Recommended reading: The Starman Omnibus (DC Comics) by James Robinson (writer), Tony Harris and Peter Snejbjerg (pencillers) and Wade Von Grawbadger (inker). Originally published in single magazine form beginning in 1994, The Starman Omnibus comprises six hardcover volumes, collecting all 80 issues of the series Starman, plus various ancillary material.
Starman tells the story of Jack Knight, son of Golden Age Starman Ted Knight, who finds himself taking on the mantle of Opal City’s resident protector, following the murder of his brother, David.
Except, Jack, unlike David, has no desire to play superhero (or any other kind of hero), much less wear his father’s old costume. However, he reluctantly agrees to be Opal City’s protector, though he won’t wear a costume. The closest he comes is a dark jacket and a pair of World War II-era goggles.
And just as Jack isn’t a traditional superhero, his adventures aren’t always traditional superhero fare, either.
Over the course of this series, Jack, who, given his druthers, would prefer tending to his “day job” as a dealer in second-hand collectibles, continually proves his mettle as a hero. For example, at the request of his girlfriend, Sadie, Jack ventures into space, following the slimmest of clues in an attempt to find her brother, Will Payton, a previous holder of the Starman mantle. The world believes Payton is dead, but Jack is willing to gamble that he’s not.
This wasn’t a “universe in peril” situation or a race to find this, that or the other important person, place or thing needed in order to save the day. This was Jack taking months away from his job, his friends and his planet to do a favor for his girlfriend.
Starman was very much a character-driven series. Over the course of its run, we see the ongoing relationship— and growing mutual respect— between Jack and his father, as well as Jack’s (and others’) relationship with immortal one-time (though not entirely reformed) villain The Shade.
In the occasional “talking with David” tales, Jack has conversations with his late brother, which eventually leads to a degree of camaraderie they didn’t have when David was still alive.
Other characters occasionally talked with David, but for the most part it was Jack.
One thing I like about Starman is that it tells a complete story. Like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, the story of Jack Knight— who never set out to be a hero and who eschewed his father’s costume in favor of his own look— reaches a definite conclusion. Both series had a single writer throughout, allowing for the realization of a consistent vision. It doesn’t always work out that way in comics. Sometimes a creative team only stays for a handful of issues. In fact, in his afterward to volume 5, Robinson writes that he’d seriously considered leaving the book at the point when Jack Knight went into space, seeing it as the perfect jumping off point for himself and jumping on point for someone else.
He didn’t, in part because he still had the climactic saga, “Grand Guignol”, planned out, “more or less.”
To my way of thinking, the longer a creative team (or at least the writer) stays on a title, the better. It creates a strong sense of continuity. Of course a writer who stays on a title too long might fall into a rut, which is one argument for letting a series come to a conclusion. But that’s another matter.
Other series with a single writer (barring the occasional fill-in issue) include Supergirl by Peter David and various artists, which I discussed last fall; Peter David’s 12-year run on The Incredible Hulk and Marv Wolfman’s 16-year run on New Teen Titans/Tales of the Teen Titans/New Titans (the first four years of which were in partnership with penciller and co-creator George Perez).
Granted, Starman was different in that it had a definite conclusion, while these other titles were either canceled (and had rushed “conclusions”) or switched creative teams, but in all of the above cases there was a strong narrative thread.
Another plus about Starman is that it had a rich supporting cast. These include the O’Dare family, all police officers. One of them, Matt, was on the take, until he discovered he was the reincarnation of 19th century lawman Brian Savage. Over the course of the series, he works to redeem himself, with the Shade’s help.
And then there’s The Shade. Throughout the series, both the prose stories called “The Shade’s Journal” and some of the “Times Past” storylines revealed more about his history and his past life in Opal.
And, of course, there’s Ted Knight, the late David Knight, Mikaal Tomas, Will Payton and others who’ve operated under the “Starman” name over the course of DC Comics’ long history. Each played a role in Jack’s life in one way or another. Just as Jack himself would influence Starmen (and at least one woman) to follow.
Jack Knight is one of DC’s “legacy” heroes, those who picked up where a previous holder of a heroic identity left off. Another example is Wally West, who succeeded Barry Allen as the Flash. These “legacy” heroes have contributed to DC’s rich sense of history. That’s one reason why, if DC ever launches a new Starman series— perhaps as part of its upcoming DC Universe Rebirth project— it need not bring back Jack Knight, but can pass the mantle to someone else. He’s had his turn with the Cosmic Rod. His story’s been told.
And that story is a very good read.
Copyright 2016 Patrick Keating.