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The Stories We Tell Ourselves: In casting an aspirant scifi writing as the protagonist in Starborn Stan Lee is able to deal with the complex themes of the paranoia-culture subgenre as popularized by the legendary Philip K. Dick.
cover art

Stan Lee's Starborn #1

(BOOM! Studios; US: Dec 2010)

The final ongoing series in Stan Lee’s newly minted comicbook universe, courtesy of BOOM! Studios, has finally arrived in the form of Starborn. The venerated comic book writer is attempting to duplicate his previous success as co-creator of most of Marvel’s vast pantheon of characters. Of all the recent launches from The Man himself, Starborn appears to be the most unconventional and non-“comic booky” of the whole lot. While the nitty gritty of the story stems from writer Chris Roberson and artist Khary Randolph, this book has the indelible influence of Stan Lee stamped all over it.


Starborn tells the story of struggling desk jockey and wannabe novelist Benjamin Warner. The erstwhile writer pines for a future vocation as a famous science fiction novelist, an occupation he’s worked towards since his childhood. While his passion is sometimes seen to border on obsession, Benjamin is a seemingly harmless, if not eccentric, loner. Nevertheless, one day his entire life changes in a bit of Stan Lee inspired hyperbole.


“My coworkers are sand skinned drones, and my childhood crush is a shape-shifting warrior-woman—all straight out of my made-up stories.”


The set up is quite effective and I found this Roberson penned tail to have the most engaging hook of the entire Lee-verse project. What I found particularly interesting about Starborn is how it portrays the writer within society. Benjamin, during a flashback sequence, is seen by his adoptive parents, a standard trait for many comicbook persons of power, as obsessive in regards to his writing. This feeling is strong enough to send young Benjamin to a therapist for counseling. Coincidentally, the therapist finds the young man intriguing; as if the writer’s itch is some new disease he can catalogue and publish a paper on.


I by no means can speak for writers. I can only speak for myself. Nevertheless, as I’ve bandied my trade in the short amount of time I’ve been active as a writer I have noticed a perceptible disdain for writers amongst “proper” business people. Those who have ever freelanced certainly understand where I’m coming from.


Writers, in my experience, are seen as a cheap commodity and as a result are marginalized. Unlike a painter or sculptor or singer, writers seem to get the short end when it comes to acknowledgement and compensation. Perhaps it is because the trade of the writer doesn’t rely on beautiful frescos or stunning statues of marble and bronze or lyrical ballads that tug at people’s heartstrings. Maybe many people don’t view writing as a form of artistic accomplishment. It could also be that writing is grounded in a particular language. Translations of foreign texts abound but so does the saying ‘lost in translation’.


Starborn highlights how writers can be looked down upon by other members of society. Benjamin’s coworker friend finds his writing interests to be a bit odd, perplexed that he rather slave over his keyboard than grab some beers. Benjamin’s boss, although not shown, is referenced as having a more hostile attitude towards the protagonist’s hobby. The aforementioned adoptive parents and therapist already compound Benjamin’s isolation from his peers. Even a fellow writer appears to be dismissive of his passion with a harsh critique.


Nevertheless, the story hones in on how powerful a writer can be. Benjamin doesn’t don a costume in Starborn yet. However, his power as a writer has transformed fantasy into reality. The stuff of his overwrought science fiction novel suddenly springs to life all around him. It makes perfect sense when you think of it. Imagine how much of the world is written. Most of society thrives on the written word even if it isn’t readily apparent. Great novels can impact people just as much as written safety instructions.


The dissemination of written information can change the entire world. Think of all the great documents that are written down. Would the Bill of Rights be the same if it was altered into a YouTube video? Even the earliest glimpses of human society hail from written sources in the form of cuneiform and hieroglyphics. Writing has more power than may be readily apparent. Stan Lee knows this with his commitment to bombastic statements and unapologetic hyperbole. However, Starborn helps the reader realize this with a heaping helping of super heroics and space opera.

Rating:

Rocketed to Chicago as a young adult from a doomed suburb, James now writes for truth, justice and the conspicuous consumption of comic books. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, Jacobin, The New Humanism, Salon, Bookslut, and elsewhere. He blogs, occasionally, at Graphically Apparent.


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