Short Box: Starman Compendium One


It’s a new feature – quick takes on comics that provide some overall thoughts without all of the lengthy personal anecdotes (there will still be some, just not very long, hopefully), interior art, or in-depth examination of the plot. Why “Short Box?” It’s what I could think of that fit the general theme of comic book storage and also indicated brevity. If you have a better suggestion, I’m all for it.

Starman Compendium One

Release: Aug 17, 2021

When the original Starman’s old foe the Mist continues an old vendetta, Jack Knight is forced into a role he’s spent his whole life denying: Jack will have to pick up Starman’s Cosmic Rod. Soon Jack finds himself flung into a life he never wanted for himself…but it just might be his destiny! Watch Starman go up against the Mist, the Shade, and even Captain Marvel! Starman Compendium One collects Starman #0-42, Starman 80-Page Giant #1, Starman Annual #1-2, Starman Secret Files #1, Showcase ’95 #12, Showcase ’96 #4-5, The Power of SHAZAM! #35-36, and The Shade #1-4.

By the time Starman came out in the ’90s, I had already cut way down on my comics purchases, and not long after, I entered my lengthy comics hiatus. When I got back into comics and started playing catch up on what I’d missed, I skipped over it, as Jack Knight’s career as a superhero had already ended.

Still, people raved about the book, so I intended to get to it eventually. Eventually has arrived, and…uh…huh.

As I’ve been saying a lot elsewhere, I get why people like it, and if I had picked it up at the time, I might have been one of those diehard fans. But reading it decades later, I can’t help but be put off by what a hipster douchebag Jack Knight is or think that the most heroic thing he ever did was stop trying to be a superhero.

There’s an extent to which that seems to be the whole point. Jack is very reluctantly doing the hero thing because it’s part of his legacy as the son of Ted Knight, the original Starman, and whose brother David died after taking on that role, even though he’d rather spend all of his time engaged in his little hipster douchebag activities, though he has to – reluctantly – admit that he’s kind of enjoying himself.

The problem is that while Jack stumbles along eking out victories Greatest American Hero-style, we keep being told that he’s actually good at being a superhero. Even (an incredibly poorly-written) Batman eventually comes to think that Jack is the bee’s knees.

Someone suggested that Jack was meant to be a Generation X hero, and I can see that, but his apparent age puts him on the Boomer/Gen-X cusp, and writer James Robinson is himself a Boomer, so it’s more like a Boomer’s idea of a Gen-X hero, which, I think, gives Jack an insufferable “le wrong generation” vibe.

The other issue is that it’s a series that puts a lot of focus on the supporting characters – and the city itself is one of them – which would be fine if I actually cared about any of them. A couple are interesting, some are boring, and some are just plain irritating. (I do not care one whit for any member of the O’Dare family.)

One of the few interesting side characters is the immortal Golden Age villain The Shade, who calls Opal City home and has befriended Jack. Shade is a kind of gentleman villain and has, at the moment, settled into a quiet life, and was never inclined to ply his trade in Opal, choosing instead to mostly play a game of cat and mouse in Central City with Jay Garrick, and later, Barry Allen.

The problem is, Shade is the source of my biggest annoyance: many issues are stories told via Shade’s journal, which leads to page after page of excessive – and often florid – prose presented in a handwriting font designed to mimic the look of a journal entry that is a crime against aging eyes.

It’s also annoying in that some of those journal entries interrupt the flow of a story arc. One issue might end on a cliffhanger only to be followed by an issue or two in which we get a story from Shade’s journal about something that happened in London in 1850 that – eventually – provides some context into what is happening, or will happen, in Opal in the present.

Are there things I like? Sure. Sometimes, despite himself, Jack can be amusing. And while I don’t necessarily like all of the ideas presented, I do like that there’s a focus beyond Jack and his immediate cast of characters in the exploration of the larger legacy of the Starman name at DC, as it’s a name that has been used by characters who were not part of the Knight family.

I also like the art by Tony Harris, which strikes me as something of a bridge between the older styles and the styles of the new millennium.

Ultimately, I think the series would have been improved if it had been published under DC’s Vertigo imprint, as Robinson really seems to be going for a Vertigo style, pushing it as far against the boundaries of a mainstream DC book as he can. I think ithe fact that he never manages to break through is what ultimately makes it fall flat for me.

Again, I don’t hate it, and I’m glad that I’ve finally gotten around to reading it, but I don’t think I’m ever going to share the enthusiasm that so many others have for it.

Born and raised in the sparsely populated Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Jon Maki developed an enduring love for comics at an early age.

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