Saturday, July 15, 2006

Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. #1

Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. #1, August 1999, DC Comics
writer: Geoff Johns
penciller: Lee Moder
inker: Dan Davis
colorist: Tom McCraw with Heroic Age
letterer: Bill Oakley
assistant editor: L.A. Williams
editors: Chuck Kim & Mike Carlin

Okay. Another “number one.” Although I was initially disappointed in my inability to find and review issues in the triple digit standing, since this is the first month of the A Comic A Day challenge, I figure this is the best time in this process to analyze how a successful comic book series begins. Of course, success is a relative term in the comic book medium; a critically acclaimed book, like one of my favorites Human Target, may not achieve the sales necessary to achieve the status of “a hit.” Further, as we’ve discussed already, the fluidity of creative teams from one project to another may stunt the growth of a title before it reaches its true potential. A team’s run could be successful, but when those creative powers hand the wheel the someone else, the series could crash mere issues later.

Then again, some comics were simply never meant to be. For some reason, in the late ‘90s, DC Comics decided to revitalize characters from its rich past, granting them their own updated series hyped solely by name recognition and the undeniable power of nostalgia. Some characters, like Starman, blossomed for a new generation; other characters, like the Star-Spangled Kid and S.T.R.I.P.E., simply flopped. Now, in addition to dissecting this issue, I did a little research regarding the history of the Star-Spangled Kid and Stripe. The characters originally appeared in Star Spangled Comics, and, sparing you the details, failed to carry the series on their own. Eventually, Robin’s first solo adventures premiered to keep the book afloat. So, considering the context, why would DC opt to revisit characters that were general failures even in the era of their incarnation?

DC thought they’d rewritten the “comeback” formula: respect the history but update the attitude. Like the more favorable Starman relaunch, Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. featured characters from the original adventures, in this case, the original “Stripsey,” alongside a new contemporary, ‘tude-fueled cast. Older and presumably retired, Stripe’s new teenaged stepdaughter discovers his old superhero souvenirs and dons the Golden Age alias as a prank, unwittingly uncovering a citywide plot to recruit students for some sort of terrorist shadow group. Stripsey comes both out of retirement and to her rescue in an armored getup dubbed S.T.R.I.P.E., an acronym hopefully explained in a later issue or otherwise extremely derivative. So, same names and kick-butt-for-justice motives, but mixed with modern adolescent angst and a big cool robot. Who wouldn’t want to read that?

Many people, obviously.

Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. presents another interesting element of comicdom that we’ve yet to discuss: the controversial “created by” credit. This issue is written by Geoff Johns; I don’t know if he had attained the status then that he undoubtedly has now in the industry, but by way of story, Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. #1 is predictable and thin, its characters cookie cut and shallow. The Star-Spangled Kid, a.k.a. Courtney Whitmore, is every chick from The OC or Laguna Beach that has ever really annoyed you. Yet, title page credits actually boast, “Courtney Whitmore created by Johns and Moder.” I don’t get it. They made up a name and pinned it to a stereotype, and suddenly they have as much clout in print as Siegel, Shuster, Kane, and Stan Lee. As much as this would upset me, I’m instantly sedated by the thought that these guys really didn't create anything; they reshaped a dormant, preexisting DC property. They’re as dispensable as the character itself. The credit doesn’t enhance the story or the series’ integrity; the credit is an ego boost, a footnote for a resume. Let the babies have their bottle, I guess.

The Star-Spangled Kid is still around in the current Justice Society book, I presume. As much as these characters struggle in the vastness of their comic book universes, they’ll always resurface when another idea completely fizzles out. These characters aren’t icons as much as they’re ideas in the stable, kept on the shelf just in case, “old reliables” used to flesh out pages and careers. I wonder how many comics are casualties of their own shaky pasts. Ironically, every series starts with “number one,” but very few comics stay number one.

San Diego in four days.

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