Graphic Detail takes an in-depth look at a new graphic novel or trade paperback released each week.
"We're the children of the super-powered craziness that infests the planet. And we are destined to perpetuate it."
If you became interested in comics at a certain time, like the late '90s or the early 2000s, you probably heard a good deal about James Robinson's legendary run on a book called Starman. Even if you're pretty new to the game, you might have heard rumblings of this acclaimed superhero series but wondered what all the fuss was about. This description fits the humble blogger whose words you're now reading. Fortunately, DC Comics has seen fit to reissue this series a couple times since its original publication from 1994-2001. The latest of these reprinting efforts is a paperback collection of giant omnibuses, the first of which hit comic shops and bookstores yesterday.
James Robinson's Starman tells the tale of Jack Knight, the 20-something son of a Golden Age superhero. As the original gaudily-dressed Starman, Jack's dad fought alongside the Justice Society of America to win World War II and keep his country safe. As this book opens, Jack's brother David has taken up that mantle and its weird costume. Jack himself wants nothing to do with that life; he's more interested in trinkets than actual people, and spends his days running a collectibles/antique store.
That changes when, three pages into this book (which is, remember, the very first volume), David's murdered in cold blood. It turns out one of his dad's old enemies has decided to enact a revenge plot against the old man, and that revenge involves killing his two children. But Jack escapes a bombing attempt on his store and takes up one of his dad's old weapons for self-defense, leading him down a path of heroism he never imagined he'd take.
Without a doubt, Starman is all about families. In the 17 (!!) issues that make up this volume, Jack has to deal not only with the heroic legacy of the name Starman, but also the fact that he and his dad don't really get along, and that his murdered brother whose shoes everyone wants him to fill wasn't always the nicest guy. Even the villains who come to kill him have some grudge against his family, or a chip on their shoulder resulting from their own families. That's appropriate, since no one can really escape their family. Maybe this sounds like boring stuff for a superhero comic, but for lots of readers the relatable human drama is actually what makes this story really interesting.
Also cool about Starman: though initially published in 1994, it's really the predecessor to more modern superhero stories in a lot of ways. That mostly has to do with its star Jack, who's not a very typical superhero—he wears punk rock t-shirts, has ratty hair, and uses a leather jack and goggles for a costume. He's like an unkempt John Cusack. That, plus the fact that Jack's dealing with some very real personal issues, makes him a very engaging protagonist to read about. We like him because, in a lot of ways, he could be us. (Except our parents probably didn't design super-powered weapons… but maybe?)
The place where this book most shows its age is its art. Pencils come from Tony Harris, who modern readers might know from the Brian K Vaughan series Ex Machina. His work is really good, with a solid sense of geometry and art deco design. At points, though, it's kind of obscured by the mostly unsubtle colors. Also, and this is a weird thing to complain about, the lettering of this volume is pretty spotty and in some places is even hard to read. You'd think that, this being DC's third or fourth time reprinting this material, they might've corrected it. It's a minor distraction, but noticeable nonetheless.
Still, the 17 issues reprinted here should be enough to win over anyone who's curious about this acclaimed series. Jack Knight fights villains, yes, but he also fights his past, and the things he finds there are enough to fill six books of this stuff. One can only imagine the next five are as good as this one. A-