“…And I’m nothing…Nothing but a pretender.”
Hey, all, it’s D.C. to produce after a short hiatus. Work and life got in the way in too many ways, but we’re back to catch up and throw down on all we’ve read.
I am glad that I have branched out my tastes in recent years. It helps train that mental palette to see what’s really of worth out there in the literature and graphic world. Unfortunately, I made a mistake reading Marvel’s only trade of Starbrand and Nightmask:
For those unfamiliar with the characters, Starbrand and Nightmask for characters from one of Marvel Comics’ more popular alternate universe brands, New Universe (and its similar “revival,” newuniversal). They are two of a series of beings that emerge when a planet is on a growth of universal proportions. The White Event producees, among others, a Starbrand–the earth’s planetary defense system, endowed with staggering power–and a Nightmask, which serves as the Starbrand’s guide and conscience.
College student Kevin Conner mistakenly received the Starbrand during Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers run, with the “perfect human” Adam becoming the Nightmask, during a broken White Event. In this cancelled Marvel run, creative team Greg Weisman and Domo Stanton decide to take the cosmically powdered duo to college to connect with humanity.
I was very much on the fence with reading this series on premise alone. Jonathan Hickman’s modern take on these two characters was fantastic. But for Greg Weisman to take them to college to connect with humanity? How often, and for how long, has a premise like that ever worked for characters of such a high power set.
Well, I can see the reason why, but I would have hoped Starbrand and Nightmask would not have to go to college (and those of us who went, know what it’s like) just to connect with humanity. You don’t see Hyperion running off to community college in his solo series to understand humans.
But with most things, I wanted to see if my instincts were wrong, so I bought Volume 1: Eternity’s Children (Attend University).
No. I don’t have any. Really.
If there’s any saving grace here, it is that Greg Weisman mostly kept Nightmask true to his character: the stoic adviser to the Starbrand. That is all.
Writer Greg Weisman. He is another example of a writer who does not research the characters he is chosen to headline. Starbrand and Nightmask were given foundations via Jonathan Hickman. Kevin Conner, from what I read, was a young man barely growing into his role as the broken planetary defense system, an unworthy person granted cosmic power. Still he shows a quiet eagerness to be a team player and grow into his role. He whined a little bit, but when your first power spike causes massive death and destruction of an entire school, how would you carry yourself?
Weisman’s take on Starbrand was both grating and disappointing. Wiesman took this uncertain yet adjusting young man and turned him into a generic character with a distinct millennial streak. Starbrand wasn’t one to use the word “Dude,” especially to address Nightmask, but Wiesman has Kevin using that word so often. It’s like he was trying too hard to be one of the other kids. To that end, he lacked any individuality Hickman brought to Starbrand.
The plot was abysmal. To a certain extent, I can understand Starbrand needing to reconnect with his humanity in the wake of exploring his cosmic level powers. Even the premise of this arc was ideal: other cosmic aspects desire to kill Starbrand in order to destroy the earth, so–surprise, surprise–the universe would meet its rightful death.
Now, the problems I have with that premise is this: after Secret Wars, in which we saw the reconstruction of the multiverse, why would there be forces trying to prematurely destroy the universe again, even when the in-story explanation was that the universe’s death was not to be for millennia to come? It just didn’t come to fruition at all.
The activation of a White Event in other parts of the universe was touched on, but it made for a shoddy story. By now we should have some understanding of why White Events occur, but how what happens when two White Event analogs meet? Weisman brings in a Kree Starbrand to answer this question, and this results:
What was that, indeed?
It was another adolescent and ill-defined turn: that the White Event analogs inexplicably desire to mate as a failsafe against one another. Why a failsafe? Why an attraction? What would that serve, and why would the universe risk progeny of galactic proportions as the proper failsafe? What if same-gendered analogs (two male Nightmasks, for example) met up? This “failsafe” was just thrown in there as if it were panacea for the bad storyline already unfolding.
Speaking of ill-defined: the supporting cast was passable (nothing worth noting), but to write off Kevin’s attraction to one girl as having originated from her being the originally-destined Starbrand? How could Nightmask know that just from a conversation with a classmate? How did Nightmask even know the criteria needed to be a Starbrand? Why weren’t we, the readers, given better insight into this before it was just thrown out there as more panacea? More importantly, why is the fact that she was to be Starbrand fitting for her being attracted to the current Starbrand, and vice-versa?
None of this even made half-assed sense.
Now that I’ve exhausted myself on Greg Weisman’s immature writing, let’s discuss artist Domo Stanton.
Just awful. Starbrand may be 20 years old, but why is he drawn as if he’s 13? It was such an eyesore to see such childish, cartoonish art on characters that exude NOTHING resembling childishness. Stanton just made Starbrand foolish by way of his pencils. This sort of art may work for Power Pack, Howard the Duck, or Squirrel Girl, but not for the serious side of the Marvel Universe.
What could’ve been better?
So much, simply put.
For one, Weisman could’ve just written a better premise. To hell with going to college to connect with humanity. Just going to a place where loss of control is almost guaranteed? It sounded like a recipe of disaster to have two cosmically-powered young men going to a place where bad decisions happen. What if Kevin got trashed or emotionally unstable and blew up this school?–granted, he DID get drunk, and it is surprising that he didn’t lose control of his powers at that time.
But to continue…much better scripts would’ve explored the White Event more, what components of the White Event were needed and missing (ie: Justice, Cipher, Spitfire), and what those missing components mean for the ascension of Earth on the scale it was meant to.
Nightmask’s extent of humanity could’ve been explored, as well as his relationship–or lack thereof–with his creator, Ex Nihilo–who, at this point, has not been shown, even though every other major player during the incursion saga returned alive.
Bringing Captain Universe back would have been a good move, too, for allowing Starbrand and Nightmask to explore the entire universe to gain some much needed maturity and perspective on their roles.
Not to mention the art. There needs to be art that benefits the elements and personalities of the characters. You can’t just dab on a cartoonish artist with cosmic-level protectors and pretend that it would work.
Starbrand and Nightmask had all the potential of a great, existential series. However, an adolescent premise, poor understanding, and piss-poor execution by Greg Weisman made this series deserving of cancellation. Too many plot elements were thrown in for no good reason, and it just made for a terrible read. Domo Stanton’s likewise adolescent art retards any aesthetics of the characters developed from Jonathan Hickman’s incursion saga. Together, this creative team made this series an arduous chore to get through (seriously, it took me a week or so to read it).
This was a poor, poor series to read, and I don’t recommend it to anyone. I have hopes that a much more mature writer and much better artist could bring these characters back into focus and to new heights.