What is it with men and basements?
There’s always the cliche about loser online trolls living in their parents’ basements, sure, but even adult men seem to have a fascination with basements. Whether they get turned into a “man cave” (and I really hate that term) or a work bench area or a gym or what, it just seems like men are inherently drawn to the lowest levels of their home.
It’s certainly true of many of my friends who have their foosball or air hockey tables set up there. That’s where they keep their comics. There’s usually furniture and a TV.
And now it’s true for me! Ever since we bought our new house, I spend almost all of the time I am not asleep in our basement. It’s not even entirely finished, but we’ve done all right by it so far. For a while, our air conditioning was faulty, and it was the only tolerable part of the house, but even aside from that… it’s where I have my bookshelves and couches and game systems. Why… am I down here?
Ah well. Might as well make it homey. I have a whole bunch of art I bought at New York City Comic Con and C2E2 that I will hang everywhere down here once I find some frames.
I guess basements aren’t so bad.
TITLE: Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E.
Writer and Artist: Geoff Johns and Lee Moder
Protagonists: The Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy
Antagonists: Paintball (like, literally a villain named Paintball), Skeeter, Solomon Grundy
As of this writing, I’m a few episodes into the DC Universe and CW joint venture Stargirl, and I’ve really been enjoying it. Luke Wilson has always been a treasure (and for a quick plug for a movie I loved: if you’ve never seen Henry Poole Is Here, rectify that), but Amy Smart and Brec Bassinger are right there with him. It often feels like the three of them are overshadowing everyone else on the show—the villains are a bit too hokey for me, even if they are meant to be—but shows can have worse problems than “the leads are too good”.
Boy, I sure hope DC Universe sticks around. It seems weird that so many of its properties are crossing over to other platforms. Doom Patrol is going to also be on HBO Max. Stargirl is also on the CW. I actually enjoy DC Universe. The comics access alone is well worth the price, and I have enjoyed a lot of the original programming (Harley Quinn is a blast). I really have no desire to get HBO Max and then lose the comics library.
Anyway, the series in which Courtney Whitmore was first featured was 1999’s Stars & STRIPE (I’m foregoing the periods from here out because it’s a pain). I’d actually never read this title before, and all of my Stargirl exposure came from JSA, which was also written by Geoff Johns. She wasn’t even initially called Stargirl, as she took on the name The Star-Spangled Kid in this series.
The series picks up with Courtney, her mom, and her step-dad Pat Dugan all moving to Blue Valley from Beverly Hills to start a new life. In ridiculously short order, Court discovers Pat was once a hero known as Stripesy, and she steals a Cosmic Converter Belt from his stash.
With Pat and his giant STRIPE mech reluctantly in tow as she continually disobeys him, Courtney finds out that there is more than meets the eye to Blue Valley. She gets in deep against a villain conspiracy, and she even teams up with the Marvel Family and Young Justice along the way. What’s a new comic title without established guest stars, right?
I never, ever, EVER would have guessed Geoff Johns wrote this.
For transparency’s sake: I’m a huge fan of Johns. His run on The Flash is one of my favorite stretches of any book ever. His JSA work was absolutely great considering the huge roster he had to work with. He took a turd of a story (bringing Hal Jordan back to life and shuffling off more interesting Green Lanterns to the background) and made it fascinating by introducing all of the other color lanterns.
Most of what I’ve read of Johns’ has been, at the absolute worst, enjoyable stuff.
Which is why I was so surprised that Stars & STRIPE felt so pedestrian.
Before Brian Michael Bendis himself moved to DC, I often referred to Johns as “DC’s Bendis”. He wrote just about everything, started off on smaller books and worked his way up, and was basically omnipresent within a few years. With that being the case, it’s hard not to compare Stars & STRIPE to Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man, another book that took a young a hero in high school and started building a world around them.
Sadly, it’s no contest. Ultimate Spidey was a book with careful pacing and lovable characters and brilliant dialogue. Johns’ counterpart here is rushed and nothing really stands out. It feels like it should have come out about ten years earlier than it did, in an era where characterization was a backseat to early 90’s action and cartoonish art.
The book isn’t awful or anything, but it moves from plot point to plot point at breakneck speed. Courtney is a bit too petulant to ever buy as someone who would immediately be all-in on being a hero. It’s basically an F-Tier Villain Of The Month early on, and the subplots about Shiv and Principal Sherman don’t feel earned as much as forced to make it all feel like it’s going somewhere.
It’s unusual because I loved Courtney in JSA; she was one of the highlights of that book. But here? There’s just nothing special.
While nothing here is particularly egregious, it doesn’t stand out, either. You can make an argument that this was just a basic comic aimed at kids where the action flowed just enough to keep them engaged… but to me, it just felt dumbed down. Not Johns’ best work, by any measure.