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Starman #81

Posted: Friday, January 22, 2010
By: Michael Deeley

James Robinson
Fernando Dagnino, Bill Sienkiewicz (i)
DC Entertainment
When DC announced the cancelled titles they were bringing back for Blackest Night there was only one I was really excited about: Starman #81.

Starman is still one of my favorite comic book series. Itís certainly one of the best superhero books ever published, and possibly the best book of the '90s. Following Jack Knightís journey from reluctant hero to protector of Opal City to fatherhood and retirement was a rare experience in comics. But Starman was about more than Jack. It was about the legacy of Starman, the other men whoíve used that title, and the people of Opal City. The series wouldnít have been as interesting or epic without the passionate OíDares, the stylishly amoral Shade, the soothsayer Charity, or the ghost of the pirate Jon Valor. Yes, Starman had Irish cops, immortals, aliens, freaks, an evil midget, and a ghost pirate. It officially had everything!

So expectations for this return were pretty high. Would Robinsonís return to Starman be as good as we remember? Or even as good as the series actually was? Doubts began to grow when I looked at his recent work. The Superman comics are interesting, but theyíre a collaborative effort. Justice League of America is suffering from the same gore and violence infecting most of todayís comics. And Cry for Justice is a joke among fandom. Had Robinson peaked? Were his best years behind him? Could he ever write anything as compelling, as original, and most of all, as human as he did on Starman?

Iím happy to say this comic proves Robinson can be as great as he used to be. Starman #81 is a welcome return to the city of the Opal and its compelling citizens. In short, it is not a bad comic. Itís a very good comic.

David Knight, Jackís older brother, returns as a Black Lantern. His rampage across the city is halted by the Shade and Hope OíDare. We learn that the Shade and Hope are lovers and their relationship is reaching a critical moment. We also learn just how non-human the Shade really is. Most importantly, we learn the Shadeís real name!

This is the first Blackest Night comic Iíve read that made me feel any sense of horror. The core series and assorted tie-ins were the same mindless blood and violence Iíve seen in too many comics and movies. But here, I was genuinely disturbed by Davidís murders. Maybe its because I remember this character as a noble hero. He lived with passion and faced his death with courage. Only now do I realize that readers are supposed to feel uncomfortable seeing classic heroes like Aquaman and the Martian Manhunter turned into monsters. Thatís the true horror of the series: Great heroes turned into evil parodies of themselves. I didnít realize it before because Iím a Marvel zombie. Itís not that I donít care about the DC heroes, itís because Iíve been desensitized to great heroes being desecrated. (Avengers Disassembled, One More Day, Dark Reign, and the last 6 years of Daredevil and X-Men really wear down your soul.)

The art goes along way towards creating that sense of horror. Iíd have preferred an artist from the original series to draw the book. Tony Harris would have been nice, but so would Peter Snejbjerg and Keith Champagne, the team who drew the last third of the series. But for a horror themed story, you canít go wrong with Bill Sienkiewicz. His style is perfectly suited to this story of darkness. But his jagged inks wouldnít be half as effective without the pencils of Fernando Dagnino. Dagnino draws people with such life and character I believe they were based on real people.

Perhaps thatís why this comic disturbs me more than others. Robinsonís naturalistic dialogue, Dagninoís human characters and Sienkiewiczís cutting inks all combine to create the feeling that real people are being killed. I feel bad for these characters because I care about them, even for the few pages I see them.

I highly recommend this comic whether youíre a fan of Starman or not. Fans will enjoy one more visit from their favorite characters. New readers are encouraged to buy the omnibus collections and experience one of the greatest comics ever written.



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