Everyone is a child of a star once more.

Mystery in Space #1 (of 8)

Today’s DC is crazy enough about launching new projects with conspicuous tie-ins to higher-profile tentpoles and Events that it’s somewhat surprising to see this book pop out of seemingly nowhere, even though it’s a contemporary miniseries revival of a familiar vintage anthology property. Ah, but the truth comes out before long: the plot is obviously a follow-up to the Rann-Thanagar War miniseries lean-in to Infinite Crisis, and will apparently tie in with 52 at some point, though there’ll by no formal ‘crossover.’

Be sure to read everything at that link for a peek at the difficulties inherent to planning projects featuring even relatively low-profile characters in the current DCU; this series was originally conceived in part as an Adam Strange vehicle, and those bits had to be retooled for the even less-visible Captain Comet due to the former character’s participation in 52. One can’t help but be reminded of the production difficulties that bedeviled DC’s 2004 Adam Strange miniseries, which was forced midstream through some ugly plot contortions to service the arrival of the Crisis buildup, though at least here it seems the problems were worked out prior to the book starting.

All shared universe shenanigans aside, Mystery in Space does benefit from a singular creative vision at the helm: cosmic comics specialist Jim Starlin, who writes the book’s 22-page Captain Comet feature, and serves as writer/penciller/colorist for the 16-page back-up saga of the Weird, with frequent inking partner Al Milgrom. Yes, in a slight departure from the usual, this is a quasi-anthology miniseries, two serials included at an increased $3.99 tag, though the stories interconnect in this first issue, take place in the same environment, involve the same antagonists, and are set to join up again in the finale, so for all intents and purposes it’s really just one big story with different artists doing different bits. There’s actually kind of a modern-retro visual dichotomy at work, since the Captain Comet feature sports pencils by newcomer Shane Davis and inks by Top Cow veteran Matt “Batt” Banning; needless to say, DC’s yen for mid-‘90s Wildstorm/Top Cow flavored art continues unabated, which makes perfect sense when you think about how well Jim Lee has done for them (or maybe it’s psychological conditioning for the upcoming Wildstorm Universe superhero relaunch!). They do fair enough within the contours of the look, nothing that’ll convert you if you don’t like the stuff but nothing to especially piss you off, though there’s a definite sameness to some of Davis’s character expressions, especially when Captain Comet is screaming.

But let’s not get too out of bounds - this is the Jim Starlin show, featuring Jim Starlin rolling out what (from my admittedly limited study) seems to be many of his favored themes, and bringing back various pet characters (the Weird) and places (Hardcore Station). Anyone who’s read or plans to read Douglas Wolk’s examination of Starlin’s ’70s Adam Warlock stories in the new issue of Comic Art (and you really ought to belong to one of those two categories) will find much to toss around; there’s lots of talk about death, a few metaphysical confrontations, and whispers of cruel religion (the Captain Comet story is titled Eschatology). There’s even some doubling at work between the two features, with the life-lovin' Captain desperate to return to the land of the living, having been killed off in battle, and the Weird perfectly content to float around in limbo, having killed himself for the good of the world. Both wind up dragged back to the flesh, where they’ll apparently run afoul of a Scientology-like moneyed techno-religion called the Eternal Light Corporation in future issues.

The problem with this first issue, however, is that it’s already been quite handily summarized by what I’ve just written. Captain Comet and the Weird are dead, they confront spiritual matters, talk a lot, and then they come back to life while a larger plot sort of swirls around. That's all. And while it's nice that DC didn't force us all to consult Wikipedia to attain a basic level of understanding as to what's going on, the book's intense emphasis on explanation and background does feel like the reader is being asked to pay for the privilege of having other comics synopsized for them.

The Weird gets the worst of it, with Starlin burning up his entire 16 pages just summarizing the character’s origins, prior adventures, and abilities. And by that I mean the character tells us his story via copious narrative captions (at one point I counted 19 of the suckers on a single page), then spends time walking around and trying out his powers while talking aloud to himself about what he’s doing. For the entire feature. Granted, Starlin seems comfortable with this sort of approach, especially when he’s in charge of the art; he has some evident visual fun drawing page after page of symbolist energy stars swooping around in patterns, and his narration has a playfully wordy appeal, but those who’ll be turned off by clankingly artificial storytelling tropes or, to quote Mr. Wolk, “ungainly clumps of text,” are probably not going to have much fun. Captain Comet, meanwhile, has some amusingly stodgy, exclamation-laden stories to tell (“I’ll never be able to wipe those moments from the old memory bank. Nothing I could do but look on helplessly. One instant I was alive… THE NEXT I STARTED DYING!”), and yet further stories to be told about him by a golden-skinned woman and a talking bulldog, but by the time the issue is finished you’ll see why Starlin dropped in a largely unsupported flash-forward action scene onto the front of the issue: without it, there’d be virtually no action, just people talking about Captain Comet and images of burning doom and rebirth.

Not that DC’s opposed to that these days - just look at Brad Meltzer’s Justice League of America #1, and it’s rending of garments over Red Tornado.

Jim Starlin doesn’t have as much time for tears, though; he wants the agony and the metamorphosis of switching from one life to another, the flaming soul and emergence from the clay (or concrete, as it is). Mystery in Space is visually caught between two worlds, but don’t forget that its script is all Starlin’s, and it’s maybe not that interested in looking very current. There’s promise here, for a reader like me that’s not read all that much of Starlin’s work, but it’ll require another issue just to fathom where the story plans to go, now that his overture of cosmic return is finished.