It's a Merry Christmas for the Lord High Papal... not so much for Dreadstar and Company.
Dreadstar #25 ("...Trial!") by Jim Starlin is one of the busiest, most crammed issues of the series. With Dreadstar and Company captured, this issue is basically the first of a two-part story that follows their trial, attempted execution, and escape where Starlin introduces some new characters, has some double-crosses, and weird alliances forged. It's also the first of the final two Epic issues. I wonder if that had anything to do with Starlin suddenly upping the pace. What's surprising is that there's still room some weird experimentation in the middle of the issue, not simply an entirely plot-oriented issue that feels workmanlike. That Starlin pulled that off is amazing.
The experimental pages take up pages 7-11 as Mezlo reviews the computer file on Dreadstar and Company. The pages actually present the entire Dreadstar story as if it were on the computer: the images are all pixelated versions of Starlin's art, while the font for the narration is bad '80s computer font. The kind where you can't always read it right the first time. They're ugly, dull pages... and yet compelling from an intellectual standpoint, appreciating that Starlin went all-out to present this information in a few way. There are a few logical problems, like how would the Instrumentality's computer files have images of Dr. Delphi fading away? (Unless that's a clue about the traitor... ha!) The pages are a little jarring and don't fit with the rest of the issue, but good on Starlin for trying them.
I'll run through the major plot points quickly:
* Monalo doesn't like Mezlo staying in his chair, because it shields him telepathically -- Mezlo says it has to do with a back injury from his ordeal with Oedi. Almost immediately, Mezlo says something about a new breed of animal life that's telepathic on some planet, which sends Monalo off to investigate.
* Mezlo has his assistant Sergay bring Skeevo and Dreadstar to him, but Skeevo goes into a rage and he tries to attack Mezlo. Mezlo has them take Skeevo away, leaving only Dreadstar with him. Mezlo is not in his chair. He offers Dreadstar a deal: he wants the whereabouts of certain people and he'll tell Dreadstar who the traitor is. The scene ends with Mezlo saying he'll show Dreadstar that will convince him to trust him. When Dreadstar is back in the cells, he's apparently working with Mezlo and he also knows who the traitor is.
* Mezlo wants to inspect the newly finished Omega Vessel, but, before doing so, he erases all of the files relating to it. He also makes it known to Sergay that he's up to something and wants Sergay to be his right-hand man.
* Ultra Violet is convinced of the truth that Dreadstar and Company are the good guys and the Lord High Papal and his forces are evil. The atomic missile launched at them two issues ago is what's done it. Infra Red still believes, but Ultra Violet has seen the light. She tries to free Dreadstar and Company, but the Lord High Papal is waiting for her after Infra Red ratted her out. She's to die with them now.
* Gecko Lingus suspects something is up with Mezlo and is still a little pissed off at only getting half his promised price.
* Two representatives of the Omnian people meet with the Lord High Papal, because they're not part of the Instrumentality and, sometimes, there are problems between the two. The Lord High Papal wants that stopped. Before they leave, they run into Mezlo and one of them, Omni, can tell something isn't right, that he's up to something -- and offers to help.
* The issue ends with Willow revealing that she wasn't really defeated by Monalo entirely, that she faked her collapse to avoiding actually having her brain fried. When she releases Dreadstar's bonds, he tells her to put them back, because, otherwise, they're dead.
There's a lot going on, most of it new in some way. The payoff of Ultra Violet's doubts are good, especially since it comes as the result of Monalo screwing up by repeating the Lord High Papal's actions from issue three. Actually, if you notice, Monalo is the reason why Dreadstar and Company eventually win. His decisions and failures when leading the attack against them are what doom the Instrumentality: he repeats the bombing, he doesn't completely defeat Willow, he pisses off Gecko Lingus, he falls for Mezlo's obvious lie about the telepathic animals... the Lord High Papal put his trust in the wrong man and we begin to see how that's going to lead to his downfall. Besides the computer file pages, Starlin doesn't have much of a chance to shine. His pacing is great as he gives most of the scenes this wonderful tension through his choices of panel size, angle, even when he decides to put in a silent panel.
Tomorrow: Dreadstar and Company are going to die. Also, today: Merry Christmas!