Review: JSA Presents: Stars and STRIPE Vol. 2 trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, March 08, 2010

JSA Presents: Stars and STRIPE is an odd egg, a two-volume collection of the entire run of a good-but-not-critically acclaimed Justice Society lead-in series. Of course we know it's not the series' JSA ties that warranted its collection, nor even its popular appeal (else we'd have a JSA Presents: Hourman collection by now); rather this series ought be called The Geoff Johns Collection: Stars and STRIPE, and therefore the real intention of the collection might be more pronounced.

Regardless, however, of whether you come to this series for the story itself or the role it had in shaping DC Comic's new chief creative officer, Stars and STRIPE is an enjoyable read, hitting the mark of "teen comics" in a way Teen Titans isn't and Supergirl has struggled to, and shows the first hints of thematic depth that we'd later recognize would make a comic "Geoff Johnsian."

Stars and STRIPE has always been about nontraditional legacies; obviously the step-parent/step-daughter relationship between former Stripsey Pat Dugan and new Star-Spangled Kid Courtney Whitmore is one. Most interesting in this second volume, however, is not just the familial relationship, but also that Dugan bucks superhero tradition by formally bestowing the mantle of Star-Spangled Kid on his step-daughter rather than, specifically, his own son Michael who's asking for the legacy. Johns underlines the unusualness of this in the book's first chapter, where the original Star-Spangled Kid Sylvester Pemberton refuses the "Starman" name in favor of Ted Knight giving it to his son Jack.

In both cases, we know the mentor's choice pays off, but I wished Johns had more time with this series to explore the implications of Dugan's choice, specifically regarding the secret reasons Michael has for wanting to be the Star-Spangled Kid. In what's mostly a light-hearted book, the reader cheers for Courtney becoming "official," but at the same time Dugan brushing off his son seems unexpectedly cruel. Perhaps to its benefit, this book about second chances and starting over never had a chance to examine the consequences of past mistakes, but there's an intriguing glance here as to where this title might have gone next.

It's difficult, in a way, to separate Stars and STRIPE from Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers of Victory miniseries that came a few years afterward. In the last volume, the heroes re-vanquished the Nebula Man, one of the Soldiers most noted foes; here, former Soldier Shining Knight returns, his cry for help having brought Pat Dugan to Blue Valley in the first place. Johns sets up plotlines involving new iterations of Solders Crimson Avenger and Spider, though those stories end prematurely; Johns would later show the Crimson Avenger in JSA, but both Spider and Shining Knight have subsequently been replaced by Morrison's versions. This volume of Stars and STRIPE is appealing in that it offers a more traditional sequel to the Golden Age Justice League/Seven Soldiers stories, but it's not ultimately take that became most firmly entrenched in current DC Comics continuity.

From the art perspective, it's also notable here that when artist Lee Moder takes a break, Scott Kolins comes on; Kolins would later draw part of the Flash run that would make Johns a household name. With inks by Dan Davis, Kolins' characters are a bit darker and more "squareish" than with Doug Hazelwood on Flash (or, later, Kolins inking his own work), and I think this volume bears examining as a sample of Kolins' work in transition, and not just Johns'.

The second volume of Stars and STRIPE moves past some of the villain-of-the-week and high school antics of the first volume to a prolonged-but-exciting battle between the heroes and the Dragon King, with detailed stops along the way for Seven Soldiers history; in this way, I found it very entertaining. I might not have kept reading this book in monthly issues (in fact, I didn't) because the tone's still a little light for me, but in comparison to a book like Teen Titans that's felt like "no fun" lately, I think Stars and STRIPE hits the right balance.

[Contains full covers, sketchbook by Lee Moder (including revealing who some of the villains in the book were originally intended to be)]

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