Sunday, March 6, 2011

Currently Reading: Starman Omnibus #1


So I finally took the plunge and picked up the first Starman omnibus edition, collecting the first 17 issues of the series (#0-16). I've heard great things about this series, the Comic Geek Speak guys gush about it, so I knew I had to read it at some point.

And I'm not sure what I think of it yet.

The first dozen or so issues were - I won't say difficult to get through - but I didn't find myself needing to read the next chapter as soon I finished the previous one. It wasn't like Naoki Urasawa's Pluto, which I am dying to finish (I only have the first 4 volumes, but hope to remedy that later this year), or Dave Sim's Cerebus (I'm currently halfway through volume 5: Jaka's Story, and find myself reading 3, 4, or 5 chapters at a time when I find the time).

But it wasn't that I found it to be a bad comic. It was/is good. I just wasn't being pulled into the story like I have with other books.

I will say that the concept is great - I particularly appreciate the characterization of Jack, the uninterested protagonist whose passion is collecting/trading/selling antiques, a vocation comic collectors can easily relate to, and the manner in which this is symbolized through his choice of costume - which is to say, Jack chooses no costume at all, rather street clothes that might be practical while in a fight utilizing his cosmic rod (the only real "superhero" trapping for this character).

And, I love the Shade - mysterious, not on one side or the other, preferring to walk his own path while safeguarding Opal City, but to what end? His own personal gain or something more altruistic? I guess I'll have to read on to find out.

The art is good, but I am not a fan of Tony Harris, despite my enjoyment of another of his long-form book, Ex Machina with Brian K. Vaughn. It's merely a matter of personal taste. His storytelling is good, clean, his characters are always recognizable, and he doesn't skimp on backgrounds - something of particular import with this series, as creator James Robinson wished to make Opal City as much a character in the book as Jack Knight or the O'Dares.

But I have to say the fill in issues with art by Matt Smith and the amazing Teddy Kristiansen were much more to my liking. Those artists, with their looser line work, have a more expressive style that just appeals to me more. Wonderful stuff.

And the writing from James Robinson is good, but - at least in these early chapters - not great, in my opinion. I appreciate much of what he's doing. His characterizations are good, and I enjoy the relationship developing between Jack Knight (the main protagonist of the book) and Ted Knight (his father, the original Starman). The plots are not reformatted, rehashed, and regurgitated plots from comics we've seen before, and I truly appreciate that (I especially loved his use of the sideshow freaks to get the blue Starman into the mix, a character with whom I am wholly unfamiliar, and I can't say if this was a new creation of Robinson's or another part of the Starman legacy, though I am guessing the latter).

But it's the captions and some of the actual dialogue that bothers me. It's stilted in places and doesn't read smoothly for me, doesn't sound natural. For me, reading (and writing) is all about rhythm, which isn't to say I am looking for iambic pentameter in my prose or comics, but I'm looking for words that flow easily from one to the other, enlightening and entertaining me while not forcing me to go back and re-read passages in order to get the tone and meaning correct. I found myself having to do that a lot with this initial tome, and it lessened the enjoyment I had, or could have had.

Some things I really enjoyed were the "Times Past" stories - as noted above some of that had to do with the different artists. But it also had to do with the plots themselves. The first one, with Oscar Wilde, was a wonderful little period piece that illuminated a bit of the Shade's past for us. The second, with the original Ted Knight Starman and other golden age heroes - Jay Garrick (the Flash), Alan Scott (Green Lantern), Hourman, and Dr. Midnight - having to take down a once laughable villain who's become a murderous scourge was well done, adding a weight to these once pristine heroes that felt natural while also exhibiting the emotional toll of the altercation for these heroes.

And as the "Sins of the Child" storyline began with issue 12, chapter 13, I found myself sucked into the story. The conversation between Jack and Ted after Jack's court date for killing one of the Mist's children (which was also a refreshing, new take on superheroes, having them answer for breaking the law, even if the murder in question was of a super-villain) in the beginning of the book really pulled me into the narrative and made me care about these characters. Subsequent chapters began at the same point as this initial chapter, but followed the story from the points of view of various other characters in the book, and I found that to be interesting, because we could see "the rest of the story" while putting the timeline into place.

I was loving this story.

And then we got to the end, and the new Mist just let Jack Knight go . . . because she wanted to see him grow to his full potential as a superhero while she worked on growing as a super-villain, so that, one day, she could kill Starman, because that's what arch-enemies do. Certainly, a novel approach to the climax of a long battle between arch-foes (despite this really being their first battle, and the both of them relatively new to this game), but it just fell flat for me.


All that build up for something that felt forced - up to this point, Jack has behaved in a very "real-world" manner, not gravitating to being a hero, questioning himself, wondering if what he is doing is truly the right thing to be doing, and other characters have acted in a similar fashion. This is the internal consistency, the internal logic, of James Robinson's Starman. And then he has this new Mist arbitrarily allow Jack Knight to go, when she has him in her sights - which is followed by a monologue . . . a freakin' monologue . . . to explain her motivation and such. Sure, she's mentally unbalanced, and maybe she would not react in a sane fashion. But, she just killed six people trying to find a medal her father received from serving in the Great War, and she's not going to kill Jack? And Jack, though obviously at a disadvantage, acts very calmly and does nothing to try and take out Mist - who has just killed six people in a city-wide rampage.

It didn't work for me, and that was disappointing, because I was really getting into the story with this final storyline of the omnibus. And it makes me wonder if I'll continue with the series. We'll see.


1 comment:

In The Mouth Of Dorkness said...

I really want to read this. I just haven't been able to bring myself to plunk down the money yet.