Tom Taylor, the writer behind Dark Horse's "Star Wars" series "Invasion" and "Blood Ties," returns in July for a new adventure of the dual-lightsaber-wielding Sith Lord who refuses to stay dead. "Star Wars: Darth Maul – Death Sentence" wades considerably deeper into the Dark Side than the ongoing "Clone Wars" cartoon can allow, showcasing the depths of ruthlessness the tattooed villain of "Episode 1: The Phantom Menace" is truly capable of. Comic Book Resources spoke with Taylor about the series, the appeal of Darth Maul, and writing the Empire's toughest characters.
Taylor's series is the first Darth Maul comic set after the events of "The Phantom Menace," where the Sith Lord apparently fell to his death after Obi-Wan Kenobi sliced him in half in the midst of a heated lightsaber duel; Maul returned in the animated "Clone Wars" series, now fitted with prosthetic legs. "'Darth Maul: Death Sentence' takes place directly between the end of the last 'Clone Wars' series and the start of the new one," Taylor told CBR News. "If you want to know what terrible things Savage Opress and Darth Maul get up to when the cameras are off them, this is the only place you'll find it."
The writer said that Darth Maul's appeal "is plain to see," and that he was destined for new adventures beyond the occasional flashback comic despite the character's ignoble end in his first appearance in "Episode One." "Darth Maul was the only action figure I bought before seeing 'Phantom Menace' at the movies. This insanely-evil-fighting machine with a double-bladed lightsaber just stole the show," Taylor said. "After seeing the movie, I felt cheated, and I wasn't alone. One of the single best-looking badasses in the entire 'Star Wars' universe went and got chopped in half and fell down a hole. A hole! The same thing happened to Boba Fett. Great-looking man of mystery -- unceremoniously dumped in a hole.
"There's a cliché in comics and film, and story in general, that people don't stay dead. But I'll tell you this; if no one cares about the character, they don't come back. They stay in their literary coffins and fade away," Taylor continued. "However, there are characters who demand to exist. They're too appealing and too important to be confined to history. Darth Maul is definitely one of these.
"It's been over ten years since a young Ewan McGregor sliced Maul into two equal Sith bits. However, he never left us. He was still on posters and t-shirts, little Darth Maul toys were looking up at us and our children screaming, 'You can't forget me, I'm still with you!'
"Maul is back, he's now out from under the Emperor, and he's determined to be his own Sith. He's a very cunning and cruel character and the level of power he has now combined with his ambition and his need for revenge, makes him very dangerous indeed."
"Darth Maul: Death Sentence" finds the title character and his brother Savage Opress settling some scores even as they're on the run. "The head of a large mining corporation, Ja'Boag, is stupid enough to put a price on Darth Maul and Savage Opress' heads," Taylor said of the series' setup. "Maul obviously doesn't take kindly to this. He figures there won't be a price on their heads if there's no one left alive to pay it.
"Maul and Savage head to the planet Moorjhone to take the head of the head of this mining corporation. But Maul isn't the only one who Ja'Boag has annoyed. The native population of Moorjhone are also suffering and this has brought Jedi. It all sounds simple but that's before the prophecy, and the Day of Three Suns, and the thousands who make up Maul's army."
As to which Jedi are on the scene for this book, Taylor said there will be a mix of big guns and fresh faces. "Most of the big guys will make an appearance, including Mace Windu and Yoda, but we'll also be meeting two Jedi we've never met before, the lightsaber-pike wielding alien Judd, and female Jedi Salmara," the writer said. "There is also a young Padawan by the name of Dray, which will mean something to anyone who has read 'Star Wars: Invasion.' It's great to go back and add to the character of Dray. In the pages of 'Invasion,' Dray is absolutely insane and always quick to open his mouth to say whatever he's thinking. Here, he's not so insane but his mouth still runs freely."
In keeping with Dark Horse's line of "Star Wars" comics, the tone of "Darth Maul - Death Sentence" will be somewhat different from that of the "Clone Wars" animated series. "'The Clone Wars' is essentially an all-ages show (although my six-year old is too scared to watch the latest series)," Taylor said. "One of the briefs I had with this series was to make it an adult series. This is one of the benefits of having different media to tell a story. In our medium, for our audience, we can truly unleash hell."
Taylor is no stranger to writing the "Star Wars" universe's most hardened characters -- his other current miniseries is "Star Wars: Blood Ties - Boba Fett is Dead," following up on his first "Blood Ties" miniseries from last year. Though the two villains are quite different, Taylor said the appeal of Darth Maul and Boba Fett comes from a similar place. "For some characters, like Boba Fett, less is more. Mysteries can make characters even more appealing," he said. "When writing Boba Fett, I look to the characters around him to tell his story. I don't want to delve too far beneath the helmet.
"Some characters are defined by those around them, and I think Darth Maul is one of these too," Taylor continued. "[Editor] Randy Stradley and I spoke a lot about this in the early days of this book. We spoke about the difficulties in writing Darth Maul, the character, as opposed to Darth Maul, the killing machine. Maul was a mysterious character of few words in that first movie but the 'Clone Wars' have fleshed him out a lot. We're now seeing a cunning force of evil.
"Our series really plays up the intelligent, manipulative side of Darth Maul and this is a very appealing character to write."
Taylor said that "Darth Maul - Death Sentence" artist Bruno Redondo plays to both the strengths of the story and to Taylor's own sensibilities as a writer. "As a former playwright and director, I need my characters to act on the page. It's one of the reasons I work so well with James Brouwer on 'The Deep: Here Be Dragons,' because he makes the characters come to life. I first worked with Bruno Redondo on our 'DC Universe Online Legends' two-parter, 'The Brainiac/Sinestro Corps War,' and it was here that I saw what Bruno brings to his characters," Taylor told CBR.
"For me, characters need to react to situations. They need to get a joke. They need to mock and laugh and grieve and fear. There are some artists who can draw an incredible space battleship, piloted by mutant sparrows, crashing into a planet's core but they can't capture the subtlety in a person's expression. [In 'DCUO Legends'] I wrote a scene with Guy Gardner and Hal Jordan where Guy is basically giving Hal a hard time about something. The increasing frustration on Hal's face, matched with Guy's increasingly annoying persona, was just pitch-perfect. A few pages later, Bruno had Kyle Rayner on his knees consoling a grieving alien who had just lost her world. This is what Bruno brings; real emotion and a great sense of humor.
"Having said that, he's currently illustrating the longest lightsaber battle I've ever written and the pages he's turning in are absolutely epic," Taylor added. "Bruno can crash a space battleship piloted by mutant sparrows into a planet's core with the best of them."
Between "Blood Ties," "Invasion," and now "Darth Maul," Taylor has now had the chance to write in a few different corners of the "Star Wars" universe. It will likely come as no surprise, though, that there is a certain set of heroes he'd love to take for a spin. "Honestly, I'm happy writing anywhere and anywhen in a galaxy far, far away," he said. "I would definitely like to play with the Original Trilogy characters more, though, as I love getting to tell stories of the heroes and villains I grew up with. Writing Luke, Han and Leia, or Green Lantern, or this new Batman story with Nicola Scott, it's just like being paid to play with the toys you played with as a child all over again.
"With this in mind, I've recently pitched Randy a new Luke Skywalker story with 'Blood Ties' artist Chris Scalf. The image that Chris has done for the pitch had been in my head for about a year. It should grab the attention of all Star Wars fans."
"Star Wars: Darth Maul – Death Sentence" #1crashes into the planet's core July 25.