He rules the galaxy, he’s big, he’s literally whiter than me… meet the Lord High Papal.
Dreadstar #11 (“Origin!”) by Jim Starlin tells us how the Lord High Papal came be to a lord of such height. After the Instrumentality’s victory last issue over the Monarchy, this issue divides its time between the Lord High Papal’s past and what’s going on now that he’s become ruler of the galaxy. Like any other victory in a Jim Starlin story, it’s not as great as he thought it would be. Conquering the Monarchy means conversion and an inquisition and killing those who won’t convert. It’s almost a chore as far as the Papal is concerned, something akin to taking out the garbage. A scene where there’s a penned-in group of people has Starlin use a repeated pattern of panels between them and the Lord High Papal’s face as, slowly, an energy overtakes both before we see that he’s killed them all. The entire encampment is nothing but scorched earth and burned skeletons.
Before getting to the Lord High Papal’s past, I’ll address a couple of developments. Cardinal Spydar returns from interdimensional limbo and we’re introduced to two new superpowered recruits to the Lord High Papal’s inner circle: a pair of cousins that gained their abilities when he ordered the nuclear attack on that city in the third issue. Things actually look good for the Lord High Papal… and he doesn’t trust that.
He grew up an outcast, a mix of human and alien, scorned by everyone, parents both dead as a child… his mother dies in a brutal rape/murder where her killer goes free because of his influence, his power within society. Early on, the Papal sees that power is the only thing that matters. With power, you aren’t a victim. He admires a man by the name of Tribecus Londo, saying, “[He] wasn’t quite human but he was accepted into the community because he was nearly human and quite a rich merchant. / Money is power, and power bridges many a chasm.” The Papal is taken under Londo’s wing, taught magic, becomes a terrorist/criminal under his guidance.
It’s interesting that Londo is the man that introduces the Papal to the Twelve Gods and the Church of the Instrumentality. He was born and raised on a Monarchy-ruled planet. He is a convert, not a born believer. He grows more powerful, even poisoning the previous leader of the Instrumentality when he was in a position to take his place. There, he learned the truth about the Twelve Gods — he was humbled and let down at the same time. Some disagreed when I called the Lord High Papal a true believer deep down inside and this issue seems to prove those people right as the Lord High Papal even thinks, “But the only thing I’m totally certain of in this universe is the fact… / …that there are no gods.” However, his narration on the previous page shows that he worships the Twelve Gods not as gods, but as figures of power. He is in awe of their power and superiority, and also resentful of it. He worships power. That is his god. In his rise to this position, there’s also a girl that spurns him, but I find that a little cliche and dull. Of course there’s a girl. And of course he feels guilty when he kills her.
The end of the issue is fantastic as the Lord High Papal goes to drink his wine, pauses, and ‘accidentally’ knocks it over, remembering how he came to lead the Church. The bottomt tier of the last page is a fixed position as the Papal walks away, towards a door, pausing in the final panel. He’s chosen his path, but he can’t help but regret it — he can’t help but see, on some level, that his rise to power has cost him a lot and not gained him as much as he hoped. He rules the galaxy, but his main concern with having power is keeping it. With holding others down, staying above the rest, always looking over his shoulder, and making sure he won’t be betrayed. As the new ruler of the galaxy, he doesn’t get to sit back and enjoy his position, he has to oversee the inquisition… it’s just a fucking job.
When he became the ruler of the Church, his first experience was entering the presence of beings even more powerful. Beings he both worships and hates for the exact same reason: their power. He even admits that his power comes at the price of being their ‘boy.’ You almost want to pity him. Except for the fact that he’s a brutal dictator and murderer. He choose this life, was influenced by circumstances, yes, but he ultimately chose his path. In this issue, we basically see how he ‘damned’ himself to a life of Hell: more powerful than everyone, but ultimately powerless.
It’s an aspect that Starlin has also explored in Thanos as he moved from one object of power to another, never actually gaining anything, only losing things in the process. It’s an empty quest that never brings about its goal.
Tomorrow: Tueton returns.