One-Star Squadron #5 review

On the one hand, this is a well put-together comic book. The pacing is good, the characters make sense, a mystery is solved satisfactorily.

But don’t read it if you’re already having a bad day.

Because yet again, kids, writer Mark Russell takes some of the DC Universe’s lesser-known heroes and drenches them in despair. If you’ve not been following this six-issue mini-series, Let It Be Known that Red Tornado and Power Girl have been heading a hero hotline owned by a shady conglomerate. Power Girl has been trying to oust and replace Reddy but found that she’s the one who’s been let go, the agency having failed to set the business community on fire.

What did catch fire, though, was the Heroz4U HQ. At the start of this issue, it’s ashes, and the police are looking for suspects.

While Karen talks to the police, her erstwhile colleagues discuss the situation in their new unofficial office – a greasy spoon.

When Power Girl shows up to plead that she wasn’t the arsonist, no one but Red Tornado believes her. She leaves, and is feeling pretty sorry for herself until her telescopic vision tells her that this is not the time to wallow

It’s a turning point for Karen. Another hero has a less life-affirming turning point after admitting to Red Tornado that they set the blaze. They had what they believed were good reasons but something Reddy has just learned from the police makes intent irrelevant – a hero died in the fire.

And so a series that’s been pretty much the definition of ‘downer’ enters the realm of the truly tragic. The character who had sneaked into the HQ has never been a big name, but they were a fixture of comics in the Nineties and I liked them. Which means, until someone at DC tells me otherwise, I’m firmly consigning this series to Black Label land. It’s not in current DC continuity! Well, why not, the presentation of Power Girl has been ridiculous, and Reddy and his family don’t gel with previous presentations… and this issue Reddy does something that’s well intentioned but absolutely beyond the pale.

How will it all end? At the start of the series, my thinking was that gradually, issue by issue, the Heroz4U crew would brush themselves off, stick their chins out and show the world that even little guys can make a big difference. They’d be like a modern day Legion of Substitute Heroes. Well, that’s not looking likely, despite Power Girl perhaps rescuing her soul along with that fortunate family. I honestly don’t know where Russell is going, but I still hope that he’ll surprise me.

What hasn’t surprised me is the quality of the art – Steve Lieber’s subtlety with character acting is well known, and perfect for a book so full of emotion. There’s an especially brilliant moment as the fire raiser arrives to tell all to Reddy, but the entire issue is full of clever touches. Minute Man tying his shoelace in a way that’s totally incidental to the story, Reddy holding his cape so it doesn’t dangle among ashes, this wonderfully natural moment…

Lieber’s art is well observed and well executed. The storytelling isn’t flashy, but with a story this downbeat, you don’t want explosions.

Dave Sharpe and Dave Stewart handle the letters and colours with their usual professionalism, while Lieber and Stewart’s cover is the perfect image… for One-Star Squadron #1. I like it, but it’s very wrong for the tone of this issue.

There’s a revelation towards the end of this instalment that shifts the stakes of this series, shows that not every big player in the DCU considers Heroz4U a joke. Maybe Russell and Lieber are planning to go out with a bang – we shall see.

17 thoughts on “One-Star Squadron #5 review

  1. I kinda like the presentation of Reddy here. I have not ben a fan of the Robotic RT for some time. He is supposed to be possessed of a soul somehow, and as a result should have all the emotions a sentient and sapient bing can have, and he does here. Of course, he is also something of a fool in this, and he never takes his costume off. I know that’s part of a subtle humor in the book, but it bugs me. Power Girl, in particular, was a characterization that made no sense. Whatever her situation, Kara has always been heroic and competent, and in this book she came off more like a plotting, scheming corporate monster. Still, there was something funny about seeing costumed super heroes working helplines and being phone salespeople.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It would have been hysterical as a one panel gag back in Plop. Extended it’s just depressing and the way that hero died and who was the cause was just awful to read in a book that was billed as funny.


    2. Spot on. These long-established characters are off (possible so much that any good bits of character work goes over my head). I hope their presentation here makes them toxic for awhile.


  2. I must agree I’ve been gently pushing this one to an alt-universe tale for some time. For me the drama and the humour just don’t seem to mesh very well, and that for me undercuts the story as a whole.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The book is a downer but still can’t say I hate it in the same way as Human Target, even though it has many of the same problems.It’s obvious now that these comics (and a huge chunk of the X-books) were developed backwards.
    The writer comes up with a genre plot, picks a cast that loosely fits and then throws a sprinkle of character moments on top. At least this story is not going for shock factor.
    And this is the issue I have with these stories; character. They don’t resemble the ones we know and don’t develop anyone further. Beyond Reddy, PG & a couple of others there is nothing but quips and wallpaper. Most, like Firehawk, are wasted here. The art is pretty but I’m starving for DC to tell us more stories about recognizable characters again.

    Agree with you that this should be included in Black Label, it’d be nice if DC labelled them as such.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “Mark Russell takes some of the DC Universe’s lesser-known heroes and drenches them in despair”

    As a fan of Power Girl, Red Tornado, and the original Heckler series, I picked this series up, hoping for fun and levity, a little bit of light hearted superheroics, harking back to the Giffen/DeMatteis JLA days.

    I lasted two issues before refusing to read any more and judging by your review, I made the right decision.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What’s a shame is that DC is allowing writers to mine their deep, deep bench of excellent characters, but then we get stuff like this or anything Tom King writes. I have to imagine that these series are greenlit with long-time readers in mind who want to read about old, obscure favorites. But then those characters are treated completely out of character and left to the whims of the story the writer wants to tell, so I don’t get who these series are for.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s a terrific question, Brian. I miss the days when we would see interviews with editors, it really would be great to find out what these folk are like and why they’re making the decisions they do.


  6. I definitely also look at this as continuity-adjacent, like King’s Black Label books. And like King’s Black Label books, I like it quite a bit. It’s a very funny, very sad book.

    I liked the character that dies in this issue too. This is a sad end for him, after a sad return a few issues ago. He’s had a rough go of it.

    Karen’s had a bad run of luck, too. I don’t know what brought her to Heroz4U; she used to run a tech company, and I can imagine it got gobbled up or pushed out of the market and she didn’t have the softest landing. The entire cast is struggling with a life that threatens to swallow them up. We see it in Reddy, Karen, Minuteman, but if we took a close look at Firehawk, we’d probably see a similar story. It’s sad.

    And these people are heroes, people we’ve looked up to. We want to see them at their best.

    This isn’t that. We’ve seen them down before — beaten back into a crumbling building, facing a foe with vastly more resources and firepower. Or mind controlled, doing bad actions against their will.

    This is that story, but the superheroic metaphors are stripped away. Reddy is struggling not in a superheroic way, but the way we all might struggle — wanting to provide for our families, wanting to be loyal to our friends, wanting to be a good man and tell the truth, and yes, wondering if we have a soul and what that might mean. And he’s on the ropes.

    Karen, similarly, had her head turned around by a culture that rewards cutthroat business practices, and shuffles anyone who doesn’t play the game into the dustbin. It’s a huge machine, and it’s grinding everyone down, whether they know it or not.

    I don’t think there’s a happy ending coming. We’ve seen the end, and it’s fire and smoke and a scared man hiding in the shadows until he dies.

    But I hope, in the ashes of all this, a few of the characters can make a fresh start.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for some typically insightful thoughts, Rob! Of course, generalisations are only that, but this hero never struck me as lacking in mental fortitude and hope. With luck the unfortunate character will be written back into a DCU story soon, alive and well.


      1. Oh, he definitely had mental fortitude and hope as an active hero. And I don’t think Russell and Lieber are attributing his current condition to any failing on his part, just a history of head injuries and some coincidental poor mental health as he aged. Time diminishes us all, in one way or another. It’s not a story we get told a lot in comics, and it hits harder because of its rarity.

        Liked by 1 person

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