Random Musings: Starman Omnibus

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    Starman Omnibus

     

    A few bookkeeping items.
        First, Silver Blade magazine recently posted the ninth and final installment of my serialized novella, Kestor, at

    http://www.silverblade.net/content/?tag=patrick-keating The entire story is now available to read at that site.
        When the rebel leader Kestor is captured by the Imperials, D’Ahid, an apprentice woodsmith in the occupied community of Noule, makes an impromptu decision to sneak into the mountains to seek out Kestor’s small band of followers. D’Ahid owes his life to Kestor, and feels he must do something to repay him. Though he’s not sure what he can do.
        D’Ahid is stunned to learn that Kestor not only foretold of his arrival among the rebels, but prophesied that he would succeed the rebel leader.
        Naturally, complications arise.

        Second, my cousin loved those Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade comics I sent her.

        Now, on to the main attraction.

        Two years ago, I first wrote about The Starman Omnibus (DC Comics), which collects all 80 issues of the series Starman, plus various ancillary material, in six hardcover volumes.
        I recently finished reading volumes 5 and 6, which bring Jack Knight’s story to a satisfactory conclusion.
        Originally published in single magazine form beginning in 1994, Starman was written by James Robinson, and primarily penciled by Tony Harris and Peter Snejbjerg. The series tells how Jack, son of Golden Age Starman Ted Knight, finds himself taking on the mantle of Opal City’s resident protector, following the murder of his brother, David.
        Over the course of this series, Jack, who, given his druthers would prefer tending to his “day job” as a dealer in second-hand collectibles, continually proves his mettle as a hero. For example, at the request of his girlfriend, Sadie, Jack ventures into space, following the slimmest of clues in an attempt to find her brother, Will Payton, a previous holder of the Starman mantle. The world believes Payton is dead, but Jack is willing to gamble that he’s not.
        This wasn’t a “universe in peril” situation, or a race to find this, that or the other important person, place or thing needed in order to save the day. This was Jack, taking months away from his job, his friends, and his planet to do a favor for his girlfriend.
        Starman was very much a character-driven series. And along those lines, over the course of its run, we see the ongoing relationship— and growing mutual respect— between Jack and his father, as well as Jack’s (and others’) relationship with immortal one-time (though not entirely reformed) villain The Shade.
        In the occasional “talking with David” tales, Jack has conversations with his late brother, which eventually leads to a degree of camaraderie they didn’t have when David was still alive.
        Other characters occasionally talked with David; but for the most part, it was Jack.
        One thing I like about Starman is that it tells a complete story. Like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, the story of Jack Knight— who never set out to be a hero, and who eschewed his father’s costume in favor of a dark jacket and a pair of World War II-era goggles— reaches a definite conclusion. Both series had a single writer throughout, allowing for the realization of a consistent vision. It doesn’t always work out that way in comics. Sometimes a creative team only stays for a handful of issues. In fact, in his afterward to volume 5, Robinson writes that he’d seriously considered leaving the book at the point when Jack Knight went into space, seeing it as the perfect jumping off point for himself, and jumping on point for someone else.
        He didn’t, in part because he still had the climactic saga, “Grand Guignol”, planned out, “more or less.”
        To my way of thinking, the longer a creative team (or at least the writer) stays on a title, the better. It creates a strong sense of continuity. Of course a writer who stays on a title too long might fall into a rut, which is one argument for letting a series come to a conclusion. But that’s another matter.
        Other series with a single writer (barring the occasional fill-in issue) include Supergirl by Peter David and various artists, which ran for 80 issues; Peter David’s 12-year run on The Incredible Hulk; and Marv Wolfman’s 16-year run on New Teen Titans/Tales of the Teen Titans/New Titans (the first four years of which were in partnership with penciller and co-creator George Perez).
        Granted, Starman was different in that it had a definite conclusion, while these other titles were either canceled (and had rushed “conclusions”) or switched creative teams. But in all of the above cases, there was a strong narrative thread.
       Another plus about Starman is that it had a rich supporting cast. These include the O’Dare family, all police officers. One of them, Matt, was on the take, until he discovered he was the reincarnation of 19th century lawman Brian Savage. Over the course of the series, he works to redeem himself, with the Shade’s help.
        And then there’s The Shade. Throughout the series, both prose stories called “The Shade’s Journal”, and some of the “Times Past” storylines revealed more about his history and his past life in Opal.
        And, of course, there’s Ted Knight, the late David Knight, Mikaal Tomas, Will Payton and others who’ve operated under the “Starman” name over the course of DC Comics’ long history. Each played a role in Jack’s life in one way or another. Just as Jack himself would influence Starmen (and at least one woman) to follow.
        DC Comics recently re-launched 52 of its titles at #1, essentially rebooting the DC Universe. Again. I thought Absolute Final This Time We Really Mean It We’re Done Now Honest Crisis, the latest in a loooooong line of follow-ups to Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985-1986), was supposed to do that. There are pros and cons to that decision. Pros: DC Comics gets some buzz, and some new readers may jump on board. Cons: Current readers may decide to jump off. Personally, I don’t see how re-numbering a series (much less 52 of them) at #1 does any long-term good. What’s more, high issue numbers reflect DC’s rich history. As has been suggested by others, maybe having volume and issue numbers is the way to go. The high volume numbers of long-running titles (DC Comics has been around since 1935, and Action Comics since 1938) tells of DC’s history; while the issue numbers don’t go higher than 12 (if a title’s a monthly) each year, making a book seem more accessible to new readers than an issue in the triple digits.
        In any event, there’s currently no Starman title among those 52 comics; and I hope that if DC launches such a title in the future, it doesn’t return Jack Knight to that role. As I said, Jack was one of many people to operate under that name. His story’s been told.
        As with the writer who said the movie version of his work(s) didn’t ruin his book(s) because it/they is/are sitting right there on the shelf, wherever DC’s new direction takes them,
    that 1994-2001 run of Starman will be there “on the shelf”, ready to be read.
        And a good read it is.

    Copyright 2011 Patrick Keating

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