Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Review: R.E.B.E.L.S. Annual #1

It might be called R.E.B.E.L.S. Annual #1 but last week's release could really be called Faces of Evil: Starro. The R.E.B.E.L.S. never actually appear in the book. Instead we get a closer look at this incarnation of Starro as well as his fiercest warriors.

It is something of a risk by Tony Bedard. For the R.E.B.E.L.S. fan it is a great book giving us some necessary back story. For those just picking up the annual as potential way into the series, they don't even meet the main characters. R.E.B.E.L.S. needs as many new readers as it can get.

But for those of us who have been reading the book from the beginning, we get to see the origins of this new warrior Starro.

This issue's story starts similarly to many REBELS issues with the Starro wave invading another planet. This time it's Kalanor, home planet of Despero. As his troops get massacred and absorbed, we get a smal glimpse into how strong Despero is. He is the first person I have seen free himself from a Starro face-hugger.

In an unbelievable act of hubris, Despero calls out Starro for single combat. While the two match up physically, Despero tries to dominate Starro with his telepathic might.

In what is a nice panel, we learn that Starro gets mental strength not only from his own mind but also from all the slaves in his collective. Despero is simply overmatched and outclassed.

With Despero crushed mentally, Starro finishes him off, decapitating him. Starro would have offered Despero a spot on his vanguard, the slightly free lieutenants in his army but he realized Despero would never serve anyone.

I think this was one of those yardstick fights I have talked about in comics. New readers to the title might not understand how powerful this Starro is. By having him kill Despero so easily they have an instant measurement - he is tough enough to kill one of the tougher DC villains in about 4 pages.

But for those of us who have been with the title, this is becoming a bit routine. I have seen enough of Starro running roughshod over worlds. Now I want to see some conflict with Dox and his team.

And, at last, we see the face of Starro underneath his helmet. His face hideously scarred as though having been under a Starro drone himself at some point, his eyes blank and pitiless as the sun.

So it is really intriguing to hear this monster who just beheaded Despero talk about Brainiac in such angry and fearful terms. Could it be Starro realizes that no amount of power or slaves will be able to outthink Dox? Could it be that this setback of his conquests by Dox has shaken up Starro? It even makes Astrild Stormdaughter wonder.

It is a nice segue into Stormdaughter's origins.

She was the living and ever-present nature goddess on the planet Varidian. And she had an ability to transfer the life essence of one being or thing to another. With her ability she could heal the sick and make plants grow. There was no want or sadness on her planet and as a result there was only peace.

That is until the Starro wave came.

With no technology, the wave was en route to another overrun until Stormdaughter arrived. And using her ability she was able to drain the life of the face huggers and vanguard troops to revive her people. She actually had the Starro wave on the run, something we have not seen before.

And then Starro himself approached her. He made her an offer - allow her people to live as Starro slaves or lead them to death.

Not willing to doom her people, Stormdaughter actually engaged Starro in battle. And I think she held her own, even disarming him.

Unfortunately, she drained her entire planet of its life essence in this foolish battle. And with her entire world devoid of life, with her people dead at her feet, Stormdaughter looked and saw Starro standing there unscathed. She destroyed her own world, killed her own worshippers.

I found Starro's speech after the fight intriguing. With Stormdaughter crying at his feet, he tells her that there is no right and no wrong. He tells her to look for him when she has learned that lesson.

After trying in vain to revive her planet, she joins Starro and his vanguard. She learned Starro's lesson. There is no right or wrong. There is only power.

Her motivations for joining are quasi-noble. She doesn't want to see any other world die the way hers did. She would rather help Starro enslave a world and have the beings there live than have them be crushed under the conqueror's boot. In some ways it shows some inherent goodness. From the beginning I wondered if Stormdaughter would eventually join the R.E.B.E.L.S. team. Now I feel pretty confident she will. At some point she will decide that freedom is important enough.

Interestingly enough, Starro puts the capture of Brainiac at the top of his 'to do' list. He instructs Sotrmdaughter to gather the vanguard of his horde to plot the capture and elimination of the R.E.B.E.L.S.

Here we meet Starro's lieutenants. Stormdaughter and Strife we have already met. The remainder look like your standard alien conglomeration. We do not learn anything about their abilities or powers but based on the two we do know, they must be formidable.

Again, this bridging story leads into the origin story of Strife.

As much as Stormdaughter represented the epitome of goodness on her world, Smite was a representation of evil. He killed for sheer pleasure and had cleansed 12 worlds of their populations before he landed on Parthon.
There fought against that world's superhero team The Sodality of Virtue. Their battles were forever stalemated ... that is until Starro arrived.

Acting as a lone villain (rather than the leader of a vast army), Starro became a 'common foe' to both Smite and the heroes. Amazingly, Starro's tactics and psychological warfare worked. Smite became a hero suddenly doing good on a world he had recently tried to destroy. It seems that Starro not only wants to conquer worlds, he also wants to test the moral compass of his more powerful victims and teach them the errors in their ways.

Here, after some time of acting as a superhero on Parthon, Smite learns the cruel lesson. Starro stops holding back. The Starro wave engulfs and consumes Parthon. And then Starro tells Smite and the Sodality that only one of them will survive. Smite slaughters his friends, realizing that his life has been lived on both ends of the moral spectrum. But those values were meaningless before the might of Starro.

Humbled by the conqueror, Smite begs him to become his loyal general, his most apt pupil. And Starro agrees.

But within that fidelity to Starro there is some jealousy. How long before Smite thinks that he should become the master of all?

I found the psychological mind games fascinating to watch. Why would Starro feel it necessary to break down his opponents in this way? Smite says it himself earlier in the issue. Starro only wants the very best and the very worst in his vanguard. We have seen examples of both.

We learn why Starro does this when we learn his origins.

Before there was the Frazetta-styled warrior Starro the Conqueror there was simply Starro, the giant intergalactic starfish. The modus operandi of that being was to invade a planet, enslave the population to serve its needs, work the population to death, and then move on to the next planet. In many ways, it was a viral way of living.

And it worked until it went to the planet Hattorei. The beings there while primitive had a telepathic bond to each other. And daily all the minds on the planet would meld into a union of thought.

When a Starro arrived there, it easily overwhelmed the population physically, enslaving them. The Starro was dying and needed to spawn the next Queen of the Starros. And this planet of axe wielding agrarians seemed like a perfect safe haven.

Unfortunately, the hive mind of the Hattorei made them a more powerful mental opponent than Starro was used to. With the population dying from overwork, the mental anguish of the Hattorei were building until at last one Hattorei shook off Starro's control and began destroying the Starro eggs.

The dying Starro used it's waning powers to have the last other remaining Hattorei kill this rebelling one, ironically one brother murdering another. But the youngest brother now was the last survivor and as a result was able to harness the power of the hive mind to throw off the shackles of servitude.

In one of the best sequences in the most powerfully illustrated portion of the annual (drawn by R.E.B.E.L.S. cover artist Kalman Aldrasofszky), the young Hatorei rips off the face hugger defiantly.

The newly born queen of the Starro's attacked the boy only to suddenly find itself being controlled by him rather than the other way around. The master had become the slave. And with that sudden control over this Starro, he had control over all the giant breeder stars in the universe.

Unlike the original Starro's however, this one had grander plans than simply surviving. The young boy found that with each mind a Starro controlled, he grew more powerful. So rather than simply work a world until it died, he kept the people alive, he cultivated an army, and he sought more planets to rule. As his mental power grew, his physical stature mirrored it. With a trillion minds under his control, he became unstoppable.

But the last page of the book is just wonderful and explains the mind games that Starro was playing earlier in the issue. Despite being this despot, that small boy that loved and knew family and knew peace still exists deep within. Starro deep down doesn't know peace and he keeps looking for a hero ... someone of high morals ... to show him that there is more to life than brute force.

This deep remorse for his own existence reminded me greatly of the Carnivean in the Peter David Supergirl run. He was a demon who won and took over heavenly control of the universe and yet hated the fact that someone as despicable as himself could do so. The Carnivean wanted to be defeated. And, I think, so does this Starro.

Unfortunately, I don't think Dox is a man of high enough morals to be the answer here.

As I stated above, I think this was a very good issue for the fans of the series. It really fleshed out the main villains we have seen in the book. It provided an interesting look into the mind of Starro, as well as showing his humble beginnings, his depressing origins.

Do I wish that there were some scenes with Dox? Yes I do. But this was a necessary issue to show us the motivations of his foes.

Overall grade: B+

1 comment:

TalOs said...

With Despero crushed mentally, Starro finishes him off, decapitating him.

My mouth literally dropped wide open from that unexpected finishing maneuver to Starro's defeated opponent. I wonder how a rematch would go down should Despero come back as a Black Lantern though?

Starro would have offered Despero a spot on his vanguard, the slightly free lieutenants in his army but he realized Despero would never serve anyone.

Makes you wonder if he can do this to Despero what hope is there for others such as Lobo then? :/

All in all I truly enjoyed this annual and am really looking forward to this week's issue of R.E.B.E.L.S. to see what soon will follow! BD