Darth Maul’s activities prior to the events of “The Phantom Menace” take center stage in the newest "Star Wars" series from Marvel Comics, which finds Darth Maul longing to be unleashed against the Jedi, while Lord Sidious’ careful plans require too much patience. Writer Cullen Bunn and artist Luke Ross begin the issue showcasing the diversity of life forms present in the Star Wars universe by sending the impetuous Darth Maul on a hunting trip to Twon Ketee. There, the Sith apprentice is free to unleash his anger against a pack of Rathtars, some of the most vicious and relentless creatures in the galaxy.
But Darth Maul reveals that the hunt is only a momentary amusement, “The thrill of the hunt... the rush of defying death... will pass all too quickly. Fighting Rathtars is a hollow meal.” Through Maul’s frustration, Bunn reveals the apprentice’s ambition to be free of the seemingly endless restraints imposed by his master. It’s a situation eerily familiar with one that will be experienced by Anakin Skywalker in “Attack of the Clones” when he tells Padme that he believed Obi-Wan was holding him back. Ambition, it seems, is a Sith trait destined to lead to independent action.
Upon returning to Coruscant, Maul can’t resist shadowing unsuspecting Jedi thus forcing them to feel the disturbance in the Force his presence causes as he succeeds in remaining hidden. With the two-page scene, Bunn and Ross establish the Sith’s veil over the Force that the Jedi won’t officially understand is present until the end of “The Phantom Menace.” Ross and colorist Nolan Woodard pace the layout with such grace that Maul’s seething fury is barely contained by the end of the scene.
Of course, Darth Maul’s rash behavior is not appreciated by Lord Sidious, who wisely presents his young apprentice with another opportunity for slaughter. At this point, the plot appears to be a simple adventure where Darth Maul hones his skills against a string of worthy and unworthy opponents. While that might be fun, it would prove contrary to the ambitious nature expressed in the beginning and would be a lost opportunity to finally learn more about his nature. Fortunately, Bunn has character development plans for this formidable apprentice that will unfold as the series progresses, as evidenced by the issue’s final scene where Darth Maul gets an interesting bit of news and strikes out on his own. His independence and ambition to be more than his master’s blunt instrument of death will make this an interesting story to watch unfold in the issues ahead.
Ross’ dynamic art in the fluid action sequences is balanced nicely by the emotional weight he adds to the dialogue-heavy exchanges. You can feel the anger, the fear, and the hatred that permeates every panel. Lord Sidious is creepy while Darth Maul burns with loathing --may the Force help everyone in their path next issue.
And don’t skip the 10-page bonus story at the end of the book. Chris Eliopoulos and Jordie Bellaire teamed up to lighten the mood with a delightful adventure of a Sith probe droid that makes a friend on Tatooine.
Star Wars fans are going to enjoy this series. With a heavy dose of action and enough intrigue to propel Bunn’s interesting storyline, issue #1 gets the series off to a terrific start.