Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
The second year of the title begins with more build-up and hints of what’s to come.
Dreadstar #13 (“Bad Dreams”) by Jim Starlin doesn’t exactly get the book back on track, but does point the upcoming conflict between Dreadstar and Company, and the Lord High Papal and his forces. It actually begins with Starlin showing us how the first meeting of the Lord High Papal and Vanth Dreadstar will go: the sword is destroyed and, without its protection, Vanth rapidly agres, becoming an old man soon to die, defeated by the Lord High Papal. It’s presented as a dream that Willow has that she doesn’t know what to do with. That the confrontation comes next issue is a choice that has me debating if it’s worse or better than if it came many issues later. Starlin basically spoils the end of the next issue, but who really believes this will happen? Did anyone think Dreadstar would actually lose to the Papal?
The rest of the issue is the crew preparing for an eventual confrontation with the Lord High Papal as Vanth and Syzygy spar with one another, Oedi with some robots, and Willow gives the newly joined Dr. Delphi armour containing a field medical kit. In this, Starlin focuses on the individual characters. We get more hints of the past between Willow and Delphi in addition to his feelings for her, Skeevo shares an amusing story about his childhood, and we learn that Syzygy is, in fact, dead. That last revelation is a bit of a startling one, revealed through a great visual sequence of his flesh melting off in a reflection in some water that Vanth sees. He tries to ask Syzygy about it, but the mystic stops him, telling him, basically, that he knows but also can’t know. All that’s holding Syzygy together at this point is his own belief that he’s still alive. His force of will is strong enough to sustain him. Oedi already knew because of his advanced senses, again showing us that he’s probably the most mature member of the group. He’s able to deal with harsh realities better than the rest. He understands situations and doesn’t feel a need to make a big deal out of it. Vanth nearly kills Syzygy because he’s too dim to leave it alone.
For all that doesn’t happen, Starlin’s art in this issue is some of his best. The page where Willow wakes up from her dream is some masterful use of light and dark, using more sophisticated shading than I’ve seen elsewhere in a couple of the panels. There’s some good physical comedy in Skeevo’s story about a frozen cat that’s brought back to life. The way he paces that story, breaking it up with two pages of Oedi fighting a couple of robots, is very good. It’s literally ‘alright, it’s been long enough since the last action scene, FIGHT!’
We also learn the truth about Infra Red and Ultra Violet and their origin. They were given powers in the wake of the nuclear attack that the Lord High Papal ordered back in issue three, but think that Dreadstar is responsible. They’re being of ‘vast power’ we’re told and the issue ends with them and the Lord High Papal arriving for a fight.
While last issue was more of a goof where nothing happens, this one has some solid character moments. The Syzygy revelation is the biggest. He’s been a constant presence in the book, but we haven’t learned much about him since The Price and this only adds to that story. He actually gave up his life for this power… only it was enough that he hasn’t actually died.
Next issue: Dreadstar vs. the Lord High Papal… and Dreadstar loses.
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