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The Stars My Destination

  Starman: A Starry Knight

 

James Robinson, David Goyer, Various Artists

DC, 2002

Rating: 3.7

 

 

Posted: June 2, 2002

By Kevin Forest Moreau

James Robinson's run on DC's Starman was notable for his attempt to create a sweeping, self-contained epic, in much the same vein as DC/Vertigo's Sandman and Preacher series, within the milieu of the mainstream superhero comic. Its mixed success comes in due in no small part to Robinson's decision to tie together all of the heroes to carry the Starman name in DC's history, crafting a story rich with thematic legacy and far-reaching scope.

Thus, A Starry Knight, the seventh volume to collect Robinson's run, finds protagonist Jack Knight (the tattooed, leather-jacketed son of Ted Knight, the Golden Age Starman) on a quest to find one of his predecessors, Will Payton, star of an '80s title of the same name. Jack blasts off into outer space, accompanied by blue-skinned Mikaal Tomas, an alien Starman from the '70s, and a sentient "Mother Box" computer assuming the holographic form of Jack's father.

Knight concerns itself with the beginning of the journey, throwing in a number of detours and coincidences that cause its pages to creak with strain. The rocket lands on the same planet on which DC's Swamp Thing first materialized after being blasted into space years ago (a tale recently collected in Earth to Earth, the fifth volume to collect Alan Moore's classic run on that book). There, Jack encounters Solomon Grundy, an Earth creature/villain (coincidence number one). Immediately after, the rocket is enveloped in a large black void that deposits it in the 30th century, where Knight and Tomas meet two members of DC's futuristic Legion of Super Heroes (coincidence number two). Those heroes -- Star Boy (number three) and Umbra, a heroine with darkness powers (number four, which will be explained shortly) -- set out to stop the darkness from enveloping everything in its path, only to cross paths with the Shade (number five), a somewhat amoral immortal and regular cast member, who exhibits darkness powers somewhat similar to Umbra's (told you).

Star Boy soon learns of his own upcoming role as a Starman (number six), and soon after Knight and Tomas (and of course the Mother Box) are catapulted back in time to Krypton, where they knock around with Jor-El, the future father of Superman (seven). They return to the present to cross paths with DC's longtime star-faring Adam Strange (eight), in a story involving an historic treaty among worlds that will in time, it's hinted, become the United Planets (the governing authority in the Legion's future...that's number nine). even as Mikaal Tomas rediscovers the fire in his belly while confronting a longtime adversary from his own world (that's ten). Payton himself never appears in the seven issues collected here; the story gets wrapped in subsequent issues (no doubt to be collected in volume eight someday).

A Starry Knight -- indeed, Starman itself -- drips with a stylized romanticism that gives the book its distinctive voice. Jack embarks on his quest as a favor to his true love, who happens to be Payton's sister; Knight is narrated in prosaic journal-entry form by the Shade; the rocket in which Knight and Tomas depart looks like something straight out of Jules Verne. But Robinson's lunge for romance also hobbles the proceedings; the many coincidences strain credibility even as they underline Jack's connection, not only to Starmen past and future, but to the larger DC Universe. Worse, his dialogue is often stilted in its attempt to flow with Shakespearean grace. And Knight suffers from the absence of longtime Starman artist Tony Harris; the book's visual tone wobbles slightly in the transition to penciler Steve Yeowell and then to Peter Snejbjerg, whose linear, cartoonish approach finally gels (but not before earning unfavorable -- and undoubtedly unfair -- comparison's to Harris's long run, which established the entire look and feel of the series).

A Starry Knight shows the strain, then, of Robinson's ambition to create a work of unusual resonance and myth in a monthly superhero title, as his reach often exceeds his grasp. But to quote Browning, a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for? Knight, like all of the preceding collections, certainly has its faults but is nonetheless noteworthy for that very sense of ambition, which does succeed in elevating Starman above the countless other men-in-tights books crowding the shelves.

Related Links:

Swamp Thing: Earth To Earth

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