Through clever writing and engrossing artwork, “Star Wars: Darth Maul” #3 manages to stay compelling despite the near total lack of heroes.
Written by Cullen Bunn
Illustrated by Luke Ross
Colored by Nolan Woodard
Lettered by Vc’s Joe Caramagna
An evil crime syndicate is auctioning off a Jedi Padawan…that Darth Maul plans to take – and kill – for his own. Featuring: a band of bounty hunters including Cad Bane and Aurra Sing!
So far as space stations go, Xev Xrexus operates in, to use the famous term, “a wretched hive of scum and villainy.” It is of no surprise that there are few, if any heroes in this place, but the sheer immorality lends itself to interesting characterization. Cullen Bunn, who previously worked on the stories of the amoral “Sinestro,” continues to show how he can make even a story filled with almost but vile individuals remain very interesting. The pragmatism of different villains in this issue shows the necessity for relatively undercover work amongst the criminal elements, including their relative civility that has any attempt at genuine niceties undercut by their auction for a living Jedi Padawan.
Of course, Darth Maul himself is front-and-center. While he remains relatively restrained on the surface, Bunn’s use of internal monologue showcases the boiling insanity just under the surface, his utter hatred of all things Jedi to the possible detriment of his ability to hide from the world.
As the sole heroine of the tale, Padawan Eldra Kaitis serves as a focus point of her own, in spite of her very limited activity. In all, her purpose seems to be that of the doomed victor, of the one who is willing to fight for good in spite of the fact that she is more or less destined to fail, as a mere student against such a legendary foe as the Sith. Furthermore, her defiance serves as a good counterpoint to Maul, as they are both apprentices taking different paths, and thus immature in different degrees. While Maul lashes out at random, Kaitis liberally insults her captors. Through this parallel, Bunn creates an intriguing figure, albeit one who is unlikely to live long.
Luke Ross does a good job of showing the subtle changes in facial expressions that go with an undercover tale such as this one. Maul’s barely-subdued rage is shown in his gritted teeth as much as the unblinking eyes, with both dispensed readily upon his removal of his hood in favor of his far more brutal method of combat and narrowed eyes. On the other hand, we have the cool, collected expressions of Xev Xrexus, a woman who believes herself to be in complete control of any given situation, and thus has no need to show any undue emotion. Kaitis’ own expression changes between fear, confusion, and determination depending upon the situation, showcasing her more varied emotions over Maul’s single-minded hatred of all Jedi.
Ross’s use of crowd shots helps to showcase the many different races of the Star Wars galaxy, particularly those involved with smuggling. Fans can pick out a Hutt, Trandoshans, and more in these shots, hinting at the kinds of planets that may be involved with this kind of criminality. These shots also give a look at the grandiose nature of this space station, including multiple points to show off holograms. Without a word, Ross manages to portray the extents of Xev Xrexus’s ego, as portions of her station seems akin to a smaller version of the Galactic Senate in terms of the technologies used, rather than a lower key auction pool.
On the other hand, his depiction of hallways, alcoves, and hangar space demonstrates the fact that despite the delusions of grandeur, these gangs are still just that: gangs. Their work is in what appear to be rusted, dark corners of the galaxy, with them putting on a show in open spaces like the auction hall, but their hangars seeming akin to a modern home’s garage or a storage center.
Nolan Woodard’s coloring helps to bring out the personalities of the many players in this deadly game. Maul’s yellow eyes blaze as if aflame with his unending rage. The red and yellow faces painted on to the Droideka combat units mix the comically over-the-top methodology of a crime boss who isn’t even bothering to hide her actions with the menace of a threat who believes she can destroy any foe.Continued below
Woodard also manages to use the mixture of light and shadow very well, cloaking faces in shadow to hide their expression, or showing them in full to dispense with pretense. The light also helps to show off tone, with the darkest moments in the story in a physical sense also being the darkest in a tonal sense. For example, the volatile conclusion, including a war of words and a detonation, are both bathed in shadow, but not enough to truly hide what anyone looks like. In doing so, Woodard manages to prepare the readers for foreboding actions to come.
In all, this issue showcases quite a lot, and is definitely an intriguing look into the early days of the infamous, eponymous Sith apprentice. Though it has a very different feel from the political nature of the previous villain-centric comic, “Darth Vader,” it serves a similar purpose of fleshing out a character beyond what was previously known, while still staying true to who he is known to be.
Final Verdict: 7.5 – An interesting study of Darth Maul, mixing him up with a cadre of villains and a single heroine.