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CSBG Archive

A Year of Cool Comics – Day 103

Here is the latest in our year-long look at one cool comic (whether it be a self-contained work, an ongoing comic or a run on a long-running title that featured multiple creative teams on it over the years) a day (in no particular order whatsoever)! Here‘s the archive of the moments posted so far!

Today we take a look at Sins of the Child, from Starman #12-16, by James Robinson and Tony Harris (and friends)…
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Enjoy!

Sins of the Father is the sequel to the original storyline from this Starman series, where Jack Knight is called into service as the new Starman. He ends up killing the son of Starman’s old nemesis, the Mist, who has gone senile. In the process, the Mist’s daughter, Nash, who had been romantically drawn to Jack, decides that SHE has to take up the mantle of the Mist.

This storyline addresses her first big move as the new Mist.

It is a five-part story telling the story of one day, from the perspective of Jack Knight, his father, Ted Knight, Mikaal, the alien formerly known as Starman, and the O’Dares (a cop family of Opal City) – the last part goes back to Jack to finish his story up, as his day acts as bookends for the arc.

It’s really well handled by Robindson and Harris (the O’Dares story has a bunch of guest artists).

Just check out how each issue opens…

Pretty cool, huh?

I like how the initial issue opens up with Jack revealing a lot more “goody two shoes” to him than we are expected to see…

Then, of course, the Mist’s crazy plan begins…

In the O’Dare issue, there is a pretty notable scene where crooked cop Matt O’Dare decides to become a good guy again, and he interrupts a cute discussion about Stephen Sondhiem musicals…

Finally, a little bit more from the Mist on her insane plans…

This was a strong, multi-layered story arc that derived much of its enjoyment from the development of the various characters within (and boy does Robinson do a good job with the evil of the Mist, as she murders a group of people for a twisted reason).

While the Sins of the Father clearly established the comic, I think Sins of the Child is the better example of giving someone a prototypical Robinson Starman storyline.

Strong work overall (and the art is great from ALL the artists involved).

35 Comments

K that settles it, I’m moving this up a few notches on my wish list. Omnibus, here I come.

This is from the guy that wrote Cry for Justice? I was planning on skipping Starman because of it, but now it’s back in my “to read” pile.

The pacing of this story didn’t quite work for me, but it was an interesting experiment and I’ll always take that over competent but unambitious.

Captain Doctor Master

April 14, 2010 at 5:09 am

James Robinson’s entire Starman run is one of the best LONG series ever done. In fact, I can’t think of any better.

I even like it better than Lee & Kirby’s Fantastic Four, Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, and Terry Moore’s Stranger In Paradise. I might consider Ditko’s Spider-Man to be a tiny bit better, but he didn’t stick with it long enough to qualify…

And James Robinson’s “The Golden Age” mini-series is my absolute favorite short super-hero series. Which makes me wonder why his recent stuff is rather mediocre. “Mediocre” is a serious drop in quality for this writer. Is his new stuff being watered down by Didio or some other editor?

Captain Doctor Master

April 14, 2010 at 5:14 am

And one of the best things about Robinson’s Starman run was that it ENDED. Giving readers closure. Very Satisfying. Publishers should allow more features to end — gracefully, with dignity — before other writers and editors get in there an ruin it with their diluted, misguided versions and retcons.

@ Joe H.

James Robinson’s recent work has not been very good, but the guy was a genius in the ’90s. It may just be that he is better of working in his own corner of the DC Universe where he doesn’t have to deal with the needs of the “Grand Corporate Narrative”. A plot as intricate as what Brian featured above would be impossible on a book that was in eternal cross-over mode.

Tom Fitzpatrick

April 14, 2010 at 5:32 am

Unfortunately, I agree with Dean Hacker. Every writer has their period of ups and lows in their career, periods of greatness and abyssmal works.

Look at Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Grant Morrison, for example. Not every book they did was lauded and crowed over. (Most, yes, but not all).

Hopefully, whatever slump Mr. Robinson’s in, he’ll get out of it soon.

The Starman series, is always a terrific book to read. I just wish my library would finish “processing” the omnibus and release it into the general collection, so I can get to re-read. ;-)

funkygreenjerusalem

April 14, 2010 at 6:08 am

Look at Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Grant Morrison, for example. Not every book they did was lauded and crowed over. (Most, yes, but not all).

I the 90′s, Robinson was a better writer than Moore.

sins of the father showed jack actully was figuring out what it takes to be a hero even as he came to terms with having to kill junior mist plus it proves how the mist daughter was begining her decent into truely becoming a total pycho joker level villain that continues in sins of the child.

“I the 90′s, Robinson was a better writer than Moore.”

That’s absurd. Starman reads as awfully self-indulgent and Golden Age is just assy with good art.

Matthew Johnson

April 14, 2010 at 7:11 am

This is a great story, but that Sondheim scene was the first warning sign that Robinson could go very wrong.

Reading the Starman Omnibus #3 right now and loving it as much as I did the first time I read these stories.
I have a hard time connecting James Robinson, the writer I loved during the 90s, with the James Robinson of today. I had started to think that maybe he had been body-snatched, but then he recently put out that fantastic Starman: Blackest Night issue that confirmed he still can be one of the best… when he tries.
It’s almost painful to see his work on Justice League or Superman, and realize that for many people, that is their first exposure to his work. (I have much the same feeling about Jeph Loeb these days… the man badly needs another Long Halloween…)
The good news: The Shade regular series. Based on the quality of Starman: Blackest Night, I think the announcement that Robinson is going to write a regular Shade book set in Opal City is a sign that someone recognizes that he still has “it,” and that all he needs is the right supports to get back to writing at his best.

Okay, my only exposure to James Robinson has been Batman Face the Face Storyline, Cry for Justice and JUstice League. All abysmal. So I reached the conclusion that what was occurring with James Robinson was the same thing that happened to Jeph Loeb, another writer everyone claimed suddenly went from great to bad. I assumed, like Loeb, he was ALWAYS doing mediocre work, even at his supposed height, but could no longer disguise it.

But the more I read of these old Starman excerpts, I must admit: they seem damn good. Which makes me more confused about Robinson’s recent work. Because even if editorial was dictating his plots, what’s with all the bad dialogue and purple prose narration? I notice Archie Goodwin was editor here, and I know I’ve loved everything Goodwin has written. I consider him one of the most underrated comic writers ever. I wonder if he played a big role in shaping the final product somehow. Because what I’m reading here seems wonderful.

@ FGJ:

Alan Moore is a rebel. He is much better when he has an authority figure around to rebel against. During most of the ’90s, he was his own boss. That caused him to be a bit self-indulgent.

My theory is that James Robinson is nearly the opposite. He aims to please, so when he is in situation with a highly demanding boss he tries to give them what they want. That is true even when it means not telling the best possible story.

That sweetness is what makes STARMAN so charming. Robinson plainly LOVES these characters, even the bad ones. He wants them to be happy, so it makes the bad stuff feel that much more shocking.

funkygreenjerusalem

April 14, 2010 at 8:37 am

That’s absurd. Starman reads as awfully self-indulgent and Golden Age is just assy with good art.

James Robinson could have written Starman in shit on a toilet wall, and he still would have been a better writer than Alan Moore in the 90′s.
His Spawn mini’s, Wildcats run, Violator vs Badrock – all utter shite.

I’ve since thrown out the collections I brought of it, but I didn’t finish any of them.
Utter garbage.

Alan Moore is a rebel. He is much better when he has an authority figure around to rebel against. During most of the ’90s, he was his own boss. That caused him to be a bit self-indulgent.

My theory is that James Robinson is nearly the opposite. He aims to please, so when he is in situation with a highly demanding boss he tries to give them what they want. That is true even when it means not telling the best possible story.

Unfortunately, your wrong on this one.

Moore has admitted he was trying to write like image writers on his 90′s output, because that’s what he thought the audience wanted.
James Robinson was encouraged by Goodwin to just write what he wanted, hence Jack having all the interests and views Robinson does.

funkygreenjerusalem

April 14, 2010 at 8:40 am

Because what I’m reading here seems wonderful.

Imagine how his current out-put felt for those of us who had read Starman!

I read Coming Of Atlas straight through twice, assuming there was something wrong with me!

And Face The Face… who was he trying to be? Meltzer?
Don’t set up a new status quo in your last issue! (Or use a short run to create one).
It’s pointless!

It’s almost painful to see his work on Justice League or Superman, and realize that for many people, that is their first exposure to his work. (I have much the same feeling about Jeph Loeb these days… the man badly needs another Long Halloween…)

No, Loeb always sucked and Long Halloween is as bad as his current output once you eliminate the elements he direrctly lifted from Godfather I and II, Presumed Innocent and Silence of the Lambs and focus solely on his original contributions to the story.

What I don’t get is his narration style these days. While the narration captions above may be arguably self-indulgent (I don’t think they are but i could see how someone else could), they are still miles beyond what he’s doing in JLA these days:

http://www.newsarama.com/php/multimedia/album_view.php?gid=1848&page=2

“I remember the smell of curry?” “I remember Barry smiling as he passed by, the sun glinting off his white teeth?” And so on and so on? It seems maybe he’s deliberately trying to write like Meltzer, with the excessive, overdone familiarity, maudlin nostalgia and fawning adulation in ever piece of interaction and narration, but it’s definitely not a change for the better.

@ FGJ:

Unfortunately, your wrong on this one.

Moore has admitted he was trying to write like image writers on his 90′s output, because that’s what he thought the audience wanted.
James Robinson was encouraged by Goodwin to just write what he wanted, hence Jack having all the interests and views Robinson does.

Well, both things could be true in either case.

I did not mean that Moore was trying to rebel against his audience. He is too canny a businessman for that. What I meant was that he seems to get a special energy from rebelling against people he considers powerful (i.e. corporate types). It seems like most of his best work has come either right before, or right after, telling someone where they can get off.

With regard to Robinson, including his own interests and views in STARMAN could be seen as an example of trying to please Archie Goodwin. The current editorial regime at DC wants something completely different. They appear to engage in what (I believe it was) Brian called “algebraic plotting”. They tell Robinson the JLA issue #xx needs Donna Troy to hit emotional beat B to progress her toward plot point C in the latest mega crossover. Moreover, this is a REALLY IMPORTANT beat. So, Robinson turns the volume up to 11 and makes sure a deaf man knows what he is saying.

Except, plot point C isn’t really as interesting on the page as it was at the Editorial Retreat six months ago, so it gets cut way back (or eliminated entirely). Doesn’t that feel like this is going on?

Experienced Editor (E.E.) to Novice Editor (N.E.): “No one will script your re-vamp of Batman? Call up good ole James Robinson and he’ll set up that new Batman status quo you pitched. Everybody loves James. He is a real pro.”

N.E.: “Sounds great! I can’t wait to start clearing some of that dead wood out of Batman’s rogues gallery!”

Six months later ….

N.E.: “The superstar creative team I am courting for Batman hates the status quo that James and I just spent six months working on. They have their own ideas.”

E.E.: “Awww … just dump it. James will understand. He is a real pro.”

Is his new stuff being watered down by Didio or some other editor?

T. beat me to it (The dastard!), but Archie Goodwin was editor for most of Starman‘s run, and I believe also edited The Golden Age. While Robinson’s never set my eyes on fire*, it is worth noting who held the reins on the two series upon which much of Robinson’s rep is built. It’s amusing that editor-interference is a default reason for suckage, while editorial guidance often gets short shrift when it comes to praising the good. There’s an interesting discussion to be had on that subject, I think.

*I find he’s too reliant on exposition and more than a little tedious. TGA was waaay too wordy, and I really should check the SM Omnibii out of my local library one of these days and give it another read – I have never understood the affection and acclaim for the series, it seemed that it ran too long (I initially was going to say by maybe 15 issues or so, but Wikipedia sez the thing ran for 80 issues, they probably could have cut 30), and Jack Knight’s development was pretty sloppy, IIRC.

What I don’t get is his narration style these days.

Robinson’s exposition crutch has always been like that, the whole “THIS IS IMPORTANT. THIS TOUCHES ME EMOTIONALLY. THESE MEN ARE HEROES. POIGNANT. REVERENT. THIS IS HOW YOU THE READER SHOULD FEEL BECAUSE I AM TELLING YOU THIS IS HOW YOU SHOULD FEEL,” schtick is what turned me off of Starman in the first place.

“I remember the smell of curry?” “I remember Barry smiling as he passed by, the sun glinting off his white teeth?” And so on and so on? It seems maybe he’s deliberately trying to write like Meltzer, with the excessive, overdone familiarity, maudlin nostalgia and fawning adulation in ever piece of interaction and narration, but it’s definitely not a change for the better.

That is a bad page, but I don’t know that it is necessarily a badly written page.

The effect that Robinson and Bagley appear to be going for is a familiar one. They are trying to pull you into the POV of Green Arrow by connecting the fantastical world of the JLA with the mundane world that we live in. Most of the time, the “I remember the smell of curry” text box would be over a close-up of Green Arrow. The second panel would be the big one of the Silver Age JLA fighting Shaggy Man. The connection would be slightly funny that way.

Instead, the panel order is reversed. The second text box in panel one is there to clarify, I guess. It is not really necessary and it utterly kills what was a thin joke to begin with. However, it is impossible to know what Robinson’s original script looked like and who did what.

Maybe Robinson wrote it badly. It is certainly possible, but his work on STARMAN suggests that he has a very good handle on how this type of gag should work.

Maybe Mark Bagley liked this page composition better and the second text box was added in a lame attempt to fix things. I don’t know Bagley’s work well enough to guess.

Maybe the editor had Robinson and/or Bagley reverse the panel order to put the action at the top of the page, but he liked the concept of the joke and insisted it be kept.

That is all stuff that seems to happen in the sausage factory that is mainstream comics.

Dean, my problem with it isn’t the mechanics you describe but the heavyhandedness Layne describes. Just trying too hard to make you feel what he wants you to feel. Like almost strongarming you into the right emotional response.

I still like Starman, though maybe not as much as I used to. In hindsight, Starman kind of reads like a forerunner of the Geoff Johnsiana legacy-obsessed nostalgia porn that pervades most of DC’s line these days, but it was unlike anything else that DC put out at the time. A lof of the writing on the book could be heavy-handed and self-indulgent. But Robinson did such a good job of defining Jack and his supporting cast, and getting the reader to care, that his flaws were overlooked or at least forgiven. Plus the art was really good.

@ T.:

No doubt about it. James Robinson is an emotional writer, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Stan Lee was pretty emotional as well. I am not saying that Robinson is on Stan Lee’s level, but can you imagine The Man’s prose in conjunction with an artist as static as Mauro Cascioli?

I honestly do not think that Robinson has become a bad writer. It just seems like he is on the wrong projects and/or paired with the wrong artists. Comic writers tend to be good or bad mostly based on the situation they are in. Jeph Loeb scripting for Tim Sale in a Batman: Year One story is entertaining. Alan Moore scripting Travis Charest on ’90s Image titles is dreck.

James Robinson working with Tony Harris in their own little corner of the DCU was magic. The same writer working on a different title with another artist (and under another editorial regime) is a completely different situation.

@ DanLarkin:

STARMAN begat the Robinson-Goyer JSA, which proved to be the big break for one Geoff Johns when Robinson rotated off it. So, yeah … If you don’t like the Rebirth movement, then you need to lay some blame at the feet of STARMAN. It was the beginning of the movement combining the warm wash of nostalgia with modern violence.

However, (as you said) it was totally unique at that time. Nothing else like it was on the stands for its entire run. I’d also argue that it was better, since Robinson invested in Jack Knight on a personal level in a way that editorial-driven comics just do not allow.

Comic writers tend to be good or bad mostly based on the situation they are in. Jeph Loeb scripting for Tim Sale in a Batman: Year One story is entertaining

We’ll have to agree to disagree here. I don;’t believe there’s such a thing as good or entertaining Jeph Loeb writing. That’s why I’ve been saying for years what people only recently are starting to say about him now, even back during his Tim Sale days.

Also, to me Stan was going for the melodramatic bombast you find in epic poetry and stories, and in old movies before method acting stressed realism. Everything larger than life. I know it’s not for everyone but personally I like that style, but I also like lengthy speeches in Shakespeare, Greek tragedies, and old Hollywood black and white movies. For me though, Robinson’s modern writing is more in the category of a really self-indulgent emo song or an emotional teenager’s drama queen diary. It just feels like tedious navelgazing.

[...] Comics Should Be Good: A Year of Cool Comics – Day 103 [...]

@ T.:

Fair enough.

Jeph Loeb works in what I would call a “pastiche mosaic” style pioneered by Alan Moore in SUPREME and 1963. It is wildly popular for whatever reason. Most of the comics near the top of the Diamond sales charts work in some variation of that style, but it leaves me cold. The combination of the pastiche mosaic with STARMAN’s “warm wash of nostalgia interrupted by the cruelty of the modern world” tone is essentially the DC house style at this point. One of the earliest combinations of those elements was Loeb & Sale’s THE LONG HALLOWEEN. I liked it at the time, but the combination has worn thin in its ubiquity.

STARMAN itself has worn better on me partly because of James Robinson. It seems to genuinely be (at least partially) how he feels about the world. It is not some literary trick that he was trying out. As a fan, I hope that Robinson moves beyond comic-specific nostalgia. For one thing, a backlash is very clearly forming against the neo-Silver Age movement that could work against him even though he is not really one of those guys.

By the way, my Robinson critiques relate to his recent stuff I’ve seen. The Starman excerpts Brian has been showing, while wordy, aren’t bad enough to turn me off. The pros, to me, outweigh the cons, at least in the little I’ve seen. According to Layne though Robinson’s always been guilty of the stylistic tics I described in his current work.

My public library has Vol1 of Starman Omnibus so I’ll give it a shot for myself.

‘Sweeney Todd’ is better, but the dude also wrote lyrics to ‘West Side Story’. Tough call, good productions. Any comic that references such things is ok in my book.

Lest we forget, Tony Harris & Wayne von Grawbadger produced some dynamite visuals. Robinson’s tendency to overwrite was easier to take with the wonderful cityscapes and cool character designs. Peter Snejbjerg did a good job during his stint, and most of the guest artists (among them Teddy Kristiansen, Gene Ha, Craig Hamilton, & Russ Heath) were excellent.

I liked Starman a great deal at the time. I still like it, but can see its flaws. I think a new reader would base his opinion of the series on how able he was to digest the purple-ish prose. For me, Robinson’s strengths were his ability to write compelling characters, create a mood, and integrate DC’s vast history into his plots without feeling the need to retcon everything. My favorite issue was probably 29, the Bobo Benetti story.

funkygreenjerusalem

April 14, 2010 at 6:36 pm

Just a point worth making with the ‘over written pages’ – Starman was written in the days before everything was collected, so it really was written for the single issue.
It may seem overwritten now, but one of the joys of getting it monthly was you knew you’d be spending a bit more time with each issue, than you would a normal one.
Combined with the art, it really helped to pull you in to Opal City – the true star of the book.
Reading in the Omnibus, you do start to wonder why he keeps telling you about people in the city over and over, but when it was monthly, it really worked to get you in the mind set.

The single issue thing is good to keep in mind.

Sorry, Robinson’s tendency to overwrite always rubbed me the wrong way. If only because his prose always seemed to be too precious. Looking at this now, I can see why a lot of people might go nuts for it at the time if they were at the right age for it, but I can only see his flaws.

As for Robinson vs. Moore, no one’s mentioning the vast majority of From Hell was done in the 90s, and any chapter of that is better than this.

STARMAN is one of those classic series that’s perfect because of, rather than in spite of, its imperfections. It’s jumbled at times, a bit overwritten, but none of that matters because the effort and love within it is genuine and bold.

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