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Dreadstar December — Dreadstar #15

And so… Dreadstar dies.

Dreadstar #15 (“The Power!”) by Jim Starlin begins with the title on an ink-stained page followed by three pages of black panels that vary in size and contain narration of some consciousness, aware of the darkness and wanting something more. We get brief streaks of light and, on the third page, thin white lines outline a shape, connecting ten panels before a giant yellow/white panel. Hell of a way to begin the follow-up to Dreadstar having his power sword destroyed by the Lord High Papal and seeming poised to die any minute of old age. The voice continues to narrate as we cut to Dreadstar and his friend surrounding him, and it recaps what happened last issue, revealing that the narrator is the sword — or, more properly, the power that the sword housed. It wasn’t destroyed. The sword was merely a vessel and, in this issue, Syzygy and Willow help unlock it to save Vanth’s life.

I can see this issue being one that divides fans after last issue’s shocking storytelling. Last issue, Starlin did something no one thought he would do… and, in this issue, he does it again. But, instead of killing off Vanth Dreadstar, his hero, in a big fight against the book’s villain, he not only keeps Vanth alive, he basically turns him into Superman. The transformation that began a few issues ago with the new outfit that looked more like a superhero costume than anything else is complete here. With Syzygy’s help, Dreadstar is restored to his proper age and, now, the power that was in the sword is now simply inside him. He can fly, he has advanced strength, is virtually invulernable, and has a ‘power punch’ that’s shown through an energy build-up in his fist. Either this is simply another progression for the series or the book taking a wrong turn.

I don’t know where I fall. When I read the series, it didn’t bother me, but, as I work my way through in these posts, lingering over the details a little more, it strikes me as an odd choice. It seems like Dreadstar has been a series of moves to a more simplistic, conventional story from its beginnings as one that showed the possibility for complexity and distinct storytelling from superhero comics. Trying to stop a war between two giant empires, partly through subversion and partly through a robotic saviour. Vanth wasn’t your typical comic book hero with his hooded appearance and sword. The Lord High Papal was a single enemy, not the enemy. The war was Dreadstar’s true enemy. But, in the course of, what, five issues? Six? Starlin has turned it into Super-Dreadstar versus the Lord High Papal in a much more traditional fight. It’s disappointing.

Tomorrow: Dreadstar hits things.

9 Comments

It gets better.

The status quo never remains the same in the world of Dreadstar.

Superman, or (the Marvel version of ) Captain Marvel. His powers are more similar to the former, but visually he looks more like the latter.

My reaction was the same as yours — didn’t mind it much at the time, but in retrospect it seems a kinda dubious decision.

ISTR someone suggesting it was an editorial idea, to make the comic more superhero-y. I have no idea whether that was really the case, though.

Doug M.

Tom — Yes, but is a change to the status quo always a good thing? Is there a point where it becomes change for the sake of change, abandoning numerous interesting elements long before they’ve even been explored? There’s an ADD-esque element in Starlin’s writing of this book at times where you want him to go back and spend some more time on certain ideas before moving on.

I fondly remeber the status quo shake ups. When PAD took over it seemed like it was something he saw as a theme to the book. In life and especially conflict things coming out of left field are common. It takes guts for a creator to drop ideas midway but it also adds a layer of depth to the story. To this day my biggest regret with this book when first stopped publishing was all the potential stories that were out there.

I stuck with the series for a long time after this and continued to enjoy it, but even when this first came out I was awfully dubious about him becoming Super-Dreadstar, and was unhappy about the costume change.

While I was not thrilled with 1) the costume change and 2) the new powers, I enjoyed the writing and art so much that I had no trouble sticking with the series. It was a consistently good read, up until Luck McDonnel’s artistic run. I have nothing personal against the guy but I am not a fan of his art, and during that part of the series I felt Jim had really just begun spinning his wheels. PAD’s jumping onto the series really saved it, and Angel Medina’s art was fantastic.

Okay, rambling over. :)

I didn’t much mind the new costume itself, much less the slight change in powers.

And yes, it is slight. It amounts to being capable of self-propeled flight in a world where flying vehicles aren’t all that uncommon, of having decent defense against energy attacks while still being very much vulnerable to the really strong ones, and of no longer needing to manifest the sword to use its previous powers. In fact, he even lost the reach advantage that the sword gave him.

What does hurt the series somewhat is not the change in power level, but rather the change in tone and in aesthetics. It is embarrassing to suddenly have Dredstar in a skintight costume that a Commune female office almost immediately sees fit to comment on. Not coincidentally, Dreadstar also becomes noticeably more standish-off at this point and begins to take foolish risks for no good reason. In effect, he became Wolverine. :)

About the Status Quo, you’ve got to remember that Dreadstar is a creator-owned property that was at the time financially backed by a major publisher (at least up til # 26 and then moved to another publisher albeit a lesser known publisher)..

In order to maintain public interest, Mr. Starlin may have felt that changing the status quo was necessary for profit as well.

The start of the series (pre-Dreadstar) was called METAMORPHOSIS ODYSSEY, “metamorphosis” meaning “profound change from one stage to the next”. So, changing the Status Quo is keeping in line with that. ;-)

The Power having to go into the past to give Willow her dream reminds me of the Prophets of DS9 and their troubles dealing with linear time

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