18 November 2013

Review: The Starman Omnibus, Volume One by James Robinson

Comic hardcover, n.pag.
Published 2008 (contents: 1994-95)
Acquired June 2008
Read October 2013
The Starman Omnibus, Volume One

Writer: James Robinson
Penciller: Tony Harris
Inker: Wade von Grawbadger
Colorists: Gregory Wright, Ted McKeever
Letterers: John Workman, Bill Oakley, Gaspar Saladino
Additional Pencillers: Teddy H. Kristiansen, Matt Smith, Tommy Lee Edwards, Stuart Immonen, Chris Sprouse, Andrew Robinson, Gary Erskine, Amanda Conner
Additional Inker: Matt Smith, Christian Hojgaard, Bjarne Hansen, Kim Hagen, Gary Erskine
Additional Letterers: Bob Pinaha, Ken Bruzenak

I've owned the first volume of Starman for five years now(!), but my desire to read it goes back even further than that-- I remember reading about it in Scott Tipton's Comics 101 column, which rated it as one of the very best comic books ever. Thankfully, that turned out to be exactly that. Starman tells the tale of Jack Knight, son of the original Starman, Ted Knight, and a young man who never wanted to be a superhero... but found himself forced to be one by circumstances... and found himself starting to like it.

That "liking" is a key part of what I find appealing about this book. Starman goes to dark places, both narratively and visually, but it's often enjoyable, often fun. This isn't a series about a grim antihero, but one about someone who likes being a hero. There's a sense of joy, of enthusiasm, of heroism to the events that happen here. This book doesn't ask, "Do we really need heroes?", it just gets on with the business of having them. But it's not a Golden-Age froth fest; this is a story about terrible things happening to good people... just thank goodness that sometimes the good people can stop those terrible things. This is the ethos I like from my superhero comics.

This was writer James Robinson's first real big break, I think, and it shows-- in a good way. This book bursts with new ideas and reworkings of old ideas: the O'Dares, the Shade, the Mist, Mikaal, the "Conversations with David" segments (where Jack talks to his dead brother), the evil poster, the evil circus, the mysterious Hawai'ian shirt. There's a lot going on, and little of it is generic superhero vs. supervillain theatrics. I like how Starman has a third-person narrator, one with a distinct voice and tone. I think this was Tony Harris's first big break, too, but he also shines here, with art that's purposefully a little rough, and perfectly suited to the task.

Like a lot of DC's Modern Age work, this retcons levels of personality and depth onto Golden Age characters that, quite frankly, was not there to begin with, just like in Sandman Mystery Theatre. Most blatant in this regard is "13 Years Ago: Five Friends," a bleak story of how a few members of the Justice Society reunited to take out a killer cult-leader. The JSA stories in Crisis on Multiple Earths were never like this! But of course, I like this, and I like this mode of going about; this is the kind of thing I think the best modern comics do: respect the past, use it as a foundation to build on, but not be overly beholden to it.

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