A Knight On The Town
Tripwire continues its 100 Graphic Novels You Should Read While Stuck Inside with its seventeenth choice, Starman Omnibus Volume 1 by James Robinson, Tony Harris and Wade von Grawbadger, from DC, reviewed by Tripwire editor-in-chief Joel Meadows…
Starman Omnibus Volume One
Writer: James Robinson
Artists: Tony Harris & Wade von Grawbadger with others
Starman, the fourth iteration of DC’s cosmic hero, had a fairly inauspicious debut. His first appearance was in DC’s now-forgotten Zero Hour crossover. However, just a few pages into Starman #0, which kicks off this hardcover collection, it is crystal clear that Robinson and Harris’ take on this character was like no other before. The original Starman was a Jim Starlin creation, an intergalactic prince, while the second one was Earthman Will Payton. Starlin’s protagonist co-starred with Superman in a few fun DC Comics Presents in the 1980s while Will Payton had his own book in the 1990s. But Payton was a very bland character indeed and this book owes most to the Justice Society of America’s Starman, Ted Knight. We are introduced to Ted Knight and his son, David, who he assumes will be passing his mantle and his rod onto and taking up the role of Starman. However, history doesn’t always go to plan and David is brutally killed, so his brother, Jack, is forced to take up the mantle. Jack is the younger brother, a collector of junk who is more interested in getting a good deal on 1950s tat than keeping his city safe. Making him a dealer and collector of ephemera was a stroke of genius here.
So Jack becomes Starman and a brand new tale unfolds, one that sees Ted’s old adversary The Mist seek his revenge on Opal City and the former Starman.
Starman is one of the most inventive takes on a superhero in many years. Jack is a flawed hero, who acts against his better nature to step into the costume and there is great interplay and chemistry between him and his father. The series also uses its setting Opal City to wonderful effect too and the beautifully designed streets of Knight’s hometown display real attention to detail here.
Robinson hasn’t stinted on the supporting characters either. He took The Shade, a hokey Flash villain, and turned him into arguably the most nuanced and interesting creation here. If there was any justice in the world, we would have seen an HBO TV series featuring him, based on the portrayal here by Robinson and Harris. Other supporting cast members like the O’Dares, Opal City’s family of police, and The Mist’s malevolent daughter, Nash, are equally well delineated. It also showed that superheroes can make the wrong decisions sometimes, that they are only human like us. It also manages to pack a hell of a lot of plot and character development into just sixteen issues.
We can’t forget the contribution of the art here either. Harris and Grawbadger bring Jack and the rest of the dramatis personae to life with rare skill and the bridging issues like the two Times Past, by Matt Smith and Teddy Kristiansen, flesh out the history of Opal City and The Shade with consummate ease. Harris’ art owes a great deal to Art Nouveau and you can see the likes of Mucha, Lautrec and even Beardsley, but he is an exceptional storyteller so he never sacrifices clarity for invention.
Starman ran until 2001 and sadly it is a series that isn’t mentioned much these days. But it is the smartest and most savvy mainstream DC superhero title of the past twenty years and I predict that anyone who picks up this first collection will be compelled to grab the others before they’ve even finished this one. It displayed what you could do with superheroes while maintaining the spirit of what makes comics hopeful and emotive.
Here’s links to the other graphic novels reviewed so far