By Tom Taylor, Bruno Redondo, and Michael Heisler
Thought long gone by the blade of Obi-Wan Kenobi, the notorious Sith scourge known as Darth Maul has returned. Consumed and fueled solely by hatred, Maul and his brother Savage Opress find themselves with a price on their heads, which severely dampens their dark agenda. A pair of Master Jedi accompanied by their brazen padawan are tasked with investigating the circumstances of the bounty placed on the Sith lords, but quickly become entwined in a battle against genocide and the fulfillment of an obscure prophecy. Darth Maul: Death Sentence, from the mind of veteran Star Wars scribe Tom Taylor in collaboration with his Injustice artist, Bruno Redondo and colorist Michael Heisler, is a self-contained story of rage, survival and faith.
While the story is technically set directly after the events of the fourth season of The Clone Wars and before the events of Episode III, no outside information is needed to enjoy Death Sentence as all necessary background information is tactfully provided within. After becoming aware of a bounty placed on him and his brother (via mercilessly slaughtering would-be assassins and an interrogation at lightsaber-point) Darth Maul travels to the planet Moorjhone to confront the fatal financier, a mining mogul named Ja’Boag. Also getting wind of the plot, the Jedi Council sends badass lady Jedi Master Salmara and thick skinned reptilian Master Judd to Moorjhone to look into how and why Ja’Boag is aware of the Sith. Lightsabers clash, blasters are fired, carbonite is frozen and through a very unlikely series of events Darth Maul is mistaken for the fabled messiah of the native people, themselves on the verge of annihilation. Like many expanded universe tales, there’s lots of room to breathe as morality and faith and brought to the forefront while building atop the foundations of cosmic adventure that made Star Wars so great to begin with.
Tom Taylor, perhaps best known for his current work on the DC digital series based off the Injustice: Gods Among Us video game franchise, is no stranger to this Jedi sandbox having previously worked on several Star Wars titles. And it shows. The script effortlessly transitions from force-powered action sequences to contemplative serenity to stormtrooper laden military scenarios, all the while maintaining natural (well, natural for Star Wars) dialogue that’s rarely dragged down by exposition. Taylor’s at his strongest when dealing with the native and naïve Moorjhone people who were forced out of the relative safety of their home, left to fend for themselves in the harsh planet surface. Intentional or not, there’s certainly a bit of a commentary regarding economically driven, superior outsiders laying waste to a native populace and combined with the religious observances of this wandering tribe, a biblical feel to their tribulations. Staring certain death in the face, they have to believe in their prophecy of a “Demon in the Light” else they would have nothing. Juxtaposing Maul into this setting is a fun experiment and one worth experiencing, even if the end result was predictable. Because that’s one thing Taylor makes implicitly clear: Maul is hatred incarnate. Even when he toys that Maul is wrestling with inner demons or perhaps could have some base-level empathy with two Moorjhonian brothers, he promptly slams the brakes and makes the reader hit their head on the irredeemable horribleness that is Darth Maul; he’s a two-dimensional character by design. It’s an enjoyable read, one that doesn’t delve too deep into symbolism or larger ideas of the human condition, but still manages to explore more than one might think in a book that features what is essentially a multi-horned devil with robotic dinosaur legs.
That questionably designed lower half of Maul may have its origins elsewhere, but in this particular collection they look silly and undercut the threat he supposedly poses. Sure it takes place some years before Empire Strikes back, but Luke got a robotic hand that looked just like his real hand, why couldn’t someone give Maul a air of legs that looked more like a human and less like a raptor? Moving on, those legs are consistently well rendered by artist Bruno Redondo. There are some really interesting panels that play with perspective and angles giving the story the requisite cinematic, yet uniquely comic book, feel necessary for Star Wars. Redondo is tasked with the unenviable chore of drawing characters that have been portrayed by real life-actors such as Samuel L. Jackson and Ewan McGregor. He handles that handful of recognizable faces ably, but there’s always a slight mannequin feeling about them. The cat-like Moorjhone people look fantastic (and slightly like seuss’ grinch) and Redondo nails their varying emotions of exasperation, anger and determination. Additionally, and thanks in large part to colorist Michael Heisler, there is a three page nightmare sequence that is absolutely bananas and looks unlike anything else in the book. It’s so beautifully muddled in shadows and textures, it’s a shame there aren’t more similar scenes elsewhere. Heisler’s colors are sharp if occasionally bland outside of that acid trip and add great levels of detail to the various alien species. The art is meant to appeal to a broad fan base, so it’s not hyper stylized or experimental, but the storytelling is greatly enhanced by the clever camera angles and on-point coloring.
For a character that had roughly zero lines in his first and only film appearance, Darth Maul has a surprising fan base. Then again, this is the same fan base that adores a similarly mute bounty hunter that was essentially a glorified delivery boy. For those that are a fan of the character and his reprehensible methods and motivations, Death Sentence will not disappoint, but there’s plenty here for those that are just tipping their toe in the Star Wars comics pool. This is an unintimidating self-contained story featuring some lesser-known characters that brushes up against some big ideas but never quite digs deeper. At just shy of 100 pages, it’s a quick and satisfying read that leaves the door open for future vile acts of darkness by Darth Maul. Dude literally looks like the devil and is named after an act of violence, so that’s kind of his gig.
Editor’s Note: PST! Did you know you can get this collection, and more, while also helping out a great cause in the DARK HORSE STAR WARS HUMBLE BUNDLE?!