#BlackComicsMonth 2016: Day 12 – J.N. Monk – StarHammer Review

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starhammer

STARSTRUCK
A teenage girl faces a federal disciplinary hearing on charges of unlicensed superheroic activity. Flashback to an undefined cosmic object hurtling through the urban night sky, leaving a brilliant beam of white-purple light in its wake. As it approaches its target destination, the object decelerates before floating gently into the bedroom of that very same girl, who has yet to realize that a new life she never wanted or imagined for herself has already begun.

So begins the new, ongoing superhero series StarHammer, a Comics Alliance “Best of 2015” nominee for “Best New Webcomic”. The comic is the work of StarTeamGO!, member of Hiveworks consisting of J.N. Monk (writing), Harry Bogosian (pencils/inks), Tessa Kleiner (colors), and Vondell Swain (visual development). This series blends elements of superhero, sci-fi, magical girl, and alternate history to tell the story of an overachieving, yet aimless, teen who finds unexpected direction in life when she unwittingly becomes the successor to a washed-up superheroine.”

In an age when superhero stories are a dime-a-dozen (often cynical deconstructions and tongue-in-cheek parodies), StarHammer blazes its own trail. By blending the aspirational “gee whiz” fantasy of Golden and Silver Age superhero comics with a 21st century genre-savvy, a humane focus on the inner lives of its characters, and a thoughtful concern for the practical consequences of superheroing, StarHammer offers a sharp and compelling vision for what truly contemporary superhero stories can look like. And that’s to say nothing of the top-to-bottom diversity of its cast—showcasing characters of a wide range of races, ethnicities, genders, sexual identities, and body types—that far more closely resembles the real 21st century America than does the overwhelming homogeneity of most mainstream comics.

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STARGAZING

Built on Monk’s solid written foundation, StarTeamGO!’s artwork brings the story, world, and character’s life. Bogosian’s line art eschews any one rigid stylistic model in favor of a flexible one that incorporates a variety of visual influences and techniques depending on the needs of the story. Over the course of a single page, the art may seamlessly integrate grounded semi-realism, animesque comedic minimalism, and vividly detailed fantasy. These seemingly disparate styles are unified by an attention to characterization and a crackling kinetic energy that permeates the comic—whether in comedic moments, action scenes, or moments of gentle quietude—and makes the world truly live and breathe. This is brought out even further by Kleiner’s colors, which help juxtapose the oppressive mundanity of high school (even one populated by superpowered students) with the awe-inspiring spectacle of the titular StarHammer in action by contrasting pastel yellows and olive greens with bright, cosmic purples and pinks.

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WRITTEN IN THE STARS

Having recently concluded the first chapter of Volume 1 (of a planned three-volume epic), the StarHammer story is still only in its infancy. Nonetheless, this first chapter—in which the protagonist Evey Li first comes into possession of the titular hammer Orion’s Mallet and has her first superheroic encounter—offers tantalizing hints of what’s to come. StarHammer takes place in a densely-realized alternate universe with it’s own specific history, culture, and language. In the tradition of the original Star Wars trilogy, however, StarTeamGO! deals out information about the world and characters deliberately and sparingly. Rather than weighing down the narrative with expository infodumps, StarHammer laser-focuses on the personal narrative of its main characters, which is informed by the nature of the world around them, and trusts the audience to keep up, while offering tasty morsels of world-building at the margins. This way, the comic remains fast-paced and widely-accessible to a variety of audiences, while offering genuine rewards to readers who enjoy picking apart tiny details, and for re-readers who will marvel at the early foreshadowing in the background details they overlooked the first time.

The true stars of StarHammer, though, are the characters and their relationships. The first chapter showcases the relationship between the protagonist Evey, who is academically competent but personally directionless and paralyzed by indecision, and her wildly enthusiastic best friend Izzy, a devoted superhero fangirl who appoints herself as the cheerleading sidekick to a reluctant, frightened, and frustrated Evey. The depth and complexity of Evey and Izzy’s relationship will only grow as the story continues, and the seeds of that growth have already been planted in Chapter 1. Plus, there are more pivotal characters yet to be introduced who will have their own complex relationships with Evey and others, and whose actions will have—and have already had—tremendous impacts on our hero and on the narrative.

Of course, it would not be a proper superhero comic if it did not deliver the superhero goods, and readers of StarHammer will not be disappointed. Spectacular action, larger-than-life supervillains, epic drama, and stunning twists and turns all lie in store in the chapters and volumes yet to come.

Begin your Starhammer journey here!

Header image credit: Jen Weber

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