Sunnytime Review Show – Starman Edition

I’m flattered that Matt said he was looking forward to my review of Starman #81, but also a bit surprised. While I’ve definitely loved the series, since he’s a bigger Golden Age fan (and to be honest, a bigger fan of times past) and the one who introduced me to Starman in the first place, I expected that I would take my cues on this book from him.  Still, I’ll give it a shot and hopefully not let him down.

As disappointed as I am in the Blackest Night experience so far, this is the perfect opportunity to revisit Opal City.  This is a natural tie-in since most of The Opal’s heroes are gone at this point. Most of the story revolves around the relationship between The Shade and Hope O’Dare, whose soap-opera ramblings seem completely out of character.  This is not a Shade I recognize, and even though he doesn’t seem to recognize himself anymore, either, the difference is just too stark.  By the end even his speech  patterns have changed to become Jack’s, with verbal pauses and references to Crackerjack prizes.

The art isn’t doing the story any favors, either.  I’m not familiar with Fernando Dagnino’s work, but it was completely overpowered by Bill Sienkiewicz. Maybe it’s just because I don’t get Sienkiewicz’s art in general, but it was too sketchy for my taste, and the characters look far too different from the people we’re used to.

Matt’s right, there’s an awful lot crammed into one issue.  I imagine it wouldn’t have been quite as rushed if Robinson had all the space he needed rather than just a one-issue tie-in.  I’m still willing to believe that a Starman revival could work, but only when Robinson finds his (and the characters’) voice again.  It’s great to see our friends after so long, but if these aren’t the people we know then there’s little point.

Starman 81 isn’t a bad issue, but it’s not stellar (no pun intended). I just hope that if we see more of Starman and opal City, Robinson gives himself more of a warm-up to really get back into the rhythms of Opal City.

Bonus Random Links For Your Weekend. For You. For Christmas.

  • James Robinson talks Vibe, Blackest Night, and Superman.  I’m okay with his return as long as it’s just for BN, since that seems like a solid idea.  Robinson makes it sound like he’ll be back for a while, though, which seems a little less okay.
  • Damn it!  I said no!

Deconstructing a comic book collector

Jesse and I are putting together a questionnaire about people’s personal collections for distribution later in the month (hopefully). Thinking up questions has gotten me thinking about my own mound of long boxes. The question I spend the most time reflecting on is: what books/ artists/ writers informed my taste in comics?

These are the three biggest influences for me.

1. Marvel Milestone Edition: Giant-sized X-Men #1 I wonder if it isn’t weird that the book that seriously got me into comics is a mass market reprint. Right around the time I turned twelve I got a copy of this reprint from Walden Books. Changed my life. I had previously only dabbled a little in Spider-Man, Superman, and Batman, but seeing the fast pace and the variety of characters spoke to me. I loved Cyclops as a near stoic leader, and I loved seeing Professor X putting the team together. I had never seen or read anything like it, and I wanted more. The X-Men were my gateway drug into comics.

I still have a deep love of the mutant world, but I don’t follow the convoluted stories and plot threads in most of the current titles. Looking at my collection now, I see that it influenced me in a deeper way: a majority of my collection is team books. In most cases, I would rather read about a team than seeing an individual going it alone issue after issue.

2. In the same way that you can break down the group sports fans into more specific groupings, you can break down comic book collectors.  Generally, most collectors can be compared to baseball fans. Rabid, detail/ minutia minded, fact filled, and dedicated. There are a couple of groups that stand out as especially rabid and stereotypical: Legion of Superhero fans and golden age fans. Golden Age are essentially Yankee fans. There’s a love of history, tradition, an age gone by, and legacy. Legion fans are Cubs fans. It’s harsh, but true. Every time there’s a new Legion series it’ll start off with a bang, but it’ll peter out before or during the playoffs. Just like the Cubs each season. So Legion fans stand out because they stick around to the bitter end and complain, but they come back series after series knowing it’ll only end in heartbreak. This is a roundabout way to say that I’m a golden age fan. What turned me on actually wasn’t exactly a comic book; it was a book about comic books.

The summer between junior and senior year in high school, I had to spend my days with my father at work. He worked in the library of the local university. Here I found an encyclopedia of golden age characters. It was surprisingly comprehensive in both detail about character and variety of entries. I learned of Captain Triumph, Air-Wave I, Blue Beetle I, Hyrdroman, Hourman, Starman, Vision I, Angel I, etc… I practically memorized the book. Coincidentally, it was around this time that Sandman Mystery Theatre published it’s Hourman story arc. I scooped it up and that’s all she wrote. I was the comic book equivalent of a Yankee’s fan for good.

3. Kingdom Come is, for me, the best most enjoyable alternate reality story/ dystopian comic book story. I read this book at least once a year and I’m still finding new things in both the art and writing. Yes, Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen are revolutionary and brilliant, but they’re brilliant in the same depressing way that Brecht and Wagner and Dostoevsky and Tolstoy are brilliant. Kingdom Come stands out because it speaks to the optimist in me. The book ends with hope. As grumpy as I can be, it comes from a place of disappointment more than depression, spite, or plain contrarian views. A frustration that things aren’t as good as they could or should be.

Hope is what comics are about for me.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s not Pollyanna-esque or any other uninformed optimism. Hope is people using their abilities (magical or unrealistic as they may seem) to make their world a better place in some way. Certainly you stray from that goal from time to time, and you can lose your way pretty easily. Kingdom Come shows that if you can just relocate that path you’ll come out better and stronger. It’s a helluva story with art that will knock you on your ass. At the end of the day, it’s THE comic book in my collection.

These three books are what have shaped me as a collector. Each is emblematic of a theme or trend you would notice if you looked at my collection as a single body of work. What books, titles, artists, or writers have shaped, guided, or informed your collections?

Happy Endings

I don’t know about anyone else, but my jaw dropped the other day when Dan DiDio announced that Starman would be getting an issue 81 as part of Blackest Night. First things first: James Robinson is writing, and I have to assume he’s on-board with anything DC has planned; that’s the most important thing. But the whole topic got me thinking about endings, and the strange relationship fans have with them.

Robinson has said in the past that he’s always being asked about bringing Starman — Jack Knight, specifically — back. While that’s somewhat reassuring, because it never felt like that title had a particularly strong fanbase while it was being published, why would anyone want to destroy the life of a character they love?

To jump back a bit, in 2001 Starman ended with issue 80, when Jack Knight gave up the hero game and moved to San Francisco to be with his girlfriend and son. He received what too few of our favorite characters get: a happy ending.

Spider-Man has been continuously published since 1962 and can’t stop getting dumped on. It’s even worse when you think that all of those bad times have happened in the span of roughly 10-15 “comic” years. He needs a BREAK! I’m sure all of us have a favorite series that was canceled before its time. Those usually end with our hero embracing the future and the unknown, which is almost certain to include more heartache and villainy. But Jack? Jack got a graceful, beautiful exit. He got the rare chance to put that life behind him. Since he was a reluctant hero even at the beginning, I can’t imagine anything that would bring him out of retirement other than evil, and I can’t wish that on him.

Which brings us to Blackest Night. Robinson, at least for the time being, has wisely decided to let Jack stay happily out of continuity. This seems to indicate that we’re going to see a Black Lantern Ted or David Knight, and I’m not afraid to say that while so far none of the other Black Lanterns have disturbed me, I will be absolutely horrified to see those two characters desecrated and zombified.

We all have a tenuous relationship with endings. Spoiler alerts are necessary on the Internet and DC had to do some spin control after Previews revealed the villain behind Blackest Night, yet in every interview or convention panel, without fail there is someone who wants the ending told to some ongoing story. Our love/hate relationship with finales apparently holds true even if a series has been over for 8 years.

James Robinson has had it up to here with nerds

Perhaps it’s the serial nature of comics that sends us on the incessant quest to learn what’s next. Is anything ruined when there’s always another event or issue to look forward to? Maybe it’s just bragging rights to guess the ending first or trick an Editor into revealing more than he intended. But if there’s anything I’ve learned from superheroes it’s that sometimes a person MUST do the selfless thing for the greater good. Let’s let Jack Knight live in peace. It’s the heroic thing to do.