“Are we there yet?”
The first three pages of Dreadstar #41 make up one of my favourite beginnings to a new run in comics. Three pages, five panels per page, all stacked atop one another. The first page is blackness with the credits slowly coming into view/enlarging over the course of the five panels with a tiny white speck showing up in the final two. The second page reveals the speck to be a spaceship that is moving towards us/from left to right. On the final two panels, we clearly see that it has the word “SKEEVO” spray painted on its side. On the final page, it flies away from us with the final panel containing a word balloon:
“Are we there yet?”
It is a tone setter, pointing to the direction that Peter David (and mostly artist Angel Medina) will be taking this series. Despite taking place in space, as with most cosmic books by Jim Starlin, being in space has little meaningful impact on what’s happening. It can be space, it can be other dimensions, it can be islands in an ocean… it doesn’t matter. Here, David subtly shifts the series so that the space element matters. He and Medina give us a cinematic space opening similar to something you would see at the beginning of a Star Wars movie: fixed camera position, a ship flies by, you realise what it is, it flies away and you’re given the broader picture. Except this ship has “SKEEVO” written on it and the punchline is the tired “Are we there yet?” David repositions the book into the realm of space opera and comedy in three pages. It’s an impressive feat.
The rest of the issue balances the line between madcap screwball comedy and something a bit more typical for a space-set story: Dreadstar and company have been on their ship for months (its engines broke and, now, it can only travel at sub-light speeds) and they’re all going stir-crazy. Or, when Vanth starts talking to dead people and the ship seems to come apart and reform for many of those on board, literal crazy. Crazy crazy. In the end, the weird energy that seems responsible for this somehow transports the ship to a new galaxy and Vanth is left holding a weird alien-looking baby that appeared out of nowhere.
It’s a high energy issue that continues from those first three pages to set a tone that’s a dramatic shift from what Starlin was doing. While Starlin would occasionally dip his toe into comedy in Dreadstar, it was usually for an issue or a moment here and there, not something that’s meant to run through the book. The interplay between Skeevo and Iron Angel is the new status quo of this title as David amps up the personality conflicts. His use of Iron Angel is the big addition of a ‘new’ character. Technically, she appeared in that final Starlin-written run that I discussed yesterday, but she was almost completely a blank slate. David immediately imbues her with an abrasive personality that will continually put her into conflict with other cast members. Skeevo is an easy target because of his lascivious ways – and because he’s naturally the character most likely to go out of his way to annoy her. He’s the one asking “Are we there yet?” after all. In that respect, David picks up somewhat where Starlin left off.
The comedic elements not only differentiate David’s Dreadstar from Starlin’s Dreadstar, but also from David’s Star Trek comic work. Not that those comics didn’t have humour in them (David’s ability to blend comedy into his writing is one of his biggest strengths), it’s that they were definitely slanted towards a more serious style of story. This issue contains you typical Star Trek type of plot: something crazy is happening on the ship, caused by an unknown energy being. By adding the elements of humour and the larger moments of interpersonal conflict (the idea that these characters really don’t like one another necessarily), David continues to write a comic that plays to his established strengths of the time, while also showing that he’s not just turning Dreadstar into Star Trek.
Angel Medina’s art is both detailed and cartoony in places. He’s quite good at nailing character expressions where you can just flip through the book, not read a word, and understand exactly what each character is feeling in a given panel. The sly grin of Skeevo, the crazed look of Iron Angel when it’s revealed she doesn’t need the eyepatch she wears, the image of a seated Vanth in shadows with Delilah, Syzygy, and Ultra Violet behind him… there are so many quality images in this issue. His art style isn’t divorced from Starlin’s to a large degree (and even has Sam Grainger on inks, who ‘finished’ Starlin’s art in issue 32), but also skews a bit broader. Characters are more fit, more toned, more muscled, and more over-the-top in their expressions. It’s a good fit for where David’s writing diverges from what Starlin did.
Tomorrow, that mysterious baby gets a name.
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