Monday, January 24, 2011

Staman Omnibus Volume Five

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Staman Omnibus Volume Five (DC, 2010).

Well, I suppose that these had to hit a bump in the road eventually. As much as there is to love about James Robinson's Starman series, which originally ran from 1994 to 2002, there is the unfortunate, and very long, storyline "Stars My Destination," in which Jack Knight goes into outer space on a wild goose chase, hoping to find one of the previous, believed-deceased heroes to use the Starman name. This one, sad to say, gets a little tedious.

I'm not sure why this one never really worked for me, but it just feels endless. It's a series of episodic adventures on various planets, with Jack and his companions running into various other DC superheroes, but the journey never really engaged me as a reader. At the time, it felt like an agonizing wait, with the much more thrilling subplots back on Earth sidelined for far too long.

Once Jack does reach his destination, it really does feel like a mammoth cheat. There's a big battle in the company of some mostly forgotten characters, and Jack rises to the occasion beautifully, and there's a heck of a good twist just when things start looking good for our heroes, but the climax of the quest, which, eye-rollingly, involves four separate heroes who have called themselves Starman, doesn't see the triumphant return that readers will expect. It all ties together in a silly confluence of disparate trademarks, and while they do find the long-missing Will Payton and a happy ending is assured, it's almost like Robinson went out of his way to blow a raspberry at anybody waiting through all this business for the sake of funnybook continuity.

The storyline was the first without longtime artist Tony Harris, who co-created the series. After a few months of fill-ins, mostly by the terrific Steve Yeowell, a new artist, Peter Snejbjerg, takes over. To be fair, Snejbjerg's work is consistently very good and he hits the ground running with a lot of crazy demands from the scripts, but his episodes just aren't as vibrant to me as Yeowell's. Rereading this book, particularly a story where Jack and Mikaal run into Solomon Grundy, of all people, on a blue planet, just makes me wish that Yeowell had become the title's regular artist. Whatever your own preference, this is definitely a gorgeous book. I just can't help but wish Robinson had got to the point a little quicker.

The first four books in the series were all really great, and this one is merely pretty good, drawn well and with a wobbly ending. Still, with that business out of his system, the next thing Robinson would do with Starman would be the amazing "Grand Guignol" epic and the beautiful and tragic "1951" coda, available in the final book, which was released just this past week. Rereading all of "Stars My Destination" may occasionally be tiresome, but I'm reminded that the best Starman story was just a month or two away. Recommended for people who've made it this far, or for Steve Yeowell's fans.

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