Written by: Cullen Bunn
Art by: Luke Ross
Chronology Placement: Set before “The Phantom Menace”
This graphic novel collects the following stories:
- Star Wars: Darth Maul (2017) # 1 – 5
There is no denying that Darth Maul was the coolest thing to come out of “The Phantom Menace”, and the climactic lightsaber battle between him, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan was worth sitting through all the bits with Jar Jar, Young Anakin and Pod Racing. With a visual design that rivaled Darth Vader’s imposing look, Darth Maul was a ferocious force of nature on-screen and his lack of dialogue made him all the more compelling. Ray Park did a tremendous job at bringing the character to life, and it is a testament to his popularity that they managed to resurrect him in The Clone Wars and Rebels TV shows. A stark contrast to the measured brutality of Vader, Maul is feral and seething with barely contained hatred for the Jedi, and this miniseries from Cullen Bunn and Luke Ross explores the character’s motivations and his difficulty in keeping that intense hate in check.
Cullen Bunn explores the relationship between Palpatine and Maul, contrasting the Machiavellian plotting of the Master against the rash, emotion-led actions of the apprentice. Maul is willing to disobey his master’s rule in order to satisfy his urge to kill Jedi, something that is revisited in “The Phantom Menace” as Maul attacks Qui-Gon in Tattootine. Bunn foreshadows the conflict between the two Sith Lords, positioning them as opposites in terms of behaviour. Maul’s disobedience creates an increased sense of tension as he undertakes his mission, forced to keep the Sith’s re-emergence a secret as well as hiding his own plans from his master. This added level of deceit makes this adventure all the more thrilling, complicating events and raising the stakes as Maul begins to get in over his head.
Joining Maul on his hunt for a captured Padawan is Aurra Sing and Cad Bane, two of the galaxy’s most deadly bounty hunters. This storyline predates their appearances in The Clone Wars, and it is great fun to see these two fan-favourite characters pop up unexpectedly in this adventure. I really enjoyed the interplay between Maul and the bounty hunters, and artist Luke Ross manages to nail Cad Bane’s effortlessly cool gunslinger persona. In fact, I loved the portrayal of these two characters so much that i’d love to see Luke Ross work on an Aurra Sing / Cad Bane miniseries in the future. His art style naturally lends itself the darker parts of the Star Wars universe, and he does a great job at visualising various hives of scum and villainy throughout the miniseries.
Bunn’s script shifts gears over the course of the story, moving from a typical heist plot to a “Hunger Games”-esque battle for survival as the hunters become the hunted on the Moon of Drazkel. The action is well-paced, and Bunn ensures that the tension regarding Maul’s attempts to remain undetected is present throughout. There is also the tension surrounding Maul and the Padawan, Eldra Kaitis, and the inevitable fight to the death. Bunn subverts the traditional “temptation of the Dark Side” narrative here with Maul, and actually has Kaitis attempt to sway him to the way of the Jedi. Eldra Kaitis is surprisingly well-developed as a supporting character, and while her fate is inevitable, the fight sequence between her and Maul is electrifying. It could easily have been adapted for The Clone Wars TV show, and set to John Williams’ epic “Duel of the Fates”.
Luke Ross is the ideal choice of artist for this miniseries with the dark and gritty realism inherent to his artwork. Maul is such an visually arresting character on-screen, he needs an artist who can transfer that larger-than-life energy onto the page and Ross manages that perfectly. While Bunn’s narration reveals the twisted rage and obsession rotting away Maul’s dark heart, it is Ross’ artwork that brings it to life in a way that rivals Ray Park’s terrific on-screen performance. There’s something quintessentially Star Wars about Ross’ art style, which means that the myriad of background aliens feel authentic and part of the universe. Marvel has done a great job at pairing artists with the right sorts of stories and characters across the Star Wars range, maximising the visual impact and atmosphere.
Steeped in darkness, “Darth Maul” is an uncomfortable glimpse into the passionate hatred that fuels one of the most iconic villains of the Star Wars prequel saga. This miniseries gives voice to the motivation that drives Maul, whilst foreshadowing his rash behaviour in “The Phantom Menace”. It is his bloodthirsty vendetta against the Jedi that blinds him, and ultimately is the source of his downfall. There is a grim sense of inevitability to Bunn’s script as Maul plays “cat and mouse” with an outclassed Padawan, and at times Maul comes across as an addict attempting to sate his hunger with whatever morsel he can find. With no hero to root for in this story and no hope for a redemption arc, “Darth Maul” is an unconventional Star Wars tale, and one that manages to unsettle and unnerve yet never fails to entertain. This is one trip to the Dark Side that you won’t forget in a hurry.