It's a trap!
Dreadstar #19 ("...Trap!") by Jim Starlin gets things moving in a more active way after last issue introduced the traitor subplot. Both sides begin to move against one another with Dreadstar and Company preparing to move against Anton A Lanstrom Mezlo as a means to finding out who the traitor is. At the same time, the Lord High Papal prepares his forces to move against Dreadstar and Company, including laying a trap at Mezlo's base of operations for the band of rebels. That the Lord High Papal is moving against Dreadstar and Company so immediately, preparing for their arrival on the planet where Mezlo is stationed proves the traitor theory... in theory, at least (oh ho ho). Even still, it's an issue of ideas and set-up, not one of action really. But, I don't mind because we get to meet some new characters and Starlin's art is absolutely gorgeous in this issue.
As the Lord High Papal prepares to fight against Dreadstar and Company, we're introduced to a team of individuals who are tasked with taking down the whole group. The duo of Infra Red and Ultra Violet are to take down Syzygy as they did once before. Why mess with success? From there, Science Officer Monalo is tasked with taking down Willow since he's also a telepath and finds her very existence offensive, coming from a group/society of telepaths that think that that realm is theirs alone. Monalo is one of Starlin's best designs on the series. A yellow, tall, lanky bald man with a large, oval forehead. He wears a purple cape (with a yellow pointed) collar over a black and yellow body suit. He would look entirely at home as a villain for Adam Warlock. For Dreadstar, there's a shapeshifter called Mass and, for Oedi, is a lizard-looking bounty hunter named Gecko Lingus.
But, that team is only to be used if the trap at Mezlo's fails. The plan there is to send wave after wave of robotic shells at the group, each one piloted remotely by one the Instrumentality's top soldiers (100 in total). When a robot is destroyed, the control is transferred to a new one. The goal is to wear down Dreadstar and Company with never-ending, overwhelming forces -- over two thousand robots stand prepared to be used.
This issue outlines these two parts of the plan with Dreadstar and Company heading to the planet where Mezlo is and arriving there, ending with the trap being activated and the robots attacking. In the middle of the issue, there's a brief two-page scene between Infra Red and Ultra Violet that plays upon a subplot introduced in the issue where they helped the Lord High Papal attack. There, Willow tried to convince Ultra Violet that she and her cousin are fighting on the wrong side, that the Lord High Papal is the truly evil one and the one responsible for the nuclear attack that destroyed their home. She begins to have doubts, while Infra Red is a true believer. Their discussion is heated and shows that part of Dreadstar and Company's plan of attack, the war of propaganda, is working in at least one case. By never trying to kill the two, even when it would have been easy, they've managed to plant seeds of doubt in Ultra Violet's mind. After all, if they were so evil that they would detonate a nuclear device in a city of millions of innocent people, why wouldn't they kill someone who is trying to kill them? What gain is there in that sort of behaviour? It's a logical place to begin with. But, Starlin is smart in not having her become convinced over night -- after all, she isn't simply following the Lord High Papal because he's the ruler of her government, he's also the head of her Church. That level of devotion and faith is hard to break. She is the lifelong believer who is confronted with overwhelming logical evidence that shows her Church is nothing but lies and she's obviously fighting against it. It's one of Starlin's better-executed takes on religion in the book as it's the most tame, the most realistic.
The line work in this issue is very fluid and detailed. Starlin's use of light and shadows adds to certain scenes like the discussion between Ultra Violet and Infra Red. There's a moodiness, an 'inbetween' quality added with the art... they're in a place between light and dark, not sure what's what exactly. Later, we only get one panel of it, but a shot of Dreadstar and Company in the rain is really good-looking. I wish Starlin would do more scenes in the rain. The revelation of the robots is also done in a rather stunning fashion: a wordless double-page spread. It's unusual for Starlin to use a single-page splash, so the double-page single image is arresting. You see the group swarmed by a dozen or so robots, them all in action -- but what stands out is the look on Dreadstar's face as he fights. It's a look of pure panic, a real 'Oh, fuck me...' look as he sees all of these robots coming. It's not a look we see often on his face.
Tomorrow: someone dies.