This Week’s Haul

A huge week this week, the most expensive I can recall in recent memory. (Okay, I bought some Magic cards, too, since my Worldwake booster boxes haven’t arrived yet.) Two hardcovers, two paperbacks, and a goodly set of books.

  • Green Lantern #51, by Geoff Johns & Doug Mahnke (DC)
  • Green Lantern Corps #45, by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Rebecca Buchman, Keith Champagne & Tom Nguyen (DC)
  • Power Girl #9, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • The Starman Omnibus vol 4 HC, by James Robinson, Jerry Ordway, Tony Harris,Peter Krause, Mike Mignola, Gary Erskine, Matt Smith, Mike Mayhew, Gene Ha, Wade Von Grawbadger, Dick Giordano & others (DC)
  • Fantastic Four: In Search of Galactus HC, by Marv Wolfman, Keith Pollard, John Buyne, Sal Buscema & Joe Sinnott (Marvel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #23, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wed Craig & Serge LaPointe (Marvel)
  • The Incredible Hercules #141, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente & Rodney Buchemi (Marvel)
  • Marvels: Eye of the Camera #6 of 6, by Kurt Busiek, Roger Stern & Jay Anacleto (Marvel)
  • Incorruptible #3, by Mark Waid, Jean Diaz & Belardino Brabo (Boom)
  • Star Trek: Romulans: Pawns of War TPB, by John Byrne (IDW)
  • Invincible #70, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
  • Jack Staff: Rocky Realities vol 4 TPB, by Paul Grist (Image)
  • Atomic Robo: Revenge of the Vampire Dimension #1 of 4, by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Red 5)
After a long delay, the final issue of Marvels: Eye of the Camera is out this week. My adoration of Kurt Busiek‘s writing knows few bounds, but this is not one of his best series. It follows the protagonist of the first series, Daily Bugle photographer Phil Sheldon, after he learns that he has cancer, and his life in the 1970s and 80s as he watches the Marvel universe develop around him. But rather than being an everyman’s chronicle of key points in the development of Marvel’s world, it’s a rather glum, somewhat sentimental portrayal of Phil coming to grips with the end of his life. And where the first Marvels spotlighted some of the truly great moments of early Marvel comics, few of the scenes depicted in Eye of the Camera measure up. This final issue shows a fight between the X-Men and… someone, a story I dimly remember as it was published around the time I decided X-Men had become unreadable and I dropped it, but compared to the Human Torch vs. the Sub-Mariner, or the Fantastic Four vs. Galactus, it’s an almost comically trivial encounter.

The best stuff in the series really does feature Sheldon, particular in this issue when the mutant Maggie, who as a girl hid out in the Sheldons’ baseman, returns to visit Phil on his deathbed, and they reminisce about that, and Phil puts a big chunk of his life into perspective.

But on the other hand, in a world in which characters survive and barely age for decades, it’s especially sad to see a likable, practically heroic, man like Phil die quietly like he does, and be buried in the ground like anyone else while superheroes fly overhead. As a writer himself (Phil is a writer as well as a photographer), and given his medical history over the last decade, I’m sure Busiek is putting some of his own thoughts and feelings down in this story. It’s not that it doesn’t work at all, but despite Phil’s attempts to put a brave face on his last moments and his legacy, it ends up feeling like too little, not rewarding enough for Phil or for us reading about him.

Jay Anacleto is no Alex Ross, and his figures and expressions often feel a little stiff, and too understated. And where Ross brought a surprising degree of verisimilitude to the superhero sequences he painted, Anacleto can’t duplicate the feat here.

Overall I was disappointed in Eye of the Camera, feeling that the sense of wonder that drove the first Marvels series to be mostly missing, and not really being compelled by the personal drama that was driving the story. I imagine people who read character drama-driven independent comics would get more out of the book than I did, but then people who read those comics are not very likely to pick up a Marvel title.

It’s time for another plug of the lovely Starman omnibus hardcovers that DC is publishing. The series was not entirely collected in paperback, and it’s neat to be able to read the whole thing, including a lot of ancillary material, in this oversized package.

The run is reaching the end of its heyday, as Tony Harris didn’t last a lot beyond this point (we’re up to issue #46 with this volume), and Peter Snejbjerg is a decent artist but he doesn’t have anywhere near the range or rendering awesomeness of Harris. This volume collects the crossover with The Power of SHAZAM, which was a lot of fun as an example of how a non-mainstream series can interact with a completely mainstream one, as well as the excellent Starman 80-Page Giant which featured a story with each Starman character up to that point, including the mysterious Starman of 1951. Plus they collect the Batman/Starman/Hellboy mini-series, which I’d completely forgotten about. Finally, they set things up for the next major story arc, in which Jack Knight goes into outer space to find his girlfriend’s missing brother.

I’d thought the omnibus series was intended to be 6 volumes, but with another 34 issues to go, I bet it’ll be 7 or 8 instead, especially if they include – for instance, the first arc of JSA, in which Jack Knight appeared in a supporting role (as James Robinson helped launch that series). Regardless, I’ll be very happy to have this whole set on my shelf.

Another excellent hardcover collection of a great Marvel Comics story from my childhood. Back in the early 1970s, after first Jack Kirby and then Stan Lee had left the Fantastic Four, the book really suffered creatively. In the late 70s, Marv Wolfman took over writing and editing the book and produced a memorable run full of action, adventure, and character drama – really, bringing it back to the roots that Lee and Kirby had brought up. This era is largely forgotten for two reasons: First, because John Byrne’s later run – actually only about a year and a half later – has been so acclaimed that it’s utterly eclipsed Wolfman’s run. Second, because Wolfman’s run was awkwardly aborted; I’m not sure why, but I suspect it had to do with personality clashes when Jim Shooter became editor-in-chief of Marvel (both Wolfman and longtime Marvel veteran Roy Thomas jumped to DC around that time). Wolfman had spent his two years on the title setting up some long-term plot threads, the most major of which was somewhat abruptly wrapped up after Wolfman left, and another of which – really just a moment of foreshadowing – was dealt with two years later by Byrne. It’s too bad, because I’d have liked to see Wolfman have the chance to build a legacy on the FF similar to that of Lee and Kirby. On the other hand, his departure not only opened the door for Byrne’s run (which is quite good), but also meant Wolfman could write The New Teen Titans, which is, frankly, even better.

This collection is a terrific outer-space odyssey in which Xandar – home of the Nova Corps – recruits the FF to help defend them against a Skrull armada. The FF are captured and sentenced to death – via a ray which will cause them to age to that point in just 3 days. Meanwhile, one of Xandar’s allies, the Sphinx, unlocks the power of his mystical gemstone and goes insane, displaying a cosmic level of power, and returning to Earth planning to reshape his homeworld. The FF are forced into a faustian bargain with Galactus to have the world-eater stop the Sphinx, after which all they have to do is find a way to stop Galactus and save themselves from the ravages of accelerated time.

Wolfman tells as good an adventure story as you’d have found in comics of the day, certainly the equal of what Chris Claremont and Byrne were doing on X-Men, and with art by Byrne, Keith Pollard, and longtime FF inker Joe Sinnott. If you’re a fan of any era of the FF, check this one out, because it’s really good. The current series by Jonathan Hickman and Dale Eaglesham doesn’t really compare, even though it’s not bad by any means.

John Byrne’s Romulans comics get collected this month. His Star Trek comics for IDW (other than Assignment: Earth) are in my mind the best Trek comics I’ve seen since Mike W. Barr and Tom Sutton’s run for DC: He’s got the classic Trek look down, and he’s playing around in the backwaters of the universe while still telling recognizably Trek stories.

This collection is an arc which comes out of the classic episode Balance of Terror (one chapter of the book tells that story from the point of view of the Romulan commander, memorably played by Mark Lenard), and involves the Klingon/Romulan alliance, heavily based around the Klingons trying to manipulate the Romulans to get around the Organian peace treaty. It’s a pretty good story overall, although it has a disappointing ending (the Organians show up and, well, that’s it for the conflict), and when most of the major characters are anti-heroes or villains, well, it’s hard to root for anyone. Still, good stuff. I hope Byrne has more Star Trek stories in the pipeline, because I’d read ’em.

This Week’s Haul

Hey, would you look at this, it’s an entry finally posted in a timely manner!

  • The Brave and the Bold #31, by J. Michael Straczynski, Chad Hardin, Justiniano, Wayne Faucher & Walden Wong (DC)
  • Fables #92, by Bill Willingham & David Lapham (DC/Vertigo)
  • Green Lantern Corps #44, by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Rebecca Buchman, Tom Nguyen & Keith Champagne (DC)
  • Power Girl #8, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • Starman #81, by James Robinson, Fernando Dagnino & Bill Sienkiewicz (DC)
  • The Incredible Hercules #140, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lante & Rodney Buchemi (Marvel)
  • Nova #33, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Andrea DiVito (Marvel)
  • The Thing: Project Pegasus deluxe HC, by Ralph Macchio, Mark Gruenwald, Sal Buscema, John Byrne, George Pérez, Sam Grainger, Alfredo Alcala, Joe Sinnott & Gene Day (Marvel)
  • X-Men: The Asgardian Wars HC, by Chris Claremont, Paul Smith, Arthur Adams, Bob Wiacek, Terry Austin, Al Gordon & Mike Mignola (Marvel)
  • Incorruptible #2, by Mark Waid, Jean Diaz & Belardino Brabo (Boom)
  • RASL #6, by Jeff Smith (Cartoon)
The Brave and the Bold #31 I picked up a couple of DC books this week which are largely humorous, but they couldn’t be much more different if they’d tried. The Brave and the Bold features the uncomfortable pairing of the Atom and the Joker, where the Joker is suffering from a brain illness, and only the Atom can save him, by shrinking down far enough to deliver a capsule to a point in his brain that might cure him – or kill him. The story opens with Atom being unable to get to Arkham at first because he can only travel through land telephone lines, not cell phones, and then features several pages of Atom refusing to help save the Joker until he’s told that the cure might not even work, so Atom could do his best and still fail. The phone idea is cute, as long as you don’t think about it too hard (throwing an arbitrary limit on an ability that doesn’t make much sense in the first place is always silly; wouldn’t Atom also have trouble with fiber optic cables in the phone system?), but wrestling with his conscience doesn’t work at all. The Atom if an old-style hero who’s largely stuck to those roots, and while he might lament the need to save the life of an enemy, his over-the-top heart-wringing here feels completely out of character.

The rest of the story is okay, and played more seriously: While in the Joker’s brain, Atom gets flashes of Joker’s childhood memories – the making of a psychopath, as it were. It’s not terribly insightful, and has flashes of gallows humor, which still isn’t terribly funny. There’s isn’t much covered here that hasn’t been covered in many Joker stories previously, and the story wasn’t as satisfying overall as, say, John Byrne’s tale in his Generations series where one Batman has to save the Joker from being haunted to death by the ghost of an earlier Batman.

But mostly it’s that the humorous bits go so horribly wrong that makes this story rather painful to read. Quite a letdown after last month’s decent Green Lantern/Doctor Fate yarn. The format of The Brave and the Bold seems to be exposing many of Straczynski’s flaws as a writer, and it’s not pretty.

Power Girl #8 On the other hand, while the set-up of this 2-part Power Girl story disappointed me, the payoff in this issue is considerably funnier. Okay, the cliffhanger from last month gets handled in 4 pages (despite “hours of fighting” having elapsed between issues), but after that, rather than PG being (theoretically) at the mercy of Vartox, she manages to tame him down to civilized levels, and laughs out loud at some of the ridiculousness of his plans. There are several giggle-worthy moments in the issue, and everything works out for the best for both characters.

I still think Power Girl would be better served with some more serious stories – since very little about the series has been serious so far – but at least they got the lightheartedness of this issue right. And certainly more right than Straczynski did in The Brave and the Bold.

Starman #81 The most-heralded Blackest Night series revival has to be this one issue of James Robinson’s Starman. Naturally Robinson – who writes the issue – sticks to his guns by having Jack Knight stay retired despite his brother being raised by the black lantern rings to wreak havoc on Opal City; instead we catch up with some of his supporting cast to see where they’ve ended up since Jack left and his father died. Naturally the Shade figures as the prominent hero. It’s a clever way to do another Starman issue without really doing another Starman issue. Even the art evokes some of the low-key feel of the original series, although I’ve never been a big fan of Bill Sienkiewicz’s endless squiggles as an inker.

It works as an add-on to the original series, rather than just a cynical Blackest Night tie-in. (Don McPherson notes that readers of the series are likely to enjoy the issue more than people surfing by due to the tie-in, which is exactly right.)

I’ve heard a rumor (which may be baseless) that Robinson is interested in doing a Shade series. I’d totally sign up for that.

The Thing: Project Pegasus If you want to see how they did good superhero comics when I was a teenager (in the 1980s), Marvel has two fine hardcover collections out this week. First (and best), is the Thing in Project Pegasus, from his old Marvel Two-in-One series. If you can believe it, there was once a series (it ran for 100 issues!) which mostly featured this member of the Fantastic Four teaming up with a different hero every month, often with good stories and better artwork. Project Pegasus was the apex of the series, a 6-issue story featuring some third- and fourth-string supporting characters, but what made it work was the setting: Ol’ blue-eyes signs on for a tour as a security guard at Project Pegasus, a high-security prison and research institute for super-powered criminals, as well as heroes and innocents who need some sort of high-tech treatment. During his stint, an outside organization infiltrates the project for their own nefarious aims, leading to a major disaster (when their main agent goes rogue) which Ben and company have to fight.

Admittedly, the motivations of the infiltrating organization are a little vague, but it’s still cracking good superhero adventure stuff. Great art by Byrne, Pérez and company, too. The series has also been collected in paperback in the past, but the hardcover has a 2-part story which introduced Pegasus 2 years earlier. Check it out.

X-Men: The Asgardian Wars Then there’s X-Men: The Asgardian Wars, which was arguably Chris Claremont’s last hurrah as a great comics writer. The Uncanny X-Men and New Mutants titles (the main X-books in the late 80s) had been spluttering along in gradual artistic decline (in my opinion) when Claremont put together this pair of 2-part stories featuring Marvel’s mutants facing off against the Norse god Loki. First Loki tries to gain favors from even more powerful gods by forcing a boon on humanity, and the X-Men and the Canadian team Alpha Flight have to deal with the consequences. Then, perturbed by the X-Men’s interference, Loki abducts Storm (who was powerless at the time) and accidentally knocks a collection of New Mutants across the realm of Asgard, where they find themselves rather out of their league. The X-Men join in the fun to foil Loki, who’s really just entertaining himself while waiting for the right moment to make a play for the throne of Asgard.

The first story is one of Claremont’s better moral dilemmas for his characters, putting the heroes on opposite sides of a complex issue, and it’s lushly illustrated by the great Paul Smith. The second story more of a straightforward adventure story, and it’s drawn by Arthur Adams just as he was getting good, although it still has a little too much of the “boobs, boobs and more boobs” style he sometimes lapses into, and the finishes are not as clean nor the work as detailed as his later stuff.

But honestly I think this was the last great X-Men story. Yeah yeah, Grant Morrison, Josh Whedon, Warren Ellis, blah blah blah. None of them turned out X-Men stories as good as this. And this was just the last gasp of the “All-New, All-Different X-Men”; it used to be even better.

This Week’s Haul

  • Green Lantern #38, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #24, by Geoff Johns, Jerry Ordway & Bob Wiacek (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #8, by Matt Wagner, Amy Reeder Hadley & Richard Friend (DC/Vertigo)
  • The Starman Omnibus vol 2 of 6 HC, by James Robins, Tony Harris, Wade Von Grawbadger, Craig Hamilton, John Watkiss, Steve Yeowell & others (DC)
  • The Incredible Hercules #125 & 126, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Salva Espin, Clayton Henry, Rodney Buchemi, Greg Adams & Takeshi Miyazawa (Marvel)
  • Marvels: Eye of the Camera #4 of 6, by Kurt Busiek & Jay Anacleto (Marvel)
  • Nova #22, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Andrea Divito (Marvel)
  • Gigantic #3 of 5, by Rick Remender & Eric Nguyen (Dark Horse)
  • Mister X: Condemned #3 of 4, by Dean Motter (Dark Horse)
  • The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #4 of 6, by Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)
  • The Complete Peanuts: 1971-1972, by Charles M. Schultz (Fantagraphics)
Starman Omnibus vol 2 Man do I ever appreciate DC publishing James Robinson’s Starman in this nice hardcover omnibus series. Not only does it collect some issues which weren’t in the trade paperbacks, but it collects some odds-and-ends stories from other titles which I’ve never read at all! There are two Shade stories here which I’d never read before, one of which is actually relevant to later events in the series.

This particular volume has both one of my least-favorite stories in the series (Jack Knight and the Shade face a demon on the other side of a magical painting), but it also contains my hands-down favorite story, in which Jack meets Wes Dodds, the original Sandman – now a man in his 80s – and they investigate a series of murders. The story is sort of a sequel to Matt Wagner’s Sandman Mystery Theatre, and explores the relationships that heroes have to one another, the camaraderie which leads to a sort of friendship where a friendship wouldn’t otherwise exist. It’s also one of the most blatant examples of generational relationships in superhero comics, as Dodds is clearly at least one generation, if not two, removed from Jack Knight. (I don’t think it’s ever clearly stated, but I think Jack is himself in his 30s, rather old for a superhero, especially a novice one.)

There are many good standalone stories in here, too: The original Starman’s first battle with The Mist (which leads into the Sandman/Starman story), and “The Return of Bobo”, in which a small-time villain gets out of jail and returns to Opal City, to the worry of the police and Jack Knight. Bobo is one of the series’ best characters, as is immediately evident from this story. But Starman is similar to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman in that the standalone stories build up the background of the series and eventually contribute important pieces to the characters and ongoing storyline. And even if not every detail is crucial, most stories are enjoyable on their own.

James Robinson is sorely missed in comics – at least by me; these days I think he mainly works in Hollywood. But this volume of Starman reminds me that he really was one of the most sophisticated writers in the business. In some ways the best is yet to come, but in many ways the best is right here in this book.

Marvels: Eye of the Camera #4 I’ve been disappointed in Marvels: Eye of the Camera so far, and I think I know why: The strong character arc of the original Marvels, and the strong sense of time and place of each issue of that series, is missing here. Eye feels like it’s one brief glimpse of 1970s and 80s Marvel after another, without the depth that gives the glimpses meaning. Granted, the period covered so far is mostly not an iconic period in Marvel’s publishing history (the Claremont/Byrne X-Men aside), but I still think it would have been a much better series if it had been pared down to fewer incidents.

This issue primarily focuses on the wake of the Secret Wars series, especially the second one, in which the godlike Beyonder comes to Earth and trails destruction in his wake. It’s okay, but it still feels like a series of vignettes. It’s loosely connected by Phil Sheldon’s ongoing battle with cancer, but the series just isn’t working for me.

There’s still time for Busiek to pull it off, but it’s been a rather haphazard story so far.

Gigantic #3 Greg Burgas wonders why Gigantic isn’t a better comic book. I think the answer’s pretty simple: While it’s a high-concept action story (“The Earth’s just a setting for alien reality TV programming”), it’s really a very depressing one. The lead character is a man who was turned into a gladiator for the aliens when he was younger, and has come back to his homeworld a hunted man. Catastrophe, tragedy and a whole lot of punching ensues. The first three issues haven’t really expanded on the premise very much, it’s continued to just be a lot of tragedy and punching with no light visible at the end of the tunnel. I have a similar problem with the other Remender series I’m reading, The End League. I can deal with dark comics series, but these aren’t just dark, they’re bleak. So they’re not much fun.

For a much better take on a very similar premise, try Dan Vado’s The Griffin. While the art in that one is a little iffy, the story is first-rate. If you can find the original DC Comics prestige-format mini-series (6 issues), that’s even better, since the SLG collection is in black-and-white.

This Week’s Haul

  • Action Comics #865, by Geoff Johns & Jesus Moreno (DC)
  • All-Star Superman #11, by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely (DC)
  • Final Crisis #1 of 7, by Grant Morrison & J.G. Jones (DC)
  • Fables #73, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #42, by Jim Shooter, Francis Manapul & Livesay (DC)
  • Starman Omnibus vol 1 HC, by James Robinson, Tony Harris & Wade Con Grawbadger and others (DC)
  • Thor #9, by J. Michael Straczynski, Oliver Coipel & Mark Morales (Marvel)
Final Crisis #1 I have a post languishing in my FP drafts which partly has the theme that “Grant Morrison’s writing isn’t all that” (I later published it here). Still, Morrison is one of the hottest writers in comics today, so it’s not surprising that DC tapped him to write their big event mini-series of 2008, Final Crisis. In theory, it’s the culmination of several years worth of storylines, from Identity Crisis and Infinite Crisis through Countdown to Final Crisis and its attendant spin-offs.

The days when event mini-series could be more than a cynical corporate-driven production seem to be far behind us, and Final Crisis #1 seems to demonstrate this. The issue is a series of vignettes setting up the larger story – a tried-and-true but overused device. But the story seems completely disconnected from what was purportedly the set-up for this very series: A group of villains have a sinister gathering, but with no apparent reference to Salvation Run (whose final issue hasn’t shipped yet). A New God is found dead on Earth, but there’s no reference to Death of the New Gods, even though Superman was a key player in that story and he’s present here. And it can’t be that this sequence is a flashback, because the dead New God is a key player in Death. There’s a scene with the Monitors which feels at odds with Countdown, and another with Terrible Turpin which also seems in conflict with Death of the New Gods. (Graeme McMillan has noticed all this, too.)

So either Morrison is playing a deep game – and I wouldn’t put it past him, because he can be a crafty writer, albeit sometimes too crafty for his own good – or he’s pretty much ignoring all the set-up, either for his own purposes, or because DC editorial decided to cut their losses on the Countdown and make Final Crisis stand on its own. Which isn’t a bad idea given how ineptly plotted Countdown was, but it makes for a bizarre read.

Anyway, it’s far too early to tell whether all of this is going anywhere at all, because this is just the tip of the beginning of a story. “In medias res” seems like a lost concept in mainstream comics these days.

J.G. Jones’ artwork is good, although I wasn’t bowled over it like Valerie D’Orazio was. I found his layouts to be very stiff, and his finishes a little too slick. Tony Harris is the master of this quasi-photo-realistic style of comics art, and it’s extremely hard to pull off. I think Jones’ art here would have been better if he’d let a little Kirby dynamism (or even Sekowski quirkiness) creep into his layouts.

In sum, is it a good start? Well, it would be if I wasn’t so cynical about the whole thing, which seems like little more than an endeavor to separate customers from their money more than anything else. It wouldn’t surprise me if, two years from now, Final Crisis proved to be as forgettable as both Identity Crisis and Infinite Crisis are today.

Starman omnibus volume 1 James Robinson’s Starman was one of the best comics series of the 1990s. In fact, I’ve found that people who liked Neil Gaiman’s Sandman often also enjoyed Starman. Oddly, although most of Starman has been collected in trade paperbacks, there were a few stray issues which were never collected. But the answer to that problem has arrived in the form of the Starman omnibus series, which apparently will collect the entire 80-issue series, plus annuals, crossovers and other major appearances of the character, in six high-quality hardcover volumes. This first volume collects the first 18 issues, which fully establishes the main character and his world.

Starman was originally a golden age superhero, Ted Knight, who invented a “gravity rod” which gave him powers somewhat similar to Green Lantern’s, later refined to a “cosmic rod”. In Robinson’s “alternate world” graphic novel, The Golden Age (also well worth reading), he portrayed Knight as having become mentally unstable after he saw that his contributions to physics helped create the atom bomb. Robinson retained that element for the in-continuity series, and also revealed that he’d gotten married and had two children, Jack and David. Jack was a rebel and wanted to tread his own path, completely separate from his father’s career, while David was all-too-happy to take on the mantle of Starman when Ted retired.

Unfortunately David’s career lasted only a couple of adventures, and this volume opens with David being killed as the opening gambit of a crime wave masterminded by Ted’s old nemesis, the Mist. Reluctantly, Jack employs his father’s cosmic rod to stop the bad guys, eventually ending up with a distinctive staff, and eschewing the usual superhero costume in favor of a leather jacket and stylish goggles, with no secret identity. Along the way he gathers his own arch-enemy in the form of the Mist’s daughter, Nash.

Starman is the very best sort of continuity-laden story: Rather than expecting you to know about the character’s background or have read about all the other figures who populate the book, Robinson simply draws together the interesting figures with their own unique histories and employs them as he would supporting characters in any other story. He explains their stories where appropriate, and completely ignores them where they’re not relevant. It’s truly a novel (or series of novels) which just happens to feature characters who have also appeared elsewhere.

The reason all this works so well is that fundamentally Starman is about family and friendships. Jack comes to appreciate and love his father, and his father comes to understand Jack’s need for a distinctive identity. Robinson brings back three other characters who have had the name Starman, turning one of them – a blue-skinned alien named Mikaal – into one of Jack’s closest friends. He creates a fictional setting, Opal City, in which Starman is a valued protector and hero, and whose police force befriends and supports Jack not just for his father’s sake, but in his own right. And Robinson especially has fun with the villains who aren’t really villains, taking pains to examine the motivations of what makes these people do bad things. Some of them are simply insane or avaricious, of course, but his most complex character, the Shade, is sometimes a villain and sometimes a hero and has his own deep motivations and feelings about what he does. The Shade stories are among the best episodes of the series. And there are many other characters who appear later in the series, too.

This theme of family and friendship is one thing that makes Starman similar to Sandman. Also like Gaiman, Robinson has an ear for realistic dialogue, especially for people thrown into the fantastic situations both series naturally feature. (People often praise Brian Michael Bendis’ ear for dialogue in the same way; I find Bendis’ dialogue to sound extremely stilted and unnatural, about as far removed in its way from Gaiman and Robinson as that written by Stan Lee.) Also like Sandman Starman took about a year to really find its footing and feel confident and consistent, and it also has stretches in the middle where it drags on. Nonetheless, it’s every bit the equal of Gaiman’s masterpiece, while remaining a unique voice in its own right.

The first half of the series was illustrated by Tony Harris, whom I mentioned in the Final Crisis piece above. This is some of Harris’ early work, and the first story arc feels rather unpolished, further held back by some very flat and unsympathetic coloring. But the “Talking With David” episode in the middle of the volume shows Harris making a quantum leap in his style and rendering, and by the end of the book the art looks basically the way I remembered it; his growth as an artist is that significant. Harris is such a distinct artist that I don’t really know how great an effect his inker, Wad Von Grawbadger, has on his style. I think Harris is such a strong artist that few inkers could really affect his style in a significant way.

In sum, this is an excellent series which I highly recommend if you haven’t read it before. At 50 bucks a pop this omnibus set will not be a cheap way to read it, but you will get the whole story in a high-quality package. I’m personally going to enjoy the whole thing.