One-Star Squadron #6 review

If ever a comic book should come with a helpline number, it’s One-Star Squadron. The first five issues of this six-part mini-series have been relentlessly glum, with the cheeriest moments never managing to rise beyond ‘melancholy’.

All along I’ve been hanging on to a hope – the final issue will be one massive dawn to blow away the darkness, chock full of heroism and redemption.

And look, behind the dour cover we do indeed have inarguable heroism, a big win for Red Tornado.

Sadly, there’s also a broadcaster finding his joy in the downfall of one staff member at the failed Heroz4U agency.

The funeral of another.

A corpse in a drawer… but I’m not showing you that as you may be having supper. It’s safe to say this isn’t an issue full of joy to wipe away five issues’ worth of misery. Most of it is framed by former Heroz4U manager Reddy ruminating on the miserable life of the second-string superhero.

There is a gag, though.

And Power Girl’s epiphany of last issue is underlined.

In the final few pages we do get a happy ending of sorts, as Red Tornado completes a quest to find out if Minuteman is okay. Remember him? A Heroz4U gig worker, he burned down the company HQ in a misguided moment, accidentally killing brain-damaged ex-hero Gangbuster, then fled after bleeding heart Reddy gave him the firm’s remaining funds…

That the note of positivity comes after a suicide attempt isn’t something we should dwell on. The takeaway is that an accident of fate brings a chance to choose positive change, and it’s grabbed.

Which is something.

But writer Mark Russell gives us too little, too late. Even after the happy-ish ending, the series goes out on a downbeat note.

This isn’t a serial I’ll be rereading. So far as positives go, Russell gives us a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. He’s kept his cast of characters consistent in the way they act, even if they don’t necessarily gel with portrayals elsewhere. Lex Luthor has a couple of good cameos. Maybe it’s fair enough to show that putting on a costume doesn’t necessarily bring happiness – but we’d got that by the end of #1. The message has been relentlessly hammered home every issue since then. One-Star Squadron could be called Three Issues Too Long (at Least).

And darn Steve Lieber for being such a great artist, capturing the emotional beats of Russell’s script to perfection. This is a world where life is hard and Lieber shows that, with his body language and facial expressions. His Reddy has a quiet dignity and charm which helps make his more questionable acts almost acceptable.

It’s great character work, and Lieber is a master of timing. Great sight gags, too.

Plying their allied trades of colouring and lettering, Daves Stewart and Sharpe acquit themselves marvellously. Stewart sticks resolutely to the naturalistic palette this book demands, and Sharpe takes the same approach with his fontwork.

On the level of sheer craft, One-Star Squadron has been quality from beginning to end. So far as enjoyment goes, that’s a whole other story.

13 thoughts on “One-Star Squadron #6 review

  1. I’d long written off Russell for alternating with being his generation’s Denny O’Neil (hamfisted and unsubtle social commentary) when not writing ludricous stories. I ignored that because the cover of issue one had me thinking Power Girl and Red Tornado, whom I dearly love, would be starring. Sadly, only their likenesses were used. Reddy got it worse because of his panel time but Power Girl’s character was even further off model. I think Russel only knows she was a Supergirl variant and has never read any story with he rin it. She knows she’s a survivor of a dead universe, not a stranger to this planet! She’s also bombastic but that did not fit with the story Russel emulated Tom King’s MO on. Hopefully outside of us hate reading it, this mini sold so bad he’ll think twice before trying to depress every reader again the future.

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    1. I just don’t get why he’s using well-known characters, but not really…yeah, you bring in a few readers via the familiarity but you’re immediately irritating them. Why not create new characters?

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  2. Darn, they killed Gangbuster? That’s awful. Oh, well, guess I’ll just have to wait for another couple of DCU reboots for him to come back! Seriously, no one stays dead at either DC or Marvel.

    Seriously, while the writing on this doesn’t really sound like my thing, the art & storytelling by Steve Lieber looks to be of the usual high quality I’ve come to expect from him. Nice job with the canned chili two panel sequence you posted, which simeutaneously gave me a chuckle at the humor and a smile at the senitmentality.

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    1. Dude, Russel managed to make The Heckler boring & he also gave GI Robot dialogue. Cutesy dialogue even. Be glad we read it so you don’t have to.

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    2. I reckon DC should bring Gangbuster back at the earliest opportunity, in peak condition, just to underline that this series is totally non-canonical. Jose deserves so much better. Russell’s story wouldn’t have been hurt had he invented a Gangbuster-alike.

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      1. Is “canon” even a thing at DC Comics any more? It really feels like a lot of their miniseries each take place in their own alternate reality. Which is fine by me. If you like what’s done in a particular story then it “really” happened. If you don’t like it then you’re free to ignore it.

        The example that immediately comes to mind is the Female Furies miniseries from 2019 that ends with the women of Apokolips staging a successful revolution and driving Darkseid into exile. I don’t think it’s ever been referenced anywhere else. Which, honestly, worked great, because Cecil Castellucci and Adriana Melo got to tell the story they wanted without worrying that they were stepping on any other creative teams’ toes or that everything they did would be undone six months later in Justice League or wherever.

        Likewise, hopefully no one else at DC is going to feel obligated to acknowledge One-Star Squadron if they really don’t want to.

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  3. I remain a big fan of Mark Russell, but I did not enjoy this one. I see what he was trying to do. Not say that the life of a second-string hero is sad. But to say that life is sad for people who don’t come out ahead in the zero-sum game of ruthless capitalism. Life is hard, we should take care of each other. But he dresses it up in superheroes because that’s what the market demands.

    As noted, the story was too relentlessly downbeat, not enough bright moments. Plus, it took two issues longer than it needed to cover its ground. And agreed, worst was that the misuse of familiar heroes was just distracting. I couldn’t consider how, say, Climbs-By-Betrayal Lady is a staple of competitive office environments, because it was Power Girl acting as un-PG as possible.

    I like Russell’s more entertaining takes on heroes, including when he plays fast and loose with details. The heroes in the background of Wonder Twins didn’t feel perfectly on-model, but they weren’t Bizarro versions of themselves, either. I love his Flintstones, had a lot of fun with his Red Sonja, and I enjoy Second Coming. I thought Billionaire Island was a better way to comment on economic disparities, without shoehorning superheroes into it.

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    1. Thanks for the ever-insightful comments. I really did expect this series to have the Wonder Twins vibe, due to the combination of Russell and Lieber, which isn’t the comic’s fault. But still, it’d be nice if Russell hadn’t gone for such a consistently downbeat vibe. I wonder how readers who come to this for the first time in a collection or at DCUI, and read it in a oner, will react. I hope they have a stiff drink handy.

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  4. I just read the final issue of this, as as much as I like Mark Russell & Steve Lieber, this one isn’t one of my favorites. I’m pretty OK with him doing as he likes with these characters — they’re pretty elastic and resilient, especially the way continuity is these days. And even Gangbuster’s sad fate — man, it was sad — is something I’m going to remember for a while. Which might not be the case if he hadn’t used a character I remembered fondly from decades ago. That’s one of the advantages of superhero comics — they can piggyback on emotions and experiences from long-time readers, and use them to create extra resonance. There were some references (and maybe a brief flashback) to Gangbuster in his prime … but readers like you and I have ACTUAL MEMORIES of when he was fighting crime decades ago. In a sense, we’re part of that world. Most authors don’t have that luxury.

    So when Gangbuster died, it hurt. He’s someone we’ve known for decades. We felt loss, even though we hadn’t seen him in ages, and then, when we did, he was diminished by age and infirmity.

    I didn’t have a lot of fun reading this comic. It wasn’t the good time the covers and the marketing promised. But it just might stick with me longer than a book I “liked” more. And there’s something to be said for that.

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    1. Two things helped me with Gangbuster’s fate. I’m just not much of a Superman fan anymore. Where growing up I bought it all now I buy the titles according to who the writer is so I also don’t have much enduring fondness towards minor Superman characters. The other bit that helped is that Lieber didn’t draw a recognizable Gangbuster. He was well drawn, Lieber is who he is, but he looked more like a coworker than the hero I vaguely remembered.

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    2. Thank you Rob, that makes sense. I think I’d be more forgiving had I any sense that Russell knew and had affection for the characters he’s using, but either he really hasn’t read much of Reddy, Peege, or indeed, Jose so gets the characters wrong, or just doesn’t care. Or worse, doesn’t like them. Certainly they seem like just pieces he’s moving around the board.

      But you’re so blooming eloquent! Maybe I liked it more than I thought…

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