Review by Frank Plowright
James Robinson’s recreation of Starman evolved into an inspiring and bravura title, one that spread its narrative threads far and wide, and by the end of the material collected here it’s settled into an impressive groove.
Although not apparent immediately, the person that counts the most is Jack Knight, twenty something son of Ted, now in his latter years, but in his time both an extremely accomplished scientific engineer and the fin-helmeted superhero Starman. Jack, as is often the way, has little interest in his family’s past while being obsessed with other aspects of years gone by, and leaves the legacy superhero career to his brother David. In fact, in places, Jack is quite the self-obsessed dick. A decent facet of the series is how the father indulges the son, retaining a perspective on youth. When Jack does evolve, from necessity, into the superhero, he deliberately avoids costume, instead wearing a distinctive leather jacket and night sight lenses. It’s a very contemporary and distinctive design from artist Tony Harris, as is so much of the series.
Robinson doesn’t only re-boot Starman. Within these pages we have fascinating makeovers or recreations for villains the Shade, the Mist and Solomon Grundy, and a credible reworking of a previous hero named Starman. He won’t be the last. Characterisation is strong throughout, and an inspired introduction is the various members of the O’Dare family, who’ve served in Opal’s police force for generations. Their differing personalities play into plots, and it’s the corrupt Matt O’Dare given the most prominence to begin with.
Also very important to the series is the look of Opal City, a jewel in the plains, designed by Harris with an art-deco masterpiece adjacent to a neo-classical columned edifice, then a distinctively modernist residential area. Would that we could all live in such a glorious city. Harris’ page layouts are equally impressive, but the people within them are often stiff and awkwardly posed, the result of photographic reference. His inker of choice, Wade Von Grawbadger has a complementary delicacy.
Two stories here don’t appear in the two paperbacks otherwise collected, Sins of the Father and Night and Day, both bumped to the fourth paperback collection Times Past, presumably on the basis that neither is illustrated by Harris. Ted Knight, the original Starman, considers old foe Rag Doll the most dangerous of the villains he faced, and Matt Smith illustrates a story set in the 1940s explaining why, although Smith is poor by the end. The other is set in 1882, and has the Shade investigating a matter that will have later consequences in the series, and guest stars Oscar Wilde. How often can one say that about a superhero story? Teddy Kristiansen illustrates this on the way to his now familiar jagged style.
Throughout his series Robinson returns to innovative plot templates used here for the first time. There’s the annual get-together between Jack and his brother, a tale from the journals kept by the long-lived Shade, and stories exempting Jack to concentrate on the well-rounded supporting cast.
An engrossing and stylish-looking read is provided here, and the good news is that Starman has yet to hit its peak.