Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Warning: the cover of this issue is not for the sensitive. Plus, it’s totally awesome.
Dreadstar #7 (“Mindtrap”) by Jim Starlin has a pretty badass cover. And, yes, that scene takes place in the comic. After the big reveal of Maxilon last issue, he becomes somewhat forgotten as the series progresses. While a clever idea, Starlin knows that a messianic figure going around making speeches that are only described would be a pretty boring comic series. So, he introduces one of the Lord High Papal’s most trusted advisors, Dr. Anton A. Lanstrom Mezlo. That name is overblown and dumb, but I’ve always dug it. He’s a small, cybernetically-enhanced man who spends most of his time in a computerised chair. He often has a technological eye piece over his eye. He devises a plan to get Dreadstar to go to a specific place and interface with a computer so he can take over his mind and break him. The plan centres around catorlite, a metal that the Instrumentality covets despite it having no apparent use. Mezlo sees that Dreadstar, as an outsider to this galaxy, would be the only person who questions why catorlite is so prized by the Church. Anyone who grew up there would just see it as a fact of life and not wonder. Mezlo plays on Dreadstar’s curiosity by leaking information that catorlite may be a carcinogen, which could mean that Willow, who used to live on a mining colony, could have lung cancer as a result of exposure to the metal.
Dreadstar, in wanting to know more, heads to Caldor, the planet that he first landed on in this galaxy and home of Oedi’s people. There, he accesses a terminal to learn more, but it’s a trap and Mezlo attacks him through his mind, eventually breaking him down, seemingly killing him. That is, until Willow saves Dreadstar, turning all of the machine’s energy back on Mezlo, leaving him in a catatonic state. The mental plane where the two do battle is reminiscent of the mental plane at the end of The Death of Captain Marvel. Strange cosmic backgrounds and shapes with a rocky pathway that stretches out over the abyss. Mezlo is a detached, floating energy head that manipulates the environment, toying with Vanth until he’s broken down enough that he makes his mental body melt. Starlin’s art is often at its best when he can draw strange, messed up stuff like this. The sequence of Dreadstar’s body melting down into a puddle of ooze is great, though I find Josef Rubenstein’s inks still problematic here.
After Willow saves Vanth, she clues him in that Syzygy told her everything and that he shouldn’t treat her so delicately. He purposefully left her behind in case they discovered something awful and it’s good to see her take him to task for that. While on Caldor, Dreadstar also follows up a hunch of his by visiting the grave of Aknaton, the god-like being that destroyed the Milky Way galaxy, using Vanth as a pawn, and that Vanth killed as a result. The grave is empty. If you’ll recall, in the fight to buy time for the Infinity Horn to be used, Aknaton lost an arm… the same arm that Z. seems to be missing. The issue ends with King Gregzor secretly passing information to Oedi as he’s been working directly with Dreadstar and Company… and Z. kills him for it, saying “Your Royal Highness, the time has come for you to help me gain my long-sought vengeance on Vanth Dreadstar.” I remember that I suspected Z. of being Aknaton before this issue, but Starlin is definitely pointing that way.
I’m not sure that this is the best follow-up to last issue, though. Starlin can sometimes have a bit of a scattered approach, jumping from one idea to the next without any proper follow-up. Despite the Lord High Papal’s obsession with Maxilon, it doesn’t take much for Mezlo to refocus that attention on Dreadstar. For the big Plan M, it’s quickly forgotten and barely mentioned. Like I said, a comic series centred around Maxilon wouldn’t work, but discarding him for the most part is an odd approach, too. I’ll spoil everything and tell you that he’s ultimately irrelevant. He doesn’t do a damn thing. Why introduce him then?
And, as the end of the issue suggests, the focus shifts from the Instrumentality and the Lord High Papal to the Monarchy and Z. with this issue. It’s a little detour and fits into that storytelling ADD that Starlin sometimes has. He likes to take tangents to drag things out before returning to his main plot. The tangent matters, but how much? I guess we’ll find out.
Rubenstein’s inks continue to mar Starlin’s art as far as I’m concerned. The line work is highly inconsistent with some pages looking unfinished and messy, while others have an odd amount of detailed, sweeping line work. I do like the way that Starlin depicts Vanth’s interface with the computer: the background is replaced with spreadsheets of information. Unlike the more modern computer backgrounds we’d get, this is classic computer stuff that looks like it came from a typewriter in many ways. But, it’s effective.
While this issue’s cover was fantastic, next issue’s cover? Really dull. Good drawing, but dull. See it tomorrow.
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