Posted by: vincentgaberlavage | December 13, 2021

On Art Deco, and Victoriana, in Robinson And Harris’s Star Man

Robinson and Harris’s 94-01 run on Starman for DC is notable, not only for it’s high quality in an era where most other mainstream books were trying to tack as many spikes as they could get away with onto their protagonists, but also for it’s striking Art Nouveau inspired visuals. While these might initially seem out of place in a comic who’s main character looks like an off brand Guy Fieri with bad tattoos, they serve a definitive purpose in the narrative in visually separating him from his father.

The plot of this particular run on Starman is fairly common in Superhero comics. The original Starman, Ted Knight, is forced into retirement due to his old age and must pass his mantle onto his son. However what elevates this particular comic is the relationship between the father and son involved. Jack is in his late twenties when the comic begins. He has a job as an antiques dealer, a messy relationship with his ex, a few tattoos he regrets, and most importantly a strained relationship with the father who was absent through out most of his childhood and teenage years. His father on the other hand is a straight laced intellectual of the Greatest Generation (this was back in the days of Gen X rebellion) who has a strained relationship with his rebellious son. The difference between these two characters is represented visually through differing associations with artistic and architectural movements.

Ted, the elder Knight, is visually associated with Art Deco. The use of the style ties him back to the era referred to as the Golden Age of comics (1938-56) during which he first emerged. However the style’s sleek futuristic lines and association with the high society of the 20’s and thirties speaks to his retro futuristic optimism, and wealthy playboy secret identity (shared by a few other maybe more notable characters. It’s mechanical and aerodynamics influenced design also calls back to his creation of his own gadgets and his ridiculous but also aerodynamics inspired costume. It also places him firmly within the framework of societal power, Art Deco architecture specifically is still to some extent associated with the power of industry and finance.

His son Jack, the principle character of the comic is associated with the visual aesthetics of Art Nouveau. I might seem to be putting the cart before the horse to have the son associated with an older school of design than the father however this is actually used to tie him visually back to the counter culture of the 80’s and 90’s. The fashion of the goth subculture specifically takes a great deal of influence from Victorian aesthetics. The more natural shapes of Art Nouveau also puts him in direct contrast to his father’s geometric industrial style.

The use of Victorian and Modern aesthetics here are not just used for the purposes of aesthetics but also as a means of displaying aspects of a complex relationship between the two principle characters.


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