Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. and Hopey and Ray and Frogmouth and...

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death. Today: reviews of Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. Volume One (DC, 2007) and The Education of Hopey Glass (Fantagraphics, 2008).

I could, I suppose, be a lot meaner about this than I will be. I picked up the original run of this series in part because I thought it looked cute, and I figured, correctly, that one day my daughter would like it. I gave her the issues in 2005, and traded up to this collected edition of the first eight episodes earlier this year. She's read them at least twice and enjoys the characters.

The series follows Courtney Whitmore, a teen who relocates with her family from Beverly Hills to the midwest, and learns that her new stepfather is the former sidekick of an old superhero called the Star-Spangled Kid. He's now planning to fight crime again in a big robot suit, and so she claims the Kid's old cosmic-powered belt to take charge of things.

It never rises above "okay," but the only sour notes I came across were the usual superhero comic tropes. It's not enough to simply explain that the original Kid was killed in action by the monster Solomon Grundy; everything has to stop for a two-page flashback. Geoff Johns is really just following convention here, as this is the same way Roy Thomas or Steve Englehart would have done it thirty years ago. What I really found grating was Johns' rush to pile on both superhero and real-teen complications in far too short a time. The eight issues feel like they take place over the course of about one school week, and frankly, I'm more likely to believe in robot suits and cosmic-powered belts than I am the family finding an orthodonist who'll fit Courtney with braces on her second day in a new town.

So the stories themselves are all right, but what actually grates the most is the collected edition's failure to make sense of things to new readers. DC Comics, sadly, are rarely published in a vacuum and there are frequently references to incidents and events in their wider universe that fans reading them when originally published would recognize. This is not true seven or eight years later. One issue here features our heroes rushing off to fight some monsters, a storyline which I think might have been continued in a crossover series called Day of Judgement, but there's nothing here to explain what the heck just went on. Both DC and Marvel desperately need to hire editors for their collected editions to provide footnotes and annotations for readers like my daughter, and me, and the overwhelming majority of potential buyers to explain references like this. At any rate, my daughter's enjoyment suggests that this is a good buy for younger readers. Fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer might get a kick out of it as well.

The latest collection of Jaime Hernandez's Love & Rockets material shifts the focus away from Maggie and to her longtime friend Hopey, her current roommate Angel, and her ex, the brooding Ray. She shows up in the periphery of several of the stories here, showing how the others relate to her. Ray still isn't over Maggie after all these years, even while he's pursuing the wild, foolish Vivian the Frogmouth.

Most of these stories were originally published alongside the other, Maggie-centered tales which were compiled in the earlier Ghosts of Hoppers collection. I wonder whether they wouldn't have made a better read under one cover, and rearranged slightly. It's very good work, but the wandering focus through supporting characters means that this naturally lacks the emotional punch that some of Hernandez's other work in this world has. Recommended in tandem with Ghosts, but not for new readers.

(Originally posted June 03, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

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