Review: Mystery in Space Vol. 2 trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, February 08, 2010

My two outings on this blog with Jim Starlin's work have been a mixed bag. I wasn't much enamored with Death of the New Gods, as it failed to live up to my admittedly high hopes for it; but, I found I very much liked Starlin's Mystery in Space, an offbeat tale that's at times a bit clunky, mired in Starlin's 1980s-esque over-narating, but still offers much to enjoy. I've finally read the second volume, which also contains Starlin's 1980s miniseries The Weird.

What I liked about Mystery in Space, some readers might find offputting -- there's a lot, and I mean a lot, of the characters talking to themselves. One sees Starlin nearly aching to use thought balloons; instead, almost every panel contains narration. What's so appealing is that Starlin recreates "don't call him Captain" Comet as a cosmic Sam Spade, even dipping sometimes into hard-boiled detective lingo -- a hero who may not always be smooth, but at least has a quip in waiting, and keeps up that rat-tat-tat internal monologue the whole way through. This might not have worked on Nightwing, for instance, but Starlin succeeds in giving this new Comet his own appealing voice.

Ditto for The Weird, with whom Starlin seems to take as his mission to make as oddball and inaccessible as possible. Weird isn't strange in the sense of Ambush Bug -- that is, irreverent -- but rather narratively challenging; in the course of the story, he has his memory wiped at least three times, such that at least once I wasn't sure what Weird did or didn't know. As such, there's an innocent, distracted, and detached internal monologue that follows Weird that's strangely soothing. The Weird ponders deep philosophical questions of death, religion, and identity, but from a distance, like watching bubbles pass overhead. Again, it's Starlin creating an engaging character voice, and that goes a long way to make up for Weird's over-talking.

I was rather surprised to come to the 1988 Weird miniseries collected at the end of this volume, then, and find a far-less-weird Weird than the one in Mystery in Space. This Weird, an energy creature existing in our universe in the body of a corpse, knows his mission and reason for being; even if he stops along the way to interact with the dead man's family, he's still a Weird far more in control of his destiny than the picaresque being in Mystery in Space. The Weird miniseries is a rather straightforward tale of the Justice League International misunderstanding, and finally teaming up with a well-meaning alien rebel against a coming invasion; frankly, I'm not sure the point of the original Weird miniseries (if not just to team Starlin and artist Bernie Wrightson), though it's fun to see that League in action again.. Had I read Weird before Mystery in Space, I might have had more reservations about the character returning -- for me, the Mystery in Space Weird is the far more interesting character.

Still, the finale of Mystery in Space and the Weird miniseries do share interesting thematic questions. In a harrowing scene, a Mystery in Space villain kills all the residents of a section of the Hardcore Station satellite trying to draw out Comet; Comet must later contemplate killing an equal number of cult-controlled followers in order to save the station ... and does. The Weird likens it to when he had to kill "the Jason,"* which the reader learns more about in the Weird mini -- here, too, the Weird had to decide between letting a villain go free or destroying half of Metropolis. It's interesting that almost twenty years ago, Starlin has his protagonist make the same decision, sacrificing innocent lives for the greater good, and I appreciated both times that Starlin challenges the reader with something other than the easy answer.

I'm on now to read the next chapter of what seems to be a cosmic DC Comics Starlin epic, Rann/Thanagar: Holy War. I was pleased to see, at least for a while, Starlin cornering the market on DC's cosmic characters, as I think this section of the DC Universe (and also the supernatural characters) has worked well with connected miniseries by one writer. I'm not sure if that role has been passed to Tony Bedard, however, with his well-received R.E.B.E.L.S. series, but in the meantime, I'm looking forward to more with Comet, Weird, and the rest. (And where's my Hardcore Station collection, I ask you?)

[Contains full covers, explanatory pages]

We continue our look at Jim Starlin's DC work coming up next!

* Edit: As I was adding this post to the schedule, it suddenly occured to me the irony of one of Jim Starlin's characters killing "the Jason." Weird indeed.
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