“Let me get this straight. You thought Dreadstar might beat us... Which I doubt... So you got a weapon to beat him... And now you want us to beat the weapon that was supposed to beat the man who could supposedly beat us.”
After last issue’s return of the sword of power, this is the build-up issue as Dreadstar and company go looking for allies to fight Palafox and Junior (I love that that is his name), Palafox plots against Junior, considering him a liability and threat (and batshit crazy), and Junior finally gives himself over to the sword of control having learned that Dreadstar is alive (and, so must Iron Angel be alive as well). It’s a set up issue, a strong one, though. It’s a condensed version of issues 26-28/29 or so of Dreadstar in many ways.
The main element that Peter David takes from Jim Starlin’s issues where things shifted away from the Instrumentality and towards Dreadstar and company is the reversal of enemies and allies. Part of what made things shift in favour of Dreadstar was the revelation that Oedi was undercover as Mezlo, Ultraviolet has switched sides, Oedi brought over Mezlo’s assistant, and the ‘traitor’ was actually just a tracking device in Syzygy’s earpiece. Here, the schism between Palafox and Junior grows, Dreadstar and company capture Palafox’s scientist that turned Teuton against them, Palafox’s own people question his judgment, Debardinis learns that Palafix killed his son and reveals that he’s been sheltering Rok from his father, and Junior is revealed to be the living incarnation of the Twelve Gods of the Instrumentality. It’s a lot of plot points and reversals/reveals.
What’s probably the most surprising thing about all of those reversals and reveals is that they all make sense. There’s very little in this issue that stands out as not making any sense, which is a credit to the subtle groundwork done by David over the course of his run. Some of these were obvious payoffs that surprised few, while others came out of nowhere to a degree (Junior’s identity) but cause that “Of course! How could I not see it?!?” type of reaction. The pacing of this issue is one where the excitement level escalates towards that final splash page reveal of Junior, the perfect bridge between Vanth getting the sword back and that reveal.
The only thing that doesn’t work for me is the reveal that Debardinis has had Rok and not killed him. He believed that Rok’s emissary killed his son on Rok’s orders and vowed lethal vengeance against him. That Rok survived his fight with Palafox and, then, was captured by Debardinis and not killed has never seemed fitting with the way that David has set up the characters and their relationships with one another. It’s the one reveal that falls flat because it breaks from the text of the book. What’s odd is how unnecessary it seems, even knowing what comes after this issue. In an issue full of logical moments like this, to throw in one that makes little sense with no strong payoff down the line is a little baffling. But, it’s also so minor that it doesn’t slow the issue down at all either.
This issue also features Steve Epting doing a fill-in and his best Steve Rude impression. Oddly enough, seeing Epting do a pretty decent Rude impression makes me like him more as an artist. He’s shown a surprisingly wide ranges of styles over his career. It’s just odd to see his art look like this when his latter work didn’t have many of the superficial elements of this style.
And, fun fact: DC senior editor Matt Idelson seems to be the person who won the letter column contest as the first to guess Junior’s true identity... It’s the second-best letter column appearance after that issue where David Lapham had a letter begging for the book to shift to a monthly release schedule.
Tomorrow: big fight.