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.

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1 Response to “Issue #2: Mercy”


  1. 1 Jesse
    February 20, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    I can answer the Far East question, but won’t if you want to savor the mystery.


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