Collected Comic Review - Starman Omnibus HC Vol. 1-6

Starman Omnibus HC Vol. 1 - Collecting Starman (1994) #0-16
Starman Omnibus HC Vol. 2 - Collecting Starman (1994) #17-29, Annual #1, Showcase '95 (1995) #12, and Showcase '96 (1996) #4-5
Starman Omnibus HC Vol. 3 - Collecting The Shade (1997) #1-4, Starman (1994) #30-38, Annual #2, and Starman Secret Files (1998) #1
Starman Omnibus HC Vol. 4 - Collecting Starman (1994) #39-46, The Power of Shazam (1995) #35-36, Starman 80 Page Giant (1999) #1, Starman: The Mist (1998) #1, and Batman/Hellboy/Starman (1999) #1-2
Starman Omnibus HC Vol. 5 - Collecting Starman (1994) #47-60, 1000000, All-Star Comics 80 Page Giant (1999) #1, JSA: All Stars (2003) #4, Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. (1999) #0
Starman Omnibus HC Vol. 6 - Collecting Starman (1994) #61-81

Starman (1994) by James Robinson and Tony Harris (and later Peter Snejbjerg) is a series that was recommended to me by a good friend of mine years ago when these omnibus editions were first being released.  He had even let me borrow the first two, but I only got around to reading about one and a half before feeling the need to return them.  I'm not the fastest reader and don't like borrowing other people's things for very long.  I enjoyed what I had read, but I didn't feel any urgency in regards to reading more.  That may have been due to the fact that these editions were still being released at the time and I wouldn't have been able to finish the run, or it may have been because I got distracted by something else.  Either way, years later (just this spring) I was able to procure my own set of Starman omnibi (all six volumes) and decided that it was about time that I work my way through this highly regarded DC run.

Vol. 1 - Issue #3 (Tony Harris)

Starman is not your typical superhero comic.  As a matter of fact, it begins with the series' protagonist, Jack Knight (an antiquities/collectibles dealer), wanting nothing to do with being a costumed hero.  His scientist father, Ted Knight, was the original Golden Age Starman, protector of Opal City and member of the JSA.  His brother David, is the current Starman, having taken over the mantle from their father when he decided to hang up the cape.  Jack is the rebellious son who wants to do his own thing as opposed to following in his father's footsteps.  The irony being that the title and duties of Starman are thrust upon him when David is tragically murdered by the son of Ted's long time arch-nemesis The Mist.  Jack takes up his father's Cosmic Rod (Starman's weapon/tool of choice) as he ventures out to avenge his brother's death and to thwart The Mist's plans.  What was intended as being a one time event, slowly evolves into Jack begrudgingly taking on the responsibilities of Starman in his brother's place, albeit with his own twist.  If Jack's going to be Opal City's protector, he refuses to do it wearing the flashy red and green get up that Starman has come to be known for.  Instead, he adopts a look highlighted by a leather jacket and a pair of anti-flare goggles to protect his eyes from the brightness of the Cosmic Rod.  That's the basic hook to the series and I don't really want to explore the plot in too much more detail in an attempt to keep this as spoiler free as possible.

Vol. 2 - Issue #20 (Tony Harris)

A main theme of the series is legacies.  Not just of the hero, but of villains, and many other supporting characters.  Robinson's epic may revolve around Jack Knight, but he mines the entirety of DC's history and ties together all of the characters who at one time or another (past and future) went by the name of Starman.  This is a pretty amazing feat when you consider that none of these characters were originally intended to have any connection to one another.  He does so in a way that not only makes sense, but feels as though it was always meant to be that way.  Starman keeps to Opal City in much the same way Daredevil tends to stick to Hell's Kitchen, but that doesn't keep Robinson from exploring the greater DC Universe by incorporating an array of characters from throughout DC's history: Golden Age Sandman, Phantom Lady, Captain Marvel, Etrigan the Demon, Adam Strange, Batman, Ralph Dibny, and Solomon Grundy just to name a few.  He fleshes out one of The Flash's earliest villains - The Shade - in great detail, references Alan Moore's classic Swamp Thing run, and even adds to Superman's history.  A two issue, cross-publisher crossover story with Batman and Hellboy is even included in volume 4.

Vol. 3 - The Shade #3/Cover to The Shade #4 (Brett Blevins/Tony Harris)

In my opinion, the most impressive thing about this series is the way it calls back to and wraps up all of the little plots and details that were ceded throughout.  Robinson utilizes a number of tricks to help achieve this: one character is a psychic, he sporadically inserts 'Times Past' issues that take place in different eras of DC's history, and even eventually explores space/time travel.  There were a number of occasions where something would be said or done and I wondered to myself "will this actually be brought up again?" only to find out later that, yes in fact it would be and in most instances, in a very satisfying way.  When I began reading these volumes, I intended to take a small break in between each one in order to read something else so that I wouldn't become fatigued by plowing through eighty plus issues.  The funny thing is, each time I got to the end of a volume, I had become so engrossed in the story that I almost immediately picked up the next volume.  I read these fairly uninterrupted over the last three months, and due to that time frame, there were things that Robinson touched on in the final issues that he set in motion early in the series that I had completely forgotten about, which was a cool and very fulfilling.

Vol. 4 - Issue #43 (Tony Harris)

The artwork on the series is pretty top notch across the board.  The first forty five issues were penciled primarily by Jack Knight co-creator Tony Harris (who also provided covers for an overwhelming majority of the run), before the series transitions to art from Peter Snejbjerg for most of the final thirty issues.  Their styles are similar enough to keep a fairly uniform feel across the entire series, but differ enough that you can tell that a change occurred.  Harris also provided new, beautiful wraparound covers for each of these omnibus editions.

Vol. 5 - Issue #59 (Peter Snejbjerg )

The character development that Robinson is able to achieve throughout this series is quite impressive.  Particularly when it comes to Jack and The Shade.  The four issue The Shade mini-series that Robinson wrote is included in volume 3 and that series, along with the "Shade's Journal" text pieces included in these volumes turns the character into something more than just a murderous villain.  The character development isn't just reserved for the likes of Jack and The Shade though, Robinson's portrayal of Solomon Grundy is unique and easily my favorite incarnation of the character that I have read.  Robinson adds a level of depth to each character that he introduces during this run, nothing is a throw away, everything and everyone is used for a reason.

Vol. 6 - Issue #69 (Peter Snejbjerg)

The fact that James Robinson, Tony Harris, Peter Snejbjerg, and company were able to tell such a long running story and tie everything up without being derailed by company wide events is nothing short of amazing.  The series began in 1994, ended in 2001, and is very much a coming of age tale, but through the eyes of an adult trying to find his place in the world as opposed to your typical teen to adulthood story.  We're given Jack Knight's story beginning to end as Robinson set out to do.  Even more impressive is that DC has not dragged Jack Knight out of retirement in the years since, clearly respecting Robinson's intentions.

Vol. 6 - Issue #81 (Fernando Dagnino/Bill Sienkiewicz )

Each omnibus volume has a few pages of extras.  The first five volumes include pages from the aforementioned "Shade's Journal" that originally appeared in The Shade mini-series, and each includes a portion of Robinson's reflections on his time on the book.  Many of which are very introspective, and some of which show an unbelievable level of self-awareness and honesty.  Sketches and pictures of various Starman merchandise produced while the book was being published are also included throughout Robinson's 'Afterwords' segments.

Vol. 1 - Cover Sketch (Tony Harris)/James Robinson 'Afterword'

All in all, I can say that Starman is easily one of the best comics I've ever read.  It has such a unique take on the superhero genre, respect and reverence for what came before (which is kind of meta since that's something one would expect from an antiquities/collectibles dealer), and is one of the most heartfelt stories beginning to end that you'll come across in comics.  These omnibi are gorgeous collections, but the first three are increasingly difficult to find.  The first two were reproduced as trade paperbacks, but the rest were never completed.  I have heard that this was due to a falling out between DC and Robinson, but I don't know for sure or specifics so I'm not going to speculate further here. The omnibi are the only place that completely collects the entire Starman run including various Robinson-written supplemental issues.  DC had previously released ten trade paperback volumes for the run, but they apparently omitted some material.  I guess my point is that tracking down a full set of the omnibus hardcovers may be difficult, but the effort is well rewarded with an amazing reading experience.

Vol. 1 - Wraparound Cover w/o Dust Jacket (Tony Harris)

*James Robinson also wrote a twelve issue The Shade maxi-series in 2011 which is collected in a separate trade paperback that I have yet to read.  Hopefully I can work my way through that in the near future and review it in a future post.

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