A month of discussing the first 31 issues of Dreadstar by Jim Starlin begins here. Or, more properly, below the cut.
Dreadstar #1 by Jim Starlin begins with ten pages of Oedi recapping what came before this series. Thankfully, I already laid all of that out for you last night. For the first issue of a creator-owned book that’s also listed as “vol. 1,” that’s a lot of information to just drop on the reader and not the most engaging way to kick things off. There’s no pretense of working the recap into the story. It’s just Oedi sitting around, telling us how he got to this point in his life. When Greg Burgas discussed Starlin’s run on the title, he was frustrated with how Starlin recaps everything in every issue, adhering strongly to the idea that every issue should be accessible to new readers. I don’t mind the approach as you can see what Starlin wants to emphasize and how he interprets scenes visually at this point. This recap also has him rewriting what came before in some small ways. The biggest change here is that Oedi is the sole survivor of the Instrumentality’s attack on his people. He even shows up in a rewritten version of the aftermath of the attack as shown in the Dreadstar graphic novel. The tone of Vanth’s reaction is different: in the graphic novel, he was much angrier and colder, here he shows moments of self-pity and simpler rage. I prefer the graphic novel version, but this one communicates the necessities.
From there, we see this band of rebels dedicated to stopping the war: Vanth Dreadstar, Syzygy Darklock, Oedi, and Willow. Willow is a blind cyber-telepath (a telepath that can also influence machines) who has a pet monk (monkey-like creature) named Rainbow as her eyes. The second issue gets into her backstory, so I’ll wait until then to talk about her too much. For this issue, the group decides to rob a church, funding their mission with the Instrumentality’s own money. It’s a lot of action as they, first, break into the space station’s vault and, then, escape by having to get past an Instrumentality Destroyer-class ship. It’s an odd contrast between the first ten pages and the final 22.
I find that contrast oddly effective, though. Starlin hits you with a lot of information, telling you all about Vanth Dreadstar and how he came to be in this situation of fighting against the Instrumentality while secretly controlling the Monarchy, and, then, shows you and his group in action. Starlin’s art drives the book as he packs the pages with panels and interesting shots. He uses juxtaposition well, often using two or three panels to show a change in the scenery or the movements of characters. One of my favourites is two panels: the first showing a close-up of Willow’s eyes and, the next, showing Rainbow with the silhouettes of her eyes (with eyebrows and eyelashes) overlaid in all white to show how she sees through him and is linked telepathically to him. Or, there’s a four-panel sequence where three panels show the door to the vault slowly rising with the fourth showing Vanth, Syzygy, and Willow shocked before cutting to a large panel showing piles of gold and silver bars.
The action scenes show off a staple of Starlin’s work: the large group of bad guys attacking the small band of good guys. Again and again, Starlin returns to the strong visual of the hero seemingly overwhelmed by a mass of enemies only to cut through them like butter. It’s very chaotic and high-energy, Dreadstar and Willow always on the move, giving the latter half of the book a sense of urgency. Dreadstar disabling the Destroyer by going into space and firing an energy blast from his sword at its hull is pretty cool, too.
The issue ends with two pages of the Lord High Papal as he comunes with his gods to obtain the power needed to fight against Dreadstar and Syzygy. The little coda is necessary to establish him as the villain of the series. His strong, imposing figure makes him reminiscent of Thanos to a degree, but he’s a different sort of character. More in love with power for the sake of it than Thanos. Thanos, at least, had a cause: his love of Death. The Papal just wants to be the most powerful for the purpose of being the most powerful.
There’s a lot to take in initially for new readers, but Starlin balances that out with a lot of action. He also sets the pace of the series, showing that each issue will show a concrete ‘chunk’ of story. Here, Dreadstar and Company rob a church. A simple plot that Starlin sticks with. That’s the way the series operates. Every issue is part of the larger whole, but also tells its own piece of the story completely with few exceptions.
Tomorrow: we learn all about Willow.