Well, you should be. I know I am.
The third Omnibus collection of writer James Robinson and artist Tony Harris' STARMAN series hit today, continuing the adventures of the modern day Starman, Jack Knight. In this installment, featuring work from Robinson, Harris, Gene Ha, Dusty Abell, Phil Jimenez and J.H. Williams III, Opal City is terrorized by Dr. Pip, an eccentric bomber. Also, Starman teams up with a certain Dark Knight to save the life of Solomon Grundy. Collecting STARMAN #30-38, STARMAN ANNUAL #2, STARMAN SECRET FILES #1 and THE SHADE #1-4, the STARMAN OMNIBUS v.3 is the height of layered, engaging and powerful storytelling. I still have fond memories of sitting in my grandparents' house reading the first batch of issues, and being excited an intrigued by not only the stellar work within the pages, but also sensing the care and thought both Robinson and Harris put into the creation of these stories.
Family. Legacy. Heroism. Humor. Action. It's all here, and you'd be remiss to let it go by.
What more do you need to know?
How about a look at Robinson's afterword from the collection? Click below to read.
An (ongoing) afterward
I’ve been thinking a lot about this afterword. It’s the period of the book that most directly reflects the time when Archie got sick. When Archie passed I wrote quite a few memorial pieces, and after the one in the San Diego ComicCon program of that year I decided enough was enough. I don’t want to dredge up all those unhappy memories again. So what I will say is —
Archie was my friend and mentor. He taught most everything I’ve learned about being a writer of comics. And he got me STARMAN to write for DC and protected and cared for the book for as long as he could, allowing me freedom to do the book I wanted (sometimes I look at some of what we got away with in a mainstream comic and I’m amazed.) He was a brilliant writer and editor. He was kind and funny. And loved by all. Then one day he got sick, then for a while he got better, and then his sickness returned and he was gone. I still miss him, but I know I’m not the only one. I’m sure Carlin and Chiarello and Tony Harris and countless others recall Archie all the time. Yeah. For sure. I still miss him.
But I don’t want to walk down that unhappy road again any further than I have. Instead let me talk a little about Chuck Kim whose introduction graces this volume. With all due respect to Chuck, when he took the bulk of the work on in terms of editing STARMAN he wasn’t quite ready for the task ahead. (That is to say he was still Archie’s assistant editor, but with Archie not in the office as much when he was getting treatment, Chuck took on a lot of the day-to-day running of the title.) And he was dropped in the deep end to a degree. As Archie was at times forced to take extended periods of leave, so Chuck did more and more. Chuck was a guy who at the time had very little on-hand experience of comics — and yet he took on this new burden like a champion. He did an incredibly good jump filling in for Archie during those periods of time when he had to, both in STARMAN itself and in THE SHADE miniseries that’s also in this volume. He’s a fun guy too; great to talk to and we became very good friends over the period of time that he and I were working together. Surprisingly ribald sense of humor too, which isn’t something you at first realize about the guy.
Thank you, Chuck, for everything you did. You really stepped up heroically. And helped make what would have been a dark time so much lighter by your association with Jack Knight and his adventures.
Apart from that I wish I could say more about that time. I was married and had been living in a kind of half life/half death in Sierra Madre — a nice burg, but in hindsight I realize too cloistered and safe for a guy at the relatively young age I was then. The place was simply too safe and quiet and lacking the pepper kick I realize now I enjoy in life. It’s not for nothing that they used Sierra Madre’s square to film part of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers. When I was there, part of my brain was gone, asleep. Recently, however, I’d bought a house in Burbank, and began the slow, steady process of waking up again. (Divorce would finally bring about the final espresso jolt I needed to get my ass into Hollywood proper — but that was to come.) Apart from that —
— Not much. My mother died. I got rid of the ’65 Plymouth Barracuda I was driving and got the second of two Karmann Ghia’s I’d own in my life. I gave up collecting View Masters. And I had long sideburns that I thought at the time were cool, but I realize now were ridiculous.
And so, on with the issue by issue…
STARMAN issue #30. This was the start of “Infernal Devices” and where I felt that sick feeling that I’ve read many writers experience after beginning what is intended as a narrative saga. Like a long sea voyage, the setting off is all excitement, smooth sailing and grand expectations. Later, as the journey starts to wind its way to a conclusion there’s the excitement of land ahead and the peace/satisfaction of a journey ended. It’s the part in the middle that’s the pisser. The middle of our metaphorical sea voyage has storms, mutiny and the endless monotony of the ocean. The mid-point is the killer.
#30 was a little more than a third of the way into Starman’s ultimate eighty issues run. There was a sinking feeling around in my gut of “oh, boy you’re in it now.” Too far to go back, yet so much further ahead to go.
I, by now, had some strong story beats and moments and images in my head that I knew I’d be using/allowing to play out towards the end of the book. I knew I had to get Jack into space before I could bring him back for the big arc I’d always intended (and always intended to call “Grand Guignol.”) And therefore, in a storytelling process of elimination, I knew this was the time when I should begin laying some of the elements that would get him into space.
And Tony Harris loves pirates.
By the way do you know that the term “buccaneer” stems not from these free-booters’ skills at high seas daring-do, but rather their talents at cooking meats on a rotisserie. I’m serious. Look it up.
Anyway, Tony loves pirates and I decided to incorporate one into the book for this reason. Obviously being me I wanted it to be one of DC’s historical characters and went back and forth between this being Captain Fear or the Black Pirate, deciding on the latter because of that character/title’s Golden Age connection.
I also knew that I’d be using the Infernal Mr. Pip’s explosive talents at some point later on. I forget if I intended it for the Byzantine elements of the series finale, but I did have plans for Pip beyond this issue.
Tony was starting to slow down a bit too. The pressure of a monthly book was just beginning to get to him. Plus I think the lure of other series and ideas of his own were beginning to call to him. I mean this as no criticism nor slight intended at Tony. He’d been with the book from the start and given me so many wonderful issues. But this was definitely the beginning of Tony’s slow departure. The only problem was finding fill-in artists and trying where best I could to make the inclusion feel organic (like the “Times Past” tales) instead of scattershot. Anyway, in this issue (#30) Tony’s art here is as fantastic as ever. I especially enjoy the scene (and scenes to come) with Jack and Sadie and the blossoming of their romance (building towards STARMAN ANNUAL #2.)
It was also fun writing the Black Pirate’s internal monologue, looking up all the olden nautical terms and slang employed at that time.
And looking back, the fact that I was able to do a two-page text letter from Dian Belmont. Nice.
Issue #31. “Infernal Devices Part 2.” More Black Pirate narration. And my making Copperhead into a collector of Bakelite radios.
Issue #32. The “death” of Solly. I knew Solomon Grundy wouldn’t stay the kindly version of the character I’d come up with forever. I wanted to turn him back to his villainous ways on my terms, and at the same time solve the inconsistencies the character had had in the past re: sometimes intelligent and sometimes an ashen-faced version of the Hulk. And to do that I had to kill Solly.
This was where the “Infernal Devices” arc got interesting for me. I saw the reason for the arc. And I got to write Alan Scott, my favorite Green Lantern. And Batman. And Jason Woodrue, who will always be a favorite of mine too. But that was all to come in…
Issue #33. I was thinking the other day about Mark Buckingham. I recall when I was still in England and just beginning to enter the world of the comic book professional. I’d attend the monthly meeting of comic book professionals (and those on the verge of becoming one.) I think the name of the group was C.A.P.S, which stood for Comic Art Professionals, or something. It was held at (again I could be mis-remembering) the Society of Strip Illustrators building in London. A nice place with profile portraits/silhouettes of strip artists from the past surrounding the upper part of the main room’s high, high ceiling. I always enjoyed looking at Eric B. Parker up there — an artist too few of you reading this know, but whose line work and single color brush work doing illus. and covers for the adventures of Sexton Blake in the Union Jack story weekly from the 1920s through to the 40s was something to behold.
These meetings were where I first became aware of the British comic book community as a whole. The actual meeting tending to be a lot of fun. It was where Dave McKean did a slide-show of his BLACK ORCHID work prior to publication. It was where Neil Gaiman (before he was “The Neil Gaiman”) proudly displayed his advance copy of Good Omens, his first novel. It was where I heard McKean play the theme melody to the movie Betty Blue on the piano, and where I was rude to McKean on a couple of occasions, and visiting Ted McKeever on one occasion because (as I admitted in the afterword to Omnibus Vol. 1) I was a bit of a dick back in those days.
And one of those in attendance was Mark Buckingham, whose career was just starting out. Indeed, this was even prior to him taking over the art on Miracleman. Mark, or “Bucky” as he was known, was a bright, cheerful fellow. Very likable. Easy to like. (Unlike me.) And I was thinking about him recently and felt happy for him, and some degree of pride in the wonderful artist he has become. As I’m sure all of you have seen, his run on FABLES is one of the great runs in any comic, with the art being even more fresh and inventive now than it was when he started. And I wondered if I’d ever be lucky enough to work with him.
I’d forgotten that I already had.
Mark’s work in STARMAN #33 was our first attempt, and folding in other artists to the work of Tony Harris (as opposed to Steve Yeowell’s Xmas issue which was entirely his.) It’s great to see his work here (and in Issue #34). It’s still a little ways to go to get to the greatness that is FABLES, but it’s still really great. And as I recall, done under a quite weighty deadline crunch.
Bucky, it’s an honor.
I also got to prattle on about the Mercury 7 for a couple of pages.
And I gave Jack and Sadie their first kiss.
Issue #34. More Bucky and (due to time constraints) my own personal savior Steve Yeowell. I’ve already stated how much I’ve enjoyed working with the guy. He came through for me yet again. (But not as much as he would with ANNUAL #2 as I’ll get to presently.)
This is also the issue where I made sense of Grundy’s various inconsistencies, something I’m proud to say still stands, even with the current stuff being done by Geoff. And I love the two pages with young Ted Knight and the others fighting all the Grundys.
Issue #35. More fantastic Yeowell art. A cruel joke about adult dementia (but my mom had it, so bite me.) And the company wide crossover with something called GENESIS. Few remember this nugget, but it involved God being shut down temporarily (I think, I forget) which meant all those powers that were God-given were shut down too. (Or something like that.) Anyway this was a big deal in some DC books, but all I had to do was acknowledge it. I think I did a pretty good job and allowed the Shade’s reappearance (along with Tony Harris) to make sense.
Issue #36. My next “Times Past.” It was the one to feature the Will Payton Starman. Richard Pace was an artist I met at conventions who I managed to get the gig doing this issue. I think it’s very good. It also marks the first appearance of the Bodines, the murderous couple I’d loosely modeled on Micky and Mallory from Natural Born Killers. Their dialogue was fun to write.
Richard has fallen out of sight. I’m not sure what he’s doing anymore. A pity.
ANNUAL #2. This was a year of Annuals that all had to have the feeling of one of the genres of a pulp magazine. I don’t recall if I chose romance or Archie gave it to me as a cruel joke. Anyway, I think I rose to the challenge, making the central story by Mitch Byrd about Jack’s growing love for Sadie culminating in her asking him to go into space. And so the space arc could begin.
The Annual has a lot of “Times Pasts” as narrated by Jack going through the eras all centering on love (most of it lost). The Scalphunter story was done by a guy I like and admire immensely. Stefano Gaudiano is a great artist, whose style was a maybe little too classic for comics at that time. As a result he wasn’t working in the mainstream as much as I feel he deserved to be. But his work suited the tale he did to a tee, and it’s maybe my favorite in the issue. I haven’t seen Stefano for two or three years, but man, I’d love to work with him again.)
The Ted Knight/Black Canary story added a sexual angle to their 1960s team-ups in BRAVE AND THE BOLD. Some criticized me for “dirtying up” those tales of yore, but I think I did a good job and their final parting at the end of the story is a sweet one.
And this was another collaboration with Gene Ha. Always a pleasure. This story, while not as (relatively) well known as THE SHADE #1, holds up very well. Gene’s eye for 1950s/60s detail is superb.
And lastly David Knight’s tale of lost love. We had an artist signed on to do this with plenty of lead-time. It was only 8 pages. He promised, promised, promised the pages would get to us in time. And then they didn’t…arrive at all. We were behind the 8-ball. Who do you go to?
Steve Yeowell did that 8 page story in 2 days. Pencils and inks. Is it the best art he’s ever done? No. Is it the worst art ever? Not even close. Many are the artists today who’d sacrifice sundry appendages to draw as well as the art in this story. Man, Steve saved the day. God bless you sir, wherever you are.
Issue #37. This is probably my favorite “Talking With David.” I got to internalize many of the dead Golden Age heroes. Tony rose to the occasion too. I love his use of graphite instead of ink for the big images (one per hero).
And his fully painted/colored final page is a winner.
Issue #38. This was the issue I got hate-mail for. Where I killed off many of Justice League Europe. The back-story, already told in other places, is this…
I approached the then editor of JLE about killing off one of the team as a way to give the new Mist a little gravitas. I suggested the Crimson Fox. The editor said yes, but added that the characters were all so lame why didn’t I kill more of them. Oh, and he specifically wanted Blue Devil killed, so he could be resurrected in a specific way for some other storyline they were planning. And so I killed four of them. In my defense, I think I gave them a nice sprinkling of humanity before they popped their clogs.
At the time I was seen as a mass-murderer. I recently reread (and noted the body-count) in INFINITE CRISIS. My, how things have changed.
First time working with Dusty Abel. A nice guy who again has somewhat drifted out of comics. A pleasure to work with.
STARMAN SECRET FILES #1. This was a fun story to write. Another little known tale I’m really fond of. I loved working with Phi Jimenez and Lee Weeks, and it was extra fun mixing their art up on the page, something that wasn’t as often done as it is now. I enjoyed the different perspectives of Knights, young and old. And the final page is one I’m really proud of.
I’m embarrassed to say I don’t have copies of THE SHADE miniseries. These are my vague memories.
THE SHADE #1. This is my other collaboration with Gene Ha. Story not withstanding, it’s a thing of beauty. Oh and I recall it was colored by Gene too, which added to the mood. Wonderful.
THE SHADE #2. Another go at bat with J.H. Williams III. This was a tricky issue to write in that it was very episodic. J.H. did a great job because that’s what he does with everything.
THE SHADE #3. Brett Blevins, who I’d worked with on Annual #1, had an art style that perfectly suited the tale I wanted to tell. It was bright and light, in keeping with the cheery tale I wanted the book to appear to be at the onset, devolving into the dark tale it became with the twist in the motives of The Spider.
THE SHADE #4. Michael Zulli. I loved working with Michael having already done so on an issue of the WITCHCRAFT miniseries I did for Vertigo. I like how Michael’s style makes the end of the story feel almost Victorian (even though it’s set in the present) to turn it into sort of a bookend with Issue #1.
So that’s it for this Omnibus, kids. Next volume I’ll discuss gearing up for Tony’s departure. What does and doesn’t work within the pages of STARMAN. My part time job as a transvestite cabaret “hostess.” And what it’s like to work with Mike Mignola.
I’m joking about one of those. You can make up your minds which one.