Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 27: Dreadstar #20
Every day this month, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Dreadstar #20, which was published by Marvel/Epic and is cover dated August 1985. Enjoy!
For an exciting comic book, Dreadstar often had really boring first pages, mainly because Jim Starlin (who wrote and drew this) did a lot of recapping of earlier issues. Sometimes he did this a few pages in so the first page wasn’t all that bad, but in issue #20, he dives right into the recap! This issue is inked by Sam de la Rosa, colored by Christie Scheele, and lettered by Jim Novak, by the way.
“The Fallen Hero” begins with this drawing of Anton Mezlo standing in front of his chair, reporting on “Operation Locust.” We figure he’s a bad guy mainly because Starlin draws him as a stereotypical bad guy – he has a leering grin on his face and his hands are clutched aggressively, bad-guy style. Plus, he’s taking glee in the fact that “Dreadstar and company are being overren by an army of cyborg assassins,” and as Dreadstar is the obvious hero of the book, that makes Mezlo a bad guy. It’s all very scientific!
We learn plenty of things on this page – his name, where he is, what he’s working on, where the hero is – and Starlin does a smart thing by having Mezlo look directly at the reader. He’s not speaking to us – he’s submitting a report on the proceedings – but by looking at us, he draws us into the book. Without that, Mezlo would be more abstract and it would be harder to get into his recap. By speaking “to” the reader, Mezlo almost makes us complicit in his nefarious deeds. It’s clever because we react against it – who wants to be allied with such a toad? – and move toward sympathizing with Dreadstar. Of course, if you’d read the previous 19 issues, you need no help sympathizing with Dreadstar, but maybe you’re a new reader, so the recap is nice but it’s also a neat trick that Starlin plays on us to make us realize what a scumbag Mezlo really is. Given that the recap covers the next four pages, it’s good to manipulate the audience a bit into an emotional response to what is, basically, a recitation of stuff we’ve already seen.
While the first page of Dreadstar #20 isn’t a dynamic piece of comic art, it’s still an interesting experiment in playing on readers’ unconscious emotions. That’s part of what fiction is all about, right?
Next: Chris Claremont makes everything better, doesn’t he? He’s already appeared in this feature, as you can tell from a quick look at the archives!