Oct 9, 2012

Starman Retrospective, Day 2: Legacy

Welcome to Day 2 of The Comics Cube!'s retrospective series on James Robinson, Tony Harris, and Peter Snejberg's STARMAN. You can read about this series here.


Jack Knight was the seventh Starman. Or maybe he was the sixth. Or the eighth.

It's complicated.

Either way, he wasn't the first, nor was he the last to prefix his name with "Star."

Top row: Jack Knight, Will Payton, Mikaal Tomas
Bottom row: Prince Gavyn, Starman of 1951, Ted Knight
Behind everyone: Thom Kallor
Art by Tony Harris and Alex Ross

The first Starman, of course, was Ted Knight. we covered that yesterday.

Then there was the Starman of 1951, a mysterious new character (or was he?) who protected Opal City for only that year, and whose identity would be one of the series' longest-running subplots. (The actual longest-running one would only be resolved in 2012.)

The Starman that followed came in the 70s. Mikaal Tomas was a member of a race of alien warriors, and he first appeared in FIRST ISSUE SPECIAL #12, in 1976, in a story by Gerry Conway and Mike Vosburg. He was never seen again until this STARMAN series, where Robinson and company establish an entire history for him, showing him coming to Opal City soon after he landed on earth, getting hooked on cocaine, and being the inspiration for David Bowie's "Starman" song, before he got kidnapped and traded on the slave market until such time that Jack would find him.

Prince Gavyn first appeared in ADVENTURE COMICS #467 and was the creation of comic book legends Paul Levitz and Steve Ditko. He was the prince of a planet called Kranaltine, which translates into English as "Throneworld," the main planet in a kingdom of thousands of planets. In a nice Robinson touch, it turns out he was called "Ne Brak," which translates to "Man from the Stars." He was a Starman, as well. He was last seen in the Crisis on Infinite Earths, dying in one panel. In the pages of STARMAN, the days leading up to his death would be chronicled in heartbreaking fashion.

In 1988, DC's first ever STARMAN series debuted, this time starring a totally new character named Will Payton, who as a kid I thought was one of the coolest superheroes ever. He was created by Roger Stern and Tom Lyle, and he was a fun character, if pretty generic. He was killed a few years later by Eclipso, but his cosmic blasts, invulnerability, and limited shapeshifting made him, by far, the most powerful to bear the name of Starman. In Jack's series, even Will's genericness would be addressed, stating that he was the one Starman aside from Ted who did good simply because he was good. He didn't have a monarchy to run, a legacy to live up to. He was just the purest hero, in every sense of the word.

Gavyn and Payton would turn out to both be connected, and would both return in Jack's adventures.

And there were more. The Legion of Super Heroes, set 1000 years into the future, have always had a Star Boy in any incarnation, and in this particular instance, that Star Boy, Thom Kallor, was destined to return to the modern era to become Starman, tentatively tying the DC Universe into the future portrayed in Kingdom Come. In DC's 1 Million event, it's shown that there will be a Starman at least until the 853rd century. Towards the end of Starman, a new Star-Spangled Kid, using Ted's inventions, Courtney Whitmore, would show up. She would eventually become Stargirl. In the 853rd Century, a Starman — Farris Knight — would be a member of the Justice Legion A.

Jack has a lot to live up to, a legacy of near-unparalleled pedigree. Is he good at it? Does he live up to it? Does he even deserve it? Unlike Ted, he's not one of the most brilliant scientific minds of all time. He can't fight like Mikaal. He's not the prince of a thousand worlds like Gavyn. He's nowhere near as powerful as Will Payton. And does Jack Knight, a junk dealer who doesn't even want to be a superhero, have what it takes, if it comes down to it, to make the ultimate sacrifice the same way Will and Gavyn did?

That's a question the Mist would like answered herself. In the wake of Kyle's death, his sister Nash becomes the new Mist because every action must have an equal and opposite reaction, and every hero must have an arch-enemy. As Jack would learn to be a better hero, Nash would learn to be a better villain, even going so far as to kill multiple members of the Justice League, all leading up to the final showdown between The Mist and Starman.

Nash at one point drugs Jack and rapes him, later giving birth to their child, thus making sure that both the Knight heritage, that of the Mist, and the legacy of this era of heroes will continue on in this world, long after the book has ended. Jack doesn't actually meet his son until the last leg of the series, which kind of brings a circular feeling to the book. It started with father and son, and it ended with father and son.

The theme of legacy is also highlighted by the frequent appearances of Ted's old teammates in the Justice Society. As a junk collector, it's clear that Jack loves history, and this plays into that. The Justice Society members are the guest stars for whom Jack has the utmost respect. Whether it's teaming up with an old Wesley "Sandman" Dodds or defending the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott, to a disrespectful Batman (yes, Jack stands up to Batman), Jack's admiration for them is palpable. He doesn't hold the younger generation in as high a regard, as shown when he readily fights Captain Marvel (how much chance does Jack have against Cap? None. He tries anyway.) in order to help Bulletman clear his name. The only "current" hero he would automatically defer to is Superman, but to be fair, Kal doesn't come in trying to fight him.

(Side note: Superman's appearance in STARMAN is one of the highlights of the series, and one of my favorite issues. The two of them pretty much just talk for the whole issue, but it's a good example of what makes the genre tick, and highlights what is special about each character.)

This brings me to my favorite issue of the series, STARMAN #37. It's a "Talking with David" issue, and Davey prepares a banquet for Jack, with the JSA's deceased members as special guests. Each one takes the time to give Jack advice about "the life" (Another nice touch — the idea that the heroes have a lingo exclusive to them and their lifestyle. Unfortunately, not much is done with it.), and it's beautifully illustrated in black and white by Tony Harris, until the end of each hero's speech, at which point we'd get a painted pinup of the hero in question, also by Tony Harris. It's really quite gorgeous and it's Harris' best work on the series, I think.

At the end of it, all the old heroes pick up their glasses to toast to Jack Knight, Starman, protector of Opal City.

Tomorrow: Opal City, its inhabitants, and how it lends itself to the atmosphere and feel of the series!

For your convenience, STARMAN:

1 comment:

London Elliott said...

I know it is not canon, but I like the 50's Batman villain Starman and the Jonah Hex "villain" Star Man, too!

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