The saga of Vanth Dreadstar spans a vast tapestry of time and space, but it all starts with an odyssey… and a metamorphosis. Your Major Spoilers Retro Review of Epic Illustrated #3 awaits!
Writer: Jim Starlin
Penciler: Jim Starlin
Inker: Jim Starlin
Colorist: Jim Starlin
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Editor: Stan Lee/Archie Goodwin/Roy Thomas/Maggie Thompson/Don Thompson
Publisher: Epic Comics (Marvel Comics Group)
Cover Price: $2.00
Current Near-Mint Pricing:
Release Date: September 10, 1980
Previously in Epic Illustrated: Created as an answer to the success of Heavy Metal, Epic Illustrated was heavily hyped by Marvel before its debut. (Much of that hype was when the book was called Odyssey, which is a bit confusing when you read back issues out of order, but that’s not important right now.) In addition to the ability to use explicit content, since the magazine didn’t fall under the Comics Code, creators kept ownership of their creations and received royalties for their work. Produced quarterly, Epic Illustrated wasn’t a sales juggernaut, but it did lead to the Epic Comics color imprint, which gave us a number of memorable comics, including Elfquest, Groo The Wanderer, and the adventures of Dreadstar, a young orphan whose discovery of a mystical sword changed his life.
This issue begins with an installment of Roy Thomas and P. Craig Russell’s take on Elric of Melnibone, The Dreaming City, after which we pick up Chapter Five of The Metamorphosis Odyssey, a story that has followed a being called Aknaton, who seeks items of power from around the galaxy.
The last survivor of the Osirosian race (a twist on the “Ancient Astronauts” tropes that were seen throughout ’70’s pop culture, which is why his face looks remarkably like the masks of dead pharaohs and his name sounds like Akhenaten), he discovers a Byfrexian rebel, describing the icy sword that he seeks.
The man, Lawt, is suspicious at first, but agrees to lead Aknaton to his leader. Unfortunately, all he leads him into is a trap, which costs Lawt his life. The fully-painted pages are pretty gorgeous, though the coloring effects are a bit overwhelming in this original printing. Starlin’s prowess makes the wizard’s power even more impressive than the average comic book blasty effects, leading up to the reveal of the man he seeks!
Having survived the death of his family, Vanth Dreadstar (whose name I cannot thay without thounding just like Daffy Duck) is the deadliest being on the planet, thanks in part to the very sword Aknaton is seeking. Sweeping through their attackers (all of whom look just like Mongul, another Starlin creation, and have the strength of ten men) quickly, Vanth almost takes them all down with only his laser. But when they are surrounded by Zyogtean warriors, Dreadstar reveals his true identity…
…and the sword!
But when he considers taking the weapon for his Metamorphosis Odyssey, Aknaton discovers that it has merged with Dreadstar’s form, called forth when he needs it, and inextricably tied to him. Fortunately, they have some common enemies, leading him to offer Dreadstar a job.
Of course, Vanth doesn’t exactly know what Aknaton’s plan actually IS, leading to one of the most massive, surprising climaxes in comic history. Later stories would evoke Star Wars and other adventure tales, but Epic Illustrated #3 feels more in line with the heroic and allegorical stories of Ulysses or the Greek heroes, with truly wonderful art and very well-done coloring for 4.5 out of 5 stars overall.
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EPIC ILLUSTRATED #3
The first appearance of Dreadstar is interesting, as he's not even the central character, but it's both beautiful and fascinating.