In Review: Darth Maul #4

This delivers everything one could want in a Star Wars adventure. Recommended.

The covers: Five frontpieces to find for this fourth installment. The Regular cover somewhat mirrors the teaser poster for The Last Jedi. A lightsaber is lit, splitting the cover image in half. On the left is Darth Maul, illuminated by the red blade, while on the right is Jedi Padawan Eldra Kaitis, illuminated by her blue blade. This is a good way for the reader to see both lead characters of this issue and tease that there is a fine line that separates them. Rafael Albuquerque did a good job on this cover. The first Variant cover is by Else Charretier. Darth Maul is at the very top of this cover, colored in stark red and blacks. He’s squatted down with one hand barely touching the floor and his double bladed lightsaber high behind his back in the other hand. The layout of this is outstanding, and I’m pleased to see that Marvel put the title of the book down at the bottom of the image, where the Sith’s shadow falls. Francesco Francavilla does the next Variant which features Maul almost diagonally. He’s cloaked, but his hood is down, and his saber is ignited and behind his back. Within his black cloak is his ship against a starfield. Francavilla always has excellent layout skills and the image and colors on this are also tops. The next Variant is by David Nakayama and features a fierce Maul. The villain is in flanked by red, with him lashing out with his saber at the reader. This is outstanding. The final cover is the Star Wars 40th Anniversary Variant. Created by Chip Zdarsky, this scene is from the Special Edition of A New Hope, with Han pointing a finger into Jabba the Hutt. Behind the pair is an incredibly bright orange and yellow starburst. I’ve only been able to see digital versions of this cover and they’ve all been very dark. Lighter colors would have been better, and toning that explosion of color between them would have helped. Overall grades: Regular A, Variant Charretier A-, Variant Francavilla A, Variant Nakayama A+, and Star Wars 40th Anniversary Variant B- 

The story: Darth Maul and his bounty hunter comrades have crashed onto the moon of Drazkel. Their prize, Padawan Eldra Kaitis, is alive as well, none the worse for wear. Gangster Xev Xrexus, who was going to auction off the youngster, decides to make lemonade from lemons and makes a game out of the situation. “Compete against each other for bragging rights and a shiny new trophy. The padawan, dead at your feet. Those who abducted her, burned to ash. This is, of course, a pay-to-play scenario.” As Maul takes charge of Eldra, Aurra Sing notices that several ships are about to land. Cad Bane quickly realizes Xev’s plan and Eldra realizes that she’s being hunted. Maul says, “You were going to die one way or another. You were destined to die from the moment you first stepped into a Jedi temple.” The bounty hunters decide to split up to deal with the six different groups that have arrived. Noticeably absent is Tek-Tek, who is suffering a bit of ironic justice. Cullen Bunn has set up a fantastic premise: several groups of familiar and new aliens seeking to kill a padawan, who is being defended by several familiar and new villains. This is an outstanding opportunity to see these characters in new conflicts and Bunn makes the most of it. Naturally Maul takes Kaitis. The dialogue between these two is fantastic and Pages 9 and 10 are worth the cover price alone. It’s cat and mouse for all the characters and it’s slick reading. A truce couldn’t last long among these characters and the issue ends on a cliffhanger that will have fans howling in rage and anticipation for next month. Overall grade: A+

The art: Luke Ross is continuing to kill with his visuals on this book. The first page starts with the villains’ ship smoldering on the surface of the moon. Three of the bounty hunters are then shown to have emerged before the focus shifts to Kaitis. The look on her face is enough to communicate to the reader that she is not pleased by her position. Having her hands bound behind her back enforces this dislike. The title character emerges from the ship, paired with Kaitis in the foreground, pleading with the reader for assistance. Xev Xrexus ends the page, looking joyously upon an unseen crowd. The key players are introduced as well as their situation on this opening page. Pages 2 and 3 have a partial double-paged splash, with Xev, shown from the back, facing all those who wished to bid on the padawan and now want to chase her down. It’s a great collection of characters with several familiar faces and some new ones in the throng. Ross uses light really well on these pages for the panels dealing with the villains: look at how Bane and Sing’s faces are in darkness: this is a good visual clue for new readers that they don’t travel in the light. Page 4 ends with two panels highlighting the two conflicting characters, with one sporting a surprising, but awesome, smile. The large panel on 5 shows the myriad of characters making their way to the padawan and it’s terrific. 9 is a great sequence, with one character making a silent decision: the close-up on this individual as something is considered is excellent. A splash-page is done for 10 and this would be the moment to cue up any Star Wars soundtrack selection that features fighting. The battles that follow are great, with Ross making the quick fights very easy to follow. The three pages that follow Bane and Sing are also good, and praise should be given to Ross not only for the characters, but the rocky setting where the fighting occurs. Every page of this issue has something wonderful to look at. Overall grade: A+

The colors: The moon of Drazkel, where most of the action of this issue occurs, is at twilight, with the sky being a dark pink and its ground a dark violet. This instantly gives the setting an alien feel and allows colorist Nolan Woodward to create a night time feel to the book without losing any details in the art. These colors allow Padawan Kaitis to stand out with her blue Twi’lek skin. The final panel of the first page shows a bright Xev on a white background, a visual clue to the reader that this character is not in the same location as the others. Woodward does a terrific job blending the colors of the characters in this surrounding, such as with the colors used on Maul and Kaitis in their final two panels on 3. Maul’s eyes are really haunting in this environment, such as on 4. And check out the highlights put on Kaitis throughout — really cool. The Trandoshans also really stand out, with their reptilian colors giving them a creepy visual tone. Woodward is the perfect match for Russ’s art. Overall grade: A+ 

The letters: The first text of the book is the scene setting and it’s a simple font that would be lost against the artwork regardless of what it was colored. The font used for dialogue continues to be a problem. It holds no weight when Maul speaks, making his speech as strong as anyone else’s in the book. Better is when one of the characters is wounded, and that individual’s font should look weak. In addition to dialogue, VC’s Joe Caramagna creates sounds, two different types of droid speech, and some yells. The yells look good, because they’re done in a font that’s not the same as the dialogue. I do wish that Caramagna had been allowed to put more sounds into this book, because too often the fights are silent, though punctuated oddly, with some sounds. For example, Sing’s rifle makes a sound but blasters and jetboots do not. This was not Caramagna’s decision, but he shows he’s more than capable of creating them. Overall grade: B

The final line: This delivers everything one could want in a Star Wars adventure. If you like the Jedi, the Sith, bounty hunters, aliens, and lots of action, you’re going to love this. The only thing that could make this better would be if Marvel were to state that all the talent were locked down for the next decade on this series. Recommended. Overall grade: A

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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