Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Warning: this issue’s cover is very, very dull.
Dreadstar #8 (“Betrayal”) by Jim Starlin pulls in two directions: advancing the plot in some big ways and recapping the past. The issue begins with Z meeting with the Lord High Papal and offering him the means to conquer the Monarchy. All he asks is that the royal palace of Jewelworld (the Monarchy’s capital world) not be bombed, because he will be killing Vanth Dreadstar there. The middle chunk of the issue recaps The Metamorphosis Odyssey to remind us who Aknaton is and why his seeming return from the grave is such a big deal. From there, it’s all putting pieces into play for the eventual confrontation between Z and Dreadstar. On Jewelworld, Oedi goes to the royal palace for his usual drop of information from King Gregzor (who is somehow alive!) but is attacked by Z and the palace guards, almost eveading them until Z guns him down, leaving him seriously injured — but he also lets Oedi go to lure Dreadstar in. The tapes that Oedi received contain the deployment of Monarchy ships, leaving Jewelworld defenceless and the meeting between Z and the Lord Papal. Dreadstar leaves for the royal palace to kill
Despite the little bits of plot advancement (though they are BIG moves forward) and the just-over-eleven pages of recap, this issue contains a few great scenes. The opening scene is surprising for how Z turns the whole war upside down, revealing himself as Vanth’s possible true antagonist despite all indications pointing to the Lord High Papal. Z acts as a mirror of sorts to Dreadstar: both worked their ways up through the Monarchy and, in the end, betray the empire by killing the king. Now, their motives are different as are their actions after that point — but, even there, they aren’t totally at odds. Both men use their positions of power within the Monarchy to try and end the war. Vanth does so by fighting against the Instrumentality, Z by giving in to it.
The recap of The Metamorphosis Odyssey is the longest recap since the first issue’s recap of what came before the ongoing series. It’s actually a disappointing sequence for me since the art just isn’t up to the level that it was for the actual Metamorphosis Odyssey. Unfinished, messy, and ugly, the recap art looks like a cheap attempt to do visuals from the story that started it all. Some panels are better than others like Vanth killing Aknaton and the blowing of the Infinity Horn, but, otherwise, it’s a disappointing eleven pages. Kim de Mulder does the inks for this issue and his/her inks aren’t bad as a rule, but they are a little light at times, giving a sketchy, not complete look. Oedi is a character that consistently avoids this because of the demands on drawing his face. A 15-panel page with Syzygy and Willow is drawn very well, as is the fight scene with Oedi.
The Syzygy/Willow scene addresses her feelings for Vanth, like her formerly being a blonde and resembling his dead wife, and Syzygy basically telling her to back off. He lays it all out and tells her, “It’s no good, Willow. / Vanth’s just seen and been through too much. / I don’t know if he’s got any room left for love in his heart.” She reacts with a violent, “DAMN YOU, SYZYGY!” and storms away. The small, quick panels create tension as we watch this unfold step-by-step, knowing where it’s going — much like Willow is. Starlin’s pacing and use of silence is very effective. The way that there’s a silent panel where Willow looks away from Syzygy before he says “It’s no good, Willow” is that brief moment of hope before Syzygy crushes her.
The fight/escape sequence with Oedi has Starlin using a variety of layouts and panel sizes to depict the movement. As Oedi enters the palace grounds, the panels are narrower and smaller, showing everything in a movement-by-movement fasion. When Z discovers Oedi and he tries to escape, the pages open up more to show the quickness of his movements as he makes broad strokes to escape. That is, until he’s shot in the leg, shoulder, and ribs.
Starlin’s willingness to use repeated panels and slow actions down to their minute steps is something I always enjoy. The final page has a good example as Vanth leaves to go after Z. In three panels, he calls upon his sword before a long, short panel focusing on his eyes as he says “Aknaton…” quietly and, then, ending on a large panel of him walking down the middle of an alley, sword in hand, ready to kill Aknaton again.
Tomorrow: Dreadstar vs. Z.
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