“Life is largely a rotation of indignities.”
The Heckler, a forgotten superhero of the 90’s, delivers this line with a wry smile. That seems to be the moral of the story, in DC Comics’ One-Star Squadron. And if you have any doubts about life’s indignities, a quick flip through these pages will show you that the Heckler is smarter than he looks. Writer Mark Russell (The Flintstones, The Wonder Twins, Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles), artist Steve Lieber (Superman’s Pal: Jimmy Olsen), colorist Dave Stewart, and letterer Dave Sharpe present us with a hilarious, depressing, and moving story about being past your prime and feeling kicked to the curb in DC Comics’ One-Star Squadron #1.
About One-Star Squadron (from DC Comics):
Who you gonna call? One-Star Squadron! Meet DC’s superhero team where heroism meets capitalism. This ragtag group of heroes led by Red Tornado is here to provide service with a smile. All you must do is send a request via their on-demand hero app and they’ll answer any call. Whether it’s a children’s birthday party or an alien invasion, no job is too small or too big!
Too often, comics have had a tendency to ignore some of the less exciting details of a character’s life. We haven’t seen Superman make payments on his mortgage, or watched the Flash beg the Justice League for an advance on his next paycheck. Until now. With One-Star Squadron, Russell is writing a comic that’s about exactly those kinds of nitty-gritty details. He wants to know how Flying Fox or Black Condor feel about no longer being in the spotlight. He wants to see what they have to do to make ends meet.
But all of One-Star Squadron also has a subtle meta flavor to it as well. G.I. Robot and Powergirl aren’t on the Justice League because they aren’t that popular with real-world fans. We see Red Tornado pull up a Wikipedia page to figure out who Gangbuster is, just like readers of this comic will probably be doing. And when Red zones out, thinking about a time he ran into Superman, it’s Minute Man who snaps him back to reality. “Are you in a flashback?” He asks. “Are you even listening to me?” Russell has a ton of fun blurring the line between the DC Universe and the real world.
Lieber has a fantastic knack for visual comedy. At times, he makes scenes feel monotonous. We see three panels, side-by-side, of Red Tornado picking a chair up off of the ground. The perspective never changes, and you can feel Red’s tired resignation in how he moves. But elsewhere, Lieber makes this comic almost seem like a sitcom. When Minute Man and Red Tornado are having a discussion, every panel shifts back and forth between the two of them. We see Minute Man deliver his line, we see Red’s tired response, we see Minute Man getting angry, then Red looking even more tired. It’s the visual equivalent of banter. Lieber creates movement and humor by bouncing us between these two characters who couldn’t be more different from one another.
Lieber also gives this issue an overdose of emotion. Every character wears their heart on their sleeves. We see big smiles, dramatic frowns, and eyes filled with fury. It feels cartoony, often funny, but it’s there to do more than just get a laugh. When we see Gangbuster show up to HEROZ4U, he’s a shell of a man. His whole body almost looks like it’s wilting and his face is full of an intense sadness. Then, Powergirl shows up to say that she’ll watch the shop while Red Tornado tries to help out. She’s smiling from ear to ear. Immediately, we feel even more sorry for Gangbuster. Not only is he depressed, but he’s surrounded by people who don’t seem to care.
Colorist Dave Stewart is a master of mood. He tends to give every scene an unmistakable ambience. So it’s interesting to see how flat Stewart’s colors are in this issue. The red of Red Tornado’s skin is just as bright, whether he’s standing at someone’s doorway in the middle of the night or in a fluorescently lit office space during his lunch break. Stewart is actively fighting against mood or ambience in One-Star Squadron. There’s already enough depression lurking in the writing, Stewart is the happy painted face on the outside. And the bright colors do an incredible job of making it feel like these characters are burying their feelings of inadequacy. Gangbuster is one of the only characters who we see dimly lit, without any vibrant colors to off-set his depressing demeanor. He’s the only character who’s willing to be honest with himself about where he’s at in life.
There are plenty of little details that make Sharpe’s lettering so entertaining. The height of each word balloon on the page gives us a an idea of the energy of each line that’s delivered. When someone asks Hawk for a selfie, he replies “No” in a word balloon that’s near the bottom of the panel. You can practically hear it as a low growl. When Red Tornado has a flashback about the glory days, fighting the Royal Flush Gang, Sharpe places the sound effects behind some of the figures. It helps to show that what’s making the sound is the same thing that’s pushing those characters out of the way. But Sharpe also pulls back on the lettering quite a bit. Rarely do we get special fonts in the dialogue, or flashy sound effects. Sharpe allows us to feel the monotony that these characters are experiencing, by only sparingly changing up the flow and rhythm of the lettering.
DC Comics’ One-Star Squadron is hilarious and depressing all at once. This creative team has delivered a biting, moving, side-splitting series that asks “What happens to superheroes who are past their prime?” Pick up One-Star Squadron #1, out from DC Comics December 7th, at a comic shop near you!