James Robinson’s Star Man, set in a fictional city to which Robinson had given palpable character, was a series that I looked forward with much anticipation to reading during its monthly run. It was smart writing chock full of great characterization and interesting plots featuring the sexy and reluctant hero Jack Knight. As if that wasn’t enough to keep my interest, Robinson returned to stage a one note character once billed as Starman, Mikaal Tomas (a native of a sister planet to Shadow Lass’ Talok VIII) and gave him a lover named Tony.
With Starman’s run finished, Robinson helped to reestablish Hawkman in the atmospheric city of St. Roch, LA and then faded from my radar till his being named the writer of a second Justice League book. News that Robinson would include both Tomas and Batwoman piqued my curiosity. Somewhere along the way (can you say ” bad economy”?) the series went from an ongoing schedule to an eight issue one. That dashed a bit of my enthusiasm, but the possibility it could continue if sales were good consoled me.
Then I read the first and third issues, having missed and not tracked down the second due to my own fault. After reading these two installments I honestly wonder if a limited series isn’t a blessing. Much of the dialog ranges from being stilted to downright awful and the plot and its execution are, let me use the new word I found for hackneyed, percoct. Supergirl sheds a single tear after Green (Hal I-have-another-big-stick-up-my-ass Jordan) Lantern asks her if she’s a hero or villain because Kryptonians aren’t allowed on Earth now, but even Hal with so much exposure to alien cultures and witnessing that even control freaks like the Guardians are fallible should have some common sense. There’s Shazam, now Freddie Freeman, ogling Kara, which in itself doesn’t bother me but it does remind me of the talked about scene in issue #2 with Hal confessing to a three way with Huntress and Zinda (AKA Lady Blackhawk). I don’t mind superheroes being sexual; just because they’re heroes doesn’t mean their libidos are repressed. The comments I read from other bloggers in respsonse to the scene made me think it was simply a gratuitous line. If Robinson wants to shock or titillate readers then he should write a scene with Mikaal propositioning Ollie and Ray. Speaking of Mikaal, Congorilla asks the blue-skinned hero about his slain lover Tony, awkwardly referring to him as “your friend”. Perhaps the human mind of Congo Bill residing in the gorilla’s body is conservative, but couldn’t he have used the word “mate” in keeping with the character’s animal/ jungle theme and the likelihood of observing homosexuality in other apes? Maybe that’s nitpicking.
About the torture scene. Ideally the notion of torture in any form would never have occurred to humankind, but the world is not ideal and comics aren’t required to be idealistic for me to gain my interest. That said, having the Atom torture the man (in actuality a Clayface) they presume to be Prometheus is particulary disturbing. We learn that after Ray shrunk and entered the man’s body that Ray went “twelve rounds with [his] sinuses”. Even if Ray Palmer believed torture to be a legitimate practice I think this incident should be taken as out of character for Ray. Why? The deed is similar to Brad Meltzer’s plot in Identity Crisis where wife Jean’s twisted need to gain attention by entering Sue Dibny’s brain to cause a minor stroke backfires and unintentionally kills her. Ray was so emotionally devastated by Jean’s actions that he disappeared for awhile from the comics scene. Granted the disappearance had a business aspect to it since it set the stage for a shortlived series featuring Ryan Choi as the Atom. Practicality aside, Jean’s deed ought to have had a lasting resonance for Ray that I believe would have stopped him from considering the proposition.
In the third issue there are four killings. Death as a possible consequence in comics isn’t off putting to me. What is distasteful in my opinion is the revolving door aspect to the deaths of many superheroes or as in Robinson’s Cry For Justice, what seems to be equating the level of “bad-assery” to the number of killings. The real Prometheus kills the Clayface held prisoner by Hal and company by exploding a previously implanted bomb in the villain’s body. An entire building explodes and we never see what happens to the Justice gang because Robinson switches to a lengthy scene between the real Prometheus and Quimby (Professor IQ), evil scientist playing the lackey. Prometheus blathers on at length to fill in the reader on his motivation, commenting that “after a while you begin to see that for some, the simple act of donning spandex makes death a revolving door.” Well, I can’t disagree with that sentiment. Robinson then recounts his killing spree of the Global Guardians (Gloss, an unnamed character that may be Sandstorm, Tasmanian Devil, and Freedom Beast who was shown dead in #1). While they’re all minor characters and therefore more expendable in the company portfolio, such deaths told in brief flashbacks are substantially meaningless to the reading experience as there is no sense of struggle or tragedy. Worst of all though is Robinson’s choice of fate for Tasmanian Devil. After killing the hero from Down Under, Prometheus had Taz’s skin (and intact head) flayed from his body and turned into a rug. Surely villains can be gruesome. The Joker and the innumerable people he’s killed both on and off panel must be at the top of the list, but I can’t think of a prior incident in a mainstream superhero comic with a villain flaying or mutilating the body a slain hero to use as decoration or declaration of bad-assery.
Some comic readers may know that Tasmanian Devil was one of many minor LGBT characters. While it’s regrettable that a gay character is killed, I don’t think such characters should be off limits. The death of Starman’s lover Tony in the first issue saddened me though in and of itself it seemed plausible. But understanding now that Robinson wrote that scene, as all the others, simply to elevate Prometheus to the spotlight in the DC Universe is lazy. The writer’s decision and editor Eddie Berganza’s approval to use a flayed human (whatever the gender or orientation) is disturbing and I simply can’t imagine how either thought this was a suitable idea.
In issue #3’s text piece Robinson wrote: “But what is a great villain? How do you make a villain great? And what indeed makes a great villain?” After reading this issue my answer would be “lots of exposition, nefarious deeds and grisly killings told in flashback and a good dose of plot contrivances.” If you have to tell your readers in a text piece why the villain is bad, then you’ve failed doing so in the story.
Ironically as I read this comic the other night my TV was tuned to a Comedy Central show with Joan Rivers being roasted by some other comedians. Rivers took the podium and turned the tables, targeting her roasters with her disguised-as-comedy insults liberally peppered with curses just to get a reaction from hearing a 76 year old woman say such things. It worked, but I thought it was cheap, and then I went back to reading and thought the same of Robinson’s effort with this story when I was finished.