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.


1 Response to “Issue #0: Falling Star – Rising Son.”

  1. 1 Jesse
    February 28, 2010 at 7:00 pm

    Here’s something interesting…
    Check out the cover to the first Starman Omnibus:

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