Review by Ian Keogh
Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. was the first feature Geoff Johns wrote at DC, and despite Courtney Whitmore hanging out with the JSA when Johns later wrote that, it seemed she’d sunk into oblivion. Yet, DC’s TV shows don’t always pick on obvious characters, and with a Stargirl show in the offing, the only relevant graphic novel DC could release to coincide combines the two volumes of her earliest appearances.
The material dates from 1999 and 2000, and Johns’ intention had been to write a strong young girl as a lead character, and build an audience of teenage girl readers based on that. He was a little ahead of his time with the latter intention, but seems to have given up on it relatively early in the run, as much of what’s here depends on the backstory of Courtney’s stepfather Pat Dugan, once a 1940s hero named Stripesy. Yes, by the millennium that no longer played, so his activities are piloting an armoured suit, given a nice goofy design by main artist Lee Moder.
With the caveat that Johns’ up to the minute social life for a fourteen year old in 1999 has probably dated greatly, he was more successful in establishing a likeable and strong lead character in Courtney. She might not always follow the rules, but knows when they’re stupid, and also knows her own mind, while the plots Johns rolls out always enable her to display her ingenuity. However, let’s not give the impression this is prime Geoff Johns. The villains are largely dumb, and the school supporting cast are stereotypes, but there are the nice little touches that would come to characterise his later work.
Moder as main artist isn’t ideal. At this stage of his career he was gradually evolving a cartoon style, but without any great sense of how to tell a story, leading to some very messy looking pages. This is also due to the viewpoint almost always being very close in on the characters. The one story drawn by Chris Weston shows how things could look different, and while Weston’s refinement can’t be expected from every artist, it really is a chalk and cheese combination. Scott Kolins also draws three stories, then just beginning his career and his style still evolving, but already well ahead of Moder when it comes to telling the story effectively.
Much of the book’s second half has strong ties to Pat’s former career and allies, several of whom show up. Johns must have been very confident the teenage girls of 2000 would enjoy a succession of threats to Blue Valley with their roots in the 1940s. Earlier guest stars like Shazam and Young Justice are perhaps nearer the mark.
The best guess is that anyone picking this collection up on the basis of actress Brec Bassinger costumed as Stargirl isn’t going to be very impressed, but readers who love 1940s superheroes will find Stargirl of greater interest.