Review: JSA Presents: Stars and STRIPE Volume One trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Seeing Stargirl (nee the Star-Spangled Kid) and S.T.R.I.P.E. jumping out of the bold yellow title page of JSA Presents: Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E., I was struck by how long this book has been in coming. Consider that when the first issue of this comic first hit the stands, Geoff Johns was a virtual comics unknown, Dan DiDio hadn't yet joined DC Editorial, and Hal Jordan was dead.

In his introduction to this volume, Johns waxes on the creation of Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. much like Paul Levitz does with Huntress: Darknight Detective: with a bit of cringing, but also with great affection. Indeed while Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. has its fits and starts, there's also much to like here, and overall it offers a revealing cross-section of it's era's DC Universe.

With trademark Johnsian deftness, Geoff Johns sets up the Star-Spangled Kid's origins, her powers, and her motivations all in just the first few pages of this book. Courtney Whitmore is a regular teenager given powers by the belt of the original Star-Spangled Kid (it's an origin, considering it, that's remarkably similar to another great teen hero, the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle) who superheroes mainly to aggravate her stepfather, the original Stripsey. The kid's origins aside, Johns moves right in to her conflicts with any number of ever-present super-villains.

Decompressed, therefore, Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. is not. Fans of stories done in one or two issues will find much to like here. And it's also clear that Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. was not written with a collection in mind; the chapters weave in and out -- and reference -- Courtney's adventures with the Justice Society and in the Johns-written Day of Vengeance crossover in ways that will likely confuse fans not familiar with this period in DC Universe history (I'm mildly surprised DC didn't include any explanatory text pages).

The stories vary in quality. Johns shines, of course, in the interaction between Courtney and her stepfather Pat Dugan, and ultimately it's their relationship that sells the series. Courtney's battles with some villains, like her opposite number Shiv or the original Star-Spangled Kid's foes Solomon Grundy and the Nebula Man, were riveting in their danger or their use of DC history. Others, like Courtney's fight with her color-power-driven art teacher, smacked of the kind of high school soap opera silliness that, I think, made me stop buying this book the first time around.

I was also surprised to find that the Young Justice appearance here were some of the worst chapters of the bunch, especially considering how powerfully Johns would write many of these characters years later in Teen Titans. For my tastes, Johns wrote the Young Justicers just too stereotypically -- Superboy lusting after everyone, Arrowette hating to get dirty -- for me to enjoy. It's also interesting to see Johns write the Marvel Family, and Captain Marvel, given Billy Batson's later relationship with Courtney in JSA.

Some of the detailed, Seven Soldiers history that Courtney becomes involved with happens in the next volume of Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E., so I'll definitely be picking that up. I applaud DC for collecting this series, which is a good read overall -- now I'd like to see similar volumes for Chase, Damage ... what else?

[Contains full covers, introduction by Geoff Johns.]

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2 comments:

  1. I'd love to see collections of more of John Ostrander's DC work - Suicide Squad, Spectre and Martian Manhunter in particular - and Peter David's Aquaman.

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  2. Ostrander's Spectre would be a good collection, especially since some of it factored into Geoff Johns's later JSA run. I still have the first Ostrander Spectre collection, which had a glow-in-the-dark cover!

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