22 November 2013

Review: The Starman Omnibus, Volume Three by James Robinson

Comic hardcover, n.pag.
Published 2009 (contents: 1997-98)
Acquired June 2009
Read October 2013
The Starman Omnibus, Volume Three

Writer: James Robinson
Penciller: Tony Harris
Inker: Wade von Grawbadger
Colorist: Gregory Wright
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Additional Pencillers: Steve Yeowell, Gene Ha, Mitch Byrd, J. H. Williams III, Bret Blevins, Michael Zulli, Richard Pace, Dusty Abell, Mark Buckingham, Phil Jimenez, Lee Weeks, Stefano Gaudiano
Additional Inkers: Drew Geraci, Gene Ha, Bret Blevins, Michael Zulli, Dexter Vines, Norman Lee, Phil Jimenez, Robert Campanella, Steve Yeowell, Stefano Gaudiano, Ray Snyder, Wayne Faucher
Additional Colorists: Pat Garrahy, Dave Hornung, Gene Ha, Trish Mulvihill, John Kalisz, Noelle Giddings, Lee Loughridge
Additional Letterers: Chris Eliopoulos, John Babcock

Volume Three was the weakest installment of Starman for me thus far. Not that it's bad or anything, but that I felt there was a little too much Shade, not quite enough Starman. Throughout the series, I've felt that maybe James Robinson likes this character more than I do-- he strikes me as someone best used in small doses, but we lead off with a large one: four issues of "The Shade" miniseries, plus some diary excerpts, plus the Shade intervenes (yet again) at the end of a story in order to resolve it when it gets out of Jack's control. All of this is a shame, though, because "The Shade" miniseries, about the Shade's recurring rivalry with an English family, is actually very, very well done, especially the issue with the Flash. It's just that when you bundle the whole Starman series together, "The Shade" feels like a mistimed digression.

The first actual Starman story, "Infernal Devices," is only okay, which exacerbates the problem. The stuff with Solomon Grudy is fine, and I loved the appearances of Batman and Alan Scott, but there didn't feel like there was enough of a personal connection for Jack. (I did really like the Woody Allen movie metaphor, even if, unlike Batman, I have actually never seen a Woody Allen movie.)

Thankfully, a number of the one-shots are strong. "Stars in My Eyes!", where Jack tells his girlfriend three tales of superhero romance, was excellent: I liked the story of Scalphunter, but as a big Black Canary II fan, I was really pleased to see her mother's relationship with Jack's father fleshed out and expanded on, following on from two Silver Age tales where the characters team up. It's an oddly bittersweet story about fidelity and trust and truth. This year's "Talking with David," where Jack has dinner with the dead members of the Justice Society, was good too.

On the other hand, the issue where the Mist kills off Justice League Europe just to prove how badass she is is the most crass, cynical kind of superhero storytelling. "Oh, these characters are in limbo-- let's brutally murder them!" I expected better of Robinson (though maybe I shouldn't have, given he'd go on to kill kids to prove the situation was serious in the awful Cry for Justice).

Thankfully, that bad taste is leavened by the final story, the parallel "Talking with Ted..." and "...Talking with Jack...", where Ted tells Jack's girlfriend about Ted while Jack tells his tattoo artist about his dad. If Starman has an emotional core, it's the father-son relationship between these two, all the respect they can't bring themselves to say, and the parallel narratives here develop that beautifully. Jack might struggle with his father's superheroic identity, but we all struggle with our parents' identities. The final page, especially, got me right in the heart. Brilliant stuff, even if the volume as a whole seemed to tread water a bit.

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