One of the reasons why the Timothy Zahn Expanded Universe epic – it’s more commonly known as ‘The Thrawn Trilogy’ – is so fondly remembered by its fans I believe is because once and for all readers were presented a cool and calculating force for evil to be reckoned with in the Star Wars galaxy. This isn’t meant to snub either Emperor Palpatine or the Dark Lord of the Sith himself, Darth Vader; rather it’s only to demonstrate that as much as they were more traditional black-hatted villains to be hated and hissed Grand Admiral Thrawn was presented as a strategist willing to bide his time and chip away at the New Republic campaign-by-campaign. In some ways, it wasn’t all that difficult to find yourself admiring Thrawn’s cunning; it took those three books to a whole new level of fascination for both us as readers and the characters of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo.
To my surprise, DARTH MAUL – SON OF DATHOMIR’s first issue recalls some of those same undercurrents, pitting the Emperor’s failed apprentice against the Emperor himself as well as those who rose up to replace him when he fell so far.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
For those of you not in the know, Darth Maul survived the events previously depicted in STAR WARS: EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE: the animated CLONE WARS series resurrected the Dark Jedi from the abyss, fueling him on a kind of existential hate and depositing him right in the midst of the chaos that is those wars. However – as this tale opens – Maul’s been captured. It isn’t long before he’s rescued by agents of his sinister organization, and this only means that Count Dooku and General Grievous will be tasked with bringing the Sith back, even at the risk of their own forces!
I won’t belabor a longer plot synopsis, mostly because SON OF DATHOMIR is probably a title you already know whether or not it interests you based on the big star attraction: Maul himself. While other fans have voiced their disdain for bringing the red-faced devil back from the dead, I’ve had absolutely no problem with it. In fact, I think it’s given some storytellers the opportunity to further explore this phantom menace who didn’t get much time to chew scenery on the big screen as I would’ve liked. What started out as a rather two-dimensional villain has grown almost affectionately into a force all of his own in both the animated program and a handful of comic miniseries.
Similar to the tone of the Thrawn Trilogy, SON OF DATHOMIR starts out looking like a chess match between these opposing forces of evil: Maul wants nothing more than to rid the galaxy of Dooku, while the Count wants to make good on his agent’s (Grievous) promise to see the same happen to Maul. The fact that Emperor Palpatine shows up albeit briefly in the opening pages makes for great drama, the kind of which one should have come to expect from Dark Horse’s talented stable.
As a first issue, this one works admirably, introducing readers to the particular time and place of these events, even kinda/sorta clarifying where the go in the greater chronology of the Clone Wars. Scribe Jeremy Barlow crafts a masterful tale by pitting these characters against one another, along with the promise of drawing out who the Emperor sees as a greater threat – the Dathomir witches as lead by Mother Talzin – and I, for one, hope he can deliver on such a huge promise. The artwork – as put together by the team of Juan Frigeri, Mauro Vargas, and Wes Dzioba – isn’t the greatest that has come from the publisher: several panels boast an almost minimalist style (shadows and silhouetted characters depicted against bright backdrops), but I’ve always been one for ‘story’ over ‘style’ six days a week and twice on Sunday.
SON OF DATHOMIR feels like a comfortable trip through hyperspace. Maybe it’s a bit familiar. Maybe it’s a bit derivative. But it’s a quick two dozen pages into that galaxy far, far away I’m more than happy to read.
STAR WARS: DARTH MAUL – SON OF DATHOMIR (#1) is published by Dark Horse Comics. The story is written by Jeremy Barlow; the pencils are supplied by Juan Frigeri; the inks are by Mauro Vargas; with the colors by Wes Dzioba; and the lettering by Michael Heisler. For those of you raised on an island, STAR WARS is the creation of George Lucas. The issue bears the cover prices of $3.50, and that’s still the best price in town for original STAR WARS material so far as this longtime comics fan is concerned. May the Force be with us. Always.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. It’s Dark Horse. It’s Star Wars. It’s Darth Maul. It’s the Clone Wars. If you’re been on this wild ride as long as I have, then you’ll realize that it’ll soon be coming to an end as the license moves to Marvel Comics later this year. DARTH MAUL – SON OF DATHOMIR starts out with Maul and the Emperor coming face-to-face once more, and it ends with the fallen apprentice on-the-run from the Separatist Forces allied against him and his black criminal league. This is a great start to what might very well be the last original miniseries from the Horse’s mouth … and I’m already feeling the pangs of withdrawal. Hop aboard while there’s still a chance. This one looks to be solid.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of STAR WARS: DARTH MAUL – SON OF DATHOMIR (Part One) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.
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