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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Review: Stardust Kid #1 (Mild Spoilers)

When I read Peter Pan for the first time in graduate school, I was genuinely shocked by its depth and darkness. Keep in mind I'm not equating depth with darkness, and I'm not talking about the grim n' gritty brand you'd find in a Frank Miller comic or an episode of CSI. But this Pan seemed somehow different from my childhood memories of the Disney film. Spielberg's Hook had perhaps gotten a bit closer, lifting Peter's tragic origin story and the line, "To die would be a great adventure!" from the book. But as much as I love that movie and its message, it's hard to deny that it 'domesticated' Pan. Barrie's Pan lives on the razor's edge; Spielberg's shaves with it.

I was reminded of all this as I was reading Stardust Kid #1, by J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Ploog. I am a huge fan of DeMatteis' work, and if I could sum up why as succintly as possible I'd put it like this:

Light and shadows.

I love the way DeMatteis plays with depth, with darkness, all to bring us back into the light (sometimes kicking and screaming). I was profoundly effected by Kraven's Last Hunt as a child, the storyline that not only buried Peter Parker alive but forced him to confront his fears in a sewer while chasing a cannibalistic man-rat. There are few things in literature I find comparable to the moment when Peter emerges from the sewers and into the sunlight, victorious. I want to cheer, but I need to squint. I feel like shielding my eyes from the glory of God manifested in that page.

Stardust Kid is a very different kind of story than KLH, but the first issue only underscores my point. DeMatteis builds worlds because he marries light with shadow, love with fear. And that makes him the perfect writer for a children's story that evokes Pan's fear of adolescence. This is the story of Cody DiMarco, a boy on the verge of being a man, and you'll feel his terror (and that of his family) as they pass the point of no return.

We open on the threat of a dark power "older...more elegant...and far more effective" than "Presidents...Prime Ministers...and atom bombs." I can't say enough for the way Mike Ploog builds suspense around this ancient evil breaking out of its cocoon, and then carries that dread over to our first meeting with DiMarco family. The sense of physical danger is wedded to the unsettling feeling that Cody DiMarco's adolescence is a ticking time bomb. It's all tied to Cody's mysterious friend, Paul Brightfield, but Mrs. DiMarco can't quite put her finger on why she doesn't trust him.

Ploog's depiction of Paul Brightfield is fantastic, and once again, it evokes the awe and danger attached to Pan. There's a sense of mischieviousness about him--or maybe it's wisdom, or is it malice? You can't help but be intrigued by where this going. And when Cody brushes off his childhood friend, Alana, to hang out with Paul, I'm not sure whether I should want him to keep going or yell, "It's a trap!"

And after reading the entire issue, I'm still not sure my question has been answered. I'm not even sure who the narrator is. Suffice to say this book takes some really interesting twists that demand my attention...and insure I'll be coming back for the second chapter.

I think I'm going to wait until next month to read issue. Not because it's easy to wait, but there's something fun about letting all this stew for a while. I'll make some wild speculations and see where everything goes from here. You can get Stardust Kid #1 at a steal for a 1.99 on comixology. I hope you do..and check back in with me next month when I review Stardust Kid #2.

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