In this ongoing series, Ian Blackout revisits Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The TV show may have ended, but the war isn’t over yet…
Darth Maul: Son Of Dathomir (2014)
Adaptation by Jeremy Barlow.
Pencils by Juan Frigeri, Inks by Mauro Vargas, Colours by Wes Dzioba.
Staying for the moment on the printed page but shifting from novels to comics, Son Of Dathomir covers exactly what happened to Maul after the events of The Clone Wars Season Five. Its core story was developed in conjunction with George Lucas, and partially screenwritten by his daughter Katie (no stranger to the show herself). Alas, the episodes weren’t completed before the 2013 cancellation, and so they’re adapted here into visual form by Jeremy Barlow.
The series was released as four issues between May and August 2014, then collected as a trade paperback in October of that year. As part of The Clone Wars Legacy project, the events depicted are regarded as canonically valid by the Lucasfilm Story Group, yet it was published before the Star Wars comics license reverted to the Disney-owned Marvel in 2015. Because of this, Son of Dathomir is the only Dark Horse Comics title (other than their Star Wars film adaptations) to be considered canon in the new timeline.
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When we last left Maul, he was beaten at the feet of his former master on Mandalore. But rather than dealing a killing blow, Sidious informed the Zabrak that he has “other plans” for him instead. We open on snow-covered Stygeon Prime, home to the secret maximum security prison which now houses this most dangerous of inmates. Sidious suspects Maul’s continued survival means that General Grievous’ last assault on Dathomir failed to destroy Mother Talzin.
With the assistance of his new apprentice Count Dooku, the Sith grandmaster decides to use Maul to coax Talzin “into the light, before she is permanently snuffed out”. But the Mandalorian Death Watch have discovered Maul’s location and arrived to liberate their leader, with allies Black Sun and the Pyke Syndicate waiting in the wings. Weakened but still supernaturally-powerful, Talzin begins to mentor Maul in the fight against Sidious, matching him step for step in a terrifying strategy game. Sidious doesn’t take this lying down, naturally, and soon the dark forces of the galaxy are in furious and violent competition with one another, all the while having to manage their presence in the ongoing war against the Republic…
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With Battle Droids vs Mandalorians, headed by General Grievous vs Maul vs Dooku and Sidious, Son Of Dathomir is a real battle royale of the bad guys of Star Wars. And while the arc is certainly combat-heavy, the amount of narrative manoeuvring required to execute this results in deliciously duplicitous dialoguing. Unsure of precisely who is spying upon whom, all of the dark side bigwigs are twisting, exaggerating and outright lying to each other at every turn, to the point where the only truth (even so far as the reader is concerned), is that no one can be trusted. The very architecture of the Sith themselves is based on deceit, so it’s not a surprise to see there’s no honour among fiends, here.
It would be easy to assume the good guys have no role to play in all this, but Messrs Kenobi, Windu and Skywalker do a sterling job of keeping the pieces moving around the galactic board, for once acting as the flies in the dark side’s ointment. One thing the Republic can count on is that any alliance by their collective enemies will not be a longstanding one.
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Fronted by Chris Scaif’s outstanding cover art, Juan Figeri provides the pencils across the four issues, with Mauro Vargas on inks and Wes Dzioba on colours. Their combined work is dynamic and rich in detail – to Dark Horse’s usual high standard – and serves such iconic characters well. This visual storytelling shoulders as much of the burden as is practical, meaning the dialogue (lettered by Michael Heisler) never feels too heavy or littered with exposition. Jeremy Barlow’s writing is economical and strong, with all of the lines and motives from the main players in-keeping with the characters we’ve come to know over 130 episodes of the show. A quartet of 22-minute screenplays is transformed into 128 pages. That’s still a brisk pace so larger ‘showcase’ panels are at a minimum, but the whole thing moves at a satisfying speed. The only downside to this is how abruptly the story seems to end as a result.
The final showdown sees all of our antagonists gathered in person on Dathomir. That should feel heavily engineered, yet it comes across as the only natural culmination of events. Of course it’s an established fact who makes it out of the room and into Revenge Of The Sith (and for that matter, who makes it to Solo around a decade later), but the climax is a sight to behold all the same.
The upcoming Clone Wars ‘revival’ series on Disney+ will be a twelve episode run, and is not due to include this storyline. This in itself is a crying shame, but we can at least console ourselves with a truly magnificent race to the bottom in galactic skullduggery.
Join us next time as we swap pencils for pixels and take a final look (for now) at Star Wars: The Clone Wars…