Another winner from the Black Hammer universe, a four-issue miniseries that is almost completely independent of the main series. You don’t need knowledge of Black Hammer to read it (although that will make the setting more familiar), nor do the events here have an impact on those stories. Doctor Star is clearly an homage to James Robinson’s Starman run: in addition to the name and the star in the costume design, the Doctor uses a similar energy rod (in this case to tap into Para Zone energy). It follows the driven scientist as he largely abandons his family, first to pursue his research, then to lead life as a superhero as part of The Liberty Squadron (the only real connection to the heroes we later meet in Black Hammer) . A space mission takes him close to a black hole. Time passes more slowly for him than outside, and he returns home 18 years later, irreparably estranging himself from his wife and son. His (now adult) son is dying from cancer. Star desperately returns to space seeking a cure, but returns empty-handed, leaving him with a heartbreaking final reconciliation.
This installment opens with Hargreeves sending a super-villain to the title location: a hotel/prison located in a pocket dimension, which can be reached only via Televator. As the story proper begins it is a few years after Hargeeves’ death, and the members of the Umbrella Academy are scattered around the world. Number Five is a hired gun, currently investigating the Perseus Corporation; Rumor is being stalked by her ex-husband; an out-of-shape Spaceboy and The Horror are in Tokyo (from which they board a trans-dimensional craft voyaging to Afterspace); Vanya is still recovering from being shot in the head; and so on. Even the most mundane scenes are full of hallucinogenic detail, like the corporate guard wearing elaborate European royal guard attire, or a rancher riding a giant chicken. Surreal settings like the Hotel Oblivion and Afterspace are way more…surreal, and wildly colorful. The various narrative threads appear unconnected for much of the story, finally coming together in a grand battle between the Umbrella Academy and the Hotel Oblivion escapees. When all seems lost, another Umbrella Academy squad appears. Their introduces himself as Number One. Clearly a setup for the next installment. Like this one, it will be worth reading for Gabriel Bá’s art and Nick Filardi’s colors, regardless of the clarity of the writing.
The first volume featured Martian weatherman Nathan Bright’s life being turned upside-down. He had been a wise-cracking, devil-may-care guy: now he found himself on the run from two different armed groups. They are after him because they think he is the universe’s greatest criminal, the man who engineered the terrorist attack that nearly decimated the population of Earth. He has no memory of it, because supposedly he has undergone a personality transplant. This volume opens with his group crashing a space barricade to return to a now-quarantined Earth, in search of his electronically stored original personality. Crazy as the action was on Mars, Earth has dramatically changed, and if anything the action here is even wilder. Not only is the human population greatly reduced, but mutants called biophages are taking over, and they’re shape-shifters. Bright finds the stored personality of his alter-ego Ian Black, and (surprisingly) steps up, offering to undergo a transfer. There are two shocking twists, but in the end Nathan is back with The Sword of God terrorist group, passing for Ian Black. Volume 3 promises a conclusion. It should be quite a story.
Dark Horse has published a number of graphic adaptations of Neil Gaiman’s short stories, featuring artists like John Bolton, P. Craig Russell, Michael Zulli, Rafael Albuquerque, Fabio Moon, and Gabriel Bá . This one has art by veteran comics artist Colleen Doran, who is also a longtime Gaiman collaborator (including notable issues in The Sandman arcs “Dream Country” and “A Game of You”). Doran credits the Irish illustrator Harry Clarke (an early influence, but one she could not indulge in her comics work until now) as the major visual reference here. He was influenced by the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements, which also factor into the look of this story. The results are lush and fantastical. Most of the time it is more of an illustrated book than a comic, a sequence of images which evoke the text rather than tell the story on their own. Gaiman’s story is an imaginative inversion of the Snow White fairy tale: here Snow White is the evil one, with the queen as victim (she understands in the end, but too late to save herself). Doran’s art comes off as the perfect accompaniment: beautiful on its own, but also a partner in the story telling.