Well. I did it.I could say I ploughed through it even. A journey from the sublime to the ridiculous and then out again to the lightly disappointing but satisfactory. I first read Jim Starlin’s “Metamorphosis Odyssey” in the pages of Marvel’s “Epic Illustrated“. A galumphing magazine in the style of “Heavy Metal” but with less European artists and more skewed to American tastes. But that was okay. I could go with that and they had some really good stuff. I followed it to Eclipse comics and “The Price” and then back to Epic when they started their monthly mags and Dreadstar became the first comic for the fledgling imprint. I then followed it to First Comics where Starlin eventually gave up the reigns to the hand-picked Peter David, and I liked that because I liked David’s style. Then it ended and I came to Brazil and I didn’t read the Malibu mini-series until I embarked on this journey.
Here’s a little background: Vanth Dreadstar first appeared in “The Metamorphosis Odyssey”, in Epic Illustrated #3. In the story, where Dreadstar is not the main character, he unwittingly aids the Orsirosian named Akhnaton in destroying the Milky Way Galaxy, the only way to stop the ever-expanding Zygotean empire. At he end of that Odyssey Vanth kills Akhnaton when they wake up from the suspended animation that Orsirosian has kept them in for centuries as they travelled to another galaxy. Here Dreadstar reappears in Marvel Graphic Novel #3, where Dreadstar tries to adjust to a new life on a pastoral world in the Empirical Galaxy, one million years after the Milky Way’s destruction, only for his new home to be wiped out in a military attack. The story happens simultaneously with The Price, a graphic novel published by Eclipse Comics, which introduces the magician Syzygy Darklock. The stories become interwoven in each other’s final pages, when the characters meet. Dreadstar and Darklock later appear in a short story in Epic Illustrated #15, which sets up the new bimonthly series. Got it?
In the Epic comic “Dreadstar” the series centered on the exploits of Vanth Dreadstar and his crew—powerful mystic Syzygy Darklock, the cybernetic telepath Willow, cat-like humanoid Oedi, and freebooter Skeevo. Vanth, newly arrived in the Empirical Galaxy after the events of Metamorphosis Odyssey, tries to live a pastoral existence on Oedi’s planet of peaceful cat-people, but his peace is disturbed by the arrival of Darklock, who wants him to get involved in the conflict between the two major forces in the galaxy, the Monarchy and the theocratical Instrumentality. Vanth refuses until the war comes to his planet, wiping out most of the population. Oedi survives and joins them; Willow and Skeevo join later, though the team is in place for the first issue.
Dreadstar takes the side of the Monarchy against the evil Lord High Papal of the Instrumentality, but his team end up becoming fugitives when the Monarchy falls, and go to great lengths to try to uncover a traitor in their midst. The transition to First Comics happened just when the traitor was about to be revealed, and the first issue published under First Comics, #27 contained this revelation. Are you with me still?
Anyway. The downfall of the Instrumentality came swiftly after the transition to First. Dreadstar, severely injured, went into a coma and awakened in the aftermath of the war—a bureaucracy where those with extraordinary powers, like himself, are commissioned as policemen to track down others of their kind. Eventually, Willow takes over the master computer, and Dreadstar and his friends leave the galaxy again.
Here Peter David takes over the reigns until the end of the run at #64 and into the Malibu mini-series that caps off the story that David had started at First.
(Liberally cut and pasted from the “Dreadstar” Wikipedia entry, no sense in re-inventing the wheel, eh?)
Apparently there have been other Dreadstar appearances to fill in some of the holes between the end of the First comics run and the Malibu mini but I haven’t been able to ferret those out so I shall refrain from mentioning them anymore here.
Right. The “Metamorphosis Odyssey” was High Science-Fantasy, to use an antiquated term, not Science Fiction because there are a lot of very mystical appendages to these stories. It was epic in its scope and execution in a black and white washed tone that made it stand out at the time. The Starlin run at Epic and then First was meandering especially after the fight between the Instumentality and the Monarchy was resolved . However, many of the themes that Starlin was to perfect at Marvel with his very similar Adam Warlock and Thanos characters can be seen to be developed throughout the earlier parts of the Dreadstar story. The epic sweep of the stories and the messianic nature of Vanth Dreadstar, albeit with a streak of self-interest, saw their perfection in the Warlock/Thanos/Infinity Gauntlet themes over at Chez Marvel. This brings us to the latter part of Starlin’s run with the character at First.
It seemed that Starln was at a loss with what to do with this group of characters and handing them off to Peter David actually feels like a no-brainer. David’s deft grasp of character and his inherent wit certainly brought a different dimension to the characters, His comedic wit is certainly more acute than Starlin’s, and here we see a more down to earth Vanth Dreadstar. Unfortunately we can see the fact that the book was in the throes of being cancelled and many of the themes that David was setting up began to devolve into a mish-mash of half-baked ideas and confusion certainly doomed, it seemed, to never be resolved.
Then we have the Malibu mini-series. The re-appearance of Papal uncharacteristically mellow and the mentor for the now adult Kalla Dreadstar whom we saw being born and apparently dying at the end of the First run of the book. What can I say? They wrapped the story up. Thankfully the great Ernie Colón was the artist on the Malibu issue’s. I would perhaps have preferred to see Angel Medina back in the artist’s saddle but Ernie was more than a suitable substitute. There were more than few incongruences in the 6-issue Malibu story and I’m unclear on the fact that if this was before or after Marvel had purchased the Californian group. However, it brought things to an end and brought back the seemingly immortal Vanth Dreadstar but left us with a slightly bitter aftertaste as this could have been so much more.
Anyway, we can still love in hope that someday Starlin will turn his thoughts once more to Vanth Dreadstar and company. There is certainly a plethora of potential material still waiting to be explored (or exploited if you prefer) with these characters. Now with the Claudia/Kalla character firmly placed in the group this open up a whole gamut of possibilities to explore if Starlin, or another author with balls big enough, had the mind to pick up the thread and run with it. I certainly hope so.
Doctor Morbus, the PsychoKiller, will see you now.
I’m delighted to announce my first leap into the world of digital comics – courtesy of Comixology Submit – by bringing you PsychoKiller, a black-comedy tale of demonic possession, richly rendered in exquisite, eye-popping lurid colour by the fabulous Dave Kendall.
Written by myself and Tony Skinner, PsychoKiller first appeared in Toxic! a British weekly comic, in March 1991. The comic was the brainchild of a group of British creators: myself (Marshal Law), Kevin O’Neill (Marshal Law and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), John Wagner (Judge Dredd) and Alan Grant (Batman). It was a brilliant opportunity to try out new concepts and new artists and PsychoKiller was one of the very best stories to feature in it. Dave Kendall is without doubt one of the finest horror artists in the business…
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I know it’s been more than a year, that’s the name of the new story I’m writing.Here’s the first part of hopefully many that may or may not be appearing in a new digital magazine. I’m so mysterious…
Mike could feel something gritty under his hand but it was the something gritty under his eyelids and the fact that some beast seemed to have taken a dump in his mouth and the truth that his head was thundering which was of more immediate concern.
He groaned and rolled over. Something hard poked him in the back. His foot kicked what appeared to be wood and he sneezed because he’d stirred up some dust. Yes, dust. He was sure of that. It had that dusty smell. He sneezed again because for some moronic reason he’d sniffed up the dust again. He groaned once more with feeling. That seemed to be what was expected on this occasion, he would probably sit up in a while and comically hold his head in his hands whilst muttering, “Never again,” under his breath. Yeah he’d do that because he was that kind of bloke.
He rolled over again and attempted to open his eyes. He couldn’t do it. It would be too painful and being basically a coward he shied away from too much pain and suffering. Forty bloody years old and still doing this shit! That’s what was going through his head. He remembered that he’d popped into the Crown for a couple of pints after he finished at the office, I mean, it was Friday after all. Then he remembered that the couple of pints had turned into a tandoori and some more lager, then something happened where there were lots of flashing lights and pounding bass beats. Oh shit! He’d gone to a club. Fuck! He hadn’t been to a club in years. He tried to imagine what dickish things he had done at the club at his age. He had probably offended half the female patrons. Did he get kicked out? He didn’t think so. He’d have to check for bruises later.
What then? What then? Jesus! He remembered years ago he’d been out one night on the lash and woke up two days later on a park bench in St. Helens! Not bad when you think that he’d started the weekend near his north London home.
He sensed rather than heard anything. There were other people near him. They were quiet, certainly, but he could just feel that he wasn’t alone. Then he heard a polite cough and someone shuffling in the dust as if they were shifting their position.
“You can stop pretending that you’re still unconscious Mr. Sparks, “came a laconic voice from somewhere outside his head.
“Yes Mike. Please do get up out of the dust and wood my old son,” came another voice just as laconic as the first but a little lower pitched.
Ah. So there were two of them. He didn’t like the sound of this situation. He slit his eyes against the dust storm that was inevitable and sat up. Yes he did groan, lifting his head up was really an effort but he managed to restrain himself from reciting the litany of “Never again”.
Through the dust and gloom he could see two gentlemen leaning against, respectively, a wall and what appeared to be a pew. He craned his head painfully around and discovered that he was indeed in what appeared to be an old church. It was daylight because the Sun was sending feeble rays of light through dirty windows. The inside of the church, or maybe chapel would be a better description because it was small, was decidedly not in good shape. Pews were tumbled around and broken, there was no altar cloth on the altar behind him and there was graffiti all over the shop. Dust motes floated heavily in the air and there was a smell of decay and old wax candles lingering in the atmosphere. He knew the smell of wax candles because he had been an altar boy back in the day. He caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a bed made out of old cloth and surrounded by distinctly mouldy jazz mags. He couldn’t imagine what went on in here, or rather, he could. He just didn’t want to.
“Right,” said the man in the black slacks and dark blazer, “Let’s get down to business shall we?” He pushed away from the wall and crouched down next to Mike, his thin yet handsome face close to Mike’s and a curtain of long dark hair fell across half his features. “Hello Mike, I’m a demon and my colleague over there is an angel and you have sold us your soul.”
Mike stared into the other man’s face for about ten seconds and then began to laugh, a laugh that began in the pit of his stomach and then settled in somewhere around the area of his diaphragm. He laughed and laughed, then laughed some more. As he took in a breath to continue his laughing he sucked up some more of that dust and began to cough. He was afraid that he might laugh and cough so much that he would; at worst shit himself or at best piss his trousers. He coughed until he got a hold of himself and teary-eyed looked at the two perplexed individuals then he got a fit of the giggles and had to breath hard to get himself under control.
“I’m sorry,” he said eventually. “You really expect me to believe that?” “What do you want?” He looked from one to the other, neither was smiling. In fact they looked a bit miffed, ticked off you could say.
“This is not a joke Mr. Sparks,” said White Suit pushing himself away from the pew, brushing away dirt from the backs of his trouser legs. “We assure you that this most definitely is not a joke.”
“Oh fuck off!” Mike said. “This is a wind up. I might be hung over but I’m not stupid,” he was attempting to get up off the floor he was at a tremendous disadvantage if something happened to kick off. He sat back down again hard, his head had done a flip and he was in danger of spewing up everywhere.
“Right Mike,” said Mr. Dark Suit. Mike realized that the two of them looked like refugees from an old episode of Miami Vice. “What we have here is a perception crisis.”
“What the fuck are you on about?” said Mike. “What the fuck is a perception crisis?” He could almost hear the italics.
Mr. White Suit had come around and crouched on the other side of Mike. He could smell a scent almost like church incense, sandalwood and balsam. A clean smell that took him back to some not very good memories of the vestry, he shuddered a little.
“A perception crisis is where we tell you something and you perceive it to be bullshit,” that was whispered into Mike’s ear, he shuddered again. “When in fact, it isn’t,” continued Mr White Suit, “Bullshit is what you have been doing the last few years of your life…Mike.”
This was not good. Mike had been in some sticky situations before, St. Helens came to mind again, but he had never had his D.T.s speaking to him before let alone speaking to him in a decidedly threatening manner.
“What? What do you want? Are you some kind of weird rape team? You wanted that I wake up before you reamed my arsehole? You gonna torture me a little first then get down to business?” He looked wildly from one to the other.
Both Mr White Suit and Mr Dark looked at each other and smiled, his heart sunk and he let out a small frightened fart.
“Well, no Mike no not at all,”
“Look,” said White suit. “I’m Sanael from the exalted Hordes of Heaven and this is my colleague Arakes of the wild and tempestuous legions of Inferno. We have been watching you for some time…”
“Since St. Helens actually,” said Arakes.
“…yes, exactly,” Said Sanael looking a little testily at Arakes “ We have been tasked with the objective of finding out for the Creator if humankind is, in fact, worth saving.”
“Bloody hell!” said Mike.
“Ah, at last” said Arakes pushing himself away from the wall and folding his arms across his chest. “He gets it.”
“No,” said Mike. “Bloody hell that you’d think that I’d fall for some bullshit like that”
Sanael and Arakes looked at each other, something passed between them but Mike was too hung-over to notice.
“For fuck’s sake, it’s the twenty-first century. You don’t exist. I’m an atheist!”
There was a bang and a flash of light and dark, Mike fell to the floor again, or rather was pushed down by the rush of energy released, he whimpered.
“What is that awful smell?” Asked the angel Sanael, wrinkling his perfect nose as his wings made of light stretched behind him brushing the chapel ceiling lightly.
“It seems the mortal has indeed soiled himself brother angel,” replied the dark mass that could only be Arakes.
“Oh dear Lord,” said Sanael exasperated. He waved his delicate hand and the smell and the shit that had filled Mike’s pants disappeared, angelic toilet paper indeed. “Now listen hear you pathetic worm. We’ve been given this task and we aim to see it carried out come hell or high water.” Angels are wont to use idioms and metaphor a lot.
“Calm down brother Sanael,” said Arakes, he was manifesting a bit more clearly now, Mike could actually make features out. Though he wished he couldn’t.
“Look, I’m sorry, right?” Mike had scuttled back a bit out of the grey area that had been created by the overlapping of the golden and black light. He didn’t like how it felt, kind of alive. Alive and at war with each other, that’s how the two lights felt. It seemed to him to be a good idea not to let that light touch him in any way. However, he was still convinced that he wasn’t in the middle of some fever dream brought on by the excesses of last night. He felt his left nipple vibrate. Shit! It was his phone. He looked at who was calling him. Fuck! It was his boss. He was going to be in big trouble that was for certain.
“Answer the blessed thing then Michael,” said Sanael a little snippily. “Tell your boss that you are sick, he’ll believe you.
“Yes boss. Nope, I’ve got some kind of bug. Yeah it’s echoey here in the bog. Both ends boss wouldn’t like to be meeting clients in this state, eh boss? Yeah, Lucy knows all the details and Graham can give the presentation, the power point is on my hard drive in my office, Lucy can show him. Ha ha, no no porn–at least not on my office computer–ha ha ha.” He hoped that his boss didn’t hear how desperate he was being but he seemed to be swallowing this pile of porkies with no qualms, unusual for a fellow who normally seemed suspicious of an extra order for paper clips. “No? Okay, well as soon as I get better you’ll be seeing my sunshiny smile around the department. Yeah, see you then.”
“Have we finished?” Asked Sanael as Mike put away his phone, making sure he’d switched it off. He nodded the affirmative to the angel. “Right let’s get on then, shall we? Where was I? Ah yes. Now my infernal colleague and I have taken your soul. We did last night between the time you were annoying a very pretty secretary and throwing up in the gents.”
“God, I knew I’d been making a prat of myself,”
“Yes, well. Be that as it may. You sold us your soul. Well not really sold as that involves crossroads and all that malarkey and too be quite honest it generally ends up in a right old kerfuffle.” Sanael seemed to be on a wander through his vocabulary.
“Oh get on with it Sanael. I need to be at a whipping in an hour and you know how Pythius gets when we’re not all there to administer the flogging.”
“Yes. Anyway, we’ve taken your soul and divided it into twelve parts. They are hidden all over the shop. Some may be as close as your neighbour’s cellar. Others may be as far away as Machu Picchu,”
“Oh fuck,” said Mike.
“Yes indeed, “said Arakes. “You should be very worried. Not only does your own fate hinge on your ability to find your soul shards but also that of the whole human race. Just think about that for a bit.”
Mike felt the weight of the world settle on his shoulders. He thought that he was going to cry but that was something he hadn’t done since Father Johnson had buggered him in the vestry of his old church. He’d kicked the shit out of the old bastard years later, left him lying in a pool of blood outside the Catholic Club that was next to his old church.
“Why me?” he cried out to the two figures before him.
“Why not?” they replied in unison, with such force it shook dust from the walls and plaster from the ceiling of the chapel.
“Listen,’ said Arakes. “You’re not going to be completely alone in this. We’re going to be scattering clues around and there will be—erm—people to help you along the way.”
“Whoop-de-fucking-doo,” said Mike with little enthusiasm.
“Now don’t be like that Mike,” said Sanael a little more kindly. “It’s not the end of the World. Well, actually it could be. This is the year of the Blood Moon, a most propitious time. A time when anything can happen and although we can’t get involved directly per se, we each have a quota of three times when you can call on us to help you out. But you must be careful to use those ‘get out of jail free cards’ wisely. Squander them and you may find yourself in a predicament and have no way to extricate yourself.”
Arakes was off into a corner by himself now. He’d also changed back into his human form. He turned suddenly and took Mike by the lapels of his jacket. Mike felt his feet leave the ground. The demon was strong for a skinny bloke.
“Trust not the council of angels friend,” Mike smelt hellfire and sulphur on the demons breathe and he nearly crapped himself looking into the demons red eyes. He was thrown backwards and woofed as the air was pushed out of him as he hit the wall.
“Arakes! Control thyself hell spawn” Sanael had moved back into human form to and was kneeling over Mike solicitously. “Come my friend, all will be well. Arakes is jesting. He’s testing your mettle as it were, trying to see if we’ve made the correct choice. I for one have no doubt, but the Fallen are ever at odds with whom they would trust.” Sanael looked angrily at Arakes. Who had the good grace to look abashed and stalk off into the other corner.
“Now your first task is simple and close to home, though not n your neighbour’s cellar. You need to get to a town called Luton, you know it?”
“Yeah I do. Shitty little hole up past St. Albans” replied Mike still looking hurt and mistrustfully at Arakes who had come closer again after mooching about at the other side of the chapel.
“Well, it doesn’t matter what your personal opinion of it is. You need to get up to a housing estate called Marsh Farm. You got that?”
“Yeah, Marsh Farm”
“Good boy. When you get there go to a bar called The Cotter’s and wait for someone to contact you”
“You’ll know them when you see them”
“Now this needs to be before midnight tonight. If you don’t find the first shard before midnight then it’s curtains for the human race, do you understand?”
Mike looked up into the angel’s golden eyes. He was miserable, dirty and hung over. His soul had been ripped from him and shattered into twelve shards. Yes, he understood alright. It was these fucking religious fuckers pissing around with him again. He was having most unangelic thoughts about what he wanted to do right now. It involved lumps of wood and rusty barbed wire. Sanael’s eyes widened in shock, he’d obviously seen the thoughts in Mike’s head.
“Don’t fucking worry. I’ll be there” Mike growled as he heaved himself off the floor and stomped out of the chapel into the cold light of day.
Sanael stood up with a worried look on his face and turned to Arakes.
“What the fuck did you expect?” said the demon with a smile.