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Dreadstar December — Dreadstar #3

So far, Jim Starlin has established the history of Vanth Dreadstar, his mission, the history of Syzygy, Oedi, and Willow, and not much else. Maybe the plot should get underway beyond robbing a church and obtaining some supplies, don’t you think? Well, good news! Starlin agrees!

Dreadstar #3 (“Holocaust”) by Jim Starlin ramps things up bigtime as Dreadstar and Company go from nuisances to people worth nuking a city over. The Instrumentality have teleportation drives on their ships that have shifted the war drastically in their favour, so Dreadstar and Company want to steal one so the Monarchy can have them and stop from losing immediately. At some point, the goal of stopping the war by any means necessary became making sure the Monarchy won the war. With Dreadstar holding some measure of control over the ruler of the Monarchy and the Lord High Papal portrayed as the main villain, it makes some sense — especially in narrative terms. The idea of simply stopping the war is a little too vague and unfocused for an ongoing series like this. With the Instrumentality portrayed as the corrupt church, it becomes an easy villain since their victory would bring religious persecution — a new inquisition — along with it. As well, this issue shows just how insane the Papal is.

The plan to steal the tele-drive is simple: Dreadstar and Syzygy go to a planet and get seen, knowing that since they’re wanted criminals, that will draw the attention of the Instrumentality forces in the area. While they’re avoiding capture, Willow, Oedi, and Skeevo get aboard the Destroyer in orbit over the planet and steal its tele-drive when their attention is focused on Vanth and Syzygy. That part of the plan goes off without a hitch. What they don’t foresee is the Lord High Papal ordering the city that they’re in to be nuked in an effort to kill them both. With a vast empire, one city on one planet is pretty easy to just destroy if it means eliminating two rebels that could pose a serious threat to the Instrumentality. Vanth and Syzygy manage to survive by getting as deep underground as the sewer system will allow and Syzygy putting up a magical forcefield. It holds, but leaves Syzygy unconscious.

Starlin’s art is compelling and bold for this scene. He uses two pages where the pages are divided into three tiers, two panels per tier, one narrow, the other wide. In the narrow one, we see the external details of the nuke being launched/dropped, while in the larger one, we see Vanth and Syzygy making it to ‘safety.’ The final two panels are just heartbreakingly well done with the first featuring the text “1 SECOND.” above it and a crowd of people looking up, all coloured in yellow, while, in the second, Syzygy and Vanth stand in the bubble underground, looking up, nothing to say.

Then — A GIANT explosion followed by a smaller panel of all this red/orange energy/colour surrounding the white bubble with two sketchy silhouettes inside.

When Vanth carries Syzygy to the surface, Starlin spends pages detailing the effect of the nuclear bombs. The crater that’s just brown dirt, smooth and lifeless, surrounding by the wreckage of a city with burned on shadows on a wall one mile from the impact, finally a dead, melted wreck of a body two further miles away, and, then, a further mile before there are survivors, most horribly injured with the caption, “All dead… it’s just that some haven’t realized it yet.” The issue ends with Vanth alone abord their ship, crying in a rage over what happened.

Starlin catches us off guard with what the Lord High Papal does. The issue begins as a typical ‘Dreadstar and Company steal something through a wacky scheme’ type of story, but it takes a harsh turn. Like the reveal of Willow’s childhood abuse, this tells the reader that Dreadstar is a comic that isn’t afraid to have horribly nasty, monstrous things occur. It’s a war with terrible people and that means innocents will die. More than that, Vanth once again finds himself somewhat responsible for the deaths of innocents. While he didn’t participate here like he did with Aknaton in The Metamorphosis Odyssey, he was a party to the nuclear bombing in some small way.

Starlin’s art, again, reminds me of Dave Gibbons’s work in Watchmen. I honestly wonder if this was an influence at all. Does anyone know if that’s been mentioned?

Tomorrow: we learn that the Monarchy isn’t all that great either.

13 Comments

I should be reading along with Dreadstar December. Absolutely love this series.

Starlin’s art was so crisp and he used thinner inking lines here which gave his characters real grace. I still enjoy his art, but once he started using thicker lines…I can’t really explain it, but to me, it seems like his characters all got bulkier and stiffer. It worked on ‘Breed, but man, I miss the polish Dreadstar had.

An obvious question: was Dreadstar ever collected in trade; and if so, how long has it been out of print?

Doug M.

The first twelve issues have been collected in black and white by Slave Labor Graphics and, then, more recently by Dynamite Entertainment. They never seem to get past the first twelve, though.

I’m really enjoying this look through Dreadstar, a book I haven’t read in years.

ISTR Starlin changed the style of his coloring around issue 10 to a shaded almost watercolor-like look (may have been very early computer coloring). It didn’t go down well back then, and the outcry in the letter pages made Starlin revert to a more traditional comic book type of coloring — and within a few issues of that the series went to Baxter paper with it’s garish, almost day-glo like coloring.

I wonder what the modern reaction to this change will be seeing that shading, texturing, and computer coloring are all the rage now.

Oh and next year could we have a Nexus November? We could even do the B&W magazines and the later Origin one shot as a ‘before November’ preview like we did with the Metamorphosis Odyssey this year. Works out great as the Steve Rude art stops around issue 30, with Mike Mignola filling in an issue or two in the 20’s.

Tom Fitzpatrick

December 4, 2010 at 1:33 pm

@ Rob Ocelot: Umm, sorry, but Steve Rude did continue with the art on Nexus, only every so often up until # 50 (with lots of guest artist filling in between), and then he did the Next Nexus mini-series, before leaving the book again. After First Comics went bankrupt, ending Nexus at # 80, Dark Horse picked up the series and Rude did the art for those mini-series.

Basically, we’d be looking at least 100 issues of Nexus reviews. which Chad would have to do twice (or three) times a day to do everything Nexus-wise.

As far as Dreadstar is concerned, two things to note: one, sometime towards # 10 (or afterwards) the publishing schedule changed to every six weeks (bringing out 9 issues instead of 6 for a year); and two, Sam La Rosa became the regular inker.

Tom Fitzpatrick

December 4, 2010 at 1:40 pm

“The first twelve issues have been collected in black and white by Slave Labor Graphics and, then, more recently by Dynamite Entertainment. They never seem to get past the first twelve, though.”

@ Chad: Y’know, I can’t understand why Dynamite Entertainment would just stop at # 12. Look at SCOUT, I think they reprinted the first 14 issues, and then abandoned it.

It’s like people have a better chance of hunting down back issues than to wait for publishers to get off their butts and collect entire series.

I have this series buried somewhere and I recall loving it so very much. Issue three was an amazing read with some fantastic art, it truly lived up to the “Epic” brand.

Well, it took over 20 years for _Journey_ to get collected.

Doug M.

I haven’t read all of this post, Chad, but I’ll dig out the Dreadstars I have sometime this month and read along. I just wanted to say that I read the line about the art having similarities to Watchmen, and I tell you, without looking at either, I can picture EXACTLY what you mean, so I’ll have to look at that too.

Doug M, Journey is collected? Was there only ever the one issue of War Drums that came out?

And as to series starting to get collected then stopping. I assume that they don’t sell all that well, so why continue on? If people aren’t buying book 1, they sure won’t buy book 3 or 4.

SLG first collected Dreadstar? Huh. I assume this was a while back. If it was still in the 80s, SLG probably paved the way for the “Essentials/Showcase” books, as they had also collected Valentino’s normalman back in the 80s. I always learn something here.

Tom Fitzpatrick

December 4, 2010 at 7:32 pm

@ Travis Pelkie: IDW recently collected JOURNEY into two omnibus (like the Compleat Next Men).

Only two issues of Journey: War Drums were published and left uncompleted.

Oh, cool, thanks Tom. I actually have all the issues of Journey (except, apparently, JWD 2), but that’s cool that they collected it into 2 big books.

Weird though that Fantagraphics couldn’t do it. Did they put out a collection of that? I thought they had.

Oh, yeah, Dreadstar, cool…

Rob, if someone wants to buy me every Nexus comic, I’ll write about them.

Travis, the first ~20 issues of Journey got collected into a Cerebus-like phone book. IDW, and it was either 2008 or 2009.

I heard they did a second one collecting the rest, but I never saw it.

Doug M.

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