“Do you realize the amount of trouble we’ll be in if the Papal catches us?”
If the title of the comic wasn’t Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar, you wouldn’t necessarily realise that this issue had a lot to do with the comic that Starlin created over a decade prior. It’s the sort of first issue where the two parts of the title on the cover of the issue seem inaccurate. Aside from the cover, Starlin has nothing to do with the comic and, aside from a brief appearance in a dream montage, neither does Vanth Dreadstar. Kalla Dreadstar appears quite a bit, but we’re only given her first name. Put another title on the comic and don’t read the pre-release press and you’d be forgiven for not even getting the connection (despite the Lord High Papal’s presence).
None of that is a bad thing, by the way. Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar #1 is the most intriguing issue Peter David had written to date. The somewhat complete divorce from what had come before aside from some character connection threads feels like the most Starlinesque thing David had done, recalling the early pre-Dreadstar days of The Metamorphosis Odyssey and follow-up graphic novels. This is a world where stories operate on large scales, jumping from character to character and jumping through time with ease. The biggest weakness of the First Comics run was the way it treated it very much like any other shared universe superhero comic. Finally, it feels different.
The set up is that, on the planet Shakil, they are in conflict with a race known as the Zon. Also on this planet, the Lord High Papal seems to have a status of a religious leader, acting as the mouthpiece for the ‘Holy One.’ This is Kalla and our introduction to her is a sex scene with one of the Shakil locals. He’s killed by some Zon, we see the Sword of Power, and she feigns ignorance until she has a chance to kill the lead Zon and then fight the rest, getting injured but prevailing. The locals begin to show discontentment with one of their own dying while the so-called ‘Holy One’ appears mortal for the first time and survived. The issue ends with the entire village burning and we have to ask if the Lord High Papal did it. Oh, and Teuton is there alongside the Papal.
While its heavily implied that Kalla is the daughter of Dreadstar, the way that it’s introduced through allusions via the sword, her long blonde hair, and the dream she has at the end that’s just a flash of images, the ambiguity works well. This could easily be some random girl that the Papal snatched at one point and has been building a religion around. If this is his grand villainous plan, he’s definitely set his sights low. But, he appears to have genuine affection for Kalla, which would make her parentage more surprising. How has the Lord High Papal come to love the daughter of Vanth Dreadstar almost like she were his own daughter?
Ernie Colon adds a different flavour on art. Great storytelling and a rougher looking style that only adds to the feeling that this is a different comic than what came before. There’s a definite sense of mortality in the art, a sense that the Lord High Papal is at a lower stature than ever before. He looks worn down and, almost, old.
Make no mistake, this is the highpoint of Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar, the moment where it felt like it could be its own thing, connected yet divorced from what came before. That doesn’t last.
Tomorrow: Planet Skeevo.