a lot of latitude so that the artist can play to his strengths or go in a different direction if he has a better idea. Hopefully, that combination is liberating for artists… All I know is that I wrote some pretty demanding scenes in this series, and Agustin has pulled them off more skillfully than I could have ever hoped for. I’m also floored by his ability to show emotion on a character’s face, or through body language. And his character designs for the prisoners are sick!
EUC: Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison is unique. Every main character must face loss. Some characters, like Moff Trachta, are visibly scarred. But others’ scars aren’t always seen. Did you draw on life experiences when you designed the characters? Are you trying to convey a message?
HB: I usually realize after the fact that I’ve drawn on some personal experience to create a character or come up with a story. However, in this case, I actually did set out to write a very specific story, inspired by some things that I went through revolving around a very relatable human experience – trying to prove oneself. I think that’s a recurring theme for me… I consciously made Tohm a character who desperately wants to prove himself, and has the deck stacked against him so we’d be more invested in his struggle. But, his scars and his past are also the very things that could resonate with Vader, the one person Tohm really wants to impress and please. The real question will be “Is it worth all the effort?”
EUC: Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison #4 introduced readers to a new female character, Commander Shonn Volta. What do you have planned for her? Is she a potential love interest for Cadet Thom or something more?
HB: I don’t want to give anything away, but Volta becomes important to Tohm on many levels. He can relate to her as a soldier, and she has no love for the Jedi, reinforcing his choice to remain loyal to the Empire. She also offers the promise of a life where he might be happy – or at least happier – with someone who sees beyond his scars. From a plot standpoint, she plays a key role in his plan to stop the coup attempt.
EUC: After another cliffhanger ending in issue #4, the question on every fan’s mind is: What happens in the next issue?
HB: We find out if all Tohm’s attempts to prove himself to Vader pay off.
EUC: On the Dark Horse message boards, Randy Stradley told fans that a Darth Vader series would release 5 issues a year. What stories will be told in future arcs? Will fans see more of Cadet Thom? Do the arcs tie or lead into Scott Allie’s Star Wars: Empire?
HB: Personally, I’d love to keep telling Vader stories. I like the idea of exploring the character from different viewpoints, and showing how he evolves from Anakin Skywalker in Episode III to the ruthless Dark Lord of the Sith we know from Episode IV. With every Vader story I’ve written, whether it’s one of the comics or The Force Unleashed, I’ve tried to show him taking one more step in that direction, but he’s an incredibly complex character and there’s still a ton of room to explore. I want to see what kinds of dilemmas we can put him in, what types of choices and psychological torments we can put him through, while still showing him kicking ass with a lightsaber and the dark side. And I’d definitely like to bring back some of the characters from Ghost Prison. Those that survive, anyway…
Thanks to Haden Blackman for taking the time to do this interview. You can read past EUCantina interviews here.