Saturday, January 26, 2013

Blogathon 16: Dreadstar #1-12 (Part 2)

I grew up with Dreadstar. It began just before I was born and my dad bought every issue. He was a Starlin fan. Before I read the whole thing a couple of years back, I'd read bits and pieces and studied the art for years. Starlin was one of those guys who made comics that I loved to flip through as a kid and look at the wild, inventive pictures he drew. The strange aliens and insane layouts... the big moments of heroism and dark panels of villainous triumph... Starlin drew (and wrote) comics that engaged my young mind.

And I still love these comics. They still engage my mind as we both reach 30 years of age at roughly the same time. Part of that is surely nostalgia, remembering my childhood; part of it is that I don't mind the didactic nature of the comics. I'm not as put off by didacticism as most people are -- particularly when I agree with it. The way that Starlin attacks organised religion and government here is still very much in my wheelhouse. These are two governments that aren't fighting a war to win it, they are locked in a conflict that has become essential to their economy -- and people pay the price with their lives. In the Dreadstar graphic novel, there's a bit where Vanth is taken off the front lines (he was in the Monarchy's army at the time) and put in a desk position because he was too successful. With a man like him, there was a chance the balance of the war would tip and the status quo would be ruined. It's such a telling scene.

I have a hard time looking at this work through modern eyes. Like a lot of things in my life, it's been such a constant presence that there's no way to see it fresh again. The closest I come is with the second issue where it's revealed that Willow's father molested her as a child. In late 1982/early 1983, that's a bold, shocking choice in a comic like this. Now, it's so common that Willow seems like just another damaged female character in an industry littered with them. As I said when I wrote about Dreadstar in December 2010, I'm surprised at how little love/fondness there is for Willow. You don't see it as much in these 12 issues, but, as the series goes on, she really comes into her own as a strong, powerful character. She isn't the weak link of the team or someone who needs Vanth to save her -- she's right up there with him and Syzygy. She really grows over the course of the series.

Something Jeff mentioned that I hadn't considered as much is the lighter, more jokey/cartoony stuff that happens in Dreadstar. It doesn't happen a lot (though issue 12 certainly has that at the end), but Starlin was definitely capable of doing something very goofy. His art style, though, didn't always work well with gags like that, which Jeff noted. Nor did those moments always fit in with the tone of the story Starlin was telling. This was Big stuff: war, nuking cities, betrayals... and it would only get bigger and more serious after these issues.

Unlike other Starlin heroes, Vanth Dreadstar seemed like anger personified. Captain Mar-Vell was the guy who switched sides to protect innocents, Warlock was insane Jesus... Vanth was a guy who was just pissed off. He looked around and couldn't let go of his anger. He did for a time in the Dreadstar graphic novel after he killed Aknaton and lived life in a farming community with his new wife. Until a new war came and killed that. Dreadstar is a big story of revenge -- not against a person (though the Lord High Papal does represent the forces that killed his wife) but against the very idea of war. He wants to kill war and he's doomed to fail, because you can't win that fight. So, we get a man who's bursting with rage and frustration a lot of the time, unable to see that he's never going to get what he wants. Even when he eventually kills the Lord High Papal, the universe isn't made utopia all of a sudden. He wakes after a coma in a world that's broken in new (but similar) ways. That's the tragedy of Vanth Dreadstar: he is immortal and will always live in worlds of death and pain...

See, I can't stick to these first 12 issues! I know too much! You can't unsee what you have seen!

In 30 minutes, I'll answer Tucker Stone's questions "When do you think you should have stopped reading superhero comics? Why do you think you kept going?"

We're now at $739.95 raised for the Hero Initiative!

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Hero Initiative (Details in this post)! After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]