Written by Joel T. Lewis
Boy am I glad I did not drop this series after last month’s disappointing issue! Honestly, this issue does all the things I criticized last month’s for getting wrong. It's almost spooky how completely Cullen Bunn’s issue 4 addressed all my concerns and made Darth Maul compelling and fun again. We get to see Darth Maul and Padawan Eldra Kaitis pop sabers and fight back to back against a horde of criminals and Bunn’s Bounty Hunter co-stars set up a great wild west ambush. Maul always burns brightest in battle, when the focused rage of his internal monologue informs the cold efficiency of his saber strikes, and this issue completely nails that construct. After Maul reluctantly frees Eldra from her bonds and returns the Jedi’s lightsaber, they proceed to cut through a dozen hunters aided briefly by Maul’s probe droids. These dazzling action panels are peppered with Maul and Eldra trading jabs about their fundamentally opposed interpretations of the Force and the history of their two orders. Though both attempt to convince each other of the merits of either side of the Force, they quickly abandon persuasion for swordplay and decide to dispatch each other once they’ve dealt with the legion of criminals that have come to hunt them.
Cad Bane and company finally shine in this issue after their unexpected introduction in Darth Maul’s second installment. Pursued by a pack of hunting Trandoshans, Cad and company set up a classic western scenario where Bane challenges the leader of the pack to a blaster duel. But Bane’s duel isn’t the honorable contest of skill it appears to be as Vorheilo and Auura Sing ambush the Trandoshans and Bane never even touches his pistol. The use of Bane as the mysterious gunslinger from a space spaghetti western is so perfect and well executed that it almost makes up for the clumsy inclusion of these characters in the last two issues. This sequence is particularly well illustrated (though every panel in this issue is beautiful) perfectly capturing the aesthetic of the spaghetti western. Artist Luke Ross’s depiction of Cad Bane for instance, leaning against a rocking outcropping with his hat pulled low is instantly iconic and just dripping with spaghetti western attitude.
It occurred to me while reading this issue that a big part of what made this month’s installment work for me was the separation and space between Maul and Eldra and Bane and his bounty hunters. Issue 3 was full of problems but something I didn’t pick up on until I read this issue was the claustrophobia of shoving so many characters together in small enclosed spaces. The issue seemed cacophonous and characters seemed superfluous because there was physically no room for anybody to breathe. Issue 3 begins with imprisonment and concludes with a brawl in a very small spacecraft. With so many characters confined by their proximity to each other, no wonder Bane, Sing, and Vorheilo feel tacked on for no reason. Whereas the Moon of Drazkel‘s open air and Bane and Maul splitting up gave both groups a lot of space and allowed their separate plots to develop more fully.
Artist Luke Ross, like Darth Maul himself, shines in his illustrations of battles. As I mentioned earlier, his western inspired bounty hunter ambush is exceptional but seeing his dynamic lightsaber battle sketches leap off the page is really compelling and turning every page is exciting. Also, colorist Nolan Woodard really informs the atmosphere of the Moon of Drazkel through his work with shadow and especially with how he colors the sky. The perpetual twilight Woodard creates with a cool magenta skyline gives a great other-worldly glow to every panel.
If this issue hasn’t necessarily restored my faith in Cullen Bunn’s Darth Maul, it definitely has treated my wounds enough to make me excited for the fifth and final chapter of the series coming out next month. Let’s hope that Darth Maul and Eldra Kaitis’s final battle will stick the landing for a mini-series that has yo-yoed between middling and exceptional. Until next time, Geek On!