Current Reviews


Mystery in Space #1

Posted: Tuesday, September 12, 2006
By: Thom Young


Writer: Jim Starlin
Artist: Shane Davis

Writer and Artist: Jim Starlin

Publisher: DC Comics

When I first heard that DC was going to bring the Mystery in Space title back, I was under the impression that it was to be an ongoing monthly anthology of short science fiction stories by various writers and artists. And I thought Jim Starlin was to be the editor of this new series (as well as one of the creators).

I was happy in my miscomprehension because DC hasn’t published such a science fiction anthology series since the Time Warp series (1979-80) that morphed into the 1980-81 revival of Mystery in Space that picked up the issue numbers from where the original series left off when it was cancelled in 1966.

The Time Warp and Mystery in Space series from a generation ago had such stellar creators as Mike Kaluta, Howard Chaykin, Steve Ditko, Marshall Rogers, and Joe Kubert working on stories at a time when all of them were at or near the peak of their abilities. I was looking forward to a new series of hard science fiction short stories from today’s top talents that would be comparable to those titles from my youth.

Alas, it turns out that I was mistaken in my understanding of what the new series would be. This new Mystery in Space title would star Captain Comet (a.k.a. Adam Blake) on Jim Starlin’s Hardcore Station (the setting of Starlin’s 1998 five-issue mini-series of the same name). I was still interested, but not nearly as much. I knew, though, that I would go along for the ride because Starlin’s Warlock Saga at Marvel in the 1970s remains my all-time favorite cosmic epic in comic book form, and I was hoping he would do something equally great with Captain Comet.

However, I’ve had a Captain Comet story percolating in my noggin ever since I realized that the details of Adam Blake’s superhero origin bear an uncanny resemblance to elements in William Blake’s illuminated text entitled America: A Prophecy. It seems to me that any Captain Comet story that doesn’t play upon the William Blake connection by incorporating the Blakean elements is missing out on a rich opportunity to provide additional layers of textual meaning.

Anyway, both of the stories in the first issue (Captain Comet in "Eschatology" and The Weird in “Revivification”) are remarkably similar in that they are both nothing more than prolonged exposition. In fact, the cover to this first issue should have a burst on it that reads: “Special All-Expository Issue!” Note that the titles of the two stories indicate the religious context that has dominated most of Starlin’s work throughout his career. Unfortunately (for me anyway), Starlin’s story isn’t actually a philosophical or theological doctrine about death and its aftermath. It’s merely the story (told through exposition) about the death and resurrection of Adam Blake.

It opens with Captain Comet providing three pages of narrative exposition about having been attacked physically and psychically, with the big reveal at the bottom of the third page being that he died two hours earlier. The character then provides two pages of narrative exposition about Hardcore Station. Of course, there is no contextual reason for Adam Blake to be reporting this information. It’s just a first personal narrative told for the sake of informing the reader. I’m okay with that.

The story then moves on to two pages of two extraterrestrial characters having a conversation, with one providing exposition to the other (including news about Captain Comet’s death). During this expository exchange, we learn that “the lab boys say his demise won’t slow down the show.” I hate it when extraterrestrials who have probably never even been to Earth use American colloquialisms, but at least we have a hint here that there will be more to the story than just endless exposition.

Finally, there are two pages of non-exposition. I won’t spoil it for you, but let me just say that it involves a gold-skinned woman with an eye patch who kicks some extraterrestrial butt. Oh . . . uhm . . . actually that is about all that happens on these two pages. I guess I did spoil it for you after all. Sorry about that.

The door to Adam Blake’s apartment then opens, and out walks a talking bulldog who lifts his leg on the head of one of the extraterrestrials that the gold-skinned woman with the eye patch knocked out. Appropriately enough, the talking bulldog calls the gold-skinned woman with the eye patch “Eye.”

Eye calls him “Tyrone.”

For the next six pages, Tyrone tells Captain Comet’s life story to Eye (because she only knew Adam Blake for the last year of his life). Interspersed within those six pages are panels of Captain Comet providing exposition about his death. He’s surprised to find out that he didn’t die the way he imagined he would.

After the six pages of Tyrone providing exposition to Eye are four pages of Captain Comet providing exposition about his death and afterlife experiences, which I won’t spoil for you except to say that it connects to the exposition provided in the second story in this issue.

The final two pages of the first story provide some more non-expository material. I won’t spoil it for you except to say that it involves Tyrone hearing a noise and finding an unconscious Adam Blake on the floor. Oh, I did it again. That’s all these two pages have going on in them.

Oh well, I guess it means that all of Blake’s narrative exposition about being psychically mugged, dying, and his afterlife experiences must be from a time after he regains consciousness next issue.

In the final panel of the story, Tyrone says, “When he comes to, I bet this turns out to be one doozy of a story.”

Oh good, more exposition next issue! (Of course, there is also the possibility of a metatextual play here with Starlin telling us that he is going to provide us with a “doozy of a story” now that he’s gotten all the exposition out of the way this issue.)

In the second story, “Revivification,” we learn that Adam Blake’s afterlife experience that he exposited in the first story involves “The Weird” (Starlin’s character from the 1988 mini-series he did with Bernie Wrightson). In this story, The Weird narrates his own life story for 11 pages (providing exposition that summarizes his four-issue series from 18 years ago and what happened to him after Adam Blake’s afterlife experience in the first story).

We then get five pages of non-expository material as The Weird tests his revived body (remember the title to this story) to determine that all his abilities are the same as they were 18 years ago. On the final page, we learn that he, too, is now at Hardcore Station.

So, in a 38-page issue containing two linked stories, we get 29 pages of exposition and nine pages of non-exposition. That got me to thinking about Starlin’s Warlock Saga that I recall so fondly from my childhood. I didn’t remember it having so much exposition, so I looked it up.

Strange Tales #178 (the first issue of Starlin’s “Warlock Saga”) opens with a splash page of Adam Warlock flying amid several moons with the caption “Who is Adam Warlock?” We then get four pages of an extraterrestrial in a space suit telling us the life story of Adam Warlock. He begins by saying, “Hiya Kids! Sphinxor from the star system Pegasus here! Seems that a few of you out there don’t know who Warlock is! Shame, shame, shame! Well, Uncle Stan’s asked me to fill you in.”

And so it goes.

Apparently, Starlin likes to begin cosmic stories about guys named Adam with a lot of exposition. Hopefully, we’ll end up getting a “doozy of a story” here that will be comparable to his Warlock Saga. Hopefully, too, we’ll get some exposition that explains why it was necessary for Adam Blake to die so he could be resurrected as what appears to be the exact same character.

If he is the same character, why kill him and revive him? If he isn’t the same character, why not just create a new character instead of transforming Adam Blake into a “new Captain Comet”?

I have faith in Starlin to tell a good story, but this first issue was too exposition-laden for me.

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