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Dreadstar December — Dreadstar #31

It all ends here.

Dreadstar #31 (“The Healing Dream”) by Jim Starlin marks the end of The Metamorphosis Odyssey book four. For me at least. Book five is made up of the rest of Starlin’s run, which began in issue 32 where he shifted to writing the book but not drawing it with an issue where someone else did the finishes. This issue is both epilogue and recap. It presents Vanth Dreadstar’s entire life as he lies in a coma after his final fight with the Lord High Papal. He and the Power go through his life, showing their time together. That is until we reach his present and the physical embodiment of the Power, a female, appears and they have sex on a floating rock in the middle of what looks to be his brain. Visually, it recalls The Death of Captain Marvel, but the Power is different from Death. This issue is that story’s opposite number in a sense. Where Mar-Vell succumbs to Death at the end, accepting it, Vanth succumbs to the Power and accepts it… and, as a result, leaves ‘her’ behind to return to his life. He’s lost his ability to fly and the energy fist as a result of the Power healing him and saving them both. He’ll return weaker, slowly but surely becoming more mortal. When Vanth comes out of his coma, Oedi is there and he’s told that he’s been in the coma for two years, leading into the new status quo that’s set forth in the next issue.

The recap of Dreadstar’s life is interesting since Starlin spends most of his time on the pre-Dreadstar material. Once he hits where the series began, it’s quickly breezed over, most of the emphasis is placed on the events of The Metamorphosis Odyssey and the Dreadstar graphic novel, two works he recognised as coming out of one the happiest times in his professional life. They’re slighter and smaller works, but ones that still hold a meaningful and large place for him. Dreadstar the series is a more impressive work, one that shows Starlin at the top of his game, both as a writer and as an artist, but it was the book where he lost his passion under various burdens. It was something that took years to create… it was the job, the other two were the works of passion. It’s disappointing that this issue spends so little time on the series.

The end of the issue feels wrong. The parallel to The Death of Captain Marvel isn’t accidental, but it seems like Dreadstar should have died, that this should have been the official end of the fourth book with the next storyarc building on what came before, focusing on the other characters. That seems like where Starlin was heading with this issue — Dreadstar embraces the Power and they die together, unable to overcome the injuries sustained against the Lord High Papal, the issue ending very much like the end of The Death of Captain Marvel, the other characters watching as Vanth dies. But, that would have ended the book. I honestly don’t know if Starlin ever considered that direction, if he wanted to head that way… but, it feels like where this issue was heading, where the finale of this entire story about the war and the Instrumentality and the Lord High Papal was heading. Vanth finally dies, his life flashing before his eyes, and embracing the Power/Death. It would have been a retread, but an appropriate one.

That it doesn’t end there is a testament to the biggest problem of Dreadstar: despite it being a book of change, it also couldn’t go too far, and moved into a position of simpler storytelling and superhero tropes. Vanth Dreadstar shifts from a fantasy hero with his hoodie and sword to a superhero with his super-strength and skin-tight costume. The complex idea of ending a war by playing both sides becomes a fight between good and evil. The book would introduce ideas and discard them without exploring them like Maxilon the robot savior created to fight against the Church of the Instrumentality. Starlin seemed to want to do something genuinely different from everything else, but kept getting pulled back to the familiar.

All the same, it was a remarkable work. Starlin showed inventiveness in his art, clearly using techniques that prefigured works like Watchmen, and showing a fearlessness in throwing out surprising stories that had characters die or have big, shocking reveals. Starlin wasn’t afraid to try new things or shake up the status quo, even if was temporary or less complex. He wasn’t afraid to have characters question his hero and suggest that the guy was a failure. More than one, the bad guys won. And even when the good guys won, there was always a price. That’s why the end of this issue isn’t satisfying: it negates the cost. Two years lost for a man that’s immortal basically? Vanth Dreadstar needed to die.

And that’s all I have to say right now. Maybe someday, I’ll write about the final issues that Starlin wrote and Peter David’s tenure on the book (including the six-issue mini-series he wrote in the ’90s about Vanth’s daughter). It’s been fun, but December and 2010 are over now. Thanks for reading.

22 Comments

I am a HUGE Metamorphosis Odyssey fan but I do not consider the Dreadstar comic books to be part of MO. I did give it a try but I was basically done when Starlin put Vanth in a superhero costume. And then it became really horrible when the sword was broken and Vanth gained the ability to fly.

That said, I will always love the original MO, The Price, and Dreadstar (Marvel GN #3).

“Alas, poor Chad, we hardly knew him, Horatio …”
“He was of infinite jest, and knowledgeble reviews ….”

A terrific month of reviewing Dreadstar (all mixed with good and bad, so-sos and awfulness).

Maybe, we can see other works by Starlin (whether he writes only/ or does both writing and art). Some notables such as Cosmic Odyssey, The Weird, Batman: The Cult, Silver Surfer, Infinity Gauntlet and related series, Warlock, Gilgamesh II, and ‘Breed.

Just to name a few.

BTW, I heard an unconfirmed rumour that maybe ‘Breed will be making a comeback with a publisher in the near future. Whether that includes reprinting the first 2 volumes – I don’t know. Maybe we’ll find out in 2011.

Happy New Year, Chad, and thanks for all the randomless reviews! ;-)

I’ve written about Starlin previously on my blog, specifically his cosmic work for Marvel with some of the cosmic DC stuff thrown in.

nice review of the series. for loved how Starlin had Vance wind up having to accept the power only to pay a price to live again.. for starlin’s original run of dreadstar to me is the true version. the later stuff was good but the early run starlin really showed what dreadstar is about.

Tom, I heard about ‘Breed 3 on bleeding cool several weeks back. It’s coming from Image, iirc. Hopefully they’d reprint the whole thing, Starlin’s an interesting creator.

I didn’t get a chance to read my Dreadstar stuff in December, but I hope to read them in the next several days and make a few comments. I only have some of the Epic Illustrated chapters, the first 6 issues of Dreadstar, and #38. Since there’s no December 38th…

I wonder how much of the “Dreadstar not dying” that you take issue with here had to do with First being in charge. First had some fishy ways of controlling the material without the creators “really” having control. Probably the most famous, and happiest story, is how Mike Richardson of Dark Horse bought the rights to Nexus and gave them back to Baron and Rude. But some titles First seemed to “force” the creators to do more with than maybe they wanted to (Chaykin probably could have/would have ended American Flagg sooner, for example). Plus right before First ceased publication, they started doing inter company crossovers.

And I realize also I may be mixing up what Eclipse and Comico did around the same time as well, so I may be talking out my ass :) First stuff did seem to move onto other publishers sooner than the Eclipse or Comico stuff, come to think of it…

But thanks for Dreadstar December, even if I didn’t read every word (in case I end up buying other issues, avoiding spoilers, y’know). I challenge Bill to do something like this; Chad’s done Dreadstar December and several years back Burgas did 31 days of Seven Soldiers. C’mon, Bill! :)

Chad, thanks for this. A fun trip down a now-obscure lane of memory.

Dreadstar dying: it’s important to remember that Dreadstar began as a Mary Sue for Starlin, and never did quite escape that. It’s very very hard to kill a Mary Sue — especially when (as in this case) there are economic incentives against it.

First Comics had crossovers from fairly early on; Grimjack, for instance, was full of them.

First published a lot of good-to-great comics (American Flagg, Grimjack, Nexus) plus a number of fun ones that are pretty much completely forgotten today (Starslayer, Dynamo Joe). Alas, poor business decisions and personality issues managed to ruin the company. A shame.

Doug M.

While I know what you mean with the “crossovers” in Grimjack, Doug, I was referring to the more obvious “we publish Badger, American Flagg, and Grimjack, and those characters all appear in one book together”. The Grimjack crossovers, if you’re talking about what I think you are, were the “Munden’s Bar” back ups that were only loosely connected to the main story (and actually specifically designed to BE crossovers). I actually picked up Grimjack 26 for the TMNT story.

i was really hoping for a comparison between what Starlin and McDonell did in that short little era from 32-40

i was very different from what before or after… and the book really went into a deifferent realm with PAD and Medina and later Colon

I think the only “real” crossover typoe that First had were certainn shared world stories from Cynosure..

Grimjack-Stayslayer
Nexus-Badger.

The only series i can think of is Crossroads and only special was The Gift.
everything else seem to be in-series with connections to Cynosure… but it need seems like the creators were forced into any of that… it seems they were the ones pushing that sort or crosspollenization forward.

Thanks for a cool month of Dreadstar, Chad!

Tom Fitzpatrick

January 1, 2011 at 9:42 am

@ Travis Pelkie:

I’m picking up the remainder of the Dreadstar # 41-64, (Bravura) # 1/2, 1-6, and the Epic Illustrated M.O. run later this weekend.

Will be rereading the whole she-bang in 2011.

Thanks, Chad.

Thanks Chad. I’m a huge Starlin fan who really enjoyed Dreadstar. Very much enjoyed this entire months look at a great creator and a very interesting comic run.

how much is that comic worth?

yeah whats the value on this comic?

Thruppence ha’penny.

I know you haven’t really gotten into the letters page, but one interesting thing is that First had the letters page on the inside front cover.

No big deal except the letters page also had the teaser for the next issue on it. So i opened this up and saw the blurb about “What Vanth has to deal with after his 2 year coma”, effectivelt spoiling the issue before it even began.

I now have a post-it over that part of the page for when I loan it to someone so the same thing doesn’t happen to them :-(

Jonathon Riddle

August 2, 2011 at 12:04 am

Thanks for the recap of this highly enjoyable comic series. I’ve been nuts about comics by Jim Starlin since I was in high school and discovered The Life of Captain Marvel reprint. Since Dreadstar was creator, owned, I thought this is where Starlin really shined as both writer and artist. You do point out the rough spots in the series (and there were quite a few) but also gave me some food for thought and inspired me to go back and reread these issues. Itr was like visiting an old friend….

Whether or not Vanth should have died in inconsequential since the series went on after this point. While I didn’t care for Luke McDonnell’s Dreadstar, the Peter David/ Angel Medina series that follwed it was superb. Go read them (or re-read them as the case may be) Peter David took something that was uniquely Starlin’s baby and made it his own, and Angel Medina’s artwork has never looked finer to my eyes than what he did on Dreadstar. Killing Vanth here would have denied us those great comics.

Jonathon Riddle

August 2, 2011 at 12:06 am

Okay, having heaped gops of praise over the David/Medina Dreadstar, I should also note that I did not like the Malibu six-parter by Peter David and Ernie Colon at all. With these comics it’s true that you can never go home again….

Thanks for writing up these issues! I have all of these but moved recently and am not sure which box they are in. I found my Epic Illustrated and Dreadstar GN the other day and enjoyed revisiting this great series!! Thanks again.
Paul

Great review, and I agree 100%…Vanth should have died here, especialy since the comic turned to complete shit going forward. Things got bad once Vanth lost his awesome sword and became a generic Captain Marvel/Iron Fist wannabe. They only thing he had left was to end his pain and die an honorable death in battle with his arch enemy. Nope, doesn’t happen, and that was where the book basically lost me for good.

BTW, anyone else think the older Dreadstar stuff would make for an amazing movie…?

I respectfully disagree with Dolemite. As much as I love the earlier Metamophosis Odessey/ Dreadstar comics, I think the character’s development after issue 14 was acceptable and that the comic remained as entertaining as ever. If one quits after issue 14, then one misses out on the completion of the saga (including issue 24, one of my personal favorites) and the excellent Peter David/Angel Medina run.

Check the articles by Greg Burgas in the Comics You Should Own section of this website for more information (and a somewhat different oppinion) on Dreadstar.

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