Hickman’s run on Avengers brought in a lot of characters; some old, some new and some repurposed. Although a slew of characters makes sense strategically speaking for the Avengers team, sadly not many of them could be used for crucial plot purposes. Starbrand and Nightmask are two such characters that sort of fell into the “not used a lot” category — but that won’t be the case anymore in Starbrand & Nightmask #1, which focuses on the two’s ensuing friendship as they enter college.
Is it good?
Starbrand and Nightmask #1 (Marvel Comics)
Let’s refer to solicit for the lowdown on this one:
Two former Avengers with tremendous power — and almost zero life experience — are on their own, trying to find their place as HEROES, COSMIC ENTITIES and…COLLEGE STUDENTS? What meal plan will cover a cosmic metabolism? Can two all-powerful entities share a dorm room the size of roach motel? Can you safely teleport to Mars after partying all night long at your first kegger? Find out in Starbrand & Nightmask!”
Despite the wackiness of that solicit, Starbrand and Nightmask #1 is a very by the book issue. There’s nothing essentially wrong with that, but there’s nothing that leaps out either. What holds it back is the story and how typical it feels for a first issue, especially when compared to some of the other new Marvel titles; The Vision with its uncomfortable, robotic narration and exploration of a synthetic family trying to fit into human society; Silk with its several different twists and subplots; and Ms. Marvel with its very well-defined and likable main character — Starbrand & Nightmask is a comic that’s still searching for an identity, though. That is, there’s just nothing to really differentiate it from any other premise that involves two odd-couple friends heading to college.
Greg Weisman does a pretty solid job in the writing department but those of you familiar with Starbrand and Nightmask already, be warned — outside of the lead characters’ friendship, their characterization is much different from their time in Hickman’s run. They come across as more human and vernacular in their lighthearted, joking interactions instead of mere plot devices. Weisman does a good job of establishing the two’s friendship and how their personalities play off of each other. However, outside of their bonding and Starbrand’s angst, there’s not much to them outside of the stereotypical Adventure Duo setup. (The trope is inverted here though, as Nightmask is actually the hyper competent sidekick). The pacing is fine, there’s no issues with the storytelling or flow, and the dialogue is alright (though the humor can be hackneyed, especially in the beginning).
The most problematic part is the tone of the comic — it has difficulty knowing which direction it wants to go. Most of the book has a fairly light and bright tone, especially with the cartoonish visuals, but it keeps reminding us of Starbrand’s very dark history — the last time he was in college he blew it up while discovering his powers and killed over 3,000 people. This tone doesn’t work that well, since the moment it is brought up, the comic goes very somber for a moment and this clashes hard with the usual lightheartedness.
The artwork is brought to us by Dominicke Stanton. Stanton’s work on the book isn’t too bad and works well-enough with the light tone (the serious tone, not so much). His characters are a tad boxy and some look a bit too young for the age, but they’re fine for the cartoonish style being used. The layouts are put together well and are easy to follow but the action is stiff and there’s not much of it in general. Ultimately, the artwork is just alright.
Is It Good?
Starbrand and Nightmask #1 the perfect example of the middle of the road experience. There’s nothing bad about it that will make you hate it, but there’s nothing about it yet that really jumps out or gives it its own unique identity.