Review by Karl Verhoven
It took a fair amount of time to reach this starting line, three graphic novels in fact, best experienced as Dreadstar: Beginnings, but you can just as easily start here as Jim Starlin masterfully fills in the background to his series in a single page. Not only does the text impart everything required to understand Dreadstar’s world, but it’s stylishly illustrated with eye-catching design elements. Job well done! A further eight pages then precis the final third of Beginnings. The thrust is that Vanth Dreadstar and his uncanny soul sword; Syzygy Darklock, a mystical priest; Oedi, a human/cat hybrid and Willow, a blind telepath, form a four man crew determined to bring peace to a galaxy where the forces of the Monarchy and the Instrumentality have fought a war for two centuries. Dreadstar already has a puppet controlling the destiny of the Monarchy as this story begins.
“One thing you quickly learn in this racket is that revolution, like everything else in life, cost money”, notes Oedi, prefacing a raid on an Instrumentality treasury satellite. An orbiting equivalent of Uncle Scrooge’s money bin is is one several great concepts Starlin throws in as he expands his playground. Dreadstar and crew operate on a grand scale, but in small increments, having laid out a policy of overthrow that minimises the loss of life.
Starlin has certain stock characters that he falls back on. The bulky Lord High Papal, the uber-baddie of the piece, is a redesigned analogue of his earlier creation, Thanos, while ducker and diver Skeevo, introduced in this book, is the equivalent of Pip the Troll. Time hasn’t been kind to Starlin’s background on Willow, extensively reconfigured from her first appearance. The circumstances of the mental block preventing her telepathic abilities flourishing may have been daring and new for comics in 1983, but now come across as gratuitous, and those abilities themselves a little too convenient for a random encounter. Sidelining that, it’s easy to root for Dreadstar and crew. Starlin has always been an ambitious storyteller, and the arrival of Star Wars added a new dimension, the influence signified by a sinister variation of Darth Vader. He only plays a small part here, but those who’ve read Beginnings may suspect along with Dreadstar a connection to his past.
While slotting into the bigger picture, each chapter here has its own mood and set of spotlights, which broaden the cast while providing space opera thrills. It’s well plotted, with explanations given on several occasions why alternative methods considered by the reader wouldn’t be effective. Everything leads to the final chapter’s implementation of the mysterious Plan M. Cooked up by Dreadstar and Darklock, this has been referenced from the beginning, and is very clever.
Starlin’s enthusiasm comes across in his illustration, which is a joyous fusion of what he learned about storytelling from working at Marvel, along with some impressive page designs. These, though, are never at the cost of reader clarity.
Dreadstar is currently being developed as a TV show, and it’s to be hoped the joy of this content is transferred to whatever screen we’ll be watching it on.