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Dreadstar December — Dreadstar #8

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 Z Aknaton.

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.

10 Comments

Personally, I enjoy the cover. A well-rendered illustration of Oedi is always appreciated. But it is a massive departure from the rest of the covers.

Kim De Mulder is a dude.

While re-reading this issue, I realized how compressed it was without being overwhelming. There is so much information to give the reader. When I had first read this comic way back when, I didn’t even know about the Metamorphosis Odyssey, so this, for me, was essential. It’s probably also why I don’t register the difference in quality in the art between the two projects. By the time I read M.O. it didn’t really move me, since I knew how it played out.

I think the drawing is rather good, just a design that leaves me cold. And I didn’t want to assume with a name like Kim.

Tom Fitzpatrick

December 9, 2010 at 6:42 am

“Kim De Mulder is a dude.”
At one time, I even thought that Kim De Mulder was a dude-ess. ;-)

At any rate, I enjoyed the start of the three-parter that would lead to the end of the plotline started in the Marvel Graphic Novel: Dreadstar.

@ Chad: Have you EVER met your idol, Jim Starlin? If so, did you manage to find out what (if any) future plans he might have for Dreadstar and Breed?

Never met or spoken to Jim Starlin, no.

See, this is the sort of thing I mean about why Willow’s not inspiring as an empowered female character. She falls for Vanth Dreadstar: why? There’s no compelling reason for this to happen, other than her being the only female in the book.

Then we’re told it can’t happen, but it’s not because of her — it’s because of his Tragic Past. (Her tragic past gets passed over here; it won’t be an issue until the fight with Monalo. So a tragic past renders the male unable to love effectively, but the female unable to fight effectively.)

And then the blonde thing? Duuude. Even for 1983, that’s kinda sketchy.

To be clear: I like Willow okay as a character. I’m not hatin’ on her. But the original question raised back at issue #3 was, why didn’t she get more love as a strong independent female. And I think stuff like this is a big part of the answer.

Doug M.

Tom Fitzpatrick

December 9, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Never met or spoken to Jim Starlin, no.

Well, what are you waiting for, an engraved invitation? Hunt him down for an interview, you fan-boy, you!

Why does anyone fall for anyone? I fail to see why Willow developing feelings for Vanth somehow detracts from her character — or her independence. She doesn’t follow him around all puppy dog eyes or anything. In fact, I find that the whole thing (beyond the hair issue which is weird) is handled rather well and doesn’t become melodramatic garbage.

Yeah, I don’t see why her feelings for Vanth mean she isn’t strong or independent…

Because (1) she’s the only female character in the group (and, at that point, the only female character in the whole comic) and (2) she’s falling for the protagonist who is more than a bit of a Gary Stu for the author.

It’s like giving Wonder Woman an unrequited crush on Superman.

Doug M.

Also, this brings us back to the whole issue of the characters’ tormented pasts. Vanth’s wife, Willow’s rape… these things only pop up when it’s useful to the plot. They don’t seem to have affected the characters much otherwise.

To give a modern-day comparison, consider… ohh, the character of Nate on _Leverage_. (Everybody knows _Leverage_, right?) Nate loses his son, and that permanently warps and shapes his character. He becomes an alcoholic — brilliant and high-functioning, but still an alcoholic — he’s often sardonic and occasionally bitter, and he’s unable to form an intimate relationship, with Sophie or anyone else. He’s managed to channel some of his grief into a constructive outlet — Robin-Hood style revenge upon the corrupt powerful — but he’s still damaged goods. We’re in Season Four, and while Nate has begun to work out some of his issues, the loss of his son is still central to the character.

In Dreadstar, OTOH, Vanth hardly ever seems affected by the loss of his family, except when it’s convenient to the plot. In a pulp-ish action-oriented comic book, it’s not a huge flaw, but it’s mildly annoying.

Doug M.

The recap made me go track down EPIC Illustrated ;)

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