This week’s sole Star Wars comic is a digest-size adventure of the dark duo: Darth Maul and Savage Opress.
Gearing us up for season five of The Clone Wars, we get an action-packed adventure showcasing the some of the Jedi’s most wanted: Savage Opress and his recently-found brother, Darth Maul, in The Clone Wars – The Sith Hunters (Dark Horse profile).
The story picks up with the end of season four – after escaping from Savage and Maul, Asajj Ventress and Obi-Wan Kenobi reach civilization and part ways. The Jedi Council assembles a team to hunt the Zabrak pair: Obi-Wan, Plo Koon, and a younger master and expert in combat, Bruu Jun-Fan, as well as some other masters. Meanwhile, the Sith have landed on an icy mining moon, and leave their mark on the local gang in a cantina, leaving just one witness. Receiving a tip about lightsaber-wielding fugitives, the Jedi task force arrives and investigates the massacre site. In the gang’s cave lair, Maul awakes from a nightmare, lectures his brother on his lack of discipline, and decides to get into the war as part of his plan for vengeance. Discovering a secret dungeon in the lair, the brothers encounter a bunch of wampas, and a captive sister of a merchant house who promises a reward for her freedom. Sensing an opportunity for wealth, and against Savage’s advice, Maul frees her.
As the Jedi reach the caves, Maul releases the wampas, and uses the merchant as a shield from Jedi lightsabers, while she manages to drop behind her necklace. In the fight, a Jedi is slain, Obi-Wan is injured, and Master Jun-Fan beats up wampas with his bare hands. With the task force down a few fighters, Anakin is called up to join them, but before he leaves Coruscant, he informs Palpatine that Darth Maul is alive and is their target.
Arriving at the merchant’s mansion, Maul and Savage respond to her brother’s treachery with violent force, leaving their friend as the sole heir to the fortune, and then start helping themselves to the material wealth. Before they can reach their shuttle, Plo Koon, Solok and Jun-Fan arrive, having followed the necklace to its origin. Big battle. Obi-Wan and Anakin fly in, weapons blazing, and the Sith flee, leaving the dead (Solok and the clones), the dying (Jun-Fan), and the breathless (Plo Koon without his breathing apparatus). Jun-Fan gets in a Wu Han moment before expiring, and the Sith get away (presumably to have their adventures in Darth Maul: Death Sentence, currently ongoing).
With a story called “The Sith Hunters” and introducing a few new Jedi (with one getting an actual exposition as a master of combat), you could guess going in that known characters will survive while these newbies will have their one story and get offed. The real tragedy is that they point out Jun-Fan’s shortcoming at the beginning (lack of experience) and it shows up in the end: Jun-Fan easily dodges out of the way of Maul’s thrown saber, without realizing that Master Ko Solok was the real target, right behind him. Bruu Jun-Fan is a pretty obvious Star Wars version of Bruce Lee (Lee’s given name in Cantonese was Jun-Fan), with a similar appearance, and focus on unarmed fighting – even clawing Darth Maul across the chest after Solok’s death (reversing a scene from Enter the Dragon where Lee gets the claw marks).
Like in Darth Maul: Death Sentence, we see the relationship of Maul and Opress as Maul taking the lead as the more experienced Sith, while Savage is the younger brother who just wants to destroy. However, in the beginning, during the barfight, it is Opress that lets one Rodian gangster go (without his blaster hand), and Maul questioning the move. Is this a mistake, or a sign that Opress is thinking a little big strategically, but then gets reined in by his brother, who then does the main strategy (and gets to decide who lives and who dies). Maul shows off his cunning in battle, using the Jedi’s compassion against them – swinging the woman he’s banking on into the line of a Jedi’s saber to stop the attack, and realizing that he can change the numbers in battle by loosing the wampas on the Jedi. He also stays his brother’s hand in battle, not allowing Opress to kill one of the Padawans unarmed in the attack on the Scourge lair.
The story by Henry Gilroy and Steven Melching is good but pretty straight-forward, though the art is pretty minimal – with a digest being 80 pages, we don’t get a lot of detail in the panels. The pencils by Vicenç Villagrasa (with inking by Vicente Ibañez and colors by Marlon Ilagan) have a mildly cartoony style, and though they use the character style from The Clone Wars animated series, there is a slightly different feel to them. Anakin’s hair just didn’t look right. The best art in the story I think is in some of Darth Maul’s flashbacks. We get two different sets of flashbacks, one showing how Maul might have survived and gotten off of Naboo, and another showing how he arrived on Lotho Minor and became the creature we saw in Season 4 – the second flashback (with a dialogue over it between Anakin and Palpatine, giving the Chancellor a legitimate excuse to research the Sith openly) has some neat art as Maul survives and makes himself into a spider-walker. The arrival of the three Jedi at the estate has a good quality to it, with the saber lighting, but lacks detail to make it exceptional. I wonder with the volume of work that needed to be created for this digest format book, that they art team simply had to crank out the panels – sometimes Maul’s chest tattoos just seem to disappear. Compare this with the detailed cover by Dave Filoni, capturing a snarl on Maul’s face – perhaps with more disdain than rage.
An entertaining story, but I think it could have been given a little more depth, (like how did killing everyone in the cantina at Yellowblade’s Landing reveal the location of the Scourge’s lair for them to use) and a bit more in the art department. Simple works when the style fits, but this didn’t quite fit the style – it just felt simple due to time constraints.