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Dreadstar December — Dreadstar #11

He rules the galaxy, he’s big, he’s literally whiter than me… meet the Lord High Papal.

Dreadstar #11 (“Origin!”) by Jim Starlin tells us how the Lord High Papal came be to a lord of such height. After the Instrumentality’s victory last issue over the Monarchy, this issue divides its time between the Lord High Papal’s past and what’s going on now that he’s become ruler of the galaxy. Like any other victory in a Jim Starlin story, it’s not as great as he thought it would be. Conquering the Monarchy means conversion and an inquisition and killing those who won’t convert. It’s almost a chore as far as the Papal is concerned, something akin to taking out the garbage. A scene where there’s a penned-in group of people has Starlin use a repeated pattern of panels between them and the Lord High Papal’s face as, slowly, an energy overtakes both before we see that he’s killed them all. The entire encampment is nothing but scorched earth and burned skeletons.

Before getting to the Lord High Papal’s past, I’ll address a couple of developments. Cardinal Spydar returns from interdimensional limbo and we’re introduced to two new superpowered recruits to the Lord High Papal’s inner circle: a pair of cousins that gained their abilities when he ordered the nuclear attack on that city in the third issue. Things actually look good for the Lord High Papal… and he doesn’t trust that.

He grew up an outcast, a mix of human and alien, scorned by everyone, parents both dead as a child… his mother dies in a brutal rape/murder where her killer goes free because of his influence, his power within society. Early on, the Papal sees that power is the only thing that matters. With power, you aren’t a victim. He admires a man by the name of Tribecus Londo, saying, “[He] wasn’t quite human but he was accepted into the community because he was nearly human and quite a rich merchant. / Money is power, and power bridges many a chasm.” The Papal is taken under Londo’s wing, taught magic, becomes a terrorist/criminal under his guidance.

It’s interesting that Londo is the man that introduces the Papal to the Twelve Gods and the Church of the Instrumentality. He was born and raised on a Monarchy-ruled planet. He is a convert, not a born believer. He grows more powerful, even poisoning the previous leader of the Instrumentality when he was in a position to take his place. There, he learned the truth about the Twelve Gods — he was humbled and let down at the same time. Some disagreed when I called the Lord High Papal a true believer deep down inside and this issue seems to prove those people right as the Lord High Papal even thinks, “But the only thing I’m totally certain of in this universe is the fact… / …that there are no gods.” However, his narration on the previous page shows that he worships the Twelve Gods not as gods, but as figures of power. He is in awe of their power and superiority, and also resentful of it. He worships power. That is his god. In his rise to this position, there’s also a girl that spurns him, but I find that a little cliche and dull. Of course there’s a girl. And of course he feels guilty when he kills her.

The end of the issue is fantastic as the Lord High Papal goes to drink his wine, pauses, and ‘accidentally’ knocks it over, remembering how he came to lead the Church. The bottomt tier of the last page is a fixed position as the Papal walks away, towards a door, pausing in the final panel. He’s chosen his path, but he can’t help but regret it — he can’t help but see, on some level, that his rise to power has cost him a lot and not gained him as much as he hoped. He rules the galaxy, but his main concern with having power is keeping it. With holding others down, staying above the rest, always looking over his shoulder, and making sure he won’t be betrayed. As the new ruler of the galaxy, he doesn’t get to sit back and enjoy his position, he has to oversee the inquisition… it’s just a fucking job.

When he became the ruler of the Church, his first experience was entering the presence of beings even more powerful. Beings he both worships and hates for the exact same reason: their power. He even admits that his power comes at the price of being their ‘boy.’ You almost want to pity him. Except for the fact that he’s a brutal dictator and murderer. He choose this life, was influenced by circumstances, yes, but he ultimately chose his path. In this issue, we basically see how he ‘damned’ himself to a life of Hell: more powerful than everyone, but ultimately powerless.

It’s an aspect that Starlin has also explored in Thanos as he moved from one object of power to another, never actually gaining anything, only losing things in the process. It’s an empty quest that never brings about its goal.

Tomorrow: Tueton returns.

13 Comments

This issue was one of my favourite all-origin issue for a couple of reasons:

1) Seeing how and where HLP came from, makes you almost feel sorry for him, but at the same time, you despises him for the things that he’d done to get where he is now, as well as the things he’ll do in the future.

2) This issue also introduces two sub-plots that will come to head within the next 9 issues. One, obviously to do with Dreadstar, but the other will surprise you when the time comes. Starlin knows how to introduce subtle sub-plots that you don’t see coming until it hits you in the face and leaves you wondering “how’d I miss that?”

On an entirely different subject, something that’d been nagging me, ever since Travis Pelkie mentioned it at the start of these reviews: Who is Doug M? and what exactly did he have to do with Journey? I remember William Messner-Loebs being credited as the creator/artist/writer of JOURNEY. The only Doug M I know is Doug Murray who was the scripter of the ‘NAM series by Marvel. Am I wrong?

found it cool to finaly learn the reasons lord papal was the main bad of dreadstar for starlin with him proved the old adage power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Are you drinkin’, Tom? I think Doug M is just another commenter here. I can’t remember why, but we brought up something or other about Journey, and he also answered (I think you had said about the Journey Omnis from IDW, and Doug also answered.)

Yeah, it was back on the post about issue 3, Chad mentioned how Dreadstar’s gotten the first 12 issues collected twice before, then Doug mentioned how Journey took 20 years to get collected, I asked about War Drums, you and Doug both mentioned the IDW omnis.

I don’t THINK Doug M. is the one who did the ‘Nam, but hey, maybe he is.

It’s ok Tom, we know you saw the link to the pic of Kelly in a catsuit on Burgas’s What I bought and swooned, so you’re not thinking straight :)

I wonder why Starlin adopted the Gods-as-superpowerful-aliens plot in the Dreadstar regular series when The Price clearly shows Syzygy making deals with demons and a cat god. It’s an odd 180 degree turn, especially since Starlin depicts magic being a powerful force in the Empirical galaxy whereas magic didn’t ‘work’ in the Milky Way.

You’re assuming those ‘demons’ weren’t just alien lifeforms of another type… it’s like the difference between magic and science being how you explain it. The Twelve Gods are powerful enough to BE gods, but the Lord High Papal doesn’t see them with that gloss anymore, they’re JUST powerful aliens. Another person could be in their presence like that and see them as gods still, I imagine.

Man, between this and his 1970s Warlock stuff, Starlin sure does hate the Catholic Church.

@ Travis Pelkie: That was her?!? I’d better go back and check, and re-check and triple-check again. One can’t be too careful. ;-)

@ Chad: “… he’s literally whiter than me…” — Maybe HPL’s canadian?
Have you ever seen the movie Powder? The main character’s not only as white as HPL, but completely hairless. Maybe related?

Chad:

You’re correct about that. You *can* fit the demons into the superpowerful alien plot. However, it doesn’t appear that Starlin started out that way when he wrote The Price.

I always thought that Starlin was making a point about how the Milky Way in the MO was destroyed by an incredibly powerful being (actually, by an incredibly powerful being who got less powerful beings to do the work for him) via technology — versus the mix of magic, superstition, and technology that dominates the Empirical galaxy. The main part of the story (IMO) was how much Dreadstar was so out of place in this new world because he represented no faith or belief whatsoever. A reverse Christ story, if you will.

I guess you can also classify the magic that Syzygy wields as an application of Clarke’s rule about sufficiently advanced technology appearing to be magic. Again, it may all depend on how you personally choose to interpret the events of The Price.

No relation to the ‘Nam. Doug M. the commenter is just some guy.

Doug M.

Rob: If you go back to the Metamorphosis Odyssey, the idea of immensely powerful beings that are considered gods by others, but are really just powerful was introduced. I find this consistent with that — especially since the Twelve Gods don’t reside in the Empirical Galaxy.

You could’ve also used this old joke in yr overview:

He’s got no nose!
Well how does he smell?
Awful!

“Man, between this and his 1970s Warlock stuff, Starlin sure does hate the Catholic Church.”

The letters pages of Dreadstar had some great discussions about this, one I remember was Starlin anwering saying that he hated the abuse of power and he used the Catholic Church as an example because it was familiar to him and the readers, not because it was only example or he had some special ire towards it.

All of the of course is ‘if I recall correctly’.

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