This Dynamite hardbound edition (2010; 230 pp) compiles all the Dreadstar material from ‘Metamorphosis Odyssey’, ‘The Price’ graphic novel, the ‘Dreadstar’ graphic novel, and the ‘Dreadstar’ chapter that appeared as a singleton adventure in Epic Illustrated. All of these works first appeared in the interval from 1980 – 1982.
This volume from Dynamite uses a high-quality, glossy paper stock. However, it is several inches smaller than the magazines and graphic novels the stories originally appeared in, so the typeface is comparatively cramped……and sometimes difficult to read.
The whole 'Dreadstar' series started as a serial in Epic Illustrated magazine: ‘Metamorphosis Odyssey’, which appeared in the very first issue (the Spring, 1980 issue), and appeared in succeeding issues as 14 chapters, concluding with the December, 1981 issue. All of the artwork in the chapters was painted, some of it in black and white, and some in color.
‘Metamorphosis’ dealt with adventures in a galaxy far, far, away, a long, long time ago (the entire ‘Dreadstar’ canon borrows, not surprisingly, from ‘Star Wars’). The dread Empire of the Zygoteans is enslaving all civilizations in the galaxy; only the planet of the Osirosians is able to resist, but their resources are becoming depleted as a result of the 500-year conflict.
Among this team of heroes is the orphan Vanth, from the planet Byfrexia. Vanth is the equivalent of a Jedi Knight, equipped with a magic sword, superhuman strength, impressive spaceship piloting skills, and unmatched skills in hand-to-hand and ranged weapon combat.
‘The Price’ moves away from sf, and more into the type of magic-based adventures that characterized the world of Marvel Comic's 'Dr. Strange'.
Starlin was presumably using this chapter as a teaser for the Dreadstar comic book series, which was inaugurated in November, 1982 by Epic Comics and eventually ran for 64 issues.
Dreadstar is not an action comic or a superhero comic; instead, it chooses to focus on a more wordy, cerebral approach, leading to panels that are overloaded with speech balloons and text boxes. This may turn off readers who are more accustomed to the minimalist, 'show, don't tell' formatting of contemporary comics.
While there are occasional bloody battles between Dreadstar and Empire troops, much of the series’ contents are devoted to lengthy dialogues between various characters on a variety of ‘deep’ topics. There is always a note of ambiguity about the seemingly ‘right’ decisions that are made in the struggles against the forces of evil, and every victory comes with its cost. At times Starlin’s prose becomes too overwrought, and unconsciously comes a bit too close to self-parody, a phenomenon that characterized his efforts for ‘Warlock’, ‘Thanos’, and ‘Captain Marvel’.
By and large, however, if you appreciate a space opera with more depth than the genre is usually accredited, then this Dreadstar compilation is worth investigating. It’s also a welcome change from contemporary comics, in that Starlin takes pains to frame his plots using flashbacks and external narration, devices rarely present in modern comics, which often suffer from awkward lapses in visual and storytelling continuity.
As well, Starlin’s use of painted artwork, involving a canny use of different shadings of grays and whites for the black-and-white episodes, stands apart from contemporary comics and their flat, computer-assisted approach to illustration.