BLACKEST NIGHT: STARMAN #81
Writer: James Robinson
Artists: Fernando Dagnino, Bill Sienkiewicz
DC Comics, $2.99
I suppose it’s all Julius Schwartz and Gardner Fox’s fault. If Fox and his Distinguished Compatriots hadn’t had the bright idea to revamp and relaunch characters that had once been popular a decade and a half earlier, but were by then deemed old hat and no longer publishable and oh by the way wind up with hits on their hands and while they’re at it help usher in the modern age of comics, well, then the precedent wouldn’t have been set and we wouldn’t have had, some forty years on, constant revamps and relaunches of licensed properties in hope of finding that elusive piece of crap that actually sticks to the wall. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it is a disaster. One of the ones that worked, and worked very well, was James Robinson and Tony Harris’ revamp of DC’s venerable Starman character, real name Ted Knight; the original had a colorful costume and a nifty phallic cosmic-powered “rod” to aid him in his fight against evil…but when he was revived in the second wave of DC’s renaissance in the early 60’s, they didn’t really change him at all, just gave him a relationship with Black Canary and consigned him to the Earth-2 parallel world ghetto, unlike the Flash, the Atom, Hawkman, Batman, et. al. He muddled along, appearing in this title and that 9usually Justice League of America, when they’d have their annual crossover team up with the alternate-Earth Justice Society), but popularity (other than the cult kind) eluded him. After a couple of revamps, using totally different characters with varying degrees of success, it was decided to recreate him as a “legacy” character, that is to say that this Starman would be the original’s son, a Mary Sue of sorts named Jack Knight who didn’t want to be a superhero at all, even to the point of eschewing spandex and wearing only a black leather jacket and blue jeans, along with welder’s goggles to protect his eyes from the glow of the also-revamped cosmic rod, which had now been rejiggered into a cosmic staff. Jack was hip and cool, a collector of esoterica like toys, records and comics (just like, it can be presumed, the readers), and he did strike a chord with the comics readers of 1994. Robinson and Harris (and later, Pete Snejbjerg, who illustrated most of the last half of the series) had a virtual tabula rasa to work with, and went on to create a rich tapestry of legacy characters, all living in and defending/preying on Opal City, which was kind of like Kansas City mixed with Radiant City crossed with Oz. It also ended after 80 issues with a satisfying conclusion, as Jack gave up adventuring and moving to San Francisco to raise the child he had sired by the Mist, another legacy character, the daughter of the original Starman’s arch-enemy. Long story, kinda- I highly recommend picking up the trade collections. Long story, kinda- I highly recommend picking up the trade collections. Of all the characters that Robinson rethought in the course of the series, none made more of a lasting impression than The Shade, a somewhat dandified GA Flash villain with the ability to control shadows and darkness, who was also included in the great reboot of the early 60’s and had been in and out of various DC comics throughout the next three decades. Robinson changed Shade into an Oscar Wilde/Dorian Gray-style immortal, all dry wit and detachment, no longer diverted by dueling with the superpowered set and enamored of Opal and Jack. It was a sea change, and Shade eventually became arguably the most popular and interesting character in the whole series, spawning a four-issue limited series before it was done.
So now, here we are, in the waning months of DC’s latest inter-company froofraw, “Blackest Night”, in which a malevolent being is somehow reanimating DC’s dead characters, giving them black power rings (this is all tied in to the Green Lantern mythos, y’see) and sending them forth to mostly talk smack and pull out hearts of the living to increase their power. I’d try to elaborate, but this review is long enough, so I’ll point you here and move on. Anyway, the latest gimmick involves reanimating dead titles; for example, we get Blackest Night: Phantom Stranger #42 (the Stranger’s original 70’s series having ended with #41, get it?) and so on. I haven’t read all of them, nor, really, have I been following BN except in an intermittent and marginal sense…but fortunately, all you need to have in order to enjoy Blackest Night: Starman #81 is a little knowledge of the prior 80 issues, and perhaps not even that if you are passing familiar with the BN story so far. If you’re completely clueless about all of it, well, you maybe should move on…but if you do you’ll miss a heartening return to form for Robinson, who seems comfortable writing again for the first time in a long time. You won’t find Jack Knight here, either, except in flashback…because appropriately enough this is a Shade story first and foremost, and Robinson takes right back up with him just like it was 2000 all over again, giving us the ever-insouciant and bemused, but determined Shade seeking to defend Opal and lover Hope O’Dare against the reanimated corpse of another Starman, Jack’s brother David, whose death way back in #0 set things in motion. More often as not, creators returning to the scenes of past triumphs just don’t work- heightened expectations, reduced skills, lack of commitment, you name it, often resulting in disappointment and outright disaster in some cases. That is most definitely not the case here. Robinson has gone on record as being willing to do another Shade mini; I would buy that in a heartbeat despite my apathy towards and sometimes outright distaste for what he’s doing now. Artwise, apparently Harris and Snejbjerg couldn’t be secured, so we get new-to-me Fernando Dagnino on pencils, and veteran Bill Sienkiewicz provides his typically scratchy ink line, helping elevate the whole proceedings…although it does look odd seeing Starman characters drawn that way, after the hyper-stylized Harris and the Ditko-by-way-of-Richard Corben Snejbjerg.
So long story short…if you’re a Jack Knight Starman fan from way back, and/or are invested in the whole Blackest Night thing, have no fear- you’ll want this, especially if you dig the Shade. It’s an outstanding spotlight for him. All others, start elsewhere- but you’ll want this eventually.
Story: Brian Marucca
Art: Jim Rugg
Adhouse Books, $14.95
Marucca and Rugg, who caused quite a stir back in the early-mid Aughts with their cult favorite Street Angel, are back with a…well, it’s not exactly a homage, or a tribute, or even a satire of 1970’s vintage Blaxploitation movies and comics…it kinda defies categorization, actually. And if this semi-surreal account of a smooth-lovin’, jive-talkin’, smackdown-bringin bad mother shut-your-mouth who faces weird menaces and always comes out on top (and is absolutely irresistible to the foxy mamas, too) comes across as a blend of Shaft, Superfly, Luke Cage, Herbie Popnecker, and the Flaming Carrot, well, let’s just say that there’s very little that’s new under the sun and enjoy this, which collects the Afrodisiac stories that have appeared in such places as Project: Superior, Street Angel itself, and others, very cleverly illustrated by artistic chameleon Rugg (he channels everyone from Kirby to Dan (Archie) DeCarlo), and scripted with tongue firmly in cheek by Marucca. The battles with Hercules and Satan, especially, are a hoot. Recommended. (Reviewed from a supplied PDF)
BATMAN AND ROBIN #7
Script: Grant Morrison
Art: Cameron Stewart
DC Comics, $2.99
For me, Morrison’s been hot and cold writing Batman for the last few years, and quite often the success of his scripts depends on his collaborator. For much of his Batman stint, he had bland Tony Daniel, and it only came to life when J.H. Williams III stepped in for the three part “Black Glove” story, in which Batman and Robin were called to a remote island meeting with other “Batmen of the World” (an early Sixties DC conceit that Morrison revived for his run) that of course wound up as a life-or-death situation. Among these Batmen of the World were Britain’s representatives, the Knight and the Squire. A couple of years later, Morrison’s writing this title, which almost comes across to me ofttimes as Moz trying to write a more genteel version of Frank Miller’s overheated and ludicrous All-Star Batman and Robin…and the “good as his collaborator” rule is in full effect. The first three issues were done with perhaps his most effective collaborator, Frank Quitely; Quitely moved on and was replaced with Philip Tan, who apparently can’t stage an action scene to save his life and whose style can be described as Jim Lee lite. Now Tan has been replaced by Moz’s Seaguy collaborator Cameron Stewart, who is also known for a long, and very good, run on the Catwoman title in the 2000’s. This, the first chapter of a three-part story, has Dick Grayson (who is Batman now in the wake of the events of Grant’s Final Crisis) in Jolly Olde, at first trying to get to the bottom of criminal interest in a mysterious mine with the assistance of Knight and Squire, and eventually (as it turns out) proving to have bigger fish to fry. Morrison (who turns 50 today, by the way, welcome to the club) is clearly in his element here, populating his story with a host of oddball London gangster super-gangsters with oddball names and providing a pleasingly gnarly sequence of events to open the festivities. Stewart is more than up to the task of parsing Grant’s often choppy and staccato style…and he shines throughout, especially in the opening scene, in which Bats and Squire (a character I’ve loved since I first saw her back in JLA Classified #1) race against the clock to defuse bombs, then rendezvous. We even get a surprise appearance by another kinda-popular, but new Bat-character. Exciting stuff, and bodes well for the rest of the arc.
More next week. Hopefully, not so many history lessons. As always, thanks for reading.
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