Written by Joel T. Lewis
Where last month's issue of Darth Maul acted as a bit of a catch up/primer for the new canon of Darth Maul, issue 2 feels like a retread of Star Wars Greatest Hits. In his search for the Padawan held for ransom by Xev Xrexus, Darth Maul has landed on the “Smuggler’s Moon” of Nar Shaddaa. Now, I'm of the opinion that if Obi-Wan had ventured to this Hutt-controlled moon before the events of Episode IV he might have rethought his characterization of Mos Eisley as the heart of scum and villainy in the galaxy. Needless to say, the Smuggler’s Moon is a rough corner of space and by opening this issue in yet another seedy cantina, author Cullen Bunn automatically invites comparisons to Mos Eisley’s Cantina and the events that transpired there. Now we know, thanks to Obi-Wan Kenobi, that if a Jedi walks into a bar, the odds are pretty good that somebody’s going to lose an arm, but when a Sith does it the collateral damage tends to increase. Darth Maul walks into the bar only to exit it shortly thereafter, dragging several thugs through the newly shattered window into the street.
Outnumbered, but hardly outmatched, Maul proceeds to dispatch the throng of malcontents without his lightsaber or the Force for fear of exposing the secret of the Sith too early. His most notable opponent in this first sequence is a squid-faced Quarren named Dirty Calgriz. Luke Ross’ skillful illustrations depict this Quarren employing an unexpected defense mechanism that was both surprising and visually stunning. Apparently the Quarren can spray ink at their opponents in order to blind them. That was an especially refreshing addition to the bar brawl that thoroughly impressed this veteran Star Wars fan. Having backed himself into a tight spot, Darth Maul seems to be on the brink of defeat as the circle of space misfits move in on the temporarily blinded Zebrak, when he is rescued by an unexpected trio: Bounty Hunters Aurra Sing, Vorhdeilo, and Cad Bane. The inclusion of Cad Bane, a fan favorite from the Clone Wars series, is, in my opinion, the second Greatest Hit that this issue relies on. While it is exciting to see the Clint Eastwood-esque blaster-slinger come to rescue of Darth Maul, his presence in the comic doesn’t really add much to a series that’s supposed to be about Darth Maul. It seems to be an odd match up that sounded cool in theory but distracts from Maul’s desire to keep a low profile.
As the unlikely foursome pick up the trail of the kidnapped Padawan, we are treated (and it is a treat I assure you) to possibly one of the silliest Darth Maul moments of all time. While interrogating the Haddex Gang’s protocol droid (FE-B3 or “Phee-Bee”) Darth Maul uses the Force to pop its remaining eye assembly out of its head, rendering the droid blind. Meaning to intimidate the droid into revealing the location of Xrexus’ Padawan auction, Maul’s blinding tactic comes across as quaint in the comic. Maul’s hand is so close to Phee-Bee’s face that it’s comical for him to use the Force to blind the droid. He could have just as easily ripped the optical sensor out with his bare hands, but using the Force here causes the desired seriousness of an interrogation to fall into levity. It just looks silly and is so uncharacteristic of the violence we've come to expect from Darth Maul. That being said, the silliness brought a smile to my face (as most interactions with droids do) in a comic that could easily slide into monotonous brooding. I’m sure that this was not the effect that Bunn was shooting for, but it's one of my favorite panels of all time.
The third Star Wars Greatest Hit that Bunn sets up for Darth Maul is a Force cave sequence. On the way to Xrexus’ auction, Darth Maul’s mediation is interrupted by a flashback to a dead planet where Darth Sidious taught the young Zabrak an important lesson. In a pyramid temple haunted by the restless souls of murdered Sith, Sidious taught Maul the mantra, 'Far above, far below. We don’t know where we’ll fall. Far above, far below. What once was great is rendered small.' Beset by the vengeful souls of ancient Sith whose lives were ended by the first great conflict with the Jedi, Maul uses this mantra to harness and focus generations of rage and pain. Meanwhile, Cad Bane and Aurra Sing discuss the tenuous agreement they've struck with the mysterious Zabrak. Unsure of their future safety, the motley crew arrive at the auction and the issue ends as Maul discovers where the Padawan is being kept.
Now, there are some definite issues with this series: dressing up main elements of the original Star Wars trilogy and Clone Wars series in Pre-Clone Wars drag is a little disappointing as it seems to rely too heavily on the iconic elements of its predecessors rather than adding anything new to the Star Wars mythos. That being said, seeing a cantina brawl starring a Darth Maul who’s forced to use hand-to-hand combat and very little of the Force was very entertaining. Additionally, the Force cave-esque flashback did add some much needed depth to Darth Maul’s preoccupation with revenge against the Jedi. Before this issue there was really no basis for Maul’s specific hatred of the Jedi, so the added weight of vengeful Sith spirits filled in that gap nicely.
Also, I would be doing this issue’s artist, Luke Ross, a great disservice if I didn't mention the skill with which he is depicting the Star Wars Universe. Issue 2 is splash page city. I don't think I've seen so many two-page spreads even in the massive Marvel Civil War comic event. The trouble with including so many sweeping visuals is that the reader might get lost following the prose and dialogue but somehow, Bunn and Ross have struck a beautiful balance that flows well from panel to panel. Ross manages to give us pages that feel as densely and diversely populated as the Star Wars Universe should without allowing the reader to get lost. Until next time, Geek On!