The Nightstand #2: A Gem Of A City

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Sit down, get comfortable, and let us tell you all about our current reads in the Nightstand! We’ll be talking about the comics we’re reading at the moment, sharing our thoughts so you in the audience know what to, and what not to read. This series will be featuring guest writers, as we give you the low down on the best reads.

This week, I’m nearing the end of one of my new favourites these days – the 1990’s Starman series by James Robinson. I actually sought this series out on a whim after one of my David Bowie phases – I was listening to Starman, from Ziggy Stardust, and googled the name to see if there’s any history behind. I stumbled upon this character, and some of the magnificent art, and that it has been released in 6 lovely omnibus editions. I dove into the series, and immediately liked what I found.

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Starman is not your usual hero, especially considering the 90’s context (the era of as many guns as you can strap to the human anatomy). Jack Knight is the unfortunate inheritor of the legacy – his brother wielded the Star Rod loud and proudly, but was shot down by an assassin one night. Jack, on behalf of his father, the original Starman’s request, took up the title reluctantly, but over time, learned to love the position.

Jack himself is a collector, and owns a pawn store. Robinson weaves this love of old items into Jack’s inner monologue, relating something he might see in battle to a vintage Rockabilly record he auctioned for some time ago. Combined with Jack’s sarcasm, and generally wry perspective, we’re given a character that’s genuinely relatable, and fun to read. It’s a really well executed story, and it all relates with the continuing theme of legacy, and family. Robinson has written a wonderfully introspective long-form series, with amazing art from Tony Harris and Peter Snejberg.

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So after all this time, I find myself at the last volume, collecting the final, and what I’m told is the best story, Grand Guignol. The basic premise of the story stems from ‘The Shade’- an immortal superhuman who’s ambiguous alignment has been a rather compelling reason to keep coming back to the series. Except now, he has launched an all out attack on Opal City, to the surprise of pretty much everyone. After expressing his love for the city for so long, The Shade pretty much had all bases covered so that no one would believe it was him. Hell, he even left pretty recognisable evidence – residual shadow power he’s capable of controlling, methods of death unique to his abilities, yet he had managed to convince everyone for so long he was essentially a good guy, no one believed it!

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Of course, this has upset no one more than Jack Knight himself. The city, even more beloved to him than his lady friend Sadie, has exploded under his very watch. Having just arrived home from some zany space adventures, he feels everything is his fault, and it’s taking quite a toll. We see the lead-up to this event, everything from The Shade amassing his criminal army, to kidnapping Sadie, and fellow Starman, Mikaal. Robinson pulled this completely out of nowhere, yet upon reading it, you can’t help but feel the clever bastard had this in store ever since issue 1.

And the art. What can be said about the art that hasn’t already been said? Peter Snejberg is a brilliant, yet relatively simplistic artist. His scenes evoke feelings of pop/modern art, with his use of a limited colour palette, and thick, evocative lines. I was afraid that the successor of the amazing Tony Harris would not be able to compete, but boy, was I wrong. Everything is spot on – the environment and setting of Opal City is complex, yet moody and subtle. The character work is incredible, and complements the emotional tug of Robinson’s words tenfold. It’s such an incredible feat for an era so renowned for and ugly, over-realistic art style (see: Rob Liefeld), that you can’t help but sit in awe.

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Robinson has grabbed me hook, line and sinker, and I can’t help but want to read more. Needless to say, it will be interesting to see how this series wraps up – a final confrontation with The Shade? A reappearance of one of Jack’s first rogues, The Mist? How will it affect the cast? I’m personally looking forward to what will happen to the Starman legacy at the end of the series. Assuming it will be passed on, that gives us a selection of worthy characters. The new, wide eyed Star Spangled Kid? Mikaal Tomas, the previous bearer of the title? Heck, I could even see Jack’s main squeeze Sadie taking on the role, she’s shown herself to be capable of action. Nonetheless, I can’t wait to keep reading and see it all unfold.

This series is undoubtedly an underrated gem from the 1990’s, a series that so many more people need to know about. Starman is a wonderfully crafted book, filled with themes of family, legacy, introspection, and just good old superhero fun. If you’ve ever sought out a ‘feel good’ comic, Starman by James Robinson will restore your faith in humanity.

Stay tuned for the next Nightstand! We’re bring our thoughts and speculations on some classics, to you, the fans!

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