Darth Maul: Death Sentence
Like any major media franchise, the Star Wars universe is not immune to terrible decisions every now and then. From The Star Wars Holiday Special, to Jar-Jar Binks, to Ahsoka Tano, there are no shortage of horrendous marketing schemes cooked up to sell more action figures to children that have ended up being pure torture for adult fans of the universe.
One of the more recent awful decisions involves the return of Darth Maul from his satisfying death in Episode I: The Phantom Menace. The irony here is that Maul’s end, sliced in two by Obi-Wan’s hand and tumbling down a bottomless reactor shaft, was originally intended to be so decisive that fans could never reasonably expect the character to return. At the time, everyone involved in the process was attempting to avoid another Boba Fett situation, where the ambiguity of his fate lead to a re-appearance of the character.
Fett’s return ended up working out rather well. He has appeared in several enjoyable comic books and played an important (though occasionally tiresome) role in the Legacy of the Force novel series. Maul’s return sees one of the few characters with less depth than Fett being brought back into the fold, and the dubious nature of this premise makes it significantly harder to take seriously.
The goal in Darth Maul: Death Sentence is to make this Sith warrior’s return seem like something less than an utter joke and make something positive out of one of the worst in-universe decisions we’ve seen recently. Is this book up to that herculean task, or is it the first in a long line of critical failures surrounding nu-Maul?
This book centers around the exploits of Darth Maul and his brother, Savage Oppress, as they attempt to crush the mining operations of Ja’Boag, a wealthy tycoon who has placed an extravagant price on the heads of the two warriors. They make their way to the planet Moorjhone, where Ja’Boag’s base is located, and find themselves fighting on the same side as the local population of cat-people, who have been pushed out of their ancestral homes by Ja’Boag’s encroachment.
The locals have a prophecy that they believe Maul fulfills; he is the “demon in the light” who will deliver them from certain death at the hands of the Day of the Three Suns, a solar event primed to wipe out everything on the planet’s surface in just a matter of days. Maul sees an opportunity here, and helps hone the native armies into a relentless, hate-filled machine. We get a few good looks at Maul as an angry drill instructor, and it would be quite an understatement to say that he makes Sgt. Hartman from Full Metal Jacket look like a pushover.
Opposing the Maul brothers are two new Jedi, Salmara and Judd, and their young charge, Dray (an adult and insane Dray is featured quite extensively in the Invasion series, another of writer Tom Taylor’s creations.) This trio is shown to be quite the foil to Maul’s unyielding seriousness, joking about quite a bit and engaging in banter even in the direst of situations.
The plot is a bit on the predictable side, but it isn’t exactly aiming to have tons of intrigue either. The Maul brothers have no particular ambitions this time around, and there doesn’t seem to be any outside force like Sidious to influence them, so they just do what they do best and kill everything in sight. In this regard it is a more verbose sequel to the earlier Darth Maul comic, but the appearance of fleshed out hero characters to do battle with them add a new wrinkle. These characters are quite enjoyable, but ultimately not deep enough to give this comic any lasting punch. There is enough stuff happening to keep you entertained, but it’s probably not something that will be high on the list of revisiting.
Because of the awful premise underlying the entire thing and the generic plot, this is tough to recommend to the average Star Wars fan. It will entertain but will not inspire, but it gets plenty of bonus points for moving beyond that with a brilliant bit of flavoring that puts the entire scenario in a much different light.
Perhaps the element best explaining why this book is actually somewhat successful is the self-depreciating humor seen throughout this book. Writer Tom Taylor is not at all afraid to poke fun at Darth Maul’s return, and in many ways the book treats Maul as a bit of a joke. Dray is the primary culprit here. He taunts Maul in battle, and delivers an incredulous rant concerning Maul’s return from the dead early in the story that probably sums up a lot of fan reaction to this development. The rest of the cast isn’t afraid to jump in either, as the older Jedi Knights and even Ja’Boag get in a few barbs at Maul’s halved status. Playing something as over the top ridiculous as Maul returning from death via lightsaber bisection and a trip down a bottomless shaft as a serious story would’ve almost certainly looked ridiculous, but approaching it with the playful humor demonstrated here feels perfect.
That isn’t to say Maul takes a light hearted approach with his relentless slaughtering. He and his brother Savage are utterly serious, speaking in brief sentences and never taking their eyes off their main goal. They have a very hardcore action duo dynamic, finishing off each other’s sentences and engaging in silly antics to determine which one can be more intimidating. Their dynamic here is like the sociopathic tendencies of Ted Bundy meeting the dialogue of every over the top 80’s action movie star ever. Because of the way most of the other characters in this book interact with Maul, this once again feels like he is being made fun of a bit, but don’t tell him that!
The artwork fits this generally more light-hearted feel. Through vibrant coloring and crystal-clear lighting (no dramatic and over-wrought shading to be found here) this book feels far more like an action movie than a slasher flick. The coloring is very rich and brings to life everything from Maul’s incredibly furious facial expressions to the inhospitable desert world he finds himself stranded on, and expanded universe fans will be happy to see one of the more diverse casts in recent memory. Only Obi-Wan fits the conventional white human male archetype, and even the background characters are a wonderful array of obscure, colorful species that help give this book a very unique flavor.
Of course, one crucial component of any good action story are the action scenes themselves. Here is where artist Bruno Redondo really outdoes himself, giving us plenty of great stuff to enjoy. From the awe-inspiring display put forth by the brothers Maul upon Ja’Boag’s hapless security forces, to the outright desperation of the native population as they try to find shelter in the face of a decadal solar flare against the wishes of their technologically superior opponents, there is an impressive amount of variety and quality to the action in this book.
A solid take on the character’s return that manages to avoid being a complete farce, this is nowhere near as good as the Darth Maul comic from 2001, but considering the atrocious source material, the fact that it is actually readable is nothing short of astonishing. Tom Taylor has worked a miracle with Darth Maul: Death Sentence, but it can still safely be skipped unless you are a completionist or hungry for more Maul action.