Tag Archives: James Robinson

Today’s Super Comics — The Golden Age #1-4 (1993-94)

The Golden Age has a reputation as being Watchmen-lite, but I have to disagree. The two miniseries share some surface similarities. They both examine old-school mystery men through a more adult lens, and Cold War paranoia factors into the plots. But whereas Watchmen deconstructed the genre, The Golden Age also reconstructs it.

After World War II, the members of the Justice Society of America, as well as most other masked heroes, go their separate ways to lead normal lives, with varying degrees of success. Writer James Robinson puts the focus squarely on the people behind the masks, fleshing out characters who had received little development previously.

It’s a large cast, mixing recognizable characters such as the original Green Lantern and Hawkman with obscure ones such as Captain Triumph and the Tarantula. Prominent roles also go to Johnny Quick, Liberty Belle, Hourman, Starman, the original Atom, Robotman, Johnny Thunder…and so many more. In all cases, the miniseries humanizes them and makes each character its own. This isn’t some company-wide crossover with a million guest stars shoehorned in; rather, it’s a complete story that designs each character to serve the larger arc.

The former Mr. America turns to politics, becoming a senator and spearheading a new program of government-backed superheroes with open identities. The new age requires a new type of hero, one without masks or secrets, and answerable to his country. But, of course, the people claiming to have no secrets are the ones with the most to hide.

The climactic action pulls the superheroes and mystery men of yesteryear out of their retirements or semi-retirements. They leap into action, functioning as individuals but showing no regard for their individual well-being.

And the action is incredibly well-choreographed, with lots of characters having specific, important beats to play out. Artist Paul Smith draws it all fluidly, incorporating the best elements of 1940s comic book art—particularly the rough-hewn, innocent purity of amazing super-feats—and tempering it with modern layouts and expressive faces.

The story breaks down these classic characters, but then builds them back up into heroes, showing how they’ll always be needed, no matter how times change. It strips away their innocence, reveals their flaws, and makes their heroic actions all the more meaningful.

Writer: James Robinson

Artist: Paul Smith

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; JSA: The Golden Age (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 15 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Starman #80 (2001)

And that’s the end of James Robinson’s Starman. (Spoilers ahead.)

The series wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was ambitious and distinctive. And it told a complete beginning, middle, and end. This could have been a series of novels as well as comics.

The Jack Knight on the final page of #80 is a much more mature individual than we met back in #0. The biggest indication of maturity is his decision to leave superheroics behind so he can be a father to his children. He passes his cosmic rod on to a worthy successor—Courtney Whitmore, the JSA’s junior member, formerly the Star-Spangled Kid and now Stargirl. (However, while she’s an established JSA character, it would have been nice for her to have more of a role in this series, given that she ends being the official successor to the Starman legacy. But like I said, for all its strengths, it wasn’t a perfect series.)

So in hindsight, it seems the series wasn’t so much about Jack Knight growing into his superhero role—it was about him more generally becoming the man he needed to be. He’s gained a new appreciation and respect for the family he had previously kept at arm’s length, and now he prioritizes his new family. He’s been on quite a journey, and he’s older and wiser for it.

The series is quite an accomplishment—and one I’m glad I finally got around to reading.

Writer: James Robinson

Artist: Peter Snejbjerg

Cover: Tony Harris and Andrew Robinson

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Starman Omnibus vol. 6 (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Starman #72 (2000)

This late in the series, I can’t really review without spoilers, so consider this your warning if you intend to read this series for the first time.

Okay, then in that case…

We get a major development in Starman #72 as the original Starman (Ted Knight) dies a heroic death saving Opal City from his longtime foe, the Mist. His ending is fitting, and it ties back nicely to this series’ first storyline.

What’s most impressive is how before the start of this series, Ted Knight was a nonentity, just another old member of the Justice Society of America. Writer James Robinson built him up into an adventurous scientist, the sort of superhero who lights the darkness rather than casts darkness, one who has retained his heroic edge well into old age even as he’s turned over his Starman identity to his son Jack. In previous issues, flashbacks have colored in his backstory, and he no longer feels like just a part of a lineup. Rather, he’s an integral part of DC’s Golden Age.

In another other important development, Jack Knight meets his infant son. So he becomes a father and loses his father in a single issue. It’s thematically on-the-nose, but appropriate.

Writer: James Robinson

Artist: Peter Snejbjerg

Cover: Andrew Robinson

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Starman Omnibus vol. 6 (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Starman #65 (2000)

Stephen King isn’t the only writer to trap a bunch of people under a dome. James Robinson did it several years earlier in Starman…although this impenetrable dome is pitch black rather than transparent.

The Shade has seemingly reverted to his old evil ways, imperiling everyone within Opal City. Several other villains are working for him, and other superheroes are also trapped within the city. The Elongated Man gets a nice scene that emphasizes the two most important aspects of his character—his detective skills and his loving relationship with his wife Sue.

The story’s most important superhero, obviously, is the current Starman, Jack Knight. From the beginning, the series has made it clear how tremendously important Opal City is to Jack, and now he must fight overwhelming odds to save it…against someone he thought was a friend.

Robinson has set quite a few pieces into place, and the stakes are escalating nicely as we head toward the series’ final year.

Writer: James Robinson

Artist: Peter Snejbjerg

Cover: Andrew Robinson

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Starman Omnibus vol. 6 (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Starman #56 (1999)

There’s a lot to love about James Robinson’s Starman, and issue #56 highlights one of those many fine qualities—a strong supporting cast.

While Jack Knight is off in space in search of a previous Starman, we check in on Opal City and several of its familiar residents, such as Ted Knight, the O’Dare family of cops, Jack’s girlfriend Sadie, and the Shade. The thread holding this particular issue together is a mystery involving the Shade. He’s either returning to a life of crime…or he’s being framed. Time (and a later issue) will tell, but it’s an intriguing set-up that makes good use of the book’s cast.

It also opens the door for several guest stars, another area where the book excels. In this issue alone, we see brief appearances by the Elongated Man, the Phantom Lady, Adam Strange, and the Black Condor. Not a single one is an A-lister, or even close, but that’s part of what makes their appearances welcome.

DC has so many superheroes on the periphery who seldom get a chance to shine but who have plenty of potential, who are just waiting for the right writer to come along with an interesting angle to leverage that potential…which is basically what happened to Starman with this series.

So, yes, as I approach the three-quarters mark of this series, I’m still enjoying it tremendously.

Story: James Robinson and David Goyer

Writer: James Robinson

Pencilers: Stephen Sadowski and Peter Snejbjerg

Inker: Keith Champagne

Cover: Andrew Robinson

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Starman Omnibus vol. 5 (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Starman #48 (1998)

It’s Starman…in spaaaaaaace!!!!

Had to happen eventually, and it happens at the right stage in Jack Knight’s development as a superhero. He’s become increasingly comfortable in the role, so now it’s time to take things to the next level with his first outer space voyage.

He ventures out with a clear mission: He’s searching for one of the previous Starmen, Will Payton (the early ‘90s incarnation of the brand, presumed dead until this point). Turns out, Jack is dating Payton’s sister, Sadie, and she’s not convinced Will is actually dead. So she asks him to find her brother, and how can he say no?

But he also enjoys the opportunity, even if space travel does get a little tedious after the initial excitement. Fortunately, there’s a strange blue planet to land on, a planet where things are not as they seem. It’s all very Star Trek.

Accompanying Jack on this voyage is another Starman predecessor, an alien named Mikaal, as well as a hologram version of his father, the original Starman, Ted Knight. So the “Starman family” feel carries on even into the depths of space. Forty-eight issues in, and to its credit, the book remains focused on that generational theme.

This particular storyline, though, is just kicking off. And it’s off to a great start indeed.

Story: James Robinson and David Goyer

Writer: James Robinson

Penciler: Steve Yeowell

Inker: Keith Champagne

Cover: Tony Harris

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Starman Omnibus vol. 5 (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Starman #44 (1998)

Starman would occasionally take a detour into the past, in a recurring feature labeled “Times Past.” These stories would foreshadow upcoming storylines, fill in details about Opal City’s history, or show us the original Starman (Ted Knight) in action in his prime. It was a great idea for world-building, and it placed the weight of history behind the current Starman (Jack Knight).

Issue #44 takes us back to 1944, when Ted Knight protected Opal, but he’s more of a supporting character this time. This issue reintroduces us to the Phantom Lady, one of the earliest female superheroes, and it establishes her as the cousin of Ted. We also learn she was the one who became a superhero first, and she helped inspire him to do the same. That’s a nice reversal of how things usually go in comics.

The Phantom Lady (Sandra Knight) makes a good first impression here. Not only is she tough and skilled, but she also comes across as a happy hero who genuinely enjoys the work. She makes a welcome addition to the Starman family.

Writer: James Robinson

Penciler: Mike Mayhew

Inker: Wade Von Grawbadger

Cover: Tony Harris

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Starman Omnibus vol. 4 (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Starman #37 (1997)

starman_vol_2_37Starman had an annual tradition. Once a year, Jack Knight would spend an issue chatting with his deceased brother, David, in a dreamlike realm that may or may not have been an actual dream. Each occurrence was titled “Talking with David, [year].”

Pretty much the entire issue would be rendered in black and white except for David in the classic Starman costume, which received full-color treatment. These talks were a clever way to chart Jack’s growth as a superhero and a man by taking a dialogue-oriented break from the action.

The best iteration I’ve read so far is in issue #37, in which the brothers share a meal with the deceased members of the Justice Society of America, including Hourman, Dr. Mid-Nite, the original Black Canary, and others. These first-generation superheroes take turns sharing their wisdom with Jack, while D-list Golden Age hero Red Bee provides some tension with his inexplicably rude behavior…which winds up tying into his own bit of wisdom.

As a special treat, the final page eschews the black-and-white motif with a full-color painted splash page, capping the issue with a suitably vintage look.

Writer: James Robinson

Artist: Tony Harris

Inker: Wade Von Grawbadger

Cover: Tony Harris

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Starman Omnibus vol. 3 (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Starman #27 (1997)

starman_vol_2_27Well, this was good timing. My read-through of Starman happened to coincide with a Christmas issue just in time for the holiday.

Admittedly, #27 isn’t one of the best issues so far (the quality has been consistently high to the point that the competition for “best” is fierce indeed, so that’s hardly a dig). But it’s a solid Christmas issue that shows us quiet moments with the ever-evolving cast, and it ends on a heartwarming note.

The plot is highly suitable for the holidays: Jack encounters a sad, homeless Santa Claus and helps him reclaim a lost memento, even though doing so makes him late for Christmas dinner with family and friends. He gets to be the selfless superhero in a smaller way than usual—the fate of the city is not at stake, but Jack’s help means the world to this man who’s hit hard times.

Impressively, writer James Robinson gives the homeless man quite a bit of development for a single issue, elevating the character beyond any cliches.

So basically, the book does exactly what a Christmas issue should, making it a great read this time of year.

Writer: James Robinson

Artist: Steve Yeowell

Inker: Wade Von Grawbadger

Cover: Tony Harris

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Starman Omnibus vol. 2 (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Starman #21 (1996)

starman_vol_2_21Sandman’s “Sand and Stars” storyline gives us a team-up with thematic weight, as the new Starman meets the original Sandman, Wesley Dodds.

This Sandman has nothing to do with the Neil Gaiman lord of dreams version. Dodds was just a detective with a sleeping-gas gun and gasmask—he’s a character who straddled the line between the masked mystery men of the 1930s and the early superheroes of the 1940s. As a member of the Justice Society of America, he worked with the original Starman, Ted Knight, the father of this series’ Starman.

The elderly Sandman is an excellent choice for a team-up with Jack Knight, who also doesn’t fit the mold of a typical superhero. (One point of common ground: They both eschew the standard cape-and-tights look.) By this point, Jack’s affinity for old things is well established, and here’s one of the very first superheroes—though Jack is more excited to meet Dodds’s wife, acclaimed author Dian Belmont. Nevertheless, Dodds serves as someone from Ted Knight’s past that Jack can genuinely admire and connect with.

The entire four-part storyline is excellent, and the inclusion of an airship is an appropriately retro touch. But the second part, in issue #21, highlights an interesting character element—Jack’s fear of growing old, a reminder of which is staring him in the face when he’s with the octogenarian Dodds. Jack’s father should already be that old, though comic book mechanics have delayed that…but it’s coming. And later, if he survives all the criminals, super-villains, and death rays, old age will eventually come for Jack, too:

“…I must one day face the old man who will look out from the mirror. And I hope, at least, that old man has a young heart.”

It’s a mature fear for a superhero, and one anyone over 30 can relate to.

Writer: James Robinson

Artist: Tony Harris

Inker: Wade Von Grawbadger

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Starman Omnibus vol. 2 (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up