Written by Joel T. Lewis
As long as I've been alive, there's never been a better time to be a Star Wars fan. With two reasonably well received films in the last two years, the Rebels TV show, and a wash of new novels and canon comics the Star Wars franchise is alive and well. Not that it ever really went away, as countless games, novels, and comics throughout the years can attest. But, it has been an uneasy time in terms of taking in new content, at least for me. As a child I spent many a night huddled under my covers with a flashlight desperate to finish one more page, one more chapter of the dozens of Star Wars Expanded Universe (EU) novels I collected from countless birthday lists and my local library. I read them at recess at school, despite the jeers of the other kids. I made lightsaber crackles and thrums with my mouth as I dreamed of fighting at the side of Luke Skywalker or swooping in from above in a T.I.E. Interceptor going full throttle. I lived in the Star Wars Universe thanks to those novels. Now when George Lucas sold the rights of the franchise to Disney they assembled a committee to determine the future the universe I had treasured for so long. The result of that meeting was that the stories I grew up reading were to pass into legend and going forward all new content would be considered true canon.
Now I'll be the first to admit that the worst thing about Star Wars fans is our inability to accept what we deem to be inappropriate or unnecessary changes to our favorite universe. Take midichlorians, or the prequels, or Anakin’s sand speech in Attack of the Clones for example. We love to take apart and complain about what Lucas or whoever did to our Star Wars. I realize it's not as if Disney came into my library and burned my copies of the Thrawn Trilogy or the Rogue Squadron series but learning that stories that were such a big part of my childhood, of my budding imagination as a kid, weren't part of the Star Wars story anymore cut me deep. As a result, I have been timid with respect to the flurry of new canon material that has come out since Disney acquired Star Wars. I didn't really want to invest myself in new stories that would gloss over the ones I had grown to love or devour a new canon when the old was snatched away so easily.
That's not to say I haven't been curious. I’ve looked over the new novels, and watched a bit of Rebels, but I was really interested in re-entering the Star Wars universe through comics. I had heard that Marvel’s newest Star Wars comics were exceptional but was unsure whether I should catch up on the main title or follow Solo, Princess Leia, or Poe Dameron. Then I heard that Darth Maul was getting a new comic and less than a week later I bought and devoured the issue I'm about to discuss.
Maul was always characterized in the old EU as a man composed of frustrated anticipation. He was trained to be a weapon, hell it’s even in his name, Maul, but much of his time was taken up with cloak and dagger missions where his main objective was to avoid direct conflict with the Jedi. In his frustration and fundamental belief that his talent was being wasted, Maul constantly set himself against every dangerous opponent he could find to test his skills as a fighter. This desperate search for a worthy opponent, for a true test of his skills was ever at the center of Darth Maul’s motivations. This spirit has carried over into this first installment of Darth Maul comics. In many ways this issue serves as a Darth Maul refresher course, reestablishing the tried and true character building that the old canon contributed to Maul’s legacy. It may seem a bit repetitive to veteran Star Wars fans but it is a great introduction to everything that made Maul such a compelling villain: his overwhelming desire to prove himself worthy of the Sith mission, the tenuous power dynamic between Maul and Darth Sidious, and most of all Darth Maul’s viciousness.
At the beginning of the issue we find Maul in the middle of a recreational hunt in the jungles of the planet Twon Keetee. What's the dark lord of the Sith hunting you might ask? Rathtars. In just two pages, author Cullen Bunn establishes a through-line of continuity with The Force Awakens and sets one of the most formidable characters of the prequel era against one of the more vicious elements of the post-Empire period. But what's most impressive about the battle between these two forces of nature is that Maul engages the Rathtars with a pole axe and not his signature double-bladed lightsaber. This showcases the skill and fury of Maul’s fighting style but also enhances our anticipation to see his weapon of choice later in the issue.
Maul returns to Coruscant and is scolded by his master for nearly being discovered by two Jedi prior to their meeting. Sidious warns Maul about not allowing his impatience to sabotage their grand scheme to overthrow the Jedi and dispatches him to rescue members of the Trade Federation from pirates. After a dogfight above the surface of the planet involving Maul’s starship the Scimitar (which is one of my favorites), Maul discovers that a crime boss has taken a Jedi Padawan and is holding them for ransom. Taking it upon himself to get to the Padawan before the Jedi, Maul slaughters all witnesses to keep his mission a secret from his master. Though this issue is basically a primer for what's to come, it's great to see Darth Maul come to life again before his first duel with Obi-Wan Kenobi and the obsession fueled episodes of the Clone Wars series that followed. If you think that a series centered on such an intense, vengeful character might be a little too dark to read month after month there is a surprise mini-comic at the end of issue 1 that was a great palate cleanser and really sold me on picking up the next issue. Until next time, Geek On!