Dreadstar was a sci-fi comic book series created by Jim Starlin and published by Epic Comics (a division of Marvel) in 1982. It starred protagonist Vanth Dreadstar, his somewhat-mentor and right-hand-man, sorcerer Syzygy Darklock, and an ensemble cast of crewmates. It was essentially the fourth act of "The Metamorphosis Odyssey", a lengthy allegorical story also published by Epic and told in several distinct parts ranging from illustrated magazines to graphic novels to comic books. The eponymous character Vanth Dreadstar had been introduced in Epic Illustrated #3 (September, 1980).
Act ONE starts with an immortal mystic named Aknaton, whose Osirosian race (the elder of two oldest, most powerful races in the Milky Way galaxy) has just begun a marathon war against the second-oldest race, destroying conquerors known as the Zygoteans. Despite massing their power and confronting the Zygoteans directly, it becomes evident this is a war of attrition that they will lose due to the Zygoteans ability to continually 're-arm' themselves quicker by looting every resource available from every planet they conquer.
As the Zygoteans conquered, enslaved, and exterminated more and more of the Milky Way, the Osirosians concluded that the Milky Way was doomed to a long, slow, horrible death and evolved a plan to destroy the Zygoteans, whatever the cost. Running the Zygotean blockade of his homeworld, Aknaton set various events in motion to mature over time into the elements he needed for his final plan. As it was coming to its fruition, Aknaton found Vanth Dreadstar and recruited him to be his pilot and bodyguard. Vanth leapt at the chance that there might be a plan to destroy the Zygoteans; though he was shaken when Aknaton revealed the exact nature of the plan to him and the others. Aknaton had reasoned that since the Zygoteans were undefeatable, and the death of the galaxy could not be prevented, the only remaining kindness was to make the end as quick and painless as possible. Therefore, he had created the Infinity Horn... whose purpose was to destroy the entire Milky Way. Appalled, but convinced that Aknaton's plan was the only option, Vanth agreed. Protecting the only three 'pure' beings who could sound the Infinity Horn, Aknaton and Vanth escorted them to the planet where Aknaton had hidden it. As Aknaton and Vanth held off the Zygoteans, they sounded the horn, destroying the Milky Way galaxy and everyone in it.
Immediately before the first note sounded, though, Aknaton had used his mystic powers to encase himself and Vanth in a bubble of force and throw them into intergalactic space. Eons later they crashed on a planet in another galaxy, where Vanth shot Aknaton in a fit of rage and guilt over the destruction of the Milky Way galaxy. Mortally wounded, Aknaton confessed that he had goaded Vanth into killing him because he could not live with the guilt. As he died, he told Vanth that he had saved him and brought him here because this galaxy was at a point where it might go down the same path as the Milky Way. Aknaton wanted Vanth to change the destiny of this new galaxy, and if he failed, to then locate the Infinity Horn to destroy this galaxy as well.
Act TWO, a single graphic novel title "The Price", tells the story of the magician-priest Syzygy Darklock- his rise to power within the Church of the Instrumentality, his personal conversion from aloof priest to a man who wants to end the war, his quest to attain the power necessary to make a difference, and the personal sacrifice(s) he must make to gain them. Although a part of the Dreadstar mythos, this is a solo story featuring Syzygy Darklock, with Vanth Dreadstar only making a brief appearance at the end.
Act THREE was the Marvel Graphic Novel #3, Dreadstar, published in 1982. It was somewhat unique at the time in that the entire novel's artwork was not drawn but painted by Starlin. Having been duped into 'euthanizing' the Milky Way Galaxy at the end of act one, Act Three/"Dreadstar" begins when, after having traveled through the universe in stasis for thousands of years, the force-bubble he was trapped in finally enters another galaxy and crash-lands on a peaceful planet mostly ignored by the warring factions. The planet on which he crashed was the site of an Instrumentality experiment to create a race of cat-human hybrid warriors. While the experiment was considered a failure (the hybrids were mild-natured and generally only suited to farming), the race it produced was allowed to survive and procreate, as their farming efforts were prolific as to make them an asset for the Instrumentality's war effort. Wanting to live in peace after years of fighting, Dreadstar rid himself of his sword, married a human scientist studying the indigenous population, and lived quietly for decades as a farmer himself, until the arrival of Darklock. The sorcerer tries to enlist Vanth to stop war, but Vanth refuses to return to a life of killing. Shortly after the arrival of Darklock, a fleet of Monarchy ships arrives and, based on the outdated "experiment to create a race of cat-human hybrid warriors" intel, destroys his home village. The fleet not only kills all his friends (except one), but upon finding his wife some of the ground troops rape, torture and murder his wife (justifying it as a moral outrage base on her presumed 'bestiality' in living there). Vanth picks up his sword again, however, he refuses to immediately join forces with Syzygy. First, he gets off the planet, and enlists in the Monarchy military. Over the course of the next decade or so he rises rapidly through the ranks. Finally, after reaching the right rank and command, he is in position to order a decisive military strike that secures a victory on the battlefield for the Monarchy with a minimum loss of life; the losses they do incur, though, include the ENTIRE SQUADRON that carried out the attack on his former home. Having avenged the death of his wife and friends, he (presumably) goes AWOL shortly thereafter and joins Darklock in an effort to end the war completely.
Act FOUR, the "Dreadstar" series, chronicles Dreadstar and his crew's struggle to end an ancient war between the two powerful, pretty much equally evil ruling empires: The Church of The Instrumentality, run by the Lord High Papal; and the Monarchy, administered by a succession of puppet kings.
Dreadstar has changed publishers and formats over the years.
Series starring Dreadstar:
- Epic Illustrated #3-9 (September, 1980 -December, 1981). Published by Epic Comics, an imprint of Marvel Comics.
- Eclipse Graphic Album Series #5 (October, 1981). Published by Eclipse Comics. A crossover with Syzygy Darklock, another Jim Starlin character.
- Dreadstar Annual #1 (December, 1983) is a colorized reprint of the above by Marvel Comics.
- Marvel Graphic Novel #3 (October, 1982). Published by Marvel Comics.
- Epic Illustrated #15 (December, 1982). Published by Epic Comics.
- Dreadstar vol. 1 #1-26 (November, 1982-August, 1986). Published by Epic Comics.
- Dreadstar vol. 1 #27-64 (November, 1986-March, 1991). Published by First Comics.
- Dreadstar vol. 2 #1-6 (April, 1994-January, 1995). Published by Bravura, an imprint of Malibu Comics. Mini-series staring Legacy Character Kalla Dreadstar, daughter of Vanth himself who turns up alive in the final issue.
- Dreadstar Returns (October 14, 2020). Published by Ominous Press. 100-page one-shot that was notably the first new Dreadstar story in about three decades.
Dreadstar provides examples of:
- Animal Eye Spy: The blind telepath Willow can see through the eyes of her pet monkey.
- Apocalypse How: Class X-3 (Galactic Scale, Physical Annihilation). The Milky Way is destroyed, by the good guys no less, using a Doomsday Device called the Infinity Horn which calls upon energies from the 15th dimension to bombard the galaxy until it explodes. This was justified as giving the galaxy a quick death as opposed to a long and drawn-out suffering caused by the genocidal Zygoteans.
- Barbie Doll Anatomy: In one issue, when Dreadstar is in a coma, he gets a make-out scene with the spirit of his mystic sword... but seems to have misplaced his genitalia.
- Brain Uploading: One of the themes of this series is that the main heroes fight against a tyrannical government, only to find out the new government isn't much better. Willow, one of the main characters, uploads herself to take over the new government's main computer.
- Call to Agriculture: Vanth Dreadstar destroys the entire MILKY WAY GALAXY, escapes to a different galaxy, and then he becomes a farmer. Granted, it ended up simply being a 30-40 year 'break', before he became involved in an all-out war in his new galaxy.
- Chain Pain: In a memorably bloody sequence, after Vanth Dreadstar finally faces and defeats the enemy who was responsible for (among many other things) the murder of Vanth's wife and their entire community, he puts away his sword — too clean and painless — and instead beats the man to death with a length of chain.
- Corrupt Church: The Church of the Instrumentality, an interplanetary theocracy headed by Lord Papal. Papal himself is like a cross between Emperor Palpatine and Mongul.
- Empathic Weapon: After having its physical form destroyed, Vanth's sword is revealed to have been aware this whole time, but unable to communicate with the heroes in any direct way.
- The Empire: The conflict of the story is dominated by a war between two powerful empires for control of the Empirical Galaxy. The Monarchy is Exactly What It Says on the Tin, and is nominally controlled by King Gregzor but really ruled by various corrupt factions in the military and aristocracy, the most powerful of which is the enigmatic Evil Chancellor Z; the Instrumentality is The Theocracy, being run by the church and its spiritual and political head is the Lord High Papal. They're both about equally evil, but the Instrumentality is more dangerous because it's more competently led, and it ends up winning the war when Z sells the Monarchy out.
- Form-Fitting Wardrobe: Most of the costumes worn by the characters, but Willow probably takes the cake.
- It's the Only Way to Be Sure: The Zygoteans are bent on conquering the Milky Way; once they are done, they'll go to the next galaxy. Aknaton understands he cannot save the Milky Way from this horrible fate. His plan is to obliterate the Milky Way before the Zygoteans are done with it, so he can at least save other galaxies. As Akenaton is very long-lived, he thinks in a very long term.
- A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away...: The series is set in the Empirical Galaxy. Dreadstar himself is a refugee from our destroyed galaxy after drifting frozen for a million years. He looks human, but it's not clear if he's a Human Alien or can trace his origins to Earth.
- The Milky Way Is the Only Way: Aknaton and Vanth arrive in an unnamed galaxy millions of years after they are responsible for the destruction of the Milky Way. Later, in the sequel comic, Vanth and his companions travel to still another galaxy.
- Nuke 'em: What happens to Chichano once the Lord Papal realizes he's not killing Vanth and Syzygy using conventional methods. The aftermath of this bloodshed also leads to the creation of Infra Red and Ultra Violet.
- Oddly Shaped Sword: Vanth Dreadstar's sword looks like he removed the head of a halberd and is swinging that around. Guarding his hand is a large axe, and then a spearhead is the blade of his sword.
- Off with His Head!: Dreadstar Returns begins with Dreadstar defeating Plunddo Tram by decapitating him.
- Radiation-Induced Superpowers: Infra Red and Ultra Violet used to be regular students of Chichano who just happened to be hiking at the mountains outside of the city when it was obliterated by the Church's nuclear strike. Not only did they survive the attack, the two also developed super powers as consequence of the radiation received.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Dreadstar delivers a scathing rebuke of Plunndo Tram's actions at the start of the graphic novel Dreadstar Returns.Dreadstar: You over-tax your poor, persecute your minorities, molest women and children, fail to properly educate your populace, imprison or kill your political opponents, lie pathologically, continuously suppress your fourth estate, terrorize your neighboring planets and are pretty much just an asshole in general.
- Refusal of the Call: Vanth's initial reaction when Syzygy shows up and tries to get him involved in the galactic war. Unfortunately for Vanth, the call knows where he lives. Does it ever.
- Technopath: Willow the cybernetic telepath combines technopathy with conventional telepathy.
- Trumplica: The 2020 graphic novel Dreadstar Returns begins with Dreadstar confronting a villain based heavily on Donald Trump named Plunddo Tram. Other than the name being an anagram of Donald Trump, Plunddo Tram is also obese in addition to having orange skin and wild, yellow hair. He is accompanied by a spineless sycophant named Cepen, a blatant stand-in for Trump's vice president Mike Pence, and Dreadstar's "The Reason You Suck" Speech towards Tram even includes some parallels to real-life criticisms of Trump's actions during his term as President.