In the wake of Zero Hour, DC tried several concepts utilizing some of their older concepts. The best of them, indeed, the best of the last twenty-five years was Starman by James Robinson and magnificent artwork by Tony Harris and Wade Von Grawbadger and edited by Archie Goodwin.
They began with Starman #0 (O'94), a month after Zero Hour ended, titled "Fallen Star, Rising Son".
We are introduced to a major concept of the series: its location of OPAL CITY where Starman's exploits are now retconned into taken place. It's an old, avante garde, film noir, art deco and bohemian city with age and history permeating every page. There is the weight of time and the freedom of imagination which allows it to become everything the story needs it to be be yet keeps one foot in reality.
And it has its protector, TED KNIGHT the original STARMAN of the red and green, wielder of the COSMIC ROD, for decades but now he is old and frail, so he passes his mantle to his eldest son DAVID who always wanted to be Starman!
After an ever-so-brief time fulfilling what he truly believed was his destiny, David Knight is shot dead as he takes flight, crashing to the ground, destroying the Cosmic Rod and becomes the first victim in a war that he knew nothing about!
Next: We Don't Know Jack!
HERE"S a brief history on our cast.
Sorry how the pictures came up above. That wasn't my intent!
I didn't discover this series until last year, but once I did, I really loved it! So far I've got the first 4 omnibuses and plan to get the remaining as my budget allows. The art is great throughout and Robinson weaves in the various past Starmen into the storyline wonderfully. I hadn't been familiar with any of them, but came across some good reviews of this series and upon finding an omnibus in a local used bookstore, took a chance on the first volume and I'm glad I did.
Before the tragedy, at the Knight Estate (complete with observatory) David the New Starman gets into an argument with his younger brother JACK KNIGHT which was apparently their primary means of communicating. In front of their father, Ted, Jack says the wrong thing at the wrong time and immediately regrets it. Ted tells him to leave and Jack sees his brother fly off before he can apologize.
Jack owns and runs "Knight's Past", an antique shop which reflects his love of the old and esoteric. There he receives the news of his brother's murder from his grief-stricken father. He also learns that among his father's papers that he has in his shop, there is both a cosmic rod and the Star Spangled Kid's Cosmic Converter Belt. Ted warns him to be careful.
As Ted leaves his mansion to identify David's body, it suddenly explodes, injuring him. It is witnessed by a young girl.
Back at Jack's shop, he is accosted by a hyper young man who suddenly tries to kill him, claiming that he killed David, too! Enraged, Jack fights back as he's had some martial arts training but he is shot in the leg, trying to get to his father's trunk. The intruder steals the cosmic belt and uses a grenade on the shop. Jack, however, survives though in shock from the battle, his brother's death and the destruction of everything he collected and preserved. But he grabs the rod and flies away!
Later the girl and the killer are together. They are NASH and KYLE, respectively. They are the children of Starman's greatest foe, the Mist, now extremely elderly and desiring to take down his old enemy's life, bit by bit!
This is a great opening chapter as Robinson begins to craft a mythology around Starman, one that he never had but seems like it's always been there. Starman was never one of DC's more popular Golden Age heroes. In fact, he usually failed in several JLA/JSA team-ups and he was never a major part of the 70s and 90s JSA revivals. They introduced THREE other characters with his name, all of which had real super-powers.
The main interest here is, of course, the character of Jack Knight. He doesn't come off well here. He's sarcastic and self-centered. The loss of his shop, and more importantly, the objects he collected seem to affect him more than his brother's death. But his confrontation with Kyle shows that there is some mettle in him and he does get points for surviving.
The Mist's son, Kyle, is vicious here and without pity. To him, HIS father is the hero and Starman the villain. Taking the Cosmic Converter Belt raises the stakes considerably. The war has begun.
Next: Ginger Cops or Made in the Shade!
In this first chapter, Jack indeed seems a very unlikely hero, although in some aspects he's like Peter Parker after he got his power but before he got a good look at the goon who murdered his uncle. Of course, in Jack's case he neither wants the power nor the responsibility but both wind up forced on him. Well, he could have still refused and walked away from it, but future chapters show how that plays out, but if he had this would have been a much shorter series! I also think that his initial reaction to events was fairly realistic -- as if it really hasn't sunk in that his brother is dead but he just saw his shop and everything he had built up and loved destroyed in an attempt to kill him. Also, as shown here, Jack and David have a rather antagonistic relationship, which isn't exactly uncommon with brothers.
What I find most fun about this series is this taking of a relatively obscure Golden Age character that DC routinely tried to do something with for decades, even if just foisting the name onto an entirely unrelated character, but here Robinson is putting all of that to good use in a way that wouldn't work with most other characters, especially those that were very successful.
The subtext of the story seems to be that Jack cares little about his father's legacy and focused on his own interests. The lead story in the later Starman 80 Page Giant shows that the relationship between father and son was far more antagonistic than seen here. Jack was a child of privilege and possibly a minor celebrity in Opal City and acted out like many rich offspring do. Luckily Jack found his calling or at least one of them when we first meet him.
One mystery that the series never reveals was when exactly did Starman's identity become public knowledge.
Starman worked because Robinson tied in ALL the Starmen into a grand epic and it made sense!
It must have been around 1998 that Starman caught my interest. I'd been away from comics for years, and was still catching up on lots of things. Unfortunately I was moving away from superheroes at this point. I think I got the first TPB via interlibrary loan, and around the same time I got the first volumes of Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol, Animal Man, and The Invisibles. I liked Starman, but not enough to go on with it, a situation that was exacerbated by the fact that the latter part of the run wasn't collected yet, and some of the earlier volumes were out of print.
The series has perhaps the most audacious opening I know of: apparently killing off the title character in the first few pages. I was struck by that when I first read it, and it still struck me that way this week when I reread it. Jack Knight is a very relate-able character. He's written like a real person dealing with unusual circumstances, and we get to see him grow up. In that way it reminds me of Mark Waid's Flash run, which I loved, and I expect I would have loved Starman in the same way if I had encountered it earlier.
Personal Note: By 1994 I had stopped buying comics cold turkey except for two or three titles that I could pick up around town. One was The Batman Adventures based on the animated series and another was the "Heroes Reborn" Avengers because it was the Avengers!
One day, at the local stationary shop, I saw Starman #0 and picked it up out of curiosity and, of course, the name. So through serendipity I was with the title since Day One (or Zero) and it was a big part of me getting back into comics, though not with the same "collector's frenzy".
Starman #1 (N'94) "Oil (Paint) And Water!"
A wounded Jack makes his way to the hospital where his father, Ted, is recovering. Opal City is experiencing a massive crime spree when father and son are reunited. It is NOT a Kodak moment. Ted appears angry that Jack survived and David did not. That Jack mocked his legacy. That David's killer now has the Cosmic Belt. That Jack does NOT have a cosmic rod but the earlier Gravity Rod. Ted calls Jack a coward and sends him away again.
The scene also introduces THE O'DARE FAMILY though only Hope and Matt are named but another sibling is there. Their father was a policeman whose life was saved by the first Starman and he helped him from that day forward. The O'Dares and the Knights: linked by gratitude, loyalty and duty. Hope tries to encourage Jack but he refuses to listen to the sassy Ginger,
"I've had a bad hair day. A bad shop-been-blown-up day. A bad brother-being-murdered and my-father-thinks I'm-scum day!"
Just then, Ted receives a call from the Mist who delights in the carnage he is causing in Opal through arson and mayhem. The Mist thinks Jack is dead. He wants Ted to suffer before he is killed. He says that he is going take Ted's deceased wife's memory.
Ted tells Jack to leave town, but not out of anger but out of concern. He seems to accept Jack for not wanting his way of life. He also reassures Jack that his mother's remains are beyond the Mist's grasp.
Jack is preparing to leave Opal City for Ivy Town but at the bus station he hears about the Opal County Museum being assailed particularly the Adele Knight Wing, a contribution from his mother. Using the Gravity Rod, Jack attacks the vandals, unknowingly bringing hope to the people of Opal and is witnessed by the Shade.
He holds his own until Kyle shows up and overwhelms him with the cosmic belt. Jack loses the gravity rod and plunges into the waters. Kyle swears to kill Jack if he reappears. He orders his men to loot the museum then leave. Two thugs return and are confronted by the Shade. One is killed, the other terrorized. The Shade's true power is horrible to behold. His true motives mysterious.
Jack arises from the water, considers leaving but then decides to go back!
This issue shows the "Rag Doll" graffiti for the first time.
Jack is clearly suffering from "Survivor's Guilt" here and Ted as well. In Jack's defense, he was confronted by Kyle while David was ambushed. Ted should be impressed by Jack, thrust into a world he wanted no part of but his pain and anger won't let him.
The O'Dare clan help add to the secret history of Starman that Robinson is crafting. I know Figs probably enjoyed the Irish Hope's extreme dislike for the British. They would be a major factor in the success of the book.
But not as much as the Shade would be. Given a Victorian look (probably to justify the top hat), his powers are now deadly and he claims Opal City as his safe haven, an innovative element.
Next: The Past, Forbidden, Unknown and Forgotten
Great discussion so far everybody! Philip, thanks for kicking it off.
Our brief glimpses of David reveal a lot. By wanting and eventually achieving the mantle of Starman, he was the favored son. Ted thought lesser of Jack for not wanting to be the hero, and was blind to David's flaws. David took cruel pleasure in tormenting criminals ("He recalls one of the muggers had begun to cry as David's cosmic rod lifted him into the air. The memory is delicious") as well as petty and childish ("Yeah, I didn't want them, sure. But I don't want you to have them either.")
Ironically we learn more about David dead than alive as we shall see.
Philip Portelli said:
Ironically we learn more about David dead than alive as we shall see.
Well he didn't have much screen time while he was alive.
Thanks for showing us Charity as well. I never knew she existed before, although with this series I shouldn't be surprised. Heck I've never heard of that series either.
A few thoughts as this is the first time I have read these books since the were initially published.
I thought I had more, but I've been awfully distracted. Eh, oh well...