The concepts have survived both Marvel Comics’ “New Universe” experiment and this year’s “Secret Wars” in “Starbrand & Nightmask” #1, which features two of the company’s most obscure yet durable heroes facing a wholly different challenge: college orientation. First, though, writer Greg Weisman puts the heroes through some more typical paces, making quick work of a supervillain before receiving the offer of a lifetime to cement their place among the world’s most prominent heroes. While there are plenty of superhero teams, there aren’t so many heroes furthering their education, so Weisman takes a different and somewhat refreshing approach. Artist Domo Stanton emphasizes the student over superhero, as the two characters look right at home on campus, if only mildly imposing in superhero spandex.
Weisman’s story explores extremes by taking a pair of heroes who have traversed the infinite expanses of the multiverse and now crams them into the rather humbling confines of a college dorm room. He also explores the dynamic between Kevin Conner, who — when not wearing Starbrand’s costume — is pretty convincing as a would-be college kid, and Adam Blackveil, who’s equally convincing as a human construct awkwardly pretending to be one. The results are mixed; Weisman’s contrived logic (by way of Adam’s explanation) puts the pair into college, and logistics are conveniently swept under the rug to make it happen. Kevin puts up little resistance to the idea, and Weisman does provide a sound reason for him to go along with it that sets the stage for future character interaction.
Contrived or not, the college setting is a workable one once established, but — when the superhero side of the story has to again come out — it’s not nearly as strong. Another pair of supervillains roaming around the Empire State University campus sets up a new conflict, but — under Weisman — Starbrand and Nightmask just don’t carry the comic the way Kevin and Adam do. Weisman does set up a moderately enticing heroes vs. villains cliffhanger, but this is only after establishing another cliffhanger of sorts: namely, how Kevin and Adam are going to make their way as college freshmen.
Stanton can lay out a decent superhero battle, but his rendering of everyday life is just as skilled, and his talent almost works against him when he steps from real life into larger-than-life. There’s a certain kind of cartoonish flair to his costumed heroes and villains; his layouts are stylish and more than competent, but they just don’t elevate to any kind of truly extraordinary scope. Kevin’s first encounter with a potential crush carries some real punch, but there’s no real amping up of any tension or adrenaline when the real punches start flying. Starbrand also looks more like a child once he transforms, a look that Yasmine Putri also captures on the issue’s cover.
“Starbrand & Nightmask” #1 sets up a pretty clever dynamic, but Weisman and Stanton succeed better at the ordinary than the extraordinary. There are a lot of resurrected ideas in the post-“Secret Wars” landscape, and it will take a few issues to see if this one really sticks.