To be honest, based solely on these two issues and the limited information I’ve been able to pick up online, it’s the latter half of Starbrand and Nightmask that interests me more. Kevin Conner’s archetypal appeal and great power/great responsibility story is classic and interesting but it can’t hold my attention the way Adam’s stranger in a strange land confusion and psychedellic powers can. Therefore the second issue of Starbrand and Nightmask has an immediate leg up on its predecessor for being narrated and framed from the perspective of Adam Blackveil.
At this stage I’d be tempted to say that this series’ greatest strength is probably the willing distance it keeps from pure heroics. The superhero supporting cast and alterego have decreased in importance in recent years in favor of bigger and more meaningful adventures in costume, but Starbrand and Nightmask, while still delivering a sizable supervillain brawl, is willing to give perspectives other than our heroes. Most notably this comes through Adam, the cosmically powerful homunculus who is still dwarfed in power by Earth’s Starbrand, and his attempts to play Jimminy Cricket to someone with a vastly stronger understanding of what it means to be human than him. However, there’s also Kenny Kong, who nearly reveals that he knows our heroes secrets before being cut off by orientation. Working on these various levels – Starbrand and the central character of the series, Nightmask as our POV, Kong as something of an audience surrogate – allows the series to do something different, even as it is required to spend most of its time establishing the balance between heroes and college students.
Of course it doesn’t hurt that our protagonists are seriously powerful. Oftentimes attempts to revive a lighter and more character-driven superhero choose to utilize the limited scope of a mid level character, but with these two that couldn’t be farther from the truth. That allows Avenger-level threats like Graviton to team up with two other villains and still not make for an overwhelming opposition. If anything, the battle is too easily won, something that Adam explicitly points out. But while the series has yet to produce a threat able to directly match its protagonists for power, the presence of an unseen puppet-master seems to promise that such foes not only exist but are waiting in the wings.
Perhaps even more surprising is the possibility that Kevin, himself, may prove to be one the duo’s greatest dangers.
While the series steps into deeper territory and less formulaic structure, it still feels like one of Weisman’s animated projects, a medium in which we are typically more forgiving of familiar plot elements and appeals to younger fans. It is pretty cool that this series seems to be trying to be a true all-ages title, smart enough for older fans with nothing to make it inappropriate for newer ones, but the perfect balance this requires still eludes this book.
I also have to mention that some readers may not appreciate the slow burn Weisman is taking with his villains. I’d hate to see this series’ chances undercut by trade-waiting, but I don’t think I could blame some readers for taking a wait and see approach. But while it is a problem, there are few writers I trust more to devise a truly excellent evil plan that Weisman, so if you’re on the fence, take his stirling record in this regard into account.
Domo Stanton’s artwork retains its scratchy cartoonish style from last month. I can’t say that his weaknesses have cleared up, however. Eyes are still oddly placed and faces change from panel to panel. There’s also some occasional stiffness in the characters that doesn’t help convey a sense of naturalism.
But while there are significant technical issues, Stanton really succeeds from a storytelling perspective. The flow of action is clear and the intended effects are communicated well by the panels. For any weaknesses in anatomy or realism, Stanton knows what he wants out of an image and so does the reader. Plus the wild and varied power sets Weisman has given him to play with allow for some pretty cool looking moments.
It doesn’t hurt that Stanton has Jordan Boyd to back him up. Boyd uses orange and blue beautifully and in a way that avoids comparison to the much overused palette of similar colors often employed on the big screen.
- Does Norman Osborn still get his name on a Dormitory? Didn’t he invade a foreign country and then go on a Hulked up rampage through New York?
The decision to focus on Adam and the balance between superhero adventures and building a supporting cast serve this issue well. The writing brings a lot of great ideas to the table, even if they don’t always gel, and the art has the opposite problem, being technically weak but effective on the whole. While it has its flaws, it’s a really enjoyable product and a lovely deviation from the event-driven mentality that dominates comics today. Fans of thoughtful, character driven teen hero adventure will likely find something to love here and it seems like Weisman is only beginning to reveal his plans for the series. Starbrand and Nightmask hasn’t hit its stride just yet, but it’s certainly on its way up.