Retro-Review: JSA Presents: Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. Volume One
[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Lee Moder & Dan Davis
Colors: Tom McGraw
Letters: Bill Oakley
Reviewed by: Matthew B. Lloyd
Pat Dugan, formerly Stripesy, is newly married with a teenage step-daughter, Courtney Whitmore. Like many step-relationships, it’s a struggle for both parent and child, but Courtney doesn’t make it any easier when she discovers Pat’s super-hero past as the Star-Spangled Kid‘s sidekick. After discovering the Kid’s uniform and cosmic converter belt, Courtney adopts the identity and uses her knowledge to keep Pat from telling her mom. But, Pat has a been working on his own new identity in the form of S.T.R.I.P.E, a mechanized exo-skeleton that allows him to tag along and attempt to keep Courtney out of trouble.
Whenever one looks back at an older work, it reveals not only something about the time in which it was produced, but also about the development of the creators of the work. Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. is Geoff Johns’ first comic book work. Johns has been writing for over 20 years now and has been DC Entertainment’s President and Chief Creative Officer. Additionally, he’s been instrumental in producing shows for the streaming service DC Universe such as Titans and the upcoming Stargirl, which is based on Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E.
Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. was originally published in 1999. Consequently, the series has a much more “all audiences” feel than many books today. This results in a lighter, more fun tone than one expects in many mainstream comics. Additionally, Johns writes the book as if it’s intended to appeal to a middle school girl. Courtney of course, is not only the star of the book, but the conflict with Pat seems rooted in all the classic (and maybe stereotyped) insecurities of adolescence. It’s nice to see this. Not only does Johns fall in with the legacy aspect of DC’s characters, he manages to channel a little Archie Andrews as well. Overall, the tone is fun and playful, even when things get harrowing for Courtney and Pat.
These stories also contain many of the hallmarks of Johns’ future writing. The basic concept is one of legacy heroes from the Golden Age of Comics. Johns of course, goes on to write many issues of the Justice Society of America. In that series Johns will introduce a number of legacy characters as well as keep other legacy characters in the JSA in some fashion for many years. Johns is also known for strong character work and building a sense of family in his team books. Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. is no different. This happens to be a real family though!
Courtney shows up in JSA almost immediately. This is referenced in issue #5 of the original series. Courtney was featured as one of the members of the JSA relaunch in 1999 by James Robinson and David S. Goyer. It’s nice that she makes an impact on the team so quickly, but also that the two books managed to reference each other. This is a great example of world building. It’s doubly important for a team book that relies on legacy to be able to drawn in series that directly impact it.
The art by Lee Moder and Dan Davis fits the series perfectly. There is a really nice whimsical to their work which recalls the original Captain Marvel by C.C. Beck in the prime of that series. Moder and Davis are especially good at communicating facial expressions and body expressions. If Courtney’s mad at Pat, it’s obvious in her whole frame. It’s not just the face and mouth, but the whole body that tells the story.
Perhaps it’s my age/perspective, but Courtney isn’t all that likable. At first. She will grow on you. My adult, father-of-two-daughters perspective is certainly not what it was back in 1999. My current eyes side with Pat. However, he’s not portrayed as strong as I’d like him to be. He’s trying to approach Courtney with “kid gloves” as well as being a father figure. He’s mature, he’s smart, it’s obvious he cares, but…kids!! Haha!
Courtney is the quintessential step-child who won’t accept the step-parent. Unfortunately, it takes too long to get past the cliched tropes. The conflict between Pat and Courtney is difficult to work through. While I can understand its importance and relevance, it’s not until the two come to understand each other that the series really gets going. It might be the experience of rereading this, but this conflict gives the feeling that the series is stuck and unable to move on…until it does. While that may seem like an obvious statement, it really takes Courtney and Pat figuring each other out to make this series start to sing.
If you’re interested in Courtney Whitmore, either from comics or the upcoming Stargirl television series on DC Universe and The CW, then Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. Volume One is a must read. The television adaptation while clearly being its own thing, draws heavily on this first volume. Courtney is one of those characters that hasn’t had a presence in the comics since “The New 52” launched in 2011. This series reminds the reader of the real variety available in the stable of DC Comics characters. When the Justice Society of America returns to its own series (SOON??), hopefully, Courtney will be included. It’s not Geoff Johns’ best work, but Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. has a lot of heart. While Courtney grew into a great character in the pages of JSA, she has a lot of awkward moments in her original series. It’s worth a read, but more for historical sake than being great. Perhaps, it will touch the heart of the right audience, though….