Written by Joel T. Lewis
To characterize my first experience reading Cullen Bunn’s work as a roller coaster ride would not be inaccurate, or even an exaggeration. I've shifted from glee to frustration to about everything in between at least a dozen times over throughout the Darth Maul mini-series and finally we have arrived at the conclusion. I can only applaud Bunn and company for closing out the series with a well-crafted conclusion worthy of the Star Wars canon. There's not much to tell by way of plot in this issue as the majority of pages are taken up by the final Padawan/Sith showdown that the series promised from the very first installment. Blades clash as Maul ruminates over the joy of finally realizing his life's purpose: the extermination of Jedi Knights. Both colorist Nolan Woodard and artist Luke Ross shine as lightsaber blades flicker and play against the shadowy backdrop of the deserted Moon. As Maul and Eldra cross blades and match wits, Maul’s arrogance and over-confidence rear their ugly heads a few times, challenging his assumptions about his opponent and sparking his imagination with fantasies of turning Eldra to the dark side.
This final battle is so effective first, as the culmination of the tension Bunn built up over the course of the first 4 issues of the series, but also as a delicate dance of character and sensibilities as Maul develops respect and near admiration for his opponent. There is an almost sweet moment following the final blow as Maul assures the fast-fading Padawan that though she had told him she was merely a pupil he considered her to be every inch a Jedi, and a worthy adversary. I must praise Luke Ross here again as the nuance that he brings to Darth Maul’s facial expression at the moment he defeats Eldra is spectacular and poignant. There is recognition and surprise that Ross conveys through Maul’s face that his internal monologue only makes plain in the final panels of the issue, several pages later. Maul is surprised at finally penetrating Eldra’s defenses but you can also see the loss he experiences as that final saber thrust snuffs out the prey he was so desperate to engage. Maul realizes in this moment that the purest joy of his life, the euphoria he will chase for the rest of his life, fighting and killing the Jedi, is so fleeting that he will never be satisfied.
This self-awareness, while utterly devastating, does little to slake the Sith’s thirst for carnage as Xev Xrexus falls under his blade shortly after the Padawan’s death. Maul then returns to Coruscant and discovers that not only was his Master aware of his Padawan hunt, he also approved of the act of defiance. The series concludes with a profile of a creature molded for vengeance who has learned that his blood-lust will never be sated, and waits anxiously for the next opportunity to hunt the Jedi.
One of the most remarkable feats of Bunn’s mini-series was the way he took a seemingly limiting period of Darth Maul’s history and told a pretty significant, character-driven story wherein both the audience and Darth Maul discover the futility and sadness that characterize his most fundamental desires. The relationship Bunn establishes between the Sith Lord and vengeance so effectively mirrors that between addict and addiction that we begin to reframe our understanding of Darth Maul. This is no small feat and I'm very impressed that Bunn was able to round out a character so inherently mysterious in only five issues.
There were moments during this series when I was tempted to give up and I'm very pleased that my perseverance paid off. This creative team is superb and I'm excited to see more great comics from them in the future. Until next time, Geek On!