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Feb 19


Posted on Tuesday, February 19, 2019 by Paul in x-axis

Shatterstar, written by Tim Seeley and pencilled by Carlos Villa (with Gerardo Sandoval on the flashbacks), reads like a pilot for an ongoing series – it’s got a new status quo, and what sure looks like the core of a regular supporting cast.  It’s an endearingly eccentric take on the character, but also one that seems to have been instantly jettisoned, given the way he’s being used in X-Force.  So… welcome to the apocrypha.

This is Shatterstar, intergalactic landlord.  He’s seemingly retired from superhero-ing, he’s broken up with Rictor, and he’s the landlord of a building called Manor Crossing where all of his tenants are refugees from assorted obscure universes.  And they’re a weird bunch.

There’s a cartoon animal version of Flag-Smasher who’s also a radical leftist; there’s two feuding brothers from a colour-themed world; there’s somebody who was sent back from the future to kill a baddie and decided to try and mentor her instead; there’s an overawed woman from a normal earth.  Each of them seems to have their own story, and most of them really don’t get a whole lot to do – they look more like ideas for potential future stories.

But in this story, the tenants’ role is mainly to get kidnapped so that Shatterstar can rescue them.  And the main plot here is very simple.  Gringrave, Shatterstar’s crazy ex-girlfriend from his own time, shows up with the Death Sponsors in tow (remember them?) and kidnaps the tenants to a world where the Grandmaster has set up shop.  Shatterstar goes after them, and you pretty much get the thrust from there.

Still, despite a basically straightforward plot, there’s a lot going on here.  How well it all fits together is another matter, but it’s not short of things going on.

This isn’t an especially nineties-style series – Sandoval’s flashback sequences are done in a histrionic style appropriate to the era of Shatterstar’s creation (for better or worse), but that stands in sharp contrast to the main story, which is quite sedately told, complete with extensive narrative captions in a style that hasn’t been fashionable in quite some years.  “Upon arriving on Horus IV, Shatterstar learned that the mercenary Death Sponsors had split up, the majority leading his tenants to the amphitheatre, while the man-beast called Deadair had taken Karl Snorththau, deemed weak and thus unfit for the arena, as his payment.”  That’s not recap, either.  Villa is a solid artist who sells the comedy decently, and brings some sense of place and scale to the Grandmaster’s hijacked planet, as well as a nicely supercilious Grandmaster himself.

For all that, and the drastic retooling of Shatterstar’s status quo, Seeley is very much interested in Shatterstar’s back story and original, Liefeld-era concept: he’s a gladiator from Mojoworld, created to fight for people’s entertainment, who turned on his creators and became a rebel, but still retains his performing instinct to entertain.  This is precisely what Shatterstar seems to be trying to distance himself from in his new landlord role, but it’s also what Gringrave and the Grandmaster are dragging him back to.

Quite what the various characters here actually want, and what we’re meant to make of it all, hovers somewhere in that hinterland between “nuanced” and “a bit murky”.  Broadly speaking, Seeley seems to be interested here in the meaning of life, as explored through the medium of a character who was created to entertain.  So Shatterstar has set himself up as a landlord for the cosmically displaced in an attempt to find some purpose, but (it’s suggested) that purpose may actually just be that something is bound to happen with these weirdoes which will give him the opportunity to play the hero.  Shatterstar wants his life to have meaning, but seems to define meaning in terms of his story being about something; and part of his realisation here, though it’s debatable how far it really emerges from the plot, is that his desire to please the audience is really just a magnified version of everyone’s desire to appear significant.  There’s also some half-developed stuff about Shatterstar struggling to understand the complexity of other people, and concluding that simplified stories don’t represent the real world; this never really connects up to anything else in an entirely satisfying way.

As against that, we’ve got the contrast with Gringrave and Grandmaster.  Gringrave is a rather hazy character; she doesn’t even look particularly consistent between the flashbacks and main stories, and her personality is hard to get a grip on.  Broadly, she seems to represent Shatterstar the way his creators intended him to be, interested mainly in engineering events to create the appropriate levels of entertainment and drama.  She claims to treat this as an end in itself, but at the same time claims to be in love with Shatterstar; the overall suggestion seems to be that her nihilist philosophy is a cover for her vulnerability, and that ultimately she is driven by something more meaningful, even if it’s a dubious obsession.  In the flashbacks, Shatterstar’s interest in anything that transcends their role as gladiators has to be shut down, supposedly for his own good, but really to make sure that he doesn’t go anywhere.

In a weird piece of structure, even though Gringrave is the one with the emotional connection to Shatterstar, she’s positioned as a secondary villain and out of the story by the end of issue #4.  That leaves the Grandmaster for the final issue, who’s at once an obvious choice and a strange one.  On the one hand, he has a natural interest in characters literally created to fight for his entertainment; on the other hand, this is the role that Mojo would normally play in a Shatterstar story.  But Mojo is a raving lunatic, and for the purposes of this series, Grandmaster works better, since he has a worldview that actually makes some sort of intrinsic sense.

What Grandmaster wants, ultimately, is someone to play with.  And while Shatterstar is a little far down the pecking order by his standards, he has the great advantage that he was created with a view to playing the game as an end in itself – precisely what Grandmaster values in a playmate.  Grandmaster also talks about Shatterstar making his games better by bringing “stakes”, but ultimately seems to see this as nothing more than an element of a more satisfying game.  He seems to see this as a win-win where his games give Shatterstar’s life meaning, and Shatterstar makes the games better in turn.

So while the story ultimately seems sympathetic to Shatterstar’s desire to give his life meaning, we also seem to be invited to consider his idea of meaning as a mere flip side of entertainment value.  Obviously, this works better as a story if Shatterstar ultimately refuses to resume his old role.  And since we know that he goes back to X-Force mode imminently, that doesn’t help.  There’s also a decided vagueness in how all of this really fits together, both in terms of plot and theme – though some of this could fairly be taken as an open-ended approach to the questions being raised.

It’s certainly a more ambitious story than you would expect from a random Shatterstar mini, and a largely entertaining one, even if it feels muddled at times, and Gringrave in particular is tough to get a handle on.  A flawed but encouragingly eccentric mini.

Bring on the comments

  1. Team Zissou says:

    In an interview, X-Men line editor Jordan White admitted that he only commissioned this series because he saw the marketing material for Deadpool 2 and figured that people would probably see the movie and then want to buy some new Shatterstar comics. He felt like a real fool after he saw the actual movie.

  2. JCG says:

    Shatterstar was in Deadpool 2?

    I saw it but I don’t remember him. Or maybe did not recognize him.

  3. Alex Hill says:

    He’s in it as a member of X-Force, and even gets to have a comics-accurate costume and retain his origin of being from Mojoworld. He just… isn’t in it as much as you’d expect from the trailers.

  4. JCG says:

    Ah, right! He must have been one of the many characters killed off as gag during the scene with the plane.

  5. Voord 99 says:

    I tend to feel that our host’s description of the Liefeld-era concept of Shatterstar is a good bit more coherent and interesting than it actually was at the time.

    I’d go so far as to say that original-model Shatterstar’s connection to the Mojoverse is a real problem, because Liefeld just isn’t interested in all the ways in which that should make Shatterstar funny (in a gallows humor sort of way, perhaps, but funny). In particular, I think the idea of Shatterstar as possessing an instinct for entertainment is basically not there in the original treatment: for Liefeld, Shatterstar is a Klingon-style “Cool Warrior,” on whom Liefeld has bolted on an origin that connects him to the X-books. But I don’t think that Liefeld really wants to exploit any metatextual dimension of having Shatterstar within the story reflect the fact that he’s created to entertain the reader.

    Which is to say, I like the sound of this miniseries very much, and will make sure to read it when it pops up on Unlimited. Because the potential for all that is what can make Shatterstar interesting to me, and it sounds like that’s what Seeley is trying to do here.

  6. JCG says:

    Peter David used Shatterstar pretty well as I recall.

    Is any of that referenced in this new series?

  7. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    The Shatterstar – Rictor relationship is a small but not completely insignificant part of this mini.

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