43. VANTH DREADSTAR
At the beginning of the 1980s (in 1980, to be precise), Marvel decided it wanted to compete with Heavy Metal by producing a sci-fi oversized, glossy magazine with creator-owned properties. The debut issue featured a new character in a futuristic universe. He had a dark blue hoodie and an energy sword and his enemy looked vaguely like an albino Thanos. That hero was Dreadstar, space rebel, and the man behind him was one of the creators of Thanos: Jim Starlin.
It was a hit.
Dreadstar got his own book less than a year later, one of the first titles under Marvel’s Epic label. At first blush, it seemed like any other space oater: Rebel with a pack of odd misfits fighting against the interstellar government. But this book, created with Jim Starlin was at the peak of his artistic and writing powers, had more to it. For one thing, the cast of characters was fascinating. But for another, the book could be unflinching. I’ll never forget Dreadstar #10–in which Vanth beats his enemy to death with a steel chain. It was one of the most vivid, brutal scenes I’ve ever seen in comic books.
I stuck with Dreadstar for the entire Epic run. It started to flounder a bit (and then a lot) when it jumped to First publishing. But those first 30 or so issues were groundbreaking for the art form, but also for the ability of creator-owned books to break through.
Recommended reading: If you can get the out-of-print reprints, scoop ’em up. Otherwise, you’ll just be able to get a few of the early issues for now. Another reprint volume is supposed to come out soon.
- Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar: The Beginning
42. THE SCARLET WITCH
Marvel has this nasty habit of creating cool villains but then liking them so much that they make them good guys so they get more face time. And a lot of the time it happens in X-Men.
The Scarlet Witch, a.k.a. Wanda Maximoff, sister of Quicksilver and daughter of Magneto, was a founding member of The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, but within a year she’d joined The Avengers. Think of it as a prelude to Thunderbolts. Or Avengers Academy.
She became central to Marvel mythology due primarily to her relationship with another formal baddie: The android Vision. Together, their love affair became one of the most solid and longstanding in comic books.
Which is why so many people hated Brian Michael Bendis when his career-making story arc, Avengers Dissembled, featured the death of Vision and the Scarlet Witch going mad with grief. Her grief led to one of Marvel’s best event books: The House of M. In “M,” Wanda depowered nearly all mutants in the world. This, in turn, led to the current incarnation of X-Factor, which is hands down the best written mutant book in Marvel history. So, we should all be grateful to her for that, at a minimum.
Wanda was herself depowered at the end of the M arc. (I’d say “spoiler alert” but this post is full of spoilers, so what’s the point?) Her post-M fate is currently being decided in “The Children’s Crusade,” a book that has been on a frustratingly irregular publication schedule.
- Avengers: Nights of Wundagore
- Avengers: The Vision and Scarlet Witch (reprints their 1980s miniseries and Giant Size Avengers #4, their wedding)
- Avengers: Disassembled
- House of M