Had "Starman" #81 been announced in the summer of 2008, fans would have been shrieking with joy. James Robinson, returning to Opal City one more time? An epilogue to his now-legendary 80-issue run on the series? That would have sounded wonderful a year and a half ago.
But in the intervening time, Robinson's work at DC Comics has dampened the enthusiasm that rightly corresponds to the announcement of such a comic. Simply put, his work on "Superman," "Justice League: Cry for Justice," and the "Justice League of America" series has been less than stellar. Pun intended. It's been good at times, but nothing near the level of his omnibus-worthy "Starman" series.
So it's nice to read "Starman" #81 and see that, at home in Opal City, even during a particularly black night, James Robinson has returned to form. This is a "Starman" issue that's a worthy post-script to the eighty previous issues, and it's the best "Blackest Night" tie-in so far.
One thing issue #81 has going for it is the artistry of Bill Sienkiewicz. He's not just inking this issue, he's providing finishes over the layouts of Fernando Dagnino. And since Dagnino has a classical, Bronze Age superhero style, Sienkiewicz's finishes look like a mesh between some of his early "Moon Knight" work and the more raw etchings of his Spider-Man and Punisher team-up in the Ultimate universe from nearly a decade ago. I'll be clear: it's not the Sienkiewicz of "Stray Toasters," "Elektra: Assassin," or even "The Shadow," but it's still a breath of savage beauty in a sea of DC blandness. It's not only the best of the "Blackest Night" tie-ins, it's the best-looking of the bunch, too.
Robinson's story focuses on Shade and the O'Dare family. He wisely stays away from Jack Knight, who he retired along with the series, back in issue #80, all those years ago. But "Starman" was always as much about Opal City as it was about Jack Knight (okay, maybe not, but almost as much.) The story begins with Hope O'Dare and the Shade in an "it's complicated" relationship. Well, first it begins with former-albeit-temporary Starman David Knight coming back as a Black Lantern, then we see the O'Dare/Shade situation. And what's nice about the whole issue is that Robinson has a chance to touch on some of the characters from the 80-issue run, either in person or through dialogue, and yet still tell the requisite dead loved one back from the dead tale that all these "Blackest Night" tie-ins end up telling. Though, in this case, David Knight was never particularly loved, not by these characters. And when he literally rips the Shade's heart out, it's an interesting twist on the more metaphorically heart-rending approaches in the other "Blackest Night" issues.
The Shade's heart gets ripped out -- I guess that's the bad news. The good news is that he's the Shade. The better news is that James Robinson is back, writing the kind of comics that he's best at. And it's great to see, even for an instant.