What craziness does Jim Starlin have in store this time around? Why, an assassination attempt! Fun!
Dreadstar #4 ("The Hand of Darkness") by Jim Starlin turns the spotlight towards the Monarchy a little as Dreadstar and Company go to the Monarchy capital world to deliver the tele-drives. There, they're greeted by the King and his right-hand man, Z. In red mechanical armour with a cloak, the one-armed mystery is a little reminiscent visually of Darth Vader, no doubt purposefully so. He immediately draws your attention. He and the King have their cyborg army attacked Dreadstar and Company (that's what the cover depicts -- I love the cyborg army designs). It's 'all a test,' of course, and, then, the issue becomes about preventing the Lord High Papal's assassination attempt on the King.
One of the big conflicts centres on Oedi whose entire species was wiped out by Monarchy forces. He hates the Monarchy in a way the others don't -- not even Vanth who wife was killed in the same attack. Maybe that's because Vanth killed the previous King, the man who was ultimately responsible. He got some measure of revenge, while Oedi hasn't yet. Because Oedi is the one that hates the King the most, he's the one who stops the assassin. The assassin wears a cloaking/changeling net sort of suit, able to take the identity of others. But, that can't fool Oedi's advanced senses. Their brief fight on a balcony is pretty cool as Starlin drops out the backgrounds as they spar until the panel where the assassin goes over the edge -- then, the panel borders and background come back. He does something similar during the fight with the cyborg army, dropping out the backgrounds most of the time. It places the emphasis on the fighting.
The cyborg army fight also uses an interesting layout for the main conflict: one two facing pages, they mirror one another with three tiers. One large panel per tier, one smaller. In the large one, the fight goes on; in the small one, Z. and the King watch, facing the action panel -- on the first page, Z. does all of the talking with him closest to us; on the second page, since the action is on the other side, they face the other way and the King is closest, so he does all of the talking. I love layouts like this.
The ending of the issue has an interesting scene between the Lord High Papal and his seeming right-hand man as he informs the Papal that, not only did the assassin fail, Dreadstar and his crew still live. Vanth and Syzygy survived the nuclear attack on Chichano last issue. The right-hand man then turns on the Lord High Papal, revealing that his daughter lived in Chichano -- and then blasting the Papal. But, that does nothing and the Papal kills him. The final four panels of the issue mirror the final four of the last issue.
First panel: issue 3 -- Vanth with his head in his hands; issue 4 -- Papal standing over the dead body.
Second panel: issue 3 -- close-up of Vanth's face as he looks up and yells "DAMN YOU, LORD PAPAL!"; issue 4 -- close-up of the Papal's face as he yells "DAMN YOU, VANTH DREADSTAR!"
Third panel: issue 3 -- Vanth looks up, fists clenched and rised to his midsection, screaming up "DAMN YOUR MAD WAR!"; issue 4 -- the Papal is in the exact same pose, screaming "DAMN YOUR INTERFERENCE!"
Fourth panel: issue 3 -- a shot of Dreadstar and Company's ship with a word balloon coming out of it that says "DAMN IT ALL."; issue 4 -- a shot of the Instrumentality headquarters with a word balloon coming out of it that says "DAMN IT ALL..."
It's a weird sort of mirroring. Vanth is upset because the Lord High Papal makes him an unwitting accomplice in murder; the Papal is upset because Vanth makes him kill people. There's a twisted symmetry there that reveals a lot about the Papal's mindset. He's clearly 'evil,' but this is the first instance where there's a hint of something there. Right after he kills a man. Or is it just frustration at his plans being thwarted? I like the ambiguity. Starlin teases us with the Lord High Papal having depth and... reasons. But, does he?
Tomorrow, we meet Tuetun...