02
Mar
10

Issue #5: Talking with David, ’95

This series has two recurring story motifs: “Talking with David” and “Times Past.” Issue 5 gives us the first of the “Talking with David” cycle. In these yearly issues, Jack spends a night talking with his dead brother. In several of these chats, other dead DC heroes join the conversation. They sort of serve as spirit guides for Jack in his hero journey. In these issues, everything is in shades of grey except for two things: the dead and Jack’s eyes. It is unclear until the end of the cycle whether these instances are dreams, hallucinations, or actual visitations from David et al. Since it’s a big issue at the end of the series, I’ll wait until then to talk about it. No reason to repeat myself.

This issue opens with Jack in a cemetery. The names ([M]. Jason Davis and [J]ackson Davis) on the large monument does not ring any bells as far as comic characters or pop culture figures. Presumably they are friends of one of the creators. The figure on top of the monument is a classical female and probably depicts one of the Muses. My own guess would be Erato whose domain is lyric poetry and is usually represented with a lyre. For no really apparent reason, Jack is holding what appears to be an ivy leaf. The ivy leaf is a common motif on gravestones to symbolize eternal life or friendship.

As we walk through the cemetery with Jack, we’re afforded a good look at the design of the new cosmic rod. Even for a cemetery, this sequence is full of symbolism typical to headstones and tombs (more common prior to the 20th century). There are various angels, an obelisk, and a spider’s web (usually symbolizing human frailty). He’s directly addressed off panel, and we’re left to confirm the identity on the next page. The title splash contains more death symbolism (notably a laurel wreath: victory and immortality). The tomb of Narcissa Powers is lousy with oak and ivy as well as roses. This is the tomb David Knight (in Starman garb) is leaning against. A quick search on the web turns out that Narcissa Powers and her husband, Daniel Griffin, are/were real people buried in Rose Hill Cemetery, Macon, Georgia. Tony Harris, hailing from that area, seems to have used this cemetery as artistic reference. Though not documented, maybe the Davises from page one are authentic too.

David is going to always come off as a bit immature. He’s got a secret and he enjoys not sharing. Typical brotherly interaction. It’s worth noting that Jack’s eyes always appear brown in the interiors of the book. Tony Harris colors them blue in his covers (see issue 3 and 4 specifically). Jack’s mentioning of Ted Turner on page 7 is a reference to the media mogul’s much maligned campaign to colorize all black and white movies. Jack sees this “world” the same way that we do: shades of grey. Although Robinson doesn’t tie his David to the one in Starman vol.1, this tantrum is similar to the one he threw when he encountered Will Payton in issues 26 and 27 of that series. Also of note is that the lenses in Jack’s goggles become colorized when he places them over his eyes. A reference to the common belief that eyes are the window to the soul?

Page 11 shows an Angel of Death and what is probably a representation the Muse Euterpe: of music. Fitting with David’s immaturity, we have morbid prank. Funny that they both realize at the same time that they’ve been tearing up this cemetery. David seems to be one of those people that can’t help getting a little dig in from time to time. As we’ll see, this comes from insecurity around Jack. Another ragdoll’s head appears here on a tombstone for HARRIS. Jesse and I have been pointing out these ragdolls because they are important to Ted’s past, Opals present, and the future of the series. We’ll get some information on this in issues 9 and 11.

Surprisingly insightful of David to point out that the rage and resentment are Jack’s to deal with. David has a different set of regrets to deal with apparently. The boys pass the Knight mausoleum (last seen as a hideout for the Mist). The conversation ends at that of Burnley Ellsworth, whom I discussed last issue. I like the honesty in this last bit of conversation between Jack and David. The admission that David envied Jack for his independence and artistic nature exhibits the freedom that David now feels after death. Robinson also reinforces the idea for his readers that Jack must be his own man and his own type of hero: this isn’t going to be your grandfather’s Starman. He also established the idea that these chats will be recurring. That’s a nice image of David against the rising sun.

The epitaph on the tablet here on this last page is a common sentiment on headstones in the northeast and England. No author can be attributed. Presumably it is intended to inspire contemplation on the idea that we all must face death.

28
Feb
10

Issue #4: A Day in the Opal

On rereading this issue, I’ve become quite fond of it. It is more or less a done-in-one story that is neither a “Talking with David” nor a “Times Past” (of which we’ll get our first samples in the next two issues). While being self contained, it still manages to set up some nice elements for the next six months or more of Starman issues.

Up until this issue, it’s been standard origin story/ superhero fare: a reluctant adopts the mantle of hero, fights a villain, and saves the city. Issue four begins a trend of establishing Jack as a different kind of hero with different kinds of adventures. This is rarely a book about punch-’em-ups and mustache twirling. Even the stories focused on superheroism are more thoughtful and slightly askew.

Here, we’ve got a nice prologue at the beginning here that sets up the MacGuffin for the issue. The occultist/ artist, Harry Ajax, is a creation of Robinson’s. The Hawaiian shirts are a nice touch that fit with Robinson and Jack’s  retro sensibilities. It’s as good a time as any to point out that Jack Knight is very much informed by James Robinson’s own tastes, habits, and personality. Reading his letter columns and text pieces, and seeing the man’s collection of tattoos in person, it is evident that Jack is often Robinson’s proxy.

Back to the story though. From the prologue introducing this Hawaiian shirt that is a gateway to heaven, we jump to the present seeing a Swiss chalet very much like the one in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” With his dark suit and bald head, the man we’re introduced to, Albert Bekker, looks to be cut from the same cloth as Telly Savalas’s Bloefeld. Wanting the shirt makes him seem sinister. Where else would it land? Opal City. Silly as it seems, it always makes me a little sad that there is no city like this anywhere in the real world. The two-page splash of the city here is fantastic. In all of the DCU, there are only three cities in which I’d want to live: Opal, Fawcett, and Ivy Town. There are some similarities between Ordway’s Fawcett and Robinson/Harris’s Opal. Fawcett tended to be more streamline and less ornate. There are kindred sensibilities in these two cities. It’s also kind of funny to me that there’s a exhibit devoted to Deco when all of Opal is a museum to this style.

We see Jack on the title page trying to rebuild his shop. He’s on a phone wheeling and dealing for stock. Evidently he is a natural haggler. Of interest to his character is that there isn’t as clear a line between Jack and Starman in the same way that there is between Superman and Clark Kent or Batman and Bruce Wayne. By that same token, the balance isn’t swinging so far toward the hero persona as it is in characters like Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern.

And an interlude: Robinson gives us another view of The Alleys, where Jack worked and lives. It’s gas lamps and tight passages. The poster of Hades here is a story element that will be cropping up for the next year or so until it is finally resolved. It’s always eye catching and lures a victim into it, but each time the appearance is different. This time, it’s a fairly standard demon with the word Hades printed at the bottom. Each time, the poster’s look is reminiscent of those psychedelic rock concert posters of the 1960’s and ’70’s. About the other signs and posters I can only point out that the large one blocked by the text box is probably for They Might be Giants. We will learn the identity of the man collecting the poster (an immortal named Merrit) and his reasons in issue 10. More on all of that later.

One thing that many critics have panned Robinson for is the excessive talkiness of the book. For me, and I suspect most fans of the series, these mini-essays made the series quite special. They added depth to the characters and the setting. Here we get a lovely piece on the City itself. In the text piece at the end of issue 0, Robinson explains that he wants to flesh out Opal City; his hope is that the references to the places and streets could be made into a coherent map. On pages 10 and 11, you have a piece that compares Opal to a symphony orchestra. We get references to areas, landmarks and specific streets: Cinema Luna, Libra Avenue (the attorneys street aptly named for the balances), Zulu Boulevard, and Burnley Street.

One thing I had wanted to mention in the first issue, and am reminded of it now, is Jack Burnley. Robinson mentions Burnley as being one of the greatest of the golden age artists. He’s not joking. Burnley’s art was clean and showed a high sense of realism and proportion. Check out his work in the visually excellent Starman Archives vol. 1 and 2. It’s better than 95% of the stuff from that time. Worth mentioning here because Burnley Ellsworth is the fictional founder of Opal City, combining artist Jack Burnley and editor/writer Whitney Ellsworth.

Jack’s love of the city is one of the strongest motivators for his becoming a “hero.” It is the first and strongest connection that he will have with The Shade. The new rod design is both more elegant and sturdier looking than its predecessor. The bend near the top and the crook are functional changes as we will see especially in this issue.

The Shade appears and he’s ready to have his talk with Jack that was promised at the end of the previous issue. Outside of the general interest in Opal’s new protector, The Shade has a specific interest which will be revealed later in the series. The comments about Jack instinctively being a hero and the question here about dreaming of being a Native American point to Scalphunter. There was a reference made previously about the lawman. We’ll later see that the Shade is looking for a reincarnation of this former protector of Opal. There is one, it just turns out not to be Jack… by years end, we’ll see that it is Matthew O’Dare (the mustachioed O’Dare).

Yeah, if you haven’t previously read the whole series, or are living this scene, you might consider this conversation as something straight from a film by Ingmar Bergman. The darkness and the position of the characters is reminiscent of the chess game with Death in “The Seventh Seal.” Felliniesque is also a good descriptor of the scene.

Swords, pirates, and swashbuckling? The importance of these references comes into play much later in the series. It’s not random that there are dreams of pirates or that the Shade pull out a pirate wind-up toy. We get another reference to it by the end of the year. More then as it’ll tie up a loose end from the first arc. It never ceases to amaze me how well Robinson laid this series out. 80 issues and he laid the ground work for all of it in the first four issues. I’d kill to see the bible on this pitch/series.

For those who thought that Jack was now a fully blossomed hero ready to accept it, sorry to disappoint. We’re reminded that he’s still human and is still prone to stubbornness and denial. We’re introduced to the Shade’s journal here. We’ll get more excerpts and issues revolving around them as the series progresses. We also see the item the Shade picked up at the art museum. It wasn’t a piece  of art for himself. Instead, the dedication plaque for the Knight wing of the museum is a sign of good faith. I can’t comment much on Jack’s reference to “The Two Jakes” and “Chinatown” except to say that the former is a sequel to the latter.

There’s a good montage here of Jack’s life outside of the cosmic rod, and we tie it back to the beginning. I love how this scene plays out. The start on page 19 mirrors the encounter between Jack and Kyle that resulted in the destruction of his shop. From the shades, weird questions, and the gun to the generally creep factor, we’re reminded of that scene in issue 0. What makes this scene so fantastic is that it quickly diffuses. Page 21 and the question, “Well, would you sell the shirt? What about that?” makes me chuckle. This is why Jack Knight and Starman should not lead you to any of the usual expectations of superhero books. Guy pulls a gun, and a bargain/ business transaction occurs? Apparently, Jack wasn’t expecting this outcome either as we end with the ominous words of consolation by Ted. Weirdness is going to find Jack.

The epilogue wraps up the story with the Hawaiian shirt in a surprisingly nonsupervillainy fashion.

The letter column is of note here because Robinson addresses the issue of Ted’s age in the (then) current appearances. After the various de-agings and re-agings, Robinson places Ted as a “vibrant 65-year-old…”

As usual, Matt’s captured most of the things I’ve noticed, and gotten a lot of mileage out of things I never knew.  I thought I might have caught the They Might Be Giants poster before him, but he’s too quick.  The poster on page 6 appears to be of The Shadow, whose pulp origins play nicely off of Opal City and The Shade.

This is a really great issue, paced so perfectly that it seems like Robinson has all the space in the world to tell his story; he gets to set several scenes (Opal, and the creation of Harry Ajax’s shirt) so fully, and they never feel too drawn out. I also enjoy the scenes where we get to watch Jack barter.  It rings so true (at least for me), as I can’t leave a comic shop without trying to cut a deal.

As much as Starman tells several parallel stories (Jack, The Shade, and The Mist), this issue is especially nice because it tells (or at least introduces) two complimentary stories.  As Matt mentions we see the first appearance of Merrit and his portal to Hell even as we’re told the story of Harry Ajax and his gateway to Heaven.

The climax of the story is Sands’ arrival in Jack’s new shop.  Keeping in mind that the last time a freaky stranger walked into his shop it got burned down and he wound up shot, he is understandably on-edge.  Again Robinson turns our expectations on their head: we expect a fight, but we see a peaceful negotiation and resolution.

The story ends with some great and foreboding advice from Ted to Jack: “I didn’t want to tell you EARLIER when we struck our deal that you’d play the hero but the weirdness finds YOU.”  And indeed it will.

23
Feb
10

Issue #3: Night F(l)ight

The cover here seems to tell a fair amount of the story as far as the fight is concerned. Kyle, in the background, is looking beaten and bloody while Jack looks determined (and triumphant?) in the foreground. We see some of Jack’s tattoos: a skull on the abdomen, the compass rose from the title graphic at left of the center of his upper body, and a dragon of Asian influence on his left shoulder.

That out of the way, saddle up. This one’s a rocky ride.

Sea Monkeys, Karloff, a jolly roger, strange heart like sculptures…right, we’re at Jack’s place. So are the O’Dares. We open with Jack finally thinking about the situation he’s in and about his brother. Stress will do that to you; things flood suddenly. The deal with the Mist is fleshed out more here thanks to Hope O’Dare’s quick recap. In case you forgot, Jack isn’t a hero. He hates the idea. On the other hand, he sure doesn’t act like he hates it when he’s out there. I love the layers Robinson created with this character.

In the flashback, David’s got this really goofy look on his face. It kind of reminds me of the bully from Calvin and Hobbes. I like this scene for its “Rashamon” feel: the disconnect between what was in the past and what we want to remember. It’s also a good scene for the mention of the JSA and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but something deep in me thrills at seeing any instance of JSA. Huh… Ted might have been right after all, there’s always been something of the hero in Jack.

As we cut to Nash and Kyle, it’s interesting to note that she’s not stuttering. Kyle is awful sure of himself here. Given the little he’s seen of Jack, maybe that’s not unfair. He’s got Jack pegged fairly well at a glance. From issue 0 to now, there hasn’t been much to think that Jack is more than the dilettante that Kyle paints him to be. It’s a nice touch that Jack puts on the goggles and Nash gives his sunglasses away before he leaves. The World’s Fair poster here is especially nice for those that read Roy Thomas’s All Star Squadron. The Trylon and Perisphere were home to the super team fighting and protecting America during World War Two. Coincidentally, Jesse found this brief article about the whole idea behind the fair with great pictures of the real life Trylon.

The fight scene is nice for the fluidity of it both in a physical sense and in the sense of Jack’s thoughts. He’s fighting on autopilot just to survive. In a whole other world, he’s remembering his brother and thinking about his father. His thoughts about Ted here speak for themselves and are to some degree universal to all relationships with parents. When Jack’s mind and body both join the battle here, we get what is probably one of Jesse’s favorite lines in all of comics. I’ve heard or read him quote this Chris Isaak line a ton of times…and I’m still not sure who Chris Isaak is or what makes him so cool. I could look now, but not knowing is quite agreeable to me in this case.

Meanwhile…

Jesse mentioned in a previous entry that the museum was the Shade’s first heroic deed. Of the series? certainly. Ever? I’m not sure that’s the case. As we’ll see through the entire series, there is a definite morality to the character. Through his career he has done and will do many “good” things (I think primarily of the up coming issue involving Oscar Wilde and the Opal City of over a century ago). Because of his general nature, he tends to do them as brutally as the “bad” things. I mention this now because he appears here and we learn what his game is. Like Jack, he doesn’t really want the label hero. This whole scene he’s posturing, and you get the feeling that in his mind he’s playing this over the top character from a melodrama. All the while, he’s doing this good deed. There is a nice mirror to Jack’s denial of heroism here. Like Jack, he’s only doing this to protect his home.

I’m with Jack here. It doesn’t matter that it’s a Jerry Lewis book. You don’t tear comics in half like that. As we see, it’s these memories that are driving Jack and pushing him on in this fight.

So the Shade lays out the plan and how it has to be done making a reference to British espionage author Len Deighton. Robinson constantly name checks people and things that are interesting to him. If you find you’re really liking the series, it’s worth checking out most of the things he mentions. In this case, Deighton writes spy novels set in a more realistic and recognizable world than that of Ian Flemming’s James Bond. Back to the story though, wow. How bat-shit crazy do you have to be to use your arch-enemy’s family crypt as your base of operations?

Counting it out, Jack’s right. It’s hard to decide whether or not he should even like David. Four of the seven memories are pretty negative and harsh. But as Jack points out true family forgives faults and slights. He also admits it was a two way street. Jack was no innocent victim, but again, that’s family. Driving the cosmic rod into Kyle’s chest mirrors the attack on the Ultra-Humanite in Golden Age. Not so coincidentally, this is how the cosmic rod’s twin was destroyed. Vowing never to kill again, mentally prepares himself for the role he’s going to accept by the end this issue. I like the idea of the Shade shepherding Jack into being a superhero.

Robinson’s been warning us that this is a story about generations. If you had any doubt, the Mist’s daughter is being carted away here by the cops. Like a good villain, she’s vowing revenge. A promise to return.

Jack and Ted are given a chilling look at how things could be for Ted given his age. Robinson wants the Mist to be a tragic figure here after all.

This observatory has been seen a couple of times. Ted is here in Golden Age, we also see him at this observatory in the 1991 JSA mini-series set in the 1950’s. I really like this scene between Jack and Ted because it touches on and handles an idea that’s always bothered me about these science heroes. Why isn’t the DC Universe or the Marvel Universe a truly better and more impressive place because of brilliant scientists like Ted Knight, Reed Richards, and Tony Stark? Bothers Jack too. So he makes a deal with his father. Use your tech to make the world a better place and I’ll protect Opal.

The two epilogues set up the idea that Robinson mentioned in a text piece about the importance of all who called themselves Starman. Epilogue one: weren’t we just talking about circuses? More on this when it comes up. The focuses on Mikaal Tomas who appeared in a single comic book back in 1976, 1st Issue Special #1: Starman. The one time we saw him, that gem was not embedded in his chest. More about him when we see him again.

Epilogue Two: Space… familiar to the fortune teller. We see a statue of Prince Gavyn: a Starman created by Paul Levitz and Steve Ditko in some early ’80’s issues of Adventure Comics. If memory serves, some of these issues also featured adventures of the E2 JSA.

Oh snap, that’s not Prince Gavyn. We’ve got us another Starman. Until present (in the series) Will Payton is the most recent Starman. The man “with the moon in his face” that is tied to Payton’s death is Eclipso. Why he’s being treated as a lab rat and how he’s still alive are mysteries for a much later date and a trip into Space.

On a logistics note, I’m going to work to have posts here on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. Three a week is about all I can manage with a full time job and another blog.

See you Thursday.


There’s a lot about memories in issue 3.  Especially touching are the flashbacks, as Matt mentions.  Sure, some of them are negative, but Jack is the ass as often as David is.  And yet in spite of that he also remembers the good times.  Memories are tenuous things, as Robinson shows us, like when Jack first remembers David promising to grow up and be like Ted, then realizing it was him saying those things.  I also find Ted’s observation about the singer in the Hues Corporation sounding like Nat King Cole to be especially interesting, as I think we’ve all had those moments with our families.

I always thought that the trauma of Kyle’s death is what caused Nash to lose her stutter, but as Matt notices, she didn’t have it as he left for his fight with Jack.  Is this an oversight or by design?  He also calls me out for liking the line “COOL?  No way.  ‘Course, COMPARED to YOU…I’m Chris Isaak.”  For the life of me I don’t know why.  It stands out like a sore thumb, and Chris Isaak is only cool in an adult contemporary not-very-cool way, but it’s one of those lines that just defines Jack.  (I should point out that I’m not the only one fascinated by this particular phrase.)   As for the Shade, those Times Past stories may prove me  wrong, but I always get the impression from the museum scene that he’s as startled by his (own particular) brand of heroism as Jack is.

And now we get to the observations that can’t sustain full paragraphs:

  • This is the first we see of Jack’s tattoos.  We will eventually get the secret origin of the flying panther.
  • The Shade on page 10 bears a striking resemblance to the man in the Gotham poster on page 1.
  • “WAIT and see what I BECOME” is one of the most chilling lines in the book.  We will see Nash again, and she takes her role in Jack’s life extremely seriously.

Issue 3 is the first time we get a letter column in Starman.  Several letter writers compared the series favorably to the Ostrander/Mandrake Spectre series that was running at the same time.  I never read much of it, but I know Matt enjoyed it a great deal. In closing, I’d just like to throw out a couple quotes by Robinson as he addresses his characters and what will come in the series.

  • “I’d suggest that Starman is rather a discourse of the relevance of the past on the present…both in terms of actual events “then” and the rippling ramifications of them “now,”and in terms of the icons and thing of of times past that we carry with us into the present time.  If the subtext of STARMAN is one of the discourse on value, then it is that value of the past to the present.”
  • “David actually appeared in the (Will Payton) STARMAN comic in issues #26 and #27.  This is prior to ZERO HOUR unraveling and time doing the jitterbug with itself, so I’m not, nor ever intended to, follow that past continuity too slavishly.  The Mist becoming “Primus” and David Knight encountering Will Payton and everything that happened will never be mentioned to any great degree”
15
Feb
10

Issue #2: Mercy

This first sequence is one of my top five favorite scenes in Starman. In the movies, and lately comics, we always see nascent heroes scribbling designs for their costumes. There’s never a rhyme or reason to it. Why the red and blue/black for Spider-man? Why the briefs on the outside? Alan Scott’s Green Lantern costume makes no sense whatsoever…neither does Ted’s Starman outfit for that matter. To my knowledge, the only time we see any thought put into a golden age outfit (Batman ret-cons aside) is Jim Harper’s Guardian. He see’s a crime happening, ducks into a costume store and grabs some acrobat tights, a helmet, and a shield. This makes sense. There’s a logic to it that a purple cape with a red shirt and green pants simply doesn’t have.

Visually, a couple of things to point out on the title page. Jack smokes Camels? There are some references to the artists here. The Karloff mummy poster is brought to you by (Dan) Jolly and (Tony) Harris. The Wade referenced on the post-it note is inker Wade Von Grawbadger.

Here we see Jack’s logical thought process about what he’ll need when fighting crime. Everything has a purpose: symbolic or practical. Of course it gets cold up there! so he needs a jacket. Of course a cosmic rod puts out blinding light! Why not a set of welder’s goggles? Brilliantly done sirs. If there were a soundtrack to this scene, it would be written by Danny Elfman, and it would have the building martial sound of his “Batman” or “Dick Tracy” soundtracks. This is a man girding his loins for war. Oh…and there’s another ragdoll.

Shifting gears completely, we’ve got a clandestine meeting between the Shade and the Mist. It’s been bothering me that every time we see the Mist, there’s a sickly yellow color to everything. Honor among thieves is the first phrase that jumps to mind in this scene. There’s a cordiality here: two colleagues meeting after some time to discuss work. I was hooked after reading Shade’s discourse on Don Juan the Bastard. That Shakespeare would write one of his greatest villains into a comedy has always amused me. The problem here? Is this the same Mist that was so sure and full of bravado? He’s confused and quixotic in the way of someone who just got out of bed might be. The Shade notices this too. The look on his face says that this is not someone to take your eyes off of. There’s no telling when he might snap. This is where all of the pieces snap together. The weird mottled look to the Mist’s skin, the sickly yellow color, the confusion, the mercuric swings, and the end game. The Mist is not well; he’s dying; he’s losing his faculties.

The roof top battle that follows shows that Jack’s got better moves than your average street-tough with a hood. How will he fair against someone with a bit of training? During the fighting, his head isn’t in the game; he name checks some golden age heroes in reference to their perceived goofiness: Neon the Unknown, The Human Bomb, and Stormy Foster. The goofiest of the set has to be Stormy Foster: The Great Defender. Here’s a guy that wears white shorts into battle. Think ’70’s basketball shorts in white and you’ve got the idea. He’s got a blue skintight t-shirt with a huge star on it, a tiny red cape, and a pencil thin mustache. It’s like the Village People wanted a superhero in their line-up. Anyway, Jack’s thinking about how he’s making a bunch of amateur mistakes.

For a guy that says he doesn’t want to do this, he’s having too much fun. Nash, the Mist’s daughter show up because it’s her turn to dispose of Jack. She comes with a sword and a gun? Interesting. Nice clothesline move there. Remember the title of this story arc. The idea of the sins of the father comes up several times in the Old Testament, especially in the five books of Moses. Here is an example from Numbers in the New International Version:

The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation. (Num 14:18)

No where will this idea be more clear than in the interactions of Nash and Jack. She knows this. She sees that there will come a time when they will face off and one may not come out of it. She shows him the mercy that the issue’s title implies.

He get a moment to regroup and catch his breath. Jack visits the fortune teller from issue #0. She’s someone that Robinson resurrected from DC’s past. Charity was the host of an anthology series in the same style as House of Mystery or House of Secrets. It was called Forbidden Tales of the Dark Mansion. Those few in the know, without the aid of the internet, would have appreciated her tongue in cheek references to the title.

The amazing thing here is that James Robinson had the major beats of this series mapped out so far in advance. Charity’s fortune telling gives readers vague hints at story arcs to come. My memory is sketchy as to the reference to the Far East and the burial. It’ll be a pleasant surprise when I stumble on that again (is this the story with Wesley Dodds?). The trip to deep space was near the end of the run in Stars My Destination. The art in the background indicates Hawkman as the “Winged man [who] will come to Opal City.” This changes though, probably due to the continuity quagmire that Hawkman was suffering at the time of this series.

The referenced night at the circus is coming soon. We’ll see it before the series hits a year. The jolly roger here is not extraneous either. The asian style demon (oni?) is also drawing near. With the exception of the final arc and the Captain Marvel arc, these premonitions cover the run of the series, and this is only issue #2.

The conversation between Ted and Jack is so much more civil than anything we’ve seen so far. We also get another veiled reference to the events in Golden Age. It’s safe to say that any time you see Ted, Washington, and 1950 in the same sentence it’s an allusion to GA. If you haven’t read it, hop to. It’s got everything: golden age heroes, drug addiction, Nazi’s, communists, President Truman, EVERYTHING!

Say it ain’t so Shade. You’re teaming up with the Mist?! Why can’t a leopard change it’s spots?

So we see the two page warehouse spread. There are only three things I recognize here: barrels with the Martian Manhunter’s belt symbol, the Starman costume, and the Ray Harryhausen Cyclops from “Jason and the Argonauts.” A warehouse with a drawbridge? Sweet.

There’s that damned green hood again. The rod here looks exactly like the one from The Golden Age. It will go through some changes before the end of the series; most notably will be a shepherd’s crook style top. I’ll pass over the allusion to a dirty joke here for our younger readers.

Really nice interlude into Ted’s thoughts here and the generational/ history themes of the series that Robinson talks about in the first text piece.  We also see the Shade play his part in the Mist’s plan.

The showdown is finally announced now that Jack wears the sheriff’s star. Throughout these issues, in my head I’ve been hearing Shakespeare’s line from Hamlet: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Jack’s been screaming that he isn’t a hero and has no desire to be either. Ted sees the truth, and Jack finally acknowledges his fate.

We end the issue with a page from the Shade’s journal (presumably the one he was writing last issue). It introduces a little of the Shade’s complex history, and the biggest mystery of the series. It isn’t until the end of the run that we discover the identity of the Starman of 1950’s.

Like I said, Robinson has laid such a strong foundation here. It’s staggering to think back on the series as a whole and think that so much of it is mentioned here in this third issue. This is where Robinson hits his stride and doesn’t quit until issue #80.

Finally, I’ve got a little something for you to enjoy simply because I found it while searching for an image of the cover.

Brideshead of the Monster Revisited.

Like Matt, I really enjoy the scene with Jack suiting up as well.  Everything about that scene says “stars,” but it also says “Jack Knight.”  Excellent work by Robinson and Harris, putting together such a strong scene with so much depth.

The scene with Charity is one of my favorites in this arc, and I trust I won’t be spoiling anything to say we’ll be seeing this device again: we will eventually get clarification over this fortune and a new batch of fortunes to stew over.  Just to go into a little more detail:

  • “I see you in the EAST.  The FAR East.  You’re at a BURIAL.” – I’ll leave this space intentionally blank unless Matt wants me to fill it in.
  • “You’ll go into space.  Deep OUTER space.  There are OTHER worlds out there.  You’ll go to ONE of them…And HATE every minute of it.” – This will happen in “Stars My Destination,” as Jack sets out to find Will Payton.  The other world is Krypton.
  • “And a WINGED MAN will come to Opal City.  He knew your father, TOO…” – As Matt noted, the images suggest Hawkman.   I would suspect this might also signify Black Condor, who shows up in “Grand Guignol” if Charity did not eventually reveal the the Winged Man will not arrive.
  • “OH, and you’ll have a NIGHT at the circus like NONE other.” – This will take place in issues 7 and 8, reprinted in “Night and Day.”

All emphasis in the above quotes is Robinson’s, which makes this a good time to point out that Robinson’s characters all tend to speak with an interesting lilt.  The emphasis on words in sentences are placed in places that no other author tends to do.  There’s a definite consistency, but it would take an English teacher to identify if there’s a pattern.

I suspect that Jack taking David’s things is why Ted never told Jack about the storage warehouse, and until right this moment it was probably nothing Jack could properly appreciate.  The Harryhausen cyclops is a great touch, and the Tyrannosaurus makes one think of the Batcave.  Could the green hood just be a coloring error?  I can’t think of any other reason it would be wrong.

14
Feb
10

Issue #1: Oil (Paint) and Water

More rag dolls greet us on the cover of issue #1. After the villainous reveal last issue, one has to wonder why the Mist’s thugs are patterned after another GA villain? Also of note, Jack is wearing a jolly roger t-shirt. This is the name of the art studio set up by Tony Harris.

This issue begins with a man in black. “The shadowy, shadowy gentleman sighs.” The whole panel screams Victorian: from the furniture in the study to the top hat waiting on a side table. Juxtaposed with this mysterious gentleman are scenes of the chaos going on outside. The Mist and his son have orchestrated a cacophony of crime that only began with the assault on the Knight Family. As the pages progress, we see that this gentleman thinks very little of David’s attempt at being a champion. In a silhouette, long time readers of comics are given a major hint as to his identity. A shadow of a lean man in a top hat would seem to indicate the old Flash villain: The Shade.

This is the second part of the Sins of the Father story arc. The title of the individual issue seems to indicate things which to not mix well or at all. The (paint) is probably a reference to the art museum at the end of the issue.

There’s a lot of pain and anger in these first pages. David has just died, Ted has been attacked, and Jack suffers the loss of his shop. Out of grief, Ted lashes out at Jack for surviving and losing the flight belt that once belonged to Skyman. In this scene, we are also introduced to the O’Dare family. We’ll find out why they’re taking the time and effort to protect Ted Knight later on. Ted’s final words are intended to drive Jack away. He cannot afford to lose another son in one night. He wants Jack to leave the city.

Here’s where Hope O’Dare explains the history and the debt the family feels toward Ted Knight’s Starman. Jack acts like and ass, and Hope calls him on it. Just before she can belt him a good one, we’re interrupted. The Mist contacts Ted directly and lays out his plans for Opal City generally and the Knights specifically. The Mist is very much the arch-villain during this one sided conversation. What’s his plan? Destroy the city. Keep Ted feeling impotent and futile and shamed. Any loot they grab along the way is an added bonus. Orchestrated as this has been, it still smacks of an end game. This isn’t the plan of someone who expects to be around for a while to gloat or fight another day.

Have you ever seen “High Noon?” Gary Cooper’s a marshal looking to retire and settle down with his new wife. Then someone from his past comes looking for him. He comes back from prison and wants to kill Cooper. Everyone tells Cooper to get out of town. Leave; don’t look back. Everyone from the town’s minister to his own wife tell him to turn tail and run. He doesn’t. He can’t. In this issue, we get this scene not once, but twice. It works both times. First, Jack can’t leave; he can’t let the Mist destroy the museum that his mother worked so hard for. At the station, ready to leave town, Jack sees the destruction on the television. He swoops in on the marauders and does an not horribly embarrassing job of it. The bystanders appear to be rallied with hope. The Shade looks on; he knows the score, but he is neither disparaging nor encouraging.

Jack is cool and methodical while dealing with the thugs. He pauses. While he tells us that he won’t be doing this again, that it is a one off deal, the expression Harris draws on Jack’s face tells us something different. There’s an enjoyment here: a satisfaction. Kyle appears and ruins the moment. Jack is forced to flee once again. He is no longer seen as a threat.

Instead of lingering on our burgeoning hero’s fate, we see what the Shade is up to. Apparently he is here to protect the museum also. It should also be pointed out that he has yet to be named properly. The Crepe Street to which the hood refer does not exist in the real world. Presumably, this is an area of Opal. The thugs intend it as a slur…possible homosexual reference to Shade’s effete appearance and style of speaking. The Shade’s reference to Renny Harlin is in regard to the style of movies Harlin is known for: “Die Hard 2”, “Cliffhanger”, “Cleaner”, etc… Finally we have confirmation that he is the Shade of Flash infamy. Speaking of over the top action, that shadow demon is quite something. Interesting that he is merciful to the less braggadocios of the thugs. He also contemplates stealing something for himself while he can. Then he remembers the cardinal rule of his kind: you do not shit where you eat. Remembering this, he does see something small worth picking up, and he departs. He remarks on the potential that Jack he saw (like everyone else, he assumes the worst regarding Jack’s fate). He compares Jack to a “Native American Lawman” that had once protected the city as a champion. Readers of the series now know that this is Scalphunter, Brian Savage. This reference is a nice little seed to blossom later in the series.

We end with the second “High Noon” moment of the book. This is the big turning point for Jack. Whoever he was before, he is something more now. He’s been told to get out of town. Technically he has. Opal burns on the horizon. He’s free and clear. Like Cooper though, Jack cannot leave. He needs to return and finish what he started. Jack can’t abandon Opal or his father. He doesn’t want to do this, but he must.

He’s been twice baptized: once by fire and again by water to become a hero. Not the hero of his father’s day, nor the hero his brother attempted to be. He is a hero who knows what must be done and that he must be the one to do it.

On this last page, there are some interesting things to point out artistically.

1. Another ragdoll image.

2. Who doesn’t love Ren and Stimpy?

3. It’s reasonable to assume that the Mr. Klaw is a reference to the They Might Be Giants song.

4. Obergeist was a brief series created by Dan Jolly and Tony Harris.

I’m tempted to jump the gun here and talk about issue #2. It’s a great issue and the characters I grew to enjoy (Jack, Ted, and Shade) really come into there own in this upcoming third issue. Besides, no one wants to read 2500 words on two issues in one sitting. I’m fooling myself into thinking that anyone really wants to read 1200 words on an issue.

Still, I’d also point out that the text pieces in these two issues so far are interesting looks at the development of the series and Robinson’s interests outside of comics. The piece in issue #0 reads like a manifesto for the series.

Reread them, you might just learn something worth while.

Matt’s comments here are incredibly complete, so I have only a little to add.  I especially like this issue because in many ways The Shade’s journey mirrors Jack’s, and this is where we see each of them do their first heroic deeds.  Neither of them can believe it, but both get swept up in their respective moments.  It’s also a nice touch that the relationship between Ted and Jack is fleshed out a bit more.  When Jack visits his father in the hospital Ted really is angry, but softens up considerably after The Mist’s phone call.

A few random thoughts:

  • The Mist’s reign of terror is referred to as the “Night of Fire,” which seems to be a reference to Devil’s Night in Detroit.
  • In the graffiti on the last page there is a reference to “Gaijin,” certainly a reference to Gaijin Studios, home of Cully Hamner, Brian Stelfreeze, Laura Martin, and (formerly) Tony Harris.
  • James Robinson’s text piece in the back reminded me of this post of Matt’s.
13
Feb
10

Issue #0: Falling Star – Rising Son.

“There is a city. A glorious and singular place. Old yet pristine. Ornate and yet streamlined. A metropolis of now and then and never was.”

This is how James Robinson begins the epic journey of Jack Knight in 1994’s Starman #0. He introduces us to the city. As much as Gotham or Metropolis, Opal City is a reflection of the tone of the book and the type of hero that would protect her. As we see through the series, Opal is all Art Deco and Art Nouveau architecture built on an older city. Think Fritz Lang’s Metropolis built on top of the older sections of LoDo, Denver. Everywhere, you see reminders that this is the city of Starman, a science hero. There’s a smooth elegance and simplicity to the statues and adornments of the sky scrapers here while the older parts have a time-worn and secret feel about them. One thing to note, Chesterfield Cigarette’s haven’t been widely advertised in America for at least forty years. Early in the 20th century, Chesterfield sponsored a myriad of radio and television shows. Robinson and Harris trying to send a message to the reader that this city is out of synch with time, and Opal is a timeless place in a lot of respects as we’ll see throughout the series.

This story arc is entitled “Sins of the Father” for reasons that will become apparent by the end. It comes from several scriptures in the Old Testament of The Bible. It was/ is also a common euphemism for syphilis. The title of the individual issue is a bit of an astronomical pun on the demise of David and the ascendancy of Jack.

When we see David for the first time, he’s not wearing the costume his father wore in the 1992 JSA relaunch with art by Mike Parobeck. Even in his appearance in the previous Starman series, David wore a red cowl. There’s never a clear reason given for the switch to a green cowl from the traditional red.

Perched and pensive, David is on a night time patrol of the city. In a well laid out series of panels, he steps into oblivion.

The last time we saw the three Knights together was during Zero Hour. While hospitalized, Ted passes on the mantle of Starman to David. Coming back to it after about ten years, two things strike me as interesting:

1. David looks like a little boy trying on his father’s clothes. From the waist down, everything looks loose, ill fitting, and baggy. It’s almost comical how ill prepared he is to go out and be a hero, much less that no one seems to realize this.

2. I don’t like any of these people. Everyone here seems self absorbed.

Naturally, this is all part of Robinson setting up the hero’s journey for Jack. He’s not a likeable fellow: selfish, petulant, disaffected, and a bit of a dilettante. In many ways, he is more his father’s son than David. In the Golden Age Starman stories, Ted always pretended to be all of these things so that no one would suspect that he was in fact a costumed crime fighter.

Actually, there’s as much change in Ted as there is in Jack. Robinson fleshes out this aging mystery man with the character he developed in the Golden Age mini-series. He’s a manic, absorbed, guilt ridden, slightly neurotic man. This is the only bit from that mini-series that ever seemed to make it into DC canon. As the series progresses though, Ted blossoms into something more than just an aging hero who passes down the mantle to a younger generation. For right now though, they’re all right bastards.

If the spires and streamlined skyline of Opal are Ted, Jack is very much Oldtown. The tatoo parlor will play a fair though unseen role in the series as it progresses, as does Jack’s store. Between pointing out the fortune teller’s storefront and the rag doll in the panel on page eight, Robinson and Harris might have been a little heavy handed in the foreshadowing here.

On a geek note, the Pemberton mentioned here was originally the Star Spangled Kid. He later becomes Skyman in the pages of Infinity Inc. He did, in fact wear a red belt that enabled him to fly, hence the name.

Ted calls to inform Jack that David is dead and I can feel the tension in the conversation. It’s not the death that’s eating at either of them. Not really. It’s probably fair to say that all phone calls between Jack and Ted were this terse. Robinson does such a great job establishing their relationship in the early pages, that this conversation is merely an extension of that rift.

It shocked me the first time I saw uninked Tony Harris art. I honestly didn’t recognize the style. The inking changes everything. Having seen Von Grawbadger as an artist in his own right, it only now occurs to me how much he influence these issues as an inker. There are many panels here that could have been ripped straight from the later issues of this series where Harris was absent. The lines of the face and the looks in the eyes are almost always Von Grawbadger.

One of the things I’ve sorely missed in most recent books by James Robinson is the tightness of the story. Here he and his co-creators tell you volumes of information in a few panels. It flows and there isn’t always a need for the words. Page 12 is a perfect example of this idea. The house explodes. Ted is hit. He has fallen. The perpetrator looks on. That’s it. It’s beautiful and we see both the power of the explosion and the impact on all involved in four wordless panels.

It’s weird how prominently Bakelite features in this series. It’s one of the things Jack hoards/ collects. I’d suggest that if you haven’t heard of it, look it up on Wikipedia or some other  reference source. I can tell you that it was apparently considered as a replacement for copper in the making of pennies back in 1943. Other than that, you’re on your own.

The layouts in this destructive fight scene are outstanding. Movement, chaos, desperation, hopelessness, hate, and pace are conveyed here in a cross between Eisner and Kirby. And then we take to the skies for a full page panel. It’s the second time in the whole issue that we see anyone doing anything remotely like being a “Starman.”

If you didn’t get the creep vibe from Jack’s encounter with Kyle in the shop, this Mist family reunion here should bring it home to you. There’s the odd wedding march/ American Gothic panels and oddly mottled old hands of the Mist. Something’s not right with this family.

We wrap up the issue with a reinforcement of the idea that Jack is not the hero is father was or the hero his brother aspired/expired to be. He desperately flees the fire and the fight. Here at the end, we get the single flaw in this gem. Jack refers to David as Danny.

All in all a good first issue that lets the reader know what to expect without ever giving away what will happen next. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to this ride.

I’m glad you mentioned Zero Hour, because I completely forgot about that scene.  Just to put this first issue in a bit of context, there were 5 series (and one mini) to come out of Zero Hour, and only Starman had any sort of staying power.  The others were Fate  (23 issues), R.E.B.E.L.S. ’94 (18 issues), Manhunter (13 issues), and Primal Force (15 issues).

Starman was part of a great time in DC’s history that took cues from the Vertigo line, where creators had definite strategies for their books and thought about long-term arcs, rather than just that issue’s slugfest.  We get a glimpse of this on page one when Robinson subtlely mentions “Times Past,” a reference to the single-issue fill-ins that tell key stories about a tangential event during the history of the Starman line.  (I thought I was clever to notice this, but Robinson pointed it out himself in the letter column.)  Still, the point stands that there was an overarching plan for this series that wasn’t present in most mainstream superhero comics.

Matt mentions the family dynamic and how he disliked all of the Knights in this issue, but I got a much different read on them than he did.  Yes, Jack is petty and they squabble, but I felt that they truly cared for each other and this was just part of a pattern (especially without a maternal influence in their lives).  Jack says mean and hurtful things, but we see he regrets them even as he can’t stop the words from coming out.  And when he asks about dinner on Sunday, Ted replies “Yes, Sunday.  ALWAYS Sunday.”  This is just a pattern for them.  He also mentions that Starman is a science hero, which is a much better description for what Ted did than “superhero”.

One of the things I have trouble with in this issue is the timeline.  Even though David met up (a polite way of saying “fought”) Will Payton and comments on page two that it was “Another day of triumph,” I always got the impression that this was David’s first night as Starman.  Matt understands the timeline much better than I do, but in my mind David’s fate holds a much stronger resonance if it ends just as it begins, even if the facts don’t agree with me.

I’d also just like to point out the letter column, which was another relatively novel concept: the author writing it himself.  Robinson definitely understands collectors, signing off with a plea for View-Masters and Japanese import CD’s.  This is a good sign for the book, because it means he understands Jack and he understands us.

12
Feb
10

For those of you just joining…

Well Come!

This blog is meant to be an extension of the blog my friend Jesse and I write. We’re both big fans of James Robinson’s Starman series.

My vision for it is a series of commentaries on the individual issues. While I’m not associated with the creation of the series in anyway, I am a great appreciator of it. Think of these commentaries as being in the same vein as the medieval commentaries on Hebrew, Islamic, and Christian scriptures. Or more secularly, the commentaries made on the Greek philosophers. I will look at the works and point out things that are of note and comment on things that stand out as important to the body of the work. Sometimes these will be organized and preplanned; more often than not, they will be stream of consciousness as I reread the issue.

I don’t really want to analyze each issue panel by panel. That sort of microscopic examination doesn’t interest me in the same way it might interest the great German catalogers of the 1800’s whose works in Greek poetry and European folk tale are so useful to scholars today. Although, from time to time, I’m sure I’ll be digressing on some reference or pointing some small detail out to anyone who might be reading.

In fairness, I should tell you that I am coming at this title, Starman, with a notion that it is an Epic. That is, it’s a long form story of the hero’s inner and outer journey. I’ve always thought of it as a telling of Telemachus’ adventures. If I were still a scholar of English literature, I could probably make a paper out of comparing Ted Knight to Odysseus. Jack certainly bears aspects of Telemachus in his character. He’s a boy who must learn his father. Not only that, but he must learn to step out of the shadow of his father and be his own man. Jack does this in a way that we never see Telemachus finish.

I’ve ambled around enough.

Enjoy these commentaries with my compliments. I create them out of the greatest esteem for Messers Robinson, Harris, Von Grawbadger, Goodwin, Ha, and the many others that worked to make Starman so enjoyable.

– Matt.

Matt offered me the opportunity to add my thoughts as well.  I’ve taken him up on the offer, partly because I like the attention, partly because I enjoy having a soapbox, but mostly because I’m hoping that I might mention something that might flip a switch and send him down a new direction.  (As he’s already shown just in this post, he will not need my help.)

When I toss in my two cents I’m going to do my best to very carefully delineate between his thoughts and mine.  Basically if you want the real story read the parts in green.  If you’re interested in trivia and casual observations, keep reading through to the blue.  This is his show, and I’m happy to tag along.

~ Jesse