I decided to pit against each other two comic books that came out recently. They have much in common, even though each of them covers completely different time period and portrays completely different characters.
The comic books’ titles make it quite clear who the protagonists are. In both cases, the tales are “origin stories” for these characters. And, even though I tend to judge all new releases rather favourably and try to see the best in them, I must say that sadly, both Darth Maul and Cassian & K2SO fail on the same fronts.
The Sith’s Revenge
Darth Maul is written by Cullen Bunn and illustrated by Luke Ross. In what was originally published as five-part series that finished in July 2017.
Darth Maul‘s theme is fairly straightforward: it deals with the activities of the young Sith-in-training before the events of The Phantom Menace. Young Maul, fed with hatred towards the Jedi by his Sith Master, is eager to begin exacting his revenge upon his order’s ancestral enemies. Unfortunately for him, Darth Sidious needs the existence of the Sith to remain secret until his plans are ripe: that means no running around with a double-bladed lightsaber and fighting Jedi. Luck smiles on Maul when he learns about the existence of a Jedi Padawan who is held captive by a secretive criminal boss. There is a chance for Maul to find, get, and fight this Padawan before the Jedi or his master learn anything.
The plot, by itself, is decent, but the way it unfolds is desperately predictable. There is literally nothing happening. Maul fights criminals, some more criminals and later (spoilers!) the Padawan (no, really?). The comic makes up for the bland story by including some interesting characters, though: the Padawan herself, the criminal boss lady who holds her captive, Maul’s unexpected assistants in the form of the bounty hunters Cad Bane, Aurra Sing and a couple of other pictoresque characters. It’s good that part of the story revolves around the dynamic within Maul’s bounty hunter support group or between Maul and the crime queen, however sadly, these subplots tend to run in circles without heading towards any clear resolution (the former) or get very limited space (the latter).
The best part of the entire comics is without doubt the dynamic between Maul and the twi’lek Padawan Eldra Katiss; sadly, it is too soon cut short (literally). It’s a pity, Cullen Bunn himself said in an interview for starwars.com that his Maul was meant to reflect all the character traits we have seen in Maul so far, and he indeed does - especially his exchange with Eldra lets us glimpse him as a fully fleshed-out character; it is just too little.
What disappoints every Sith fan (and really, who is the target audience here?) is that even though the master-apprentice relationship is a crucial part of the plot, it is not elaborated on at all. Sidious simply says “you can’t” and Maul thinks “but I am going to do it anyway”. That’s it in a nutshell.
The visual part of the comic is good, it isn’t anything spectacular, but at some points, the play of colors (especially Maul’s red skin and saber vs. Eldra’s blue skin and saber) works nicely. There are a few bonus little details in the story itself, such as the appearance of the rathtar (the thing that tried to eat Han Solo in The Force Awakens) and a very strange apparent homage to Aliens/Predator franchise right on one of the first pages. The tiny things that deserve a complaint include the name of the crime boss: I know that Star Wars characters do tend to have ridiculous names, but “Xev Xrexus” is a bit too much.
…Because Cassian Told Me To
The second contestant, published in August 2017, is Rogue One: Cassian & K2SO (writer: Duane Swierczynski, artist: Fernando Blanco). The story promises to explain the meeting between Cassian Andor and the fan-favourite former Imperial droid. If I said that Darth Maul‘s plot is quite predictable, Cassian & K2SO is ten times worse. If you have ever wondered how the two have met, the story unfolds probably exactly the same way you imagined. Neither do we see Cassian or K2SO do anything remarkable, nothing that would expand their personality in addittion to how he know them from the screen. There are also exactly two supporting characters who accompany Cassian on his mission: they are twins who do not speak and that’s about the extent of it. When they left the story, I didn’t even notice it, because, well, they were nothing.
I must say I hoped for more. Some more imaginative circumstances under which K2SO would be introduced (the whole story - spoilers again - is almost literally “Cassian walks down a street, picks up a random droid, and gets out”), something more about Cassian’s past or some more interesting sidekicks of his, since they are already making an appearance. How about using them to explain some of his character traits we know from the movie? No, Cassian has almost zero interaction with them instead. Decent artwork and the fact that you couldn’t really spin an epic tale on less than 30 pages doesn’t really justify poor handling of the plot.
I am led to believe that sadly, both these two new comic books reflect a trend Disney seems to gravitate towards: creating series of books or comics that say nothing new about their protagonists (or about any characters, for that matter). It seems like the policy is “let’s tell a story where XY goes on an adventure - anywhere”. You could make a hundred such books, completely identical, only have it happen once on Tatooine and once on Nar Shaddaa and have the protagonist once fight a Hutt’s enforcers and next a bunch of stormtroopers, but the essence would stay the same. You could even swap the protagonist for somebody completely different and the story would still feel the same.
Since I have advertised it in the beginning, the last question left to answer is: which of the two comics would I grade better if I pit them against each other? The answer has to be Darth Maul. It means probably grading it with four (or five for trying) stars out of ten instead of one out of ten, which would be the case of Cassian & K2SO.