Happy birthday to “Starman” writer James Robinson, celebrating his 47th birthday today. To celebrate, here’s my list of the top 10 graphic novels or comic-book series by the acclaimed author. Not included is the current “Last Stand on New Krypton,” since it’s not yet completed, but I highly recommend it so far.
I’m going to include the entire run as one work. It’s been collected in trades, and is in the process of being re-collected in fantastic-looking hardcovers. You can also track it down as “Starman” issues #0-#80.
In “Starman,” reluctant hero Jack Knight takes on the superheroic role of Starman, following in the footsteps of his father and brother. Eschewing a traditional superhero uniform, Jack dons a leather jacket and anti-flare goggles and takes to the sky using a device invented by his father, the cosmic rod.
Jack’s hometown of Opal City becomes one of the great fictional cities of the DC Universe under Robinson’s pen, and Jack himself is perhaps the best-developed comic-book character created in the entire decade of the 1990s. Artist Tony Harris co-created the character and drew the first four and half years of the book. His art set the mood for the book, and made it immediately visually different from many of the rest of mainstream comics being published at the time.
2. JSA: The Golden Age
In this alternate universe tale, DC’s superheroes give up their roles at the conclusion of World War II. Retired heroes are faced with the McCarthy commission and others questioning their loyalties. Drawn by Paul Smith, this 1993 miniseries was nominated for an Eisner Award. I find it an interesting companion piece to “Kingdom Come,” by Mark Waid and Alex Ross, which came out shortly after.
3. Leave it to Chance
This all-ages series ran for 13 issues, 12 of which have been collected in hardcover format. The fantastic series, drawn by Paul Smith, featured a young girl who was the daughter of the world’s most powerful sorcerer.
Private investigator Alec Swan gets involved in superheroic cases, often against his will. Great characterization and nice art from Cully Hamner. The character was created by Robinson, Hamner and Chaykin. You’ll probably have to hunt the back-issue bins to find it, as it was created before trade paperbacks became ubiquitous, and although Marvel bought the Ultraverse line of which “Firearm” was a part, Marvel hasn’t shown any intentions to reprint the comics.
Co-writing with David Goyer, Robinson brought back the original superhero team with the relaunch of JSA, featuring Jack Knight as Starman, Dr. Fate, a new Hawkgirl and Hourman, and the original Green Lantern and Flash. Art is by Stephen Sadowski. While Robinson only wrote four issues (and a “Secret Files”) he launched here one of DC’s biggest successes of the ’00s.
With Geoff Johns, Robinson brought back Hawkman and made him usable again. Muddled Hawk-chronology had hampered the use of the character, But once Goyer and Johns brought him back in JSA, Johns and Robinson made him both noble and savage, as he adjusts to the world and to Hawkgirl, who he believes to be his eternal love – whether she remembers it or not.
7. Terminator: Secondary Objectives
This 1991 series features Robinson working with Paul Gulacy and Karl Kesel, and is set in the world of the “Terminator” films. Following up on the first Dark Horse “Terminator” series, this series has a Terminator trying to accomplish his “secondary objective” of killing the pregnant Sarah Connor. “Secondary Objectives” is currently available in Dark Horse’s first “Terminator” Omnibus. “Endgame,” also by Robinson, is available in the second “Terminator” Omnibus.
8. Grendel Tales: Four Devils, One Hell
The first Grendel story not by creator Matt Wagner, and also the best. Robinson writes about a private eye looking into a client’s murder in a future New Orleans. Art by Teddy Kristiansen.
9. Legends of the Dark Knight: Blades
This collaboration with Tim Sale is available in the “Tales of the Batman: Tim Sale” collection. The three-part story from “Legends of the Dark Knight” features a new swashbuckling hero in Gotham.
This miniseries about a serial killer who changes his identity after each murder is drawn by Phil Elliot. The miniseries was collected into a graphic novel by Slave Labor, and is disturbingly compelling.
Oklahomans who want to meet James Robinson can do so on June 12 at Speeding Bullet Comics in Norman, where the writer will be signing along with “War of the Supermen” co-writer Sterling Gates. (Full disclosure note: I am one of the owners of Speeding Bullet Comics.) In the meantime, celebrate the birthday of one of my favorite comic-book writers by tracking down some of these comics. And share your favorites in the comments!
- Matt Price