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.