When the license for Star Wars comics reverted from Dark Horse Comics to Marvel in 2015, it seemed that Marvel’s first instinct was to release a 4-5 issue miniseries for each popular character in the saga. Darth Maul is easily the most popular character to come out of the Prequel Trilogy. Star Wars: Darth Maul tells a short story set before The Phantom Menace and helps explain the source of Maul’s anger and hatred towards the Jedi.
Overall, this is comic an interesting look at how Lucasfilm will try to reconceptualize Maul in the new Disney-era canon. In the Expanded Universe/Legends, authors tended to treat Maul less as a character and more as an unstoppable death machine.* Maul seldom had any wants or desires outside of serving as Darth Sidious’ personal assassin. The first series by Dark Horse focused on Maul (also titled Star Wars: Darth Maul) showed him systematically slaying members of the Black Sun criminal syndicate at Sidious’ behest. This fit with what we saw of the character in The Phantom Menace; after all, Darth Maul only spoke twice in the entire film.
By contrast, Marvel’s Darth Maul miniseries was written after we learned about Maul’s resurrection in The Clone Wars animated show. TCW’s Maul was a much more complicated character, one who launched his own schemes and bristled at Sidious’ power. Marvel’s Maul clearly tries to blend the TPM version of the character with TCW’s reimagining. Maul is still deadly and angry, but he’s also more cunning and introspective. Maul’s mission in this comic is his own, in defiance of Sidious. Moreover, he’s shown plotting and hiring bounty hunters to obtain his goals. Where the EU/Legends Maul would have killed his way through a criminal cartel, in this comic he tries to scheme his way in. This also speaks to Maul’s comfort with the criminal underworld and helps explain how he took control over the largest criminal gangs so quickly in TCW.
My favorite part of the comic is how it both explains Maul’s thirst for vengeance and complicates his character. Near the beginning of the comic, we learn that Sidious took Maul to the planet Malachor – the site of an ancient battle that left thousands of Sith dead – and let the hatred of the Sith spirits consume Maul. Later in the comic, Maul comes up with a plan to satisfy his obsession with killing Jedi without revealing the presence of the Sith. Yet, Maul’s encounter with the Jedi Eldra Kaitis is not as straightforward as he expects. The Jedi padawan does not fit his preconceived notions; he even begins to develop a grudging respect for his opponent.
The one aspect of this comic I didn’t like was revealing so much about Maul’s inner thoughts. Maul doesn’t actually talk all that often – in keeping with his persona around the time of The Phantom Menace – but there’s a text bubble representing his thoughts in nearly every panel of the comic. Maul’s inner monologue sometimes undermined the mystery of the character. Even with all the changes TCW brought, I still think Maul works best with some level of inscrutability. We should constantly struggle to understand the depths of his hatred and madness.
Overall, this is a fun adventure and adds interesting insights into the canon version of Darth Maul. I still have mixed feelings overall about Lucas’ decision to resurrect Maul in The Clone Wars. It came perilously close to jumping the shark. However, Maul became a much more interesting character because of the decision.
* Ironically, my favorite EU/Legends story with “Maul” in the title is Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter, in which Maul is villain who rarely appears.