Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Epic is the Name

Dreadstar Omnibus Volume 1: written by Jim Starlin; illustrated by Jim Starlin, Al Milgrom, and Josef Rubinstein (1983-84/This collection 2014): The Golden Age of long-form science fiction/fantasy came for American comic books in the 1980's with such great series as Grimjack, Nexus, Time Spirits, Aztec Ace, American Flagg, and Dreadstar. Writer-artist Jim Starlin's Dreadstar first appeared in serialized form in Marvel's Epic magazine before getting its own book from Epic Comics once that first storyline had been completed. So while this is the first omnibus reprint, there is a real first volume also available that one should start with unless one is familiar with the story.

There are certain boilerplate elements in Dreadstar's story -- evil galactic empires, heroes with energy swords, masked villains. Starlin manages to transcend them as he goes along. The fight scenes are often quite nicely choreographed. The supporting characters are sympathetic and interesting. Dreadstar himself remains a mournful piece of beefcake throughout the series, but the aforementioned supporting characters keep us from dwelling too much on his limitations. Starlin did much the same thing at Marvel in the 1970's with Warlock, whose supporting characters supplied the characterization while the protagonist supplied the cosmic angst. 

One of the better issues included here gives the background to the villain of the piece, the Lord High Papal, leader of the genocidal, church-based empire named the Instrumentality (a nod to the science fiction of Cordwainer Smith). Starlin also shows more of a sense of humour in this series than he generally did, and a lighter hand when it comes to speechifying. His choices in names are still halfway-hilarious sometimes: an evil race named the Zygoteans still cracks me up. 

The 12 issues collected here really are enjoyable, certainly moreso than the vast majority of superhero comics from the same era. Beware, though -- the story doesn't really end with the last issue, and the next omnibus isn't due until next year. Though you could always go looking for back issues. Recommended.

The Avengers: The Kang Dynasty: written by Kurt Busiek; illustrated by Alan Davis, Kieron Dwyer, Ivan Reis, Brent Anderson, and others (2001-2002/Collected 2002): Writer Kurt Busiek ended his late 1990's/early oughts run on Marvel's The Avengers with a gigantic bang -- nearly a year-and-a-half arc pitting the Avengers against their time-traveling foe Kang the Conqueror. It's mostly a blast, though a muted one towards the end as the events of 9/11 overtook the events depicted in the story, leading to a final-issue requiem for those fallen to Kang's invasion that reflects the sorrowful poster-boards of post 9/11 Manhattan, with photos of the lost and missing.

Otherwise, Busiek and his rotating band of artists keep an astounding number of characters and situations in the air. The Avengers comic book has always had a luxury the Avengers movies never will have -- the space to develop a long list of characters, rather than a core group of six or seven. You may not like the minor heroes of this Avengers line-up, but Busiek does a fine job of making them important within the epic scope of the story. Whether it's the big-time Thor or the little-known Triathlon, everyone has a part to play in saving the Earth. It's too bad that the saga couldn't have gotten one or at most two artists for its entire length. Nonetheless, Alan Davis, Kieron Dwyer, Ivan Reis, and Brent Anderson do stand-out work on their portions of the saga. Recommended.

Justice League United: The Infinitus Saga: written by Jeff Lemire; illustrated by Neil Edwards, Jay Leisten, and Keith Champagne (2014-2015): Mostly fun six-issue Justice League United arc that brings the 'real' Legion of Super-heroes (LSH) from the 31st century back into action in the DC Universe. Each issue, the head-shots of featured characters surrounding the title page become more and more numerous in what must have been a conscious bit of fun. And it works, among other things.

That Lemire and company make the new DCU's reboot of classically kitschy Silver Age hero Ultra the Multi-Alien into something compelling is amazing enough. That they manage to link him to a re-imagined Infinite Man (an LSH foe originally from the 1970's) is really quite clever. There's maybe about 20% too much fighting, but it's fun to see such oddball-yet-effective LSH members such as Bouncing Boy back again, bouncing for justice. Recommended.

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