Starman #81

Written by James Robinson
Layouts by Fernando Dagnino
Finished art by Bill Sienkiewicz
32 pages, color
Published by DC Comics

I was a big fan of James Robinson’s Starman since day one (or should that be issue #0?); his collaborations with Tony Harris and Peter Snejbjerg produced a gorgeous, memorable run of stories that weren’t just about the title character, but his friends and family, as well as the setting of Opal City. When DC announced that a handful of cancelled titles would have one additional issue each in January 2010 as part of the Blackest Night crossover, I found myself worried. Because while some of Robinson’s work on Superman in the past year or two has been all right, I’ve been underwhelmed with Justice League: Cry for Justice and Justice League of America, with their wallowing in death and destruction. It hasn’t felt like the Robinson whose Starman was at the top of my reading pile every month. So it was with great hesitation that I sat down with Starman #81.

Robinson has wisely steered clear of Jack Knight here, who gave up being a superhero at the end of Starman #80. With his story over, Robinson focuses on the characters who were still in Opal City, as well as the deceased David Knight who died in the first pages of Starman #0. It’s a smart tactic; it brings the series full circle with David, and people who read and enjoyed Starman will be just as satisfied to read a comic starring the Shade and O’Dare siblings. What I appreciated even more was that just like the original series, Robinson isn’t afraid to let the average people of the city wander through his stories. In other hands a pair of museum guards talking about what’s happened to the heroes of Opal City might have felt forced. Here it feels almost natural. Their walking through the Starman museum is a nice nod to the past and present of the characters as well, something Robinson was always good for doing in the original series.

As for the story itself, it’s easily the best non-Green Lantern title to tie into Blackest Night. It actually does feel like an issue of Starman (the series was never shy about being part of line-wide crossovers), and it actually feels like a turning point for Robinson’s return to comics. After months of grim and somewhat nasty comics, this does everything short of waving a flag in the air proclaiming, "It’s time for the good guys to be victorious again." The Shade, Hope O’Dare, and Mason O’Dare are hardly your typical superheroes, but watching them rally against a Black Lantern and win—while working out personal hang-ups and fears—is the kind of story that Robinson had made his name in comics with.

Fernando Dagnino provides layouts for finished art from Bill Sienkiewicz, and it’s an intriguing combination. When I think of Dagnino’s art, it’s his youthful, waif-like female characters in fill-in issues of Supergirl. When he just provides layouts, though, it works in his favor. The layouts are strong and classic, but then given heft and the unique style of Sienkiewicz. Sienkiewicz knocks the art out of the park, able to evoke all kinds of emotions and looks in these pages. Black Lantern David reaching out towards Mason looks sufficiently creepy, with claw-like fingers and a withered expression fixed on his target. David’s tattered cape looks almost like shadows gathering behind him; an appropriate look, considering one of the heroes in this book is the Shade. Speaking of the Shade, his full-page splash as he enters the fray is lovely; not only is the Shade (as usual) dressed to the nines, but there’s something about his pose and facial expression that just speaks volumes as he prepares to defend his city. It’s a beautiful piece of art, and Dagnino and Sienkiewicz did an excellent job with the script.

When Starman #81 was first announced, a friend of mine wondered if it would be included in the Starman Omnibus series of reprints currently being published. My thought at the time was, "Please, no, don’t do that." Now that I’ve read it, I take that all back. Starman #81 serves as a great epilogue to the series years later; it’s a comic about finding heroes in unlikely places and defying the odds, just like the earlier Starman series. Robinson’s restored my faith in his abilities and storytelling. Here’s to more comics like this in the future.

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