Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Get ready for a cover that could have only come in the middle of the ’80s…
Dreadstar #17 (“Revenge”) by Jim Starlin is a relatively simple story. It’s an issue eaten up by a lot of recap about Willow’s past as she deals with Vanth’s rejection last issue. It doesn’t come off as if she’s that upset about Vanth rejecting her, it’s that the first guy she really had feelings for rejected her. It’s the idea. She thinks early on, “It’s not as if I wanted all that much out of life. / Just a little peace, order and love.” Her attraction to Vanth is clearly outlined as a result of him saving her life and not much beyond that. She doesn’t say that, but it’s obvious. From there, we get her history since the focus here comes when she sees a video of the Lord High Papal and recognises one of his soldiers in the background: her father.
She goes after him and finds his home where her mother, long though dead, resides in a mentally blank state having been lobotomised years ago, and her father’s new wife coming home. Not much actually happens, it’s all emotion. Willow never encounters her father and the pages where she tries to find something of her mom inside that empty mind are just brutal. Starlin uses blank panels effectively, showing us what Willow sees as she tries and tries, finally breaking down when she realises that there’s nothing there. Her mother is alive, but dead… until, in the last black panel, we get a word/thought balloon: “Baby…” That last bit of hope that some small piece of her mother still exists there. She leaves her mother there because it’s too dangerous to bring her along as they fight the Lord High Papal… The issue ends with her being cold and cryptic and mean to the crew when she returns until Dr. Delphi presses the point. We get some really great panels as Willow slowly breaks down, finally ending a string of panels where all she says is “It’s…” until she barely says “…it’s my momma,” tears running down her cheek.
Starlin pulls a cruel switch on us and Willow. This issue seems like it will be Willow finally confronting her father over his sexual abuse of her and, instead, she finds a broken, mindless version of her long-thought-dead mom. It’s emotionally brutal and, again, shows how no one wins in this universe. Willow’s mom is alive! But she’s braindead! Fuck!
There isn’t a lot in here that’s groundbreaking visually. I really like the sequence where Willow tries to contact her mother telepathically. We’re left thinking it’s hopeless until we turn the page and get that brief word that maybe her mom isn’t completely gone. But, we also don’t know entirely if she actually thought that. Maybe Willow was so desparate for something that it was her. We don’t know.
We hadn’t touched on Willow’s world lately and this issue does so well. I really like how Starlin never has her father show up in the comic. There’s no way for that confrontation to play out in any satisfactory way. No, this issue showed that Willow is damaged beyond just ‘Vanth doesn’t love me,’ something that doesn’t seem to matter as much as the idea that NO ONE loves her really… she’s alone, partly by choice. No one wins.
Tomorrow: a traitor within?
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