Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. #1 (1999)

Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. #1 (August, 1999)
“New Kid on the Block”
Writer – Geoff Johns
Penciller – Lee Moder
Inker – Dan Davis
Colorist – Tom McCraw
Separations – Heroic Age
Letterer – Bill Oakley
Assistant Editor – L.A. Williams
Editors – Chuck Kim & Mike Carlin
Special Thanks – Courtney
Cover Price: $2.50

Remember when you first came online… or better yet, when you first listened to a comics podcast?  Besides the excitement of hearing actual radio shows dedicated to our beloved hobby, we were also afforded the opportunity to hear how other people pronounce creator names.

You’d hear Nee-cee-ay-za’s and Be-yoo-see-ma’s and Byoo-sik’s, with various inflection and cadence… it’s not uncommon for us to just scan words in the credits without giving a whole lotta thought to how the names would be said aloud.  It makes me recall the first time I saw the name Geoff Johns in the credits… and my peanut brain mentally pronounced his first name as Gee-off.  So dumb.

Before we pop into our spoilery synopsis of some early Johns, I wanna mention the special thanks listed in the credits.  The character we’re going to discuss today, Courtney Whitmore, was inspired by Geoff’s own sister, who tragically passed in a plane crash in 1996.  TWA Flight 800 crashed 21 years ago today (which is coincidence, not something I was planning), and I still remember returning home from a night out and finding my mother watching the news.  At the time we lived ten or so miles away from the site.

Anyhoo, let’s get right to it.

We open with Star-Spangled Kid delivering a whopper of a kick to a Foot Soldier looking fool wearing a tunic with a spiky snake on it.  S.T.R.I.P.E. bashes through the wall to lend a hand… and lecture our gal on the folly of stealing superhero paraphernalia… we’ll get there.  A foot soldier cinches in a sleeper hold, and Courtney asks herself how she wound up in such a spot… sounds like a flashback transition to me!  And so, we flash back to the day Courtney moved to Blue Valley (from Beverly Hills).  Her mother had just remarried, a man named Pat Dugan.  That name might just sound familiar.  While the folks discuss how exciting their new lives are going to be, Courtney gazes longingly at her old yearbook.  I was sad to see she attended Beverly Hills High, I was hoping for West Beverly… then we might look forward to a Dylan McKay cameo!

Speaking of schools, we shift scenes to Blue Valley High, where a couple of nogoodnik kids are about to spray paint a Kid Flash-laden billboard with a disparaging remark about their Principal Sherman.  Remember, Blue Valley was the home of Wally West for a long time.  Anyhoo, smoke begins pouring out of a nearby manhole… and a pair of creepy green-gloved hands reach out.  Next thing we know, the boys are gone… and the only graffiti on the billboard is in the shape of that spiky snake.

We jump ahead to the following morning… and it’s Courtney’s first day at her new school.  The hallways of this school are jam packed with adolescent humanity… and it’s here we meet Courtney’s first new friend, err, the red-haired one.  After asking for some directions to class (including European Art History class… what kinda high school is this?) a meathead bully shows up to steal some lunch money.  For real… this seven footer is trying to steal pocket change from girls.  Courtney delivers a kick right to his face.  Passersbys hunky Josh and his girlfriend (?) with the white streaks in her hair see this all go down.  Josh seems impressed… his lady friend scowls and drags him away.

By now, Principal Sherman is on the scene and proceeds to read Courtney the riot act.  I mean, did he not see the big clod trying to steal lunch money?  Maybe he’s in on it!  I dunno, he escorts Courtney to biology class… where it just so happens to be, you guessed it… frog dissection day!  Our gal sidles up to her red-headed friend, and new lab partner… just as she frees her frog out the window.  Not sure how well frogs that have been kept in jars for awhile do in the wilds of the midwest… we’ll assume he got away fine and lived a long life with a fine frog family.

Next up, lunch!  Courtney and the redhead (we know her last name is Kramer) are discussing the patriotic dress code for the Spirit Dance that night.  She also brings up how a bunch of kids nobody remembers have been vanishing of late.  It’s pretty neat how Kramer describes it… she says it’s the kids in the “middle” of the class.  Not the brainy kids, or the dregs… the ones that are just “there”.  Kids that nobody would miss, because nobody even noticed they were there in the first place!  As the pair heads to a table… Josh’s girl with the streaks trips Courtney who falls directly into Principal Sherman!  It just ain’t Courtney’s day.

And so, she ‘s dragged to the Principal’s office… where she is assigned a thousand word essay on tomato sauce stains.  Well, I suppose we gotta make sure the punishment fits the crime, eh?  After Courtney leaves, Sherman drinks a can of 30-weight oil.  Ehh?

The school day finally ends, and Courtney returns home.  She gives Pat some sass before heading inside.  In her bedroom she gazes at a locket with her birth-father’s picture in it… and wonders where he might be.  One of Pat’s boxes was mixed in with hers… and so, she dumps it out on her bed to be a nosy jerk.  It’s here that she learns that her stepfather is actually Stripesy!

Courtney thinks it’s pretty lame… and suggests Dr. Mid-Nite or Doll-Man would be cooler, and I can’t really argue that.  Her mother knocks on her door to inform her that she’s got a(n important) dentist appointment the following day… oh yeah, and also… Pat’s going to be chaperoning the Spirit Dance tonight!  Court is ticked and confronts her step-dad.  She also tells him that his costume sucked.

At the dance, we finally learn that the redhead’s name is Mary… and it’s also the first time we see Courtney in her patriotic costume!  Chaperone Pat is less than pleased… ya see, that cosmic belt she’s wearing is kinda dangerous.

Before he can convince her to take it off… the belt, that is… there is an explosion in the gym.  It’s the foot soldiers from earlier.  Pat triggers a button on his watch… then gets punched in the gut.  Courtney is overcome by a strange sensation, but shakes it off to deliver another kick… this time, a super-powered kick!  Mary unmasks the foot soldier, and we see that it’s one of the spray-painting kids from earlier!

At this point, we go right back to the open of the issue where S.T.R.I.P.E. bursts through the wall.  A fight ensues, and we see our high-viscosity Principal is not pleased by the proceedings.

The (not yet) Star-Spangled Kid and S.T.R.I.P.E. rush out of the dance, all the while Pat reams Court about swiping that belt.  A shadowy man is watching the whole thing occur… and sends out another throng of foot soldiers.  The cosmic belt picks this most inopportune time to fizzle out.  Whoops.

This was… okay.

I’m sure I got a lot more out of it the first time I read it… almost twenty years ago.  I think back then something like this was such a novelty that I couldn’t help but to like it.  In 2017, we’re bombarded pretty hard by stories with quirky school drama and a non-traditional/animated art style.  Reading it today, it doesn’t really stand out as anything special.

I’d forgotten how unpleasant Courtney was back in the day.  I always remembered her as the girl next door… not the girl from 90210.  That being said, I feel like her reactions to her new lot in life are pretty well done.  While abrasive, she is in a weird adolescent flux… it’s only natural for her to lash out every now and again.

Courtney (and S.T.R.I.P.E.)’s designs are pretty great.  I really like the new Star-Spangled Kid costume, and the robot looks cool.  The Golden Age strongman look might not have flown back in 1999… a robo-suit is as good a substitute as any.

The art.  You ever see that episode of Seinfeld where Jerry dates the “two-face”?  I think it might be the Festivus episode.  He’s dating a girl who looks good in certain light, but downright ghoulish in others.  That’s how the art feels to me.  There are panels where everyone looks fantastic, and others where faces are over-contorted and over-lined… which really contrasts with the animated style.

Overall… like I said above, this was okay.  I’m not sure you need to break your back tracking this down… but then again, I wouldn’t try to dissuade you either.  This series has been collected in two trade-paperback volumes under the JSA Presents… branding.  It is also in the world digitally.

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