REVIEW: Dreadstar Returns

For Cosmically Entertaining Investment Returns, Hard to Beat “Dreadstar Returns”

He’s back, y’all! Without ever actually leaving, Jim Starlin is back, reintroducing the epic power-sword wielding warrior, Vanth Dreadstar, and his motley, space-faring band of adherents in the 120-page Ominous Press offering, “Dreadstar Returns.” Picking up where he left off, Jim has capably recaptured the fast-paced, clever, tale-spinning magic he has always weaved so well, the kind that made the Dreadstar line must-pulls at the LCS’s for years.

Jim wastes no time unfolding an opening scene that puts readers face-to-face with the pompous, bloated arrogance of King Plundo Tram, a Trumpian ruler standing over a large slain beast, the target of a massive and well-armed hunting party. Steeped in the politics of optics and manipulation, a doting attendant plans the victorious and deceptive spin as the King’s solo triumph, to be characterized as a deed of courage and bravery, rather than the actual event, that of an army-led massacre of the beast. It is appropriate at this moment that Starlin reintroduces Vanth Dreadstar, the Robin Hood of this piece and the perfect counterpoint to pretentious, self-important monocrats. Clad in his trademark hoodie, detachable cloak, and swashbuckling garb, seemingly weaponless and alone, Vanth enters innocuously, approaching from the horizon on foot. The King’s army is amused and allows Vanth to introduce himself, but he immediately rattles off a laundry list of the kingdom’s atrocities, declaring that Tram’s tainted rule is finished. When Vanth adds that he will be supplanting Tram as the new ruling power, the contemptuous monarch scoffs, even as Vanth proceeds to explain while any defense the King’s army attempts to muster will fail miserably. The power sword materializes into Vanth’s hand as Tram defiantly directs his minions to attack and it is here that readers get to see Vanth putting some serious “dread” into the Dreadstar masthead, fiercely demonstrating his masterful proficiency as a deadly cosmic warrior.

And just as quickly, boom, we’re off to the planet Altarix. Here, under the digitized guardianship of world-managing Willow, we find Oedi and Tueton witnessing a growing trans-dimensional rupture that threatens to engulf the planet and beyond. Oedi heroically opts to explore the rift and quickly unearths a mystery within a mystery, with the name “Willow” inexplicably echoing throughout the rift. The haunting visage of a tight-lipped Syzygy, thought to be dead 20 years earlier, appears to Vanth back on Tram’s world and implores him to return to Altarix. A warp-jump later, the unflappable Dreadstar rejoins his team and goes about assembling a core team to track down the Willow chant and the source of the interdimensional breach. During the journey, Starlin is able to pull out a plethora of key characters used over the years in his Dreadstar line, including one early member of the band that has undergone a cosmic transformation, not unlike the Star-Thief from Starlin’s Warlock days. The exposition here gets lengthy but it’s savory sci-fi goodness on a cosmic scale only Starlin could craft so adeptly into a graphic novel. The premise resonates believably while creating a requisite abundance of awe. It’s story-telling Starlin-style.

The characterizations and scripted chemistry in “Dreadstar Returns” resume in a way that feels like they never paused. Dreadstar embodies a driven good guy that means business, always forging ahead with a boldness of purpose and a warrior’s confidence. The felinoid Oedi demonstrates razor-sharp deductive savvy and formidable skills as a furry marksman. Tueton remains a simple but loyal brute-come-head-smasher when threats become imminent while Willow, even digitized, presents compassionately as a fair and caring steward for the overarching governing structure known as the Willow Consortium, the antithesis of the former evil Instrumentality Empire of the High Lord Papal. Starlin’s core characters interact believably. They grumble, they wisecrack, they ruminate. They even like each other and, most importantly, they work brilliantly as an entourage. This is good to know, since the final panel is a portent of more dire challenges ahead for the merry band.

Artistically, Starlin remains masterful in this fresh outing, with strong layouts and a mind-boggling attention to detail that are his hallmark and a genuine joy to behold. Dreadstar fans far and wide will ravenously devour the imagery. That Jim furnishes a savory double-page spread immediately following the splash page is painstaking testimony that he enjoys giving fans their money’s worth even as he draws them further into his universe. Take heart: readers are treated to 9 other double-page spreads interspersed around every 10 pages or so. Hell, Starlin’s compositions are so robust that even his single-page renders often feel like double-page spreads.

The adept inks of Jaime Jameson are clean and crisp, ideally suited anchors for Starlin’s detailed pencils. I was not aware that Jim had evolved so extensively as a skilled colorist, but in “Dreadstar Returns” he renders an absolutely kinetic palette without overwhelming the panels. Though some backgrounds appear to be fractal snippets or stock solar energy images, Starlin more than makes up for it with often extensive detail in crowd scenes and city renders, in architectural perspectives and futuristic hardware. There is no shortage of panels poised to take the readers’ breath away. As I navigated from page to page, I honestly haven’t said, “Wow!” in my head on so many occasions in a long time. As if this Dreadstar rebirth wasn’t enough, readers are also treated to no small amount of bad-ass bonus features and eye-popping page processes, wonderful insights into Jim’s creative machinations. An in-depth “Dreadstar Guidebook” is the perfect complementary compendium to bring Dreadstar fans old and new completely up to speed.

Longtime Starlin fans know that the Dreadstar journey began way back in “Epic Illustrated” from 1980 with the cutting edge 14-part allegory entitled “Metamorphosis Odyssey.” This latest chapter in the long-running odyssey is another Starlin triumph that reintroduces and builds upon the adventurous feel and cosmic awe ultimately spawned by the original run that Starlin excels at delivering. Every fan likes to realize strong returns on their hard-earned investments, but readers seeking returns on a cosmically entertaining scale can’t afford to pass up “Dreadstar Returns.”

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