This really did not bode well. This is Starman – a comic that engenders the sort of deep-seated affection that makes us angry and suspicious if you try to do anything silly like, ooh, I don’t know, bring it back. And while the man doing that is the only person who could be said to have anything approaching the right to – creator James Robinson – it’s fair to say that his recent work for DC has generally been, at best, passable rather than spectacular (and at times, worse than that).
But the first fear is allayed by the fact that this book is in no way about Jack Knight – indeed, it might as well actually be called The Shade #5. For it’s a story of that dark neither-hero-nor-villain, and the city he inhabits and protects (god, that prose style of Robinson’s is infectious, isn’t it?), and that simple fact means that worry number two is taken care of – Robinson simply cannot go wrong when writing this character, and slips back into it likea pair of old shoes. So actually, this special Blackest Night tie-in one-off of a comeback special actually does a strong job of feeling and sounding like it belongs.
It’s also a story that justifies the telling, picking up as it does one of the few lingering threads of the original series that felt incomplete – the burgeoning (or, more accurately, potential) relationship between the Shade and Hope O’Dare. And although there’s a sense of wariness over seeing too much niceness in his life (come on, he’s better when he’s still a bit of a git, isn’t he?), it’s hard to deny him a little bit of schmaltz; and it’s enjoyable to spend time in the company of both characters. The main events of the issue, meanwhile, are standard Blackest Night zombie-hero-returns-to-terrorise-loved-ones guff – but again, this does actually justify itself, given that Starman is a series that already featured the frequent return of the same long-dead character that haunts this issue’s pages (although I can’t help but feel there’s a huge missed opportunity in not calling the issue “Talking with David 2010”).
One thing it doesn’t have in its favour compared to the original series is either of the two superb artists who defined it in its earliest and latest days – Tony Harris and Peter Snejberg (although Harris makes a welcome return to draw the cover) – but with Bill Sienciewicz finishing over Fernando Dagnino’s layouts, it’s lent a touch of class nevertheless. The inker’s trademark loose style is well-suited to the manifestation of the Shade’s powers, and there’s a particularly excellent splash replicating his trademark “tipped-hat” arrival pose and smirk.
It does surprise me to say this, but – while I wouldn’t necessarily want to see it repeated – this is actually quite a welcome return. You sense there’s no other comic in which Robinson could get away with exchanges like “The Shade saving police, where once you’d have sat back and watched their slaughter” “With absinthe and a cheese plate. Perhaps. But long ago.”, but in this one, he does. There is something pleasant and nostalgic about it all – no mean feat for a story that involves a blackened zombie tearing people’s hearts out – and while it probably is best to let the Starman title itself rest for good now, it hasn’t half whetted my appetite to see more of old Dickie Swift. Hopefully Robinson will oblige us sooner rather than later.