I consider myself something of a prequel apologist. The three movies focusing on Anakin Skywalker succumbing to the Dark Side are deeply flawed movies, but the extravagant setting is far more interesting to me than the ravaged planets and moons of episodes IV, V and VI. There’s a mountain of completely untapped potential for Clone Wars-era storytelling — that unfortunately, the movies that introduced it completely whiffed on — which is one of the things I was most looking forward to when Marvel announced their plans for a whole slew of in-canon stories.
Before Disney and, as a result, Marvel took control of the Star Wars universe, Dark Horse was putting out some great Darth Maul comics under the Son of Dathomir banner. These comics, along with the excellent Clone Wars cartoon series, helped flesh out the mysterious Zabrak. Unfortunately, while The Clone Wars is still canon, Son of Dathomir has been relegated to Legends status, meaning it is no longer officially what happened.
So we turn to Cullen Bunn and and Luke Ross, who crafted a five issue Maul miniseries for Marvel to provide some backstory around what happened before the events of The Phantom Menace. Maul is one of the most memorable characters of the prequel trilogy despite having almost no screen time dedicated to explaining his backstory or motives, so this trade was highly anticipated.
Unfortunately, this trade doesn’t introduce much backstory for Maul at all. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun book and definitely contains some very interesting nuggets, but instead of seizing the opportunity to provide much-needed context for The Phantom Menace‘s main antagonist, Darth Maul instead presents a self-contained adventure. Centered around Maul’s unending rage and his need to attempt to sate this hatred, he defies Darth Sidious’s orders and embarks on a solo mission to kill a Jedi for the first time.
That Jedi is actually a Padawan by the name of Eldra Kaitis, who finds herself in the custody of some very bad people. A Hunger Games-type scenario unfolds for her, as she is ultimately being hunted by many criminals at once. Sadly, we don’t learn much about this Jedi — not much of her personality is shown, and just about any generic Force-sensitive good guy could have been plugged into this role without any changes to the trade’s story. Maul’s mission takes him to three bounty hunters who are not particularly memorable either.
That’s the main issue with this story — it just doesn’t feel like it needed to be told. It is interesting to see Maul try to quench his thirst for killing, and at one point he even almost has a moment of remorse. But ultimately, we aren’t given any new information to supplement that found in the prequels, and that feels like a huge missed opportunity for the first miniseries based around such a popular-yet-underutilized character like Maul.
Taken purely as a self-contained miniseries, though, it’s actually pretty solid. Maul ends up learning a bit about the limits of his rage, and his master’s grand plan. The story is paced well, and keeps you wanting to turn the page to see what’s going to happen next. Missed opportunity to add to the extensive Star Wars canon aside, you could spend your money on a lot worse.
There is one particularly awesome scene, though. Maul and Sidious experience a vision of ancient Jedi times in an excellent double page spread, at once interesting and spooky. Of particular note in the vision: the ancient Jedi are all using lightsabers that require the same cross-guard ventilation system that Kylo Ren’s does. Was this an ancient lightsaber design before it was further refined?
Speaking of the artwork, Luke Ross kills it throughout the miniseries. Maul looks great in every page he’s in, and secondary characters have unique characteristics that make them stand out. The inevitable lightsaber duel between Maul and Kaitis is exciting and well drawn with a kinetic energy, and for lore nerds, the vision of ancient Jedi is a real treat.
Is It Good?
Cullen Bunn and Luke Ross’s Darth Maul miniseries is a fun standalone tale, a completely self-contained adventure that sees the infamous Phantom Menace antagonist in some interesting situations, illustrated beautifully. However, Darth Maul desperately needs some backstory to provide context to Menace and Maul’s place in the new canon, and this series feels like a missed opportunity to provide that.