• Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives

  • Awards & Nominations

The Starman Omnibus, Vol. 5 (Stars My Destination)

The Starman Omnibus, Volume V covers a very rocky period in the history of the Starman mythos. The wonderful thing about the little after-words that James Robinson has provided for each of these volumes by way of annotation is that they offer you a hint of the context of everything that is going on around the series. Starman as a series had just lost an editor in Archie Goodwin and an artist in Tony Harris. Robinson himself was going through some very personal issues, and he confessed that he was seriously considering just hanging up the reigns on the book.

He didn’t, and ultimately saw the comic book through its full 80-issue run, but it gives you a sense of the instability surrounding the title at that period of time. And what did Robinson do with, with everything so uncertain around the book? He moved the series from the streets of Opal City into the depths of DC’s shared cosmic universe and took on David S. Goyer as a co-plotter for Stars My Destination, which was an interesting direction for one of the nineties’ most down-to-earth characters.

A "cluster" of Starmen?

Before we get into the book itself, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the two people who would join Robinson on his journey into outer space. David S. Goyer is arguably better known as a film writer and director than a comic book author – he wrote the Blade trilogy (and directed the disappointing third film), and also co-wrote Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. He is working with Christopher Nolan on The Dark Knight Rises and the Superman reboot. I am, to be honest, absolutely stunned that DC has not made a greater effort to publicise Goyer’s work in comics – particularly on high-profile fare like The Justice Society of America, which he worked on with Robinson before Geoff Johns took over. One can always tell a true comic book nerd rather than a blow-in, and Goyer is dyed-in-the-wool comic book nerd.

However, from reading Robinson’s commentary (and, indeed, from the shift in tone), one can tell that Goyer and Robinson have slightly different interests within the dense tapestry of the DC universe. Though Robinson seems reluctant to assign credit for specific ideas – anyone who has worked in a creative partnership will know that each individual ultimately contributes in some way to each idea – it seems that Goyer is more fascinated with the tiny threads hanging over from years past, but relatively modern history compared to Robinson’s more Golden Age interests.

There’s a shoutout to an ancient Alan Moore Swamp Thing story set on a strange blue world, which is great to include as a rare official acknowledgment of the contributions that Moore made to the medium in general and the DC universe in particular. In fact it seems that Goyer and Robinson are devout Swamp Thing fans. While the third hardcover featured an appearance from Jason Woodrue (who was featured in Moore’s first Swamp Thing arc), here we get to see not only the blue planet from Alan Moore’s run, but the plant-based Green Lantern that Moore featured (Medphyll) pops up later in the arc.

Jack has to hang on in there...

Peter Snejbjerg takes over from Harris on the artistic duties, and his work is a lot more cartoonish than his predecessor’s. It works well in the context of the crazy interstellar cosmos of the DC universe (with forgotten characters like Space Cabbie), but I’ll be curious to see how he handles the next volume, which will pick up the story threads in Opal. I wonder how Snejbjerg will do at illustrating an urban landscape defined by Harris, but – based on a few one-shots scattered around the book – I suspect he will do okay. It might have been nice for the series to keep a single artist for all 80 issues, but two artists also offer a measure of consistency.

Harris himself originally agreed to continue providing the series with its wonderfully distinctive covers, but fell out with Robinson over a plot point. At one stage during the Stars My Destination arc, Jack is effectively revived after being burnt to a crisp – using cloned tissue. This also removes most of the character’s destinctive tattoos, which Harris had spent quite some time designing. I have to see that I appreciate the symbolism of “wiping the slate clean” for Jack and cleaning all the marks from his skin. One gets the sense that – for both Jack and Robinson – this arc represented something of forty days in the desert, a chance to escape it all and return with the clean slate. Although Jack has come to terms with his father’s legacy, the time-travel in this mega-arc allows him to put the entire Starman saga in context and to broaden his horizons. He comes home with an even better idea of what it is to be Starman. I think he needed to be cleansed as an almost religious experience (indeed, the arc is rife with spiritual symbolism – even more than earlier issues, with repeated focus on a character’s “essence”, or “soul”).

It blue me away...

Indeed, while Robinson went to great pains in the last collection to juxtapose Ted Knight’s science with the stranger forces at work in the fantasy world of the DC universe, here he fully embraces the mysticism which skirted the edges of the earlier issues. Jack is literally resurrected, albeit by advanced technology. The conflicts between good and evil aren’t offered as purely rational affairs, but as smaller struggles in a grander scheme of things. Although he rationalises things like the reincarnation of Prince Gavyn as Will Payton through techno-babble, he hints at the possibility of a greater force tying it all together – giving all these separate ends of the DC universe (from eighties space heroes to Golden Age science wizards to nineties reinventions) a place in the greater scheme of things.

The shared universe is one of the most unique aspects of the major comic book publishing companies, but very few authors make it work as well as Robinson. Robinson seems to take the many marbles rolling all over the floor, set in motion by any number of different writers and editors, and makes one giant story out of all that random an impossible movement (and, to be honest, some credit belongs to Goyer as well). Readers such as myself would never dream of seeing anything remotely like the patterns and potential that Robinson does, even if he has to bend the rules a bit to fit it all together (the climax of this arc features a fairly large, and divisive retcon which ties two generations of heroes together).

David was always a colourful character...

A lot of Starman fans would suggest that Stars My Destination represents something of a weak spot in the series’ run. I can see where they are coming from. It’s a fairly sudden and dramatic change in the mood and the setting of the series. Robinson had foreshadowed a lot of his interests in Starman with his miniseries The Golden Age, exploring the careers and autumn years of the Golden Age superheroes – this love of the Golden Age filtered through into Starman, which became (if anything) a celebration of the diverse history of the DC comic books. Times Past offered us snapshots of the universe as it grew and developed – we got to meet old grandparents who were also superheroes.

Stars My Destination is certainly a major shift for the series. All of a sudden, instead of hanging out with the Shade, a character created in the forties, Jack finds himself teaming up with a motherbox (a device associated with Jack Kirby’s New Gods). Jack is no longer teaming up with retired Justice Society members, but is instead brushing shoulders with Adam Strange and the Legion of Superheroes and Jor-El. However, at its core the themes remain the same. The cloth from which Robinson is weaving his epic may have changed, but the key points of the saga remain. Jack continues to explore lost moments from continuity – except instead of a random small-time crook it’s the story of how Jor-El ended up with a photo of a human farmer or what happened to the blue planet after Swamp Thing left.

To be honest, I mostly appreciate the change. I think a lot of the work by Goyer and Robinson is fresh – I don’t suggest that Starman was running the risk of going stale, but I think that this arc is different enough to reflect the massive behind-the-scenes changes going on while remaining true to what Robinson was attempting. There is, for the bulk of these short little stories (they are mostly one-shots or two-issue arcs), a spirit of adventure. I am not quite as sure that Robinson would find that same level of cosmic excitement when he returned to the cosmic DC universe for New Krypton, but here it works.

Starman meets Starboy...

The only real bumpy spot is the finale. The problem isn’t so much that Robinson is doing anything too radical, for example, but rather that he awkwardly stage what he is doing. The three-issue climax of the search for Will Payton is riddled with exposition, delivered in huge chunks outlining this and that and then more of this and that. It seems as if Robinson had tied together every aspect of the Starman mythos together except these two characters, and thus decided to pair them off on the basis that they were the only two dangling threads. Pushing these two elements together doesn’t seem like a natural progression, but rather pure hard work. And reading a comic shouldn’t feel like hard work.

Still, the real opportunity that this change in setting offers to Robinson as an author is the chance to expand the legacy of the Starman characters. Throughout the run, one-shot Times Past issues have allowed Robinson and a selection of guest authors to shade the history of Opal City and its protectors – but they only really stretch into the past. We see what came before, and how incredibly vast and epic it was. Here, through some time travel, we get to see what the future has in store. Robinson gets a chance to tie the Legion of Superheroes character Starboy to the Starman legacy, but also to offer an idea of how the future will treat our lead characters – the DC #1,000,000 tie-in in particular helps reassure the reader that the legacy will continue long past the final issue of the series (which was fast approaching). While I’m not the topic, it’s a crime that DC #1,000,000 has never been reprinted, particularly given how it ties into Grant Morrison’s Justice League series. But that’s  discussion for another day.

Waiting for the next omnibus to be released is torture...

With the ending looming just over the horizon – Robinson has repeatedly suggested in the notes at the end of these volumes that his final arc, The Grand Guignol, was loosely planned from about halfway through his run. There’s a sense of foreboding, demonstrated through a trip to the doomed planet of Krypton, or the fate of the Shade, or even through events we witness in Opal in the absence of Jack. There’s an atmosphere which suggests that the fate of the characters has already been decided, for good or for ill – David warns Mik of the challenge ahead, while we witness the impact of the finale on the Shade in the distant future.

I have really enjoyed this series, and I’d be lying I pretended that I wasn’t a little sad to see it come to an end. There’s one volume left, and then it’s all over, done and dusted. Still, this is why I prefer trade paperbacks to the monthly publishing schedule of modern comics. It allows me the opportunity to go back and revisit these old and classic stories that I may have somehow missed the first time around. Reading Starman like this, like a six-volume book, is a wonderful experience. One I wouldn’t change for the world. The same thing is true, for example, of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing or Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Both are classic runs that do read like giant novels and really suit the format of these hardcovers.

... waiting in the sky...

But that’s enough of that, I suppose. The end is nigh, and I am dreading it as much as I anticipate it. But it’s been one hell of a journey. Even in some of its wildest and most uneven chapters (such as here), it’s always been a damn good read.

Check out our reviews of James Robinson’s entire run on Starman:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: