Once again… DREADSTAR IS POWER!
Dreadstar #16 (“The Test”) by Jim Starlin has the newly healthy and powerful Dreadstar test out his powers against the forces of the Lord High Papal. There are two parts to this ‘test’ with two waves of forces from the Lord High Papal: General Zedlock and Cardinal Elsior leading some grunt troops and, then, the duo of Infra Red and Ultra Violet. The first wave is there so we can see Dreadstar let loose on a bunch of people who exist only to get beaten up. It’s Starlin doing some fun action comics and leeting loose to a degree. Big dumb brawling as Dreadstar blows through them no matter what they try, punching them out, tossing them around, basically overpowering them. The best part of this sequence in a three-page bit where Zedlock uses a big tree trunk against Dreadstar, prompting him to use his ‘Power Punch,’ literally knocking Zedlock into the air and making parts of his clothes fall off. It’s a somewhat comedic moment.
Infra Red and Ultra Violet are a different matter. We’ve seen the pair take down Syzygy, so they represent the real test of Dreadstar’s powers and cleverness. The initial force was there so Starlin could show off Dreadstar’s new physical abilities in a somewhat non-threatening way. This, though, could be the end of Dreadstar before he’s even done anything really. But, Starlin surprises us and the villains by having Dreadstar take out Infra Red immediately with a big punch after catching him off-guard with some flying. From there, Dreadstar lures Ultra Violet into a trap where Willow mindblasts her. In a few pages, this powerhouse duo is taken down. Two issues ago, Dreadstar was basically dead and, here, he’s shown that the Lord High Papal’ victory practically meant nothing. It’s a big comeback and executed well.
From there, Starlin delivers an even more surprising scene with Dreadstar confronting Willow over her feelings for him. With the sword’s power now in him more directly, he can sense her feelings. He lets her down as gently as he can and the writing isn’t what sells the scene, it’s the art. Starlin goes for extremes of light and dark, uses repeating panels, cuts between the two, never having Wilow say a word until Vanth has said his piece. She spends the entire page facing away from him, just holding Rainbow. The pacing of it makes Vanth’s dialogue even more awkward with him seemingly struggling to find the right words, delivering a fragmented speech that doesn’t really flow. Now, that may not be how it is, but that’s the way the pacing of the art makes it look. The final panel of the page where he shatters her actually has it breaking apart at the end. That Willow’s only response is “I’ll go warm up the ship. We’ve a rendezvous to make” is both sad and tells us so much about her, and why I think she stands on her own. Yes, she has feelings for Vanth and they matter, but she doesn’t allow them to rule her every action. And, she’s damaged enough to never want to confront them or to wallow in them when there’s no point. It’s both emotionally stunted and mature — she evades the topic and acknowledges that there’s no need to have a long, drawn-out discusssion about it.
This issue is a strong one. The action is handled in ways that re-establish Vanth as a threat to the Lord High Papal, while the scene with Vanth and Willow is some of Starlin’s best pacing and page construction. Also, this issue features a letter from someone named Tom Fitzpatrick from Winnipeg… why does that name sound familiar…?
Tomorrow: Willow finds her mom.