Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Starman # 81

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of Starman # 81 (DC, 2010).

Well, here's a comic which completely filled my expectations, and how often can you say that these days? I figured I'd enjoy the book a little bit and still grumble about how unnecessary it was, and darned if that's not exactly what's happened.

For the last six and a half years or so, DC has been publishing this line-wide crossover called "Blackest Night," where all the superheroes in all their comic books have been fighting zombie versions of all their deceased teammates, magically given new costumes and technology. Look, don't ask me to explain further; it's an idea so bankrupt and dumb that I get the giggles whenever I see people taking it too seriously on the internet. Anyway, as part of the crossover, DC decided to publish new issues of six or seven older, canceled titles, as though the comics themselves have been magically brought back from the grave. For about twelve seconds, I thought that was a terrific idea. Unfortunately, I pulled the first new issue of Weird Western Tales since 1980 off the shelf and it was just another part of the crossover, with the Challengers of the Unknown or somebody fighting Jonah Hex and Bat Lash's zombies. It's almost like DC doesn't want to sell comic books anymore or something.

Anyway, as I've said many a time, Starman was one of the two or three best American comics of the 90s, and writer James Robinson came back to script one more zombie comic featuring his old supporting cast. It seems to be set a couple of years since Jack Knight retired and left town, and the Shade has hooked up with the O'Dare sister, and Mason's going to be a dad soon, and the first casualty of the comic series, originally published back in '94, has been resurrected to cause mayhem and lots of luridly-depicted bloodshed.

The writing is as sharp as ever, and it's always nice to see the Shade again. He was a character from the 1940s, given new, vibrant life as an immortal dandy by Robinson. The artwork is by Fernando Dagnino, who contributes some excellent layouts, but veteran Bill Sienkiewicz's latest inking style is unbelievably ugly, a fluid, expressive line which is just far too busy for my liking. The pages somehow look both over-fussed and sloppy. Apart from a very nice splash page when the Shade enters the violent action with the zombie, I simply didn't like looking at this book.

In all, it's mildly entertaining, much in the same way the Beatles' "Free as a Bird" was. Much like that song, whatever enjoyment you might have found is kind of eclipsed by the question of whether it was really necessary. Honestly, it's not. I'd recommend reading it if DC remembers to publish it in the sixth Starman Omnibus towards the end of the year, anyway.

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