#1 - coverThe Weird

(1988 - 4 double-size issues, DC Comics)

Script: Jim Starlin. Art: Berni Wrightson. Inks: Dan Green.

At first glance The Weird can seem like a kind of odd project. With an opening issue featuring the JLA on the cover, I wasn't sure why it wasn't called JLA: The Weird or something. But as you get into it, you begin to realize that's because it's not -- quite -- a JLA story, though the JLA (and Superman, who I don't believe was an official team member at that time) are major players throughout (and Nuklon, of Infinity, Inc, also makes a minor appearance). They are, essentially, "guest stars" with the star of the show the title character -- the arbitrarily named "Weird."

It also veers about in tone. At times seeming like an atypically "gentle" super hero saga, with lots of talky scenes, and a sub-plot involving a boy grieving the death of his father. Yet other times it can veer a bit into darker, grittier areas (as you might expect from the teaming of Jim Starlin and Berni Wrightson) and with a fair amount of mindless fisticuffs.

The Weird is an other-dimensional being who has come to earth from his universe, which is under the sway of evil beings that are now seeking to invade earth -- an invasion The Weird hopes to prevent. So in that sense, it can seem as though the mini-series is meant as the introduction of a new DC super hero -- except it's not really clear by story's end that creator/writer Jim Starlin intended the property to reoccur. And with each issue a double-length 38 pages it seems like a rather grandiose treatment. Of course Starlin was maybe enjoying a bit of an "IT" status at DC at the time, having also been unleashed on a couple of prestige-format mini-series including Batman: The Cult and Cosmic Odyssey.

To be honest, I wasn't a big fan of those projects and The Weird, I'm sorry to say, isn't that great, either.

And the reason I'm sorry to say that is because I'm perfectly willing to believe that Starlin was taking some aspects of the saga to heart. But more on that in a moment.

The art is supplied by Berni Wrightson, a well-regarded artist with a textured, moodily gothic style but with only limited comic book credits, the most famous of which being his seminal work on The Swamp Thing. I like Wrightson's stuff, but he never seemed an ideal talent for "super hero" work, his knack being for crooked, misshapen figures rather than the robust iconism more appropriate to men and women in tights. So I was surprised at how effective the art is -- for the most part. Still with his signature, 3-D look, but also able to adjust to having the heroes standing around or fighting. His heroic faces are a bit bland, but it's generally attractive work.

But the writing is underwhelming. Starlin's ear for dialogue can be a bit clunky. Given comics in general can be known for their corny verbiage ("Zounds!") I think the problem Starlin has is it's not enough one or the other. He doesn't really craft subtle or nuanced dialogue, or that sounds authentic -- yet neither does he wholly commit to the old Stan Lee-school bombast which could be fun and colourful, creating a parallel reality where such dialogue is "normal." While the plot doesn't justify the 4 x 38 pages treatment. Much of the action is based on the ol' misunderstanding idea -- the regular heroes not realizing The Weird is a good guy based mainly on the fact that The Weird just doesn't bother to explain himself! While there isn't a lot of nuance to the characters, whether heroes (the JLA are presented as a fairly anonymous bunch), villains (who are just one-note malevolence) or The Weird himself who isn't much more than a blandly nice guy. While the storytelling itself can run to long scenes of info dump exposition. When the Weird explains his origin, it really is just a multi-page sequence of him explaining his background. And then we get a similar multi-page backstory for the human villain who's helping the evil aliens -- without his personality warranting the space.

Part way through the story it becomes obvious what Starlin is doing -- he's re-imagining Marvel's Silver Surfer.

It's perhaps no surprise. Around this time he would start writing for the Silver Surfer, and Starlin has in the past borrowed concepts (taking Captain Marvel and basically refashioning it after Jack Kirby's New Gods). So with The Weird we have an alien of noble spirit, mistakenly viewed with mistrust and suspicions by other heroes, escaping his erstwhile masters, alien creatures who wish to consume the life-energy of earth. And like the Surfer, The Weird's powers are vaguely defined and seeming limitless depending on the needs of the moment. Except instead of a surfer motif, The Weird dresses like a Gypsy flamenco dancer.

One could go one step further and suggest The Weird isn't just Starlin's "homage" (or rip off ) of the Silver Surfer, but specifically a tribute to Jack Kirby's original conception of the character. You see, I seem to recall reading somewhere that Surfer co-creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had different visions for the Surfer's true origin. Lee's idea (and the one that became canon) was that the Surfer was a humanoid from another world, and Lee used the character to comment on, and criticize, humanity's foibles. But Kirby's idea (I believe) was for the Surfer to have been an energy being granted human form by his master, Galactus, and who would learn what it was to be human. And Starlin's Weird is an erstwhile energy being who discovers what it means to be human after adopting a corporeal form by inhabiting the body of a dead man.

And it's here that I wonder if Starlin was seeing the project as something deeper than just a super hero romp. Because time is put aside for The Weird connecting with the young son of the dead man whose form he now inhabits. As well, The Weird discovers his form is molecularly unstable, essentially that he is terminally ill, the story seeming to echo aspects of Starlin's earlier The Death of Captain Marvel graphic novel -- a work which I think Starlin has said is among his most personal. Possibly (if memory serves) relating to the death of his own father. So you can certainly infer sincere intentions in his writing yet another story about a hero facing mortality, now with the added idea of a son being granted a chance to say good-bye to his father.

But as much as I might believe Starlin is sincere -- that still doesn't mean it fully works. The maudlin stuff is just that: maudlin. And, as mentioned, the saga overall just doesn't really warrant such a lengthy treatment, either in plot, character exploration, or emotional undercurrent.