Dreadstar December 2 – Dreadstar #53

“Stop the burning! No more! No more! I want to live! I want to live!! The skin, burned from my body... And still the blood won’t come off! Still blood all over me!!”

In some ways, this is the logical endpoint of Vanth Dreadstar. After Jim Starlin pushed him to the brink in Dreadstar #40, putting the character in a situation where suicide seemed like a viable option in a depressing dystopian world that never got any better no matter how many bastards he killed, Peter David has finally broken the character. That the series continues (and he eventually finds a nicer, questionably more satisfying way to end the character) is not surprising, but somehow disappointing.

When I saw I Am Legend in theatres, there’s a moment where I thought the movie should have ended and would have been almost perfect. But, it continued and it dragged the entire thing down. Despite the lingering mystery over Junior and what would happen next, part of me likes to think of this issue as the ‘best possible’ endpoint for Dreadstar (post-Starlin, at least). Vanth has had a psychotic break, he has gone on a killing rampage, and it culminates in him ripping Iron Angel’s arms off. The issue ends with him regaining his senses and asking Angel what happened to her as she looks at him with shock and horror. There are so many places where this could go, all of them best left to your imagination.

After all, is there any real way to get behind Vanth Dreadstar after this? He faces the fact that he has slaughtered trillions and will never be able to wash that blood away, yet also recognises that he has a strong desire to live – with the ugly implication being that he will continue to amass large body counts despite his ever-present good intentions. He is a mass murderer on a scale larger than we can comprehend and, to add the cherry on top, he rips off his friend’s arms and, then, gets to act innocent about it. Given the guilt-induced break he suffers, how are we to imagine he will react to learning what he’s done? He’s killed more and gravely injured his friend... is he supposed to move past this with good humour and a renewed drive?

Pretty much, yeah.

I really enjoy the way that David deconstructs Dreadstar and Starlin’s world, but there comes a point where everything has been so broken down that it’s just broken. That’s where Dreadstar is at the end of this issue. I know what happens next, but I’m curious to see exactly how David manages to back away from how far he’s pushed the character and how much he’s revealed. Is Dreadstar a hero at this point anymore? Not only is it difficult to consider how the book moves forward with him as the lead protagonist, how do his friends stand by him? How is this a man that they continue to tolerate, let alone follow?

Tomorrow: I guess we’ll find out.

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