Columnists Joe and Kevin take you through the experience of learning to read comic books. Each week they alternate as Joe (the teacher) explains why he picked a specific book, and Kevin (the student) gives his impressions.
Previously on CBL
This series of articles has really been a labor of love for me. Writing them has not only been about teaching Kevin about the world of comics, but also to rediscover why I love comics so much. About this point in the series we’ve hit 1996. I had religiously been reading comics for roughly 4 years. As you can see from the list of comics we’ve talked about in this series, I had been consuming junk food. I had a subscription to the four superman titles, and had been devouring them week after week. I read X-men of course, and I collected Spawn, painstakingly recreating Todd McFarland and Greg Capullo’s illustrations on a sketch pad I bought. However this wasn’t growing me as a reader. I had developed a taste for something more. Then I discovered something that shifted my paradigm.
I think it’s fitting that this book is the last one we’ll cover for a couple weeks. Unlike most of the comics we’ve read so far, Starman isn’t so much about an isolated arc, it’s about the story as a whole. I never knew comics could read like a novel, essentially having a begining, a middle, and end. Sure, story arcs worked like a novella, but they often required quite a bit of prior knowledge of the subject matter. Mini series were similar, but they were short and sweet. Starman was a book you grew with.
In 1994 DC had another mega event. This time it was “Zero Hour”, or an excuse to fiddle with their continuity like Crisis on Infinite Earths (which I had not read yet). One of the big problems was the existence of the Justice Society of America, who supposedly fought in WWII, yet were magically young in the 1990s. This was ok throughout the 70’s and 80’s with the existence of multiple realities, but Crisis merged everyone’s stories together kinda screwing the JSA’s history up. Not to mention Hawkman, who had his continuity so messed with no one knew who or what he was anymore. Anyway, with Zero Hour over, this was supposed to be fixed.
After Zero Hour, DC used the fixed continuity as a springboard to launch a bunhc of crappy titles including Extreme Justice , Fate, R.E.B.E.L.S. ’94, Manhunter, Primal Force, and Starman. Even as a kid I saw that that these titles were a bad idea. I had reached that age were I realized I was in no way “extreme”. Everyone of these titles faded into obscurity except Starman.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “But Joe, you said you didn’t read Starman until 1996, but above you said it came out in 1994?” So true. As I have said before, the order in which you discover comics is far more important than when they came out. In March of 1996 I got my first Starman trade paperback, and instantly fell in love with it. Jack knight was everything I wanted to be in a superhero. He was angsty, but with a fleshed out past of both hero worship and disdain of his father, the original Starman, Ted Knight, which actually made him seem real. I liked Jack he was like a comic book fan, obsessive about pop culture, but he represented what was good from reading comics, mainly the innate sense of what justice really was.
However what really stood out to me was James Robinson’s writing. As a teen I wanted nothing more than to write like Robinson. He not only created Jack Knight, but he breathed life into the world of Opal City.
From the first pages of Starman #0
There is a city.
A glorious and singular place. Old and yet pristine. Ornate and yet streamlined. A metropolis of now and then and never was.
Burnely Ellsworth founded it in 1864, using the riches he’d amassed gem mining in Australia. With that in mind, he named his creation after that which had given him wealth.
And so Opal City stands, glorious and singular.
The city had a champion. A gaudily dressed “Quixote”: pure and true…but cursed with perpetual melancholy, as “Quixotes” often are. He used a device, this champion — a weapon that could draw power and light from the heavens. And with this, he fought the bad and the wrong and kept his city free from fear.
In times past.
For Opal City’s champion, no longer young or strong or filled with the same sense of righteous purpose of late had put the costume and cosmic power aside — turning, instead, to the heavens, to study them all the more.
With the need for a new champion … one arose.
His father’s son. Pure and true.
And God help the bad and the wrong.
This was as beautiful to me now as it was when I was 15. Also there was the incredible cast of characters who were as much a part of the engrossing storyline as Jack. There were the O’Dares, The Shade, Mikaal, Solomon Grundy, Bobo, the Mist, and so many more. But what’s more is that they grew in the series run as much as Jack did. When it was over you felt not only satisfied, but fulfilled. You wanted to see more of those characters, but you also didn’t because it would ruin it.
I only chose for Kevin to read the first 3 trades, though I gave him the first 5 because I feel that they represent the first half of Jack’s storyline. WHen I reread the books to see why it was so important to me, I couldn’t stop reading them until I was finished. I’ll be interested to see if he has the same reaction
The series was sweeping an elegant, like the art nouveau the series artists took inspiration from. When I brought this to Kevin, I said “Don’t blow this one off, it’s important that you read every page”. I seriously meant it.
Read along with Joe and Kevin!
Next up: Starman– Kevin’s Take
- A Break
You can also hear Joe and Kevin on their podcast.
Previously on Comic Book Logic