UNEARTHED: Dreadstar

Check it out: $4.95 for this! These days it’d be at least $20! Man, I remember when comics were $0.40! And another thing you’ll notice: this thing’s entirely painted. Maybe the first fully-painted comic ever. I don’t know for sure; I’m too lazy to do the research.

So, just so’s y’know, this one’s really melodramatic. And at the time, as a youth in the 80s, I probably thought this was the height of storytelling drama. But decades on, it just reads as overwrought. But what you need to know is that when this graphic novel came out, Dreadstar had already been a comic series in Marvel’s Epic imprint. The Epic comics were meant to be more refined, bearing a paper stock of higher quality, and supposedly more advanced, adult fare. That’s a whole other kettle o’ fish and you better believe we’ll get to them down the line. But back to Dreadstar.

Look! A race of cat people! How adorable! Until one of them wants to go outside and you open the door but they just sit there and then you go sit back down then they want to go outside again and you repeat the process over and over until you scream in frustration and they suddenly realize they have opposable thumbs and can open the door themselves.

Oh, the pathos! Starlin really lays it on thick here with the whole ‘agonized hero who has seen too much’ schtick. This really doesn’t play any more these days, and I even think I prefer Starlin’s line art over this painted stuff.

So anyway, to sum up: Vanth Dreadstar (actually this guy’s real name, hoho) is a fabled warrior. He shows up on this planet and tries to forget his awful past and start a new life. But of course his past will catch up to him. That’s how all these stories go. Don’t even worry about it.

Then this weirdo shows up talking about destiny and that’s never a good thing. Plus, just look at him: bionic hand, bionic eye, no nose, mouth partly lipless… does he seem trustworthy to you? Plus, his name is ‘Szygy Darklock’! STRANGER DANGER, VANTH.

Starlin telegraphs the hilarity with Vanth’s pronouncement in that final panel. It’s sad, really.

Yup, there it is! It’s the Luke Skywalker scene all over again, isn’t it? But minus the blue milk, which I think is a mistake.

Just so you know, there was a full-on horrifying panel of Vanth’s lover nailed to a wooden structure, and I didn’t think we needed to see that.

This is all just exposition, setting up the events of the Dreadstar series, which, as mentioned, took place before this graphic novel. I guess Starlin thought this backstory was necessary, but there are no insights or revelations here to really shed any more light on Vanth’s history than what the comics give. Actually, I think spelling it out like this makes Vanth less interesting.

It’s no use, Syzygy! Didn’t you read the previous pages?

To clarify: there’s the Monarchy, and there’s the Instrumentality. They’re both evil. All you need to know.

The hell is this Russian hussar uniform Vanth’s wearing? It’s so out of place I can’t tell if Starlin’s trying to make some kind of point with it or not.

Vanth gets his deferred revenge on the troops that assaulted his planet. Woot.

This is some Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots action here. And I mean ‘action’ in the loosest possible sense. I also really like how they’ve clearly programmed these robots to make the same sound when they get their heads popped off. One might say… the ZAACTLY same.

Starlin got bored of painting backgrounds here. Though I do like the hip design of the cyborg he lets get away.

Lookit this guy! Caligula meets Bob Ross!

This really is some Charles Bronson-type revenge here. No subtlety to it at all.

As we wrap up here, it looks like Starlin may have run out of time, because these panels seem to be a hybrid of both paint and line art.


And to cap it all off, an epigraph on the senselessness of death, from a relatively obscure writer, philosopher, and art critic. Well done, Jim Starlin, you’ve made your point. You’ve over-made it, actually.

And there you have it. Am I glad we got through it? Kinda. It’s here for completionist’s sake, really. But hold your got-damn horses, folks, ’cause the next UNEARTHED is a doozy. It’s Chris Claremont’s opus ‘God Loves, Man Kills’! I’m excited for this one! Stay tuned!