My last review was for the first Star Brand collection, written by Jim Shooter and penciled by John Romita Jr., and the series was the “flagship” title for Marvel’s attempted “New Universe” set in OUR reality—a world without magic or secret underground races or superheroes…up until a mysterious “White Event” in 1986 bathed the world in some kind of cosmic energy. Starting with the eleventh issue of Star Brand, the creative team shifted, and John Byrne took over both writing and penciling duties. This switch heralded a new direction for the book and for the entire New Universe, thanks to some major events that occurred in Byrne’s storyline.
John Byrne, Mark Gruenwald, Sal Buscema, and others – Star Brand Volume 2 (2016)
As I mentioned in my last review, the first ten issues of Star Brand were focused on a macho guy named Ken, who has a strange tattoo transferred to him by a mysterious “Old Man” that gives him super-powers. Ken, a flawed individual, uses those powers, mostly, to hit on women and get people killed. (I’m simplifying a bit—but not by much.) The stories were pretty fun, though usually plagued by Ken’s overt sexism.
In Byrne’s hands, the comic took an incredibly dark turn, incorporating a hard, science-fiction element, as well as some odd, satirical and humor beats. First, we see Ken deciding to bring his super-powers to the public—although he wears a mask to hide his identity. This attempt at doing something GOOD, (like most things Ken attempts) ends with a bunch of people dying. (I THINK this was supposed to show how, in the REAL world, using super-powers would have more severe consequences than they usually have in normal superhero comics.)
One other key plot-point that we learn is that one of Ken’s several “partners” has become pregnant—a fact that will eventually produce a child born with the full powers of the Star Brand. Ken, being the asshole that he is, tells the woman, Debbie “Duck,” that she got pregnant on purpose to “trap” him, and he storms out. Then, in a fit of guilt, Ken tries to get rid of his super-powers by putting the Star Brand into an inanimate object, which subsequently explodes, destroying the city of Pittsburgh and killing millions of people—including Ken himself (although thanks to the Star Brand’s power, he is resurrected within an issue or two—though none of the innocent victims of his mistake are so lucky.)
Byrne’s storyline, from this point on, is quite good, even if it goes off the deep-end towards the conclusion. He explores the after-effects of the destruction of an entire city, even getting into territory that reminds me of VanderMeer’s Annihilation (though Byrne’s story came out almost 30 years earlier!) It’s got mutated nature! It’s got corrupt government agents with little regard for human life! It’s got a contaminated area explored by people who haven’t been told what dangers can be found within… Yeah, it’s good stuff, and that’s only about a third of the story that Byrne delivers.
The book also chronicles the adventures of the Starchild, born with the powers of a god, and his tale involves some seriously messed up time contortions, and a bunch of murders, a couple of resurrections, and a few weird “horror” twists for old Ken, AND we even get to see the almost moving tale of an anguished grandpa whose grandson is dying, who is given the Star Brand power by the Starchild so that the grandpa can “fix” the world, after Ken’s done screwing it up.
By the end of this collection, though Byrne did a good job and told an interesting story, the series (and the entire New Universe line) where cancelled. I think I mentioned in the last review that I’d already purchased this collection BEFORE I bought the first collected volume, and I’m glad that I did. The first collection was okay—pretty fun, but not extraordinary—and I don’t know if I would have been in much of a hurry to buy the second collection. However, since I had ALREADY bought the next collection, I figured I might as well read it and see where the story went, and it went CRAZY! Byrne took a middle of the road superhero story and made it into a horror tinged, science-fiction epic! I won’t give away the ending, but it definitely goes in some unexpected directions. There’s still no dirty language or explicit nudity or anything like that, but the VIOLENCE gets pretty out of control. Not GORY, really, but the body count is outrageous, and Byrne doesn’t mind killing off regular characters OR kids! Now that I think about it, there is also some “science-fiction” yuckiness, but nothing as bad as you might see on Supernatural.
My final thoughts are that the series was pretty good. There is a LOT more suspense in the Byrne storyline than in the Jim Shooter issues, but the second collection also builds on the first issues in a way that makes the earlier story more meaningful. The art in both collections is okay, but nothing that really struck my fancy in a big way. The pictures support the story—but the plot is the real prize. You could say that the first collection is a bit SLOW at starting the tale, but once it gets going it REALLY GOES! Byrne’s exploration of the cosmic power of the Star Brand ranges from the horrific to the humorous, with some stops at New Age philosophy and pseudo-science as well, getting all time-loopy and metaphysical—but the story remains entertaining throughout. This book is a couple steps up from the first volume AND a satisfying conclusion to the Star Brand saga!
—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)
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