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Dreadstar December — Dreadstar #7

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.

10 Comments

This issue is highly reminescent of the Death of Captain Marvel in other ways as well, with all the talk about Cancer and the lack of interest in researching its cure.

I liked Mezlo a lot, and this issue was a very satisfying read due to his characterization. But to this day I feel that Lady Styx (which, I believe, is a name that Starlin recycled in his recent DC work) was underused.

Also, I’m wondering about Aldo Gorney. Other than a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo in #4 and #6′s short story, has he ever been seen elsewhere?

Yeah, Lady Styx is barely used. I wonder why…

As far as I know, the series never resolved the catorlite mystery. It’s the one loose thread that’s bugged me about this series, even decades later. I wonder what Starlin had in mind for it? Or did I miss something?

You missed it. Catorlite was the food of the Twelve Gods,,, the Church mined it so they could send it to their gods.

I remembered that it was the “food” of the gods, but not that it had been raised as a plot point so early.

I never liked the whole business of the gods.

SPOILER!

SPOILER!

We eventually discover that they’re immensely powerful but not particularly bright aliens who are pretending to be gods purely because they covet catorlite, which is their food. The Instrumentality, the church, galactic empire — it all exists just to mine this stuff and ship it to them.

It’s kind of a dopey, pulpy idea. Maybe more to the point, it’s a problematical one. For instance, the LHP pretty clearly knows what his masters are. So his occasional flickers of sincere belief aren’t really consistent.

Anyway.

Doug M.

Maxilon and Plan M are a big red herring, as is the alliance with King Gregzor. (Which lasts, you’ll note, a grand total of two issues.)

Why? Because the Dreadstar gang don’t know what they’re up against yet — neither the menace of Z, nor the much greater menace of the LHP’s hidden masters. The alliance with Gregzor can’t possibly work because of Z, and Maxilon can’t work because the Instrumentality isn’t what they think it is.

(That said, yeah, it would have been nice to see the Maxilon plot thread at least alluded to later on — Maxilon reforming the Church in the aftermath, or some such.)

Anyway. Starlin is trying to match characters’ *external* conflicts with *internal* ones. This will become more clear later — in the Willow / Monalo duels, most obviously — but we’re already seeing it here. And a recurring theme is that characters must confront the traumas of their past before they can face the enemy with a whole heart. For Dreadstar, that’s coming in the next couple of issues, via the confrontation with Z.

Doug M.

Tom Fitzpatrick

December 8, 2010 at 3:51 pm

I can’t wait until your review of Dreadstar # 11! I get shivers about that origin issue. heh heh heh.

I can’t picture Lord High Papal as a believer, period. He is addicted to the power and influence, but he has no measure of faith. The story is very clear on this point.

That said, many other people of the Church _are_ sincere believers.

In one of the issues of the run where Starlin only wrote the book, Vanth has to deal with a VERY sincere believer; his solution is a novel one . . .

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