L-r: Vanth, Syzygy, Willow, Oedi, Skeevo. Artist: Jim Starlin.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1980
Creator: Jim Starlin
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In 1982, Mike Grell's Starslayer had a shocker of an origin story, where Earth was destroyed as part of the series set-up. But a couple of years earlier, Jim Starlin had scooped him by annihilating the entire galaxy where the planet is situated, in Metamorphosis Odyssey, the origin story of Vanth Dreadstar. (Another connection …

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… between the two is that Grell's series was originally supposed to be called "Dreadstar" until he found out Starlin planned to use that name as the title of his hero's ongoing series.)

Metamorphosis Odyssey started as a 14-part serial, beginning in the first issue (Spring, 1980) of Epic Illustrated, Marvel's experiment with an anthology title devoted to creator-owned properties. With two chapters appearing in some issues, the story ended in Epic #9 (December, 1981). It was both written and drawn by Starlin, whose earlier runs on Captain Marvel and Warlock, which had explored similarly weighty themes, had been well received by critics.

The story began in the distant past, with the invasion of the Milky Way Galaxy by the warlike and irrestible Zygoteans. A powerful and long-lived individual named Aknaton, seeing a future in which all life in the galaxy would be wiped out, set up a sequence of events in which the Zygotean menace would be destroyed, and the galaxy with it, thus saving the rest of the universe from the conquerors. Aknaton's meticulous planning eventually paid off, in the form of a man-like being named Vanth absorbing the power of an ultimate weapon he'd set up, and being the instrument by which the galaxy was given a quick, painless death instead of the lingering destruction Aknaton had foreseen. At the end, only Aknaton, Vanth and a few cohorts survived. Vanth was set up as the hero charged with saving the galaxy they'd landed in from a similar fate.

The second part of the story appeared quickly, but since the series was creator-owned, not from Marvel. Eclipse Enterprises (Zot!, Airboy) published Starlin's graphic novel The Price, billed as "a new Metamorphosis Odyssey book", early in 1982. There was little about this story to indicate it was connected with the first, other than an appearance of Vanth near the end. In it, an alien named Syzygy Darklock rose to power in the Church of the Instrumentality, a powerful but not very holy religious organization that was vying with The Monarchy for temporal power over the galaxy.

Both of those stories were published in black and white, but colorized in later printings. The third was published later that year as Marvel Graphic Novel #3, every page of which consisted of full-color paintings by Starlin. This was also the first time the name "Dreadstar" was used in the title, and the last in which "Metamorphosis Odyssey" appeared on the cover, even as just a blurb. It took place decades after The Price (Vanth didn't age after being powered up in the first story), with Vanth trying to live peacefully while being instructed in politics and the mystic arts by Syzygy. The ongoing interstellar conflict entered his life, and he went back to war. From then on, he was a full-time adventurer, trying to put an end to both powermongering empires.

Shortly after that, with a cover date of November, 1982, the ongoing Dreadstar series started. Epic had blossomed into an entire creator-owned Marvel imprint. Vanth quickly assembled a small band of cohorts. Besides him and Syzygy, there were a cat-like alien named Oedi, a telepath named Willow, and a freelance adventurer named Skeevo.

Dreadstar was published bimonthly for several years, detailing stories in which Vanth and his crew made headway against both the Church and the Monarchy. Epic also reprinted several in 1986, under the title Dreadstar & Company. As of #27 (November, 1986), it went from Epic to First Comics (American Flagg, Grimjack) Such is Marvel's clout in the comic book market, circulation immediately dropped, even tho the switch took place in the middle of a continued story.

With #41 (March, 1989), Starlin left his creation. The new creative team was Peter David (Aquaman, The Hulk), writer, and Angel Medina (Nexus, Spider-Man), artist. They continued to handle the title until the series ended with #64 (March, 1991).

In 1994, Malibu Comics (The Trouble with Girls, Peter Rabbit) published a new Dreadstar series by David and Ernie Colón (Damage Control, Amethyst). This one concerned the adventures of Dreadstar's daughter. In 2000, Slave Labor Graphics (Dr. Radium, Captain Dingleberry) reprinted several issues in black and white.

In 2004, Dynamite Entertainment (Red Sonja, Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters) began a series of reprints in graphic novel form, titled Dreadstar: The Definitive Collection.


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Text ©2010 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Jim Starlin.