How do you characterize somebody that had all of three lines in his only appearance on film? That is the question at hand in Darth Maul, a short series designed to give the fearsome tattooed warrior a new adventure and a bit more depth behind his all too brief role in The Phantom Menace. This isn't the only work to tackle the near-mute antagonist, and I've previously reviewed the prose novel Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter, which featured the Sith apprentice as a true antagonist to a new cast of original characters, but the visual medium presents an entirely different opportunity to portray Lord Maul. Do the creators of this book take advantage of this opportunity, or is this a half-baked attempt to cash in on a big name character?
You know exactly what you are getting from this book right from the start. A wordless action scene featuring Maul fighting off a squad of training droids kicks off the book, and sets the tone for one of the most action heavy comics in the Star Wars universe. As you might expect, Darth Maul doesn't have much of a plot to it. This book essentially works as a ton of action scenes pasted back to back to back, with only the briefest of respites sandwiched in between. Darth Sidious has commissioned Maul with a new task in preparation for the upcoming Invasion of Naboo: wipe out the power base of the criminal organization Black Sun. Maul takes his assignment to heart, and the rest of the book is little more than him traveling to various worlds and disposing of his enemies. There isn't a lot of subtlety to his killings either- he just wades in and starts cutting people up. Along the way, Maul doesn't do much to grow as a character, and the events of the story do absolutely nothing to change him. Probably the most interesting plot point is one that only surfaces because of the recent retconning done to Maul's character. Maul's early history now has him pegged as a Nightbrother, or a slave of the Nightsisters of Dathomir. In this book, he has a prolonged duel with a Nightsister. The two don't have any relation to one another, but the added subtext of Maul fighting a member of the organization he spent some of his earlier years with lends some weight to an otherwise superfluous fight. Whether or not the retcon was designed with this story in mind, I don't know, but it does fit perfectly and manages to add a bit of emotional impact where there otherwise isn't any.
In a book like this, it is absolutely essential to have great artwork. Many pages have no words, with only some creative sound effects to give the scenes an audible element. Therefore, this book more than most relies on art to tell the story and keep the reader drawn in. Thankfully, it makes use of the talents of long time Star Wars artist Jan Duursema, and the result is something that is truly special. There are plenty of menacing shots that showcase Maul's ability to just stand around and look imposing, and Maul's ferocious manner of fighting is captured perfectly with a permanently snarling visage. You can see the hate in Maul's eyes, and these simple details tell you more about where Maul's thoughts are than any of the actual story. The main focus, of course, are the action sequences, and that is where the book truly shines. From the panel layout to the energetic drawings of Maul crushing his prey, this is a near flawless book that features an array of action shots and a very kinetic style that makes an enjoyable read out of what amounts to a series of fight scenes with very little weight and even less tension.
It doesn't end there. There is a staggering amount of diversity in this comic- if you have a favorite alien species in the Star Wars universe, there is an excellent chance you will be seeing Darth Maul kill one of its representatives in this book. Each is drawn extremely well and true to form, and it helps to give this book that underworld feeling reminiscent of Jabba's Palace or the Mos Eisley Cantina. The environments are pretty interesting as well, giving us the rare glimpse into the most prominent criminal organization in Star Wars. The few flaws have to do mostly with coloring. It is a bit bland in places and one panel in particular has Maul's eyes colored in a ridiculous looking light red. For the most part though, the colors are just as good as everything else. Maul's tattooed torso looks fantastic, and the interesting wardrobe many of the Black Sun characters exhibit really comes to life through the color schemes.
Darth Maul is a bit of an unconventional comic, but it is also one that is perfectly suited for the character it is trying to capture. Maul has very scant dialogue throughout and it isn't much of an exploration of his character, but realistically there isn't a lot there to begin with. The art makes this something that any Star Wars fan should check out, because it truly is spectacular on just about every level, but the rest of the book is just kind of there, hitting the expected beats and doing what it is supposed to do, but not providing any sort of punch.