Time to do some digging. Historical digging, that is, which may not sound like fun to some, but it does involve comic books so it’s all good.
There’s a lack of references in superhero comics today, a sad disregard for historical connection, and I’m not exactly sure why (although I have an idea) because it used to be an essential and informative aspect of reading Marvel and DC superhero books.
As a prime example, I’m going to use an issue of a current DC superhero book, Adam Strange #7 (May, 2005). The identity of the cosmic villain is revealed and, spoiler warning noted, it is Starbreaker, a rather underutilized menace who has battled the Justice League of America twice over the last thirty-three years. Starbreaker is a “cosmic vampire,” who sucks the life energy out of people and planets to sustain himself (he also sells a portion of the energy to the highest bidder). He’s Galactus without the sympathy factor.
Starbreaker is a good choice as the threat to the planet Rann’s* existence. He receives a brief, concise origin and purpose recap. There’s also a visual reference to his last battle with the JLA. The handful of longtime, proud geeky fan boys, myself included, get to “Oooo!” and “Ahhh!” because our comic book past has been pleasantly updated.
But I miss the footnotes that would have cited Starbreaker’s prior appearances.
On page six, panel one — where the big reveal of Starbreaker is presented — right after Sardath announces the villain’s name there should have been an asterisk. Our eyes would have been drawn to the matching asterisk at the bottom of the panel that most likely would have read:
“Starbreaker first appeared in Justice League of America #96 (February, 1972).”
In the very next panel, right after the text, “…although he was once vanquished, albeit temporarily, by a League of Earth’s mightiest heroes,” there should have been another asterisk directing us to a footnote that would have stated that Starbreaker again battled the League in Justice League America #63-65 (June – August, 1992)**. It’s no big deal that the footnotes are not there, to be sure, but since there isn’t a whole lot of story continuity left in today’s comics, it would be nice to have at least some historical continuity.
Personally, I think it’s cool to have Starbreaker back. Justice League of America #98 (May, 1972) was the second JLA comic I bought***, and the first as a comics collector. It was the concluding installment of the Starbreaker epic. It took the entire League roster at that time — Superman, Batman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Hawkman, The Atom, and Aquaman — and special guest star Sargon the Sorcerer to bring the cosmic vampire down, and it was dramatic, suspenseful, and exciting. I was ten years old at the time. The G.I. Joe action figures with the lifelike hair and the Hardy Boys mystery stories**** were beginning to lose their appeal. But colorfully clad and dynamically drawn superheroes/heroines had me hooked, and for the League to be able to take down a virtually omnipotent cosmic threat as Starbreaker was pretty impressive as far as I was concerned. There would be no turning back for me when it came to comics.
Again, I’m not sure why we don’t have the footnotes in comics anymore. I loved ’em. I’ve always felt that the growing lack of references was a result of Crisis On Infinite Earths. Since pre-Crisis continuity is no longer a part of post-Crisis continuity, any references would be confusing. Why cite a story that no longer exists in the current scheme of things? Well, okay, I understand if that’s the actual reason, but, as previously noted, for historical purposes in current storylines it would be a nice, nostalgic touch.
I kind of enjoy using them myself*****.
*Adam Strange’s adopted home world, where he saves the populace from constant threats.
** Which, I’m happy to note, did cite Starbreaker’s first appearance.
***The first being Justice League of America #82 (August, 1970).
****The Clue of the Screeching Owl remains my favorite of the series.
*****So don’t be surprised if they become a habit!