Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
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.
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