Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar 9-10 (1982)

Note: This post continues an ongoing series on Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar, an underrated creator-owned comic from the early 1980s. You can start by reading the post linked below or click here to see other posts in the series.

Dreadstar #9


Issues 9 & 10 contain the much anticipated final confrontation between Dreadstar and Z. Still, the first thing to notice is the color. Starlin & Epic used the “blue-line” painted method in these two issues. Richmond Lewis (colorist of Batman: Year One, The Shadow (1987, #1-6), and others ) has an excellent and precise description of the process:

“In the “blue-line” process, the black-and-white inkline drawing (by Mignola and Russell) was reproduced on a sheet of clear acetate; the same drawing was also reproduced in light blue ink on a sheet of drawing paper. The colorist, using the printed blue lines as a guide, was free to color the drawing using any media (transparent or opaque) because the clear acetate could be dropped over the color in order to see what the final printed version would look like. (In the printing process, the color art was photographed for the color printing plates, while the inkline art was photographed separately for the black printing plate only, which kept the black line crisp).”

Dreadstar #10

The blue line technique results in much more color depth and variation than the typical flat color using most comics. It essentially allows the colorist to use whatever tools they want: markers, watercolors, gouache, etc. With the advent of digital color and scanning, this method is not used anymore. But the technique of layering black ink lines over a color layer lives on. It is still used today. Applications like Photoshop use the ‘layer’ as a primary interface metaphor. The artist can separate art and design elements into distinct transparent layers.


The blue line process was possible only because, from its inception, Dreadstar was printed on premium paper (called Baxter). At the time (the early 80s), most comics were still published on various grades of cheap newsprint. Newsprint is a very soft and absorbent paper. Ink ‘sinks’ into it and softens lines and colors. This results in most old comics’ classic soft ‘comic bookish’ color look. The premium paper used in Dreadstar is much less absorbent, allowing ink to ‘sit’ on top, resulting in sharper details and subtle, vibrant colors. Scroll down to the end for some additional resources on comics color process.

Final Destination

But enough about the process. Let’s get back to the story. Vanth is convinced Z is Aknaton. King Gregzor (who appeared killed by Z in issue 7) proves to be Z’s ace in the hole. Gregzor becomes transformed into a cyborg, and at a critical moment, the king—controlled by Z—unwillingly turns against Vanth. After a brief battle, Z subdues Vanth. Z reveals that he’s… not Aknaton! 

Spoiler Alert!

This is the culmination of a 10-issue story arc. Don’t go any further if you’re planning on reading the series.

The Coldest Revenge

He’s Z-7458! Wait, what!? Who!? He’s a Zygotean, the last of his kind, and the only other survivor from the Milky Way! He was on a deep space science vessel exploring the galaxy’s edges. At the same time, the Orsirisian / Zygotean war reached its crescendo. He followed events of the war via military ether transmissions. He learned of Aknaton, his plans, and Vanth and the Infinity Horn. He turned his vessel away from the Milky Way to flee the coming galactic holocaust. Someone had to continue the Zygotean dynasty. After the Milky Way’ ceased to be,’ he detects the mystical sphere containing Aknaton & Vanth. Instead of destroying them then and there, he decides that this is too easy. He begins to plot revenge, figures out where the sphere would land, sets a course to follow it, and enters suspended animation for a million years!

Z waits for Vanth to establish a new life in the new galaxy and then proceeds to destroy it. Z manipulated Vanth the entire time! He engineered the Monarchy assault on Caldor to ruin his new life. And he desecrated the grave of Aknaton, making Vanth believe in Aknaton’s resurrection. Now the two lock into the final confrontation. The old cliche says, “revenge is a dish best served cold.” This revenge is a million years old and has a temperature of absolute zero!

What follows is a massive battle between the characters. This time Vanth plays dirty, setting a trap for Z. Starlin gets to show off his considerable action choreography chops. 

Sharp Dilemma

In the end, Vanth brutally kills Z with an iron chain. The mystical sword is too clean a death! I wonder why Starlin opts not to use the blade at this crucial moment? The fashion for sword & sorcery was waning in comics. In opting for the chain, Starlin was signaling that something different would be happening with Dreadstar in the future. Indeed, in later issues, Starlin dispensed with the blade altogether. 

Additional Comics Color Resources:

Check out Frank Santoro’s color riffs for those interested in learning more about old-school color techniques.

Kevin Nowlan talks color w/ Frank Santoro.

Steve Oliff interview.

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