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.