Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Comics You Should Own – ‘Starman’

Hi, and welcome to Comics You Should Own, a semi-regular series about comics I think you should own. I began writing these a little over sixteen years ago, and I’m still doing it, because I dig writing long-form essays about comics. I republished my early posts, which I originally wrote on my personal blog, at Comics Should Be Good about ten years ago, but since their redesign, most of the images have been lost, so I figured it was about time I published these a third time, here on our new blog. I plan on keeping them exactly the same, which is why my references might be a bit out of date and, early on, I don’t write about art as much as I do now. But I hope you enjoy these, and if you’ve never read them before, I hope they give you something to read that you might have missed. I’m planning on doing these once a week until I have all the old ones here at the blog. Today it’s time for one of my all-time favorite series! This post was originally published on 17 January 2015. As always, you can click on the images to see them better. Enjoy!

Starman (I guess it’s technically “volume 2″) by James Robinson (writer, issues #0-80; Annuals #1-2; Secret Files and Origins #1; Showcase ’96 #4-5; The Shade #1-4; The Mist #1), David Goyer (co-plotter, issues #48-60, 77), Jerry Ordway (writer, The Power of Shazam! #35-36), Tony Harris (penciler, issues #0-5, 7-10, 12-17, 19-26, 29-33, 35, 37, 39-40, 43, 45), Teddy Kristiansen (layouts/artist, issue #6), Christian Højgaard (penciler, issue #6), Bjarne Hansen (penciler, issue #6), Kim Hagen (penciler, issue #6), Matt Smith (artist, issues #11, 42; Showcase ’96 #4-5), Tommy Lee Edwards (penciler, issue #14), Stuart Immonen (penciler, issue #14), Chris Sprouse (penciler, issues #14, 24), Andrew Robinson (penciler, issue #14), Gary Erskine (penciler, issues #14, 26, 41), Amanda Conner (penciler, issue #14), John Watkiss (artist, issue #18), Guy Davis (artist, issue #22), J. H. Williams III (penciler, issue #26; Annual #1; The Shade #2), Steve Yeowell (penciler, issues #27, 34-35, 47-49; Annual #2), Craig Hamilton (penciler, issues #28, 54; Annual #1; colorist/letterer, issue #54), Mark Buckingham (penciler, issues #33-34), Richard Pace (penciler, issue #36), Dusty Abell (penciler, issue #38), Mike Mayhew (penciler, issue #44), Gene Ha (artist/colorist, issue #46; Annual #2; The Shade #1), Peter Snejbjerg (penciler,issues #1,000,000, 50-53, 55, 57-73, 75-80), Chris Weston (penciler, issue #55), John McCrea (penciler, issue #5), Stephen Sadowski (penciler, issue #56), Paul Smith (penciler, issue #69), Russ Heath (artist, issue #74), Mitch Byrd (penciler, Annual #2), Stefano Gaudiano (artist, Annual #2), Lee Weeks (penciler, Secret Files and Origins #1), Phil Jimenez (artist, Secret Files and Origins #1), Bret Blevins (artist, Annual #1; The Shade #3), Michael Zulli (artist, The Shade #4), Peter Krause (penciler, The Power of Shazam! #35-36), John Lucas (layouts, The Mist #1), Wade von Grawbadger (inker, issues #0-5, 7-10, 12-17, 19-27, 29-37, 39-40, 42-45, 47, 50), Ray Snyder (inker, issues #24, 28, 31, 40, 54; Annual #1), Mick Gray (inker, issue #26; Annual #1; The Shade #2), Wayne Faucher (inker, issue #34), Dexter Vines (inker, issue #38), Norman Lee (inker, issue #38), Keith Champagne (inker, issues #48, 50-53, 55-60), Drew Geraci (inker, Annual #2), Robert Campanella (inker, Secret Files and Origins #1), Dick Giordano (inker, The Power of Shazam! #35-36), Richard Case (finisher, The Mist #1), Gregory Wright (colorist, issues #0-14, 16-21, 24-26, 28-29, 31-35, 37, 39-45, 47-49, 51-53, 55-80), Ted McKeever (colorist, issue #15), Trish Mulvihill (colorist, issues #22, 30), David Hornung (colorist, issue #22; Annual #2), Kevin Somers (colorist, issue #23; Annual #1), Pat Garrahy (colorist, issue #27; The Shade #2-4; The Mist #1), John Kalisz (colorist, issues #36, 50), Noelle Giddings (colorist, issue #38), Lee Loughridge (colorist, Secret Files and Origins #1), Melissa Edwards (colorist, Showcase ’96 #4-5), Glenn Whitmore (colorist, The Power of Shazam! #35-36), John Workman (letterer, issues #0-9), Bob Pinaha (letterer, issue #6), Ken Bruzenak (letterer, issue #6), Gaspar Saladino (letterer, issues #10-11), Bill Oakley (letterer, issues #12-43, 45-53, 55-80; Annuals #1-2; The Mist #1), N.J.Q. (letterer, issues #18-25, 27-28, 30-36, 38-39; Annual #2), Kurt Hathaway (letterer, issue #44), Jon Babcock (letterer, Secret Files and Origins #1), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer, Showcase ’96 #4-5; The Shade #1-4), and John Costanza (letterer, The Power of Shazam! #35-36).

Published by DC, 93 issues (#0-80 of the ongoing series, Annuals #1-2, Secret Files and Origins #1, parts of Showcase ’96 #4-5, The Shade #1-4, The Mist #1, plus The Power of Shazam! #35-36, which cross over with issues #39-40), cover dated October 1994 – August 2001. (Robinson wrote a few other stories starring Jack Knight or Ted Knight, but they’re not that important to the main story. Those stories are: Starman 80-Page Giant, which is an entertaining journey across the years of Starman’s existence; All Star Comics 80-Page Giant, which has a story in which Jack boxes with Ted Grant; JSA: All Stars #4, which has a short Ted Knight story; Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. #0, which introduces Courtney Whitmore and features Sylvester Pemberton; and of course Batman/Hellboy/Starman #1-2, which is a fun read. None of those are crucial to Jack’s story, though, but they’re included in the Omnibus editions DC published, so if you get this series that way, you’ll get to read them. If you’re trying to track these down in single issues, you can safely skip them, although the Hellboy book does feature sweet Mignola artwork.)

Gosh, it’s been so long since I did one of these that I should warn you that MASSIVE SPOILERS FOLLOW!!!! Please don’t read this if you want to be shocked when you do read it. As with most of these posts, I feel that the plot twists in the narrative are far less important than what the creators are trying to say (I’ve never really cared about spoilers), but I also recognize that many people don’t think that way. So yes, I’m going to spoil some things here. Proceed at your own risk!

Ever since DC kick-started the Silver Age by revamping one of their old heroes by creating a new character with a new costume but essentially the same powers, the company has been concerned with legacy. This became even more apparent when they revealed in “The Flash of Two Worlds” that Jay Garrick did still “exist” and that Barry Allen hadn’t actually deleted him, just replaced him. In the years following the creation of the so-called “multiverse,” DC even allowed some of their younger heroes to age a little and change identities. Then, following Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC fully embraced their long history, as the older, “first-generation” heroes no longer existed on their own, walled-off Earth, but were part of the current generation’s past (which, obviously, meant some creative thinking with regard to Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, the three Golden Age heroes who never went away in the early 1950s), and other heroes could conceivably replace the older heroes. So we got Wally West replacing Barry Allen, Oliver Queen getting older and eventually getting replaced by Connor Hawke, and the “first-generation” heroes even coming back and getting their own comics thanks to some more creative thinking about how they’re still vital even though they’re fairly old. DC began to move away from that model in the new millennium, but the height of this kind of legacy-embracing was probably the 1990s (even if Roy Thomas would place it in an earlier decade) and perhaps the finest example of it is Starman, James Robinson’s masterpiece (again, with apologies to Mr. Thomas and his … well, his entire DC career).

In Starman, Robinson synthesized a coherent and unified history out of many discrete comics, all of which were united – before Robinson – solely by the name of the character. He managed to do this and present a superb story of the latest Starman – Jack Knight – as he grew into a hero. Starman is not only about a historical legacy, it’s about fathers and sons, and these two themes are dominant over the course of the series, even when the “son” is a daughter, as is the case with the Mist. In this way, it’s almost a perfect “DC” comic, especially from the 1990s. Marvel, with its continual “present,” couldn’t have published a series like this, and its more recent attempts to do this kind of historical storytelling always feel a bit off. But Starman fits perfectly into the DC Universe, and Robinson’s skill made it work even better in this rich historical milieu.

First, of course, is the fact that Jack Knight isn’t the original Starman. He is, in fact, the seventh Starman, if we follow the name from Ted Knight to Charles McNider/David Knight (both are the “Starman of 1951″) to Mikaal to Gavyn to Will Payton to David Knight. Over the years of its existence, DC must have liked the name, because the Starman of 1951 is the only one Robinson himself actually invented [a commenter on the original post explained that Robinson didn’t invent this one, either, so whoops!] – Mikaal did actually first show up in the 1970s, in 1st Issue Special #12, Gavyn’s first appearance was in 1980’s Adventure Comics #467 (his co-creator is Steve Ditko), and Will Payton, of course, starred in the first volume of Starman beginning in 1988 (and met David Knight in his series in 1990). Robinson looked at all these disparate Starmen and decided to weave a tale that includes them all in the series, even if they don’t have much of a connection to Ted Knight at the beginning. So Mikaal is at the circus Jack visits in issues #7-8, Will Payton’s sister finds Jack and seduces him so that Jack will find her brother, and Gavyn’s essence was converted to energy when his body died and entered Will Payton, making them two souls in one body (or perhaps Payton’s soul was destroyed and Gavyn’s soul is in Will’s body). Obviously, the second Starman of 1951, David Knight, is part of the legacy as well, as his soul was sent back in time (by Doctor Fate) an instant before he was killed so that he could live as a hero for a while and help solve the murder of Doris Lee, Ted Knight’s long-time girlfriend (who was “Starwoman” for one adventure, as we see in issue #69). Ted Knight’s legacy stretches into the future, with Thom Kallor and Farris Knight also taking up the name. Robinson was able to create a history for the Starman name because DC itself is concerned about its history, and while he needed to use some of the logic jumps that DC built in (the original JSA hanging out in limbo for years, which meant many of them were still vital in the 1990s, for instance), it’s still impressive that he’s able to build this history without cheating too much.

The idea of Starman isn’t the only thing defined by a legacy in the comic. Ted Knight’s archenemy, the Mist, spawns a legacy himself, as his children become Jack’s archenemies, with the Mist’s son, Kyle, killing David and beginning a crime wave before Jack kills him, and then Nash, the Mist’s daughter, gaining Mist-like powers and becoming Jack’s mortal enemy (and later raping him and bearing his child). The O’Dares, the family of police officers who assist Jack in his adventures, are a legacy, as their grandfather, Carny O’Dare, became sheriff after Brian Savage died in 1899. Their father helped Ted Knight fight bad guys in the 1940s, and his five children are all cops. Matt O’Dare, in fact, is a double legacy, as he learns in the comic that he’s the reincarnation of Savage, who was known as Scalphunter early in life and later became the sheriff of Opal City (before getting killed on the last day of the century). The Shade, meanwhile, gets involved with the Ludlows, killing most of the family (they definitely deserved it) but leaving the youngest children alive, which spawned a century-and-a-half of hatred before the Shade decides to let Craig Ludlow and his family live. The legacy of the Ludlow family is hatred, which drives one of them – Lucas Ludlow-Dalt – to ally himself with Simon Culp when Culp tries to destroy the city in “Grand Guignol.” Jon Valor, meanwhile, curses the city in the 1600s, which means the city was built around this legacy, which spawned both evil and some good – Culp was able to use the souls of the dead who were unable to depart the city to build his all-encasing sphere, but Valor’s curse also meant that Jack (and Mikaal, occasionally) was able to speak to David every year and rebuild his relationship with his brother.

Valor’s curse on the city – then called Port O’Souls – brings up the idea of Opal City’s legacy, and it’s a long one. We don’t know much about the city between Valor’s death, which comes in the early years of the settlement (Robinson claims it was founded in 1648, but it’s pretty clear that Valor was hanged around 1630). Valor tells Jack in issue #31 that the settlement had many names before Opal, but during the course of the comic, we don’t learn any of them. In 1864, Burnley Ellsworth arrived and founded the actual city, naming it after the opals he’d mined in Australia. Robinson writes that on the first page of the comic, so it’s unclear if he already had the older history in his head and didn’t mention it or if he later extended the city’s history back to the seventeenth century (given that René first mentions Simon Culp in issue #8, Robinson clearly had plans for a long series, so it’s possible he didn’t want to confuse readers with a long history that early in the series). Robinson obviously wanted to tell different kinds of stories about Opal, so it became a frontier town that’s still close enough to the East Coast that it could be settled by English Puritans and French Huguenots (apparently, it’s in Maryland, but that makes very little sense, even if Robinson claims that it’s there). In the late nineteenth century, Robinson makes this dichotomy even more explicit, as Brian Savage deals out fierce justice to a very eastern-style aristocracy. The true legacy of the city comes out in the “great expansion,” which turns Opal into a sleek, modern city. In issue #68, Culp explains that Palomar St. John, the genius architect behind the great expansion, was absolutely insane. St. John overlaid a pentagram on his design of Opal and consecrated it with human sacrifice, making the city a perfect place for Culp to create his magic. Robinson weaves the idea of the actual city having a legacy into the book skillfully, so when Culp reveals it all, it’s impressive to see all the threads. Of course, the great expansion, which occurred from 1909 to 1930, turned Opal from a small frontier town into an Art Deco masterpiece. It’s not a surprise that the comic does not begin with Jack or even David Knight as Starman, but with a splash page of Opal in its Art Deco glory. Throughout his run on the book, Tony Harris draws gorgeous cityscapes of Opal, and one wonders if Robinson added the Art Deco touches because he knew Harris, with his clean, sharp lines (at least at this point in his career), would make that aspect of the book shine. The idea of a city that features architecture from a bygone era as its primary feature is another reason DC’s reliance on fictional cities, which is part of the company’s legacy, is so inspired. Robinson and Harris create a unique city that fits well into the legacy of DC’s other fictional cities, with their unique architecture. As Harris draws it, Opal has a gleaming heart surrounded by older buildings, so his Opal City is a blend of Art Deco and Victorian buildings, with alleys wending their way through the outlying neighborhoods (Opal has no suburbs – it’s just the city and then the plains). Readers see this most clearly in issue #43, when Jack finally opens his new store after his original one was destroyed in issue #0. His store is in an 1890 building, with ornate stone columns flanking the front door, pillars topped with fleurs-de-lis (a Huguenot remnant?), and a widow’s walk. The store is surrounded by Victorian and even Tudor style buildings, and Harris even adds nineteenth-century-style smoking chimneys to some of the roofs, giving the bright scene a slight London-of-Jack-the-Ripper feel. This devotion to an Art Deco aesthetic seems to inform Harris’s art in other ways, too, as he often uses circular panels and ornate designs littered throughout the layouts to give the book a vaguely archaic look. Harris’s art looks both backward and forward, playing into the idea of a legacy in more ways than just the fact that he gives Opal an Art Deco base.

Inadvertently, Harris provides a different sort of legacy, as he left the book about halfway through the run. Harris was the official series artist for 46 issues (#0-45), and during that time he drew 29 complete issues and parts of 6 others. Peter Snejbjerg drew 27 complete issues and parts of 3 more. When readers think of Starman, they tend to think of Harris’s art, as he co-created the city and the character while defining the aesthetic of the series as a whole (Robinson has noted that he wouldn’t have put pirates in the book if Harris hadn’t been drawing it, as Harris digs pirates, although the presence of Jon Valor, whom Robinson did not create, fits so perfectly into what Robinson does with the series, it would be surprising to learn he didn’t have plans for the character no matter who was drawing the book). Harris’s Opal is in a clear “Harris style,” with clean, straight lines and a heavy use of sharp black shapes. As a general rule, Harris tended to draw more of the city – he seems to love drawing the alleys of Old Town and the gleaming spires of the Art Deco downtown. He draws Charity’s place beautifully and ornately, turning it into a small slice of New Orleans in the heart of a northern city. He draws monolithic statues on buildings, men wearing fedoras and vintage bowling shirts, classic cars, stained glass windows, and zeppelins. His style suits that kind of art very well, and one reason why Starman feels so timeless is because of Harris’s art, as he blends the modern with the classic extremely well. But Harris left the book, apparently due to some discord with Robinson, and Robinson notes in the back of both Omnibus volumes 4 and 5 that he considered leaving the book when Harris did (and because Archie Goodwin, the book’s original editor, had died). Robinson, obviously, stayed with the book, but he needed a new artist, and Snejbjerg was an intriguing choice. He was as close to the “anti-Harris” as you could get – where Harris was all sharp lines and blocks of black, Snejbjerg was curves and circles. Harris’s people tended to be more realistic – in later years, he would use models, but I’m not sure if he was doing that during this period – while Snejbjerg was more cartoony. Despite his comfort with blacks, Harris’s work was lighter than Snejbjerg’s, which is a consequence of Robinson setting part of Snejbjerg’s run in deep space and the other part in a conquered Opal City, but still. Snejbjerg was more experienced when he started Starman than Harris had been when he started, and you can see that pretty clearly, as his work doesn’t go through as much evolution as Harris’s does on the book. Snejbjerg had big shoes to fill, but he also was the beneficiary of Robinson’s plotting – his early issues were set in space, so he didn’t have to compare to Harris’s vision of Opal as much as he might have had the book remained in the city. Snejbjerg didn’t really match Harris’s design work on Opal, but by the time Robinson got to “Grand Guignol,” it didn’t matter as much. The city was under siege, and Culp’s dome meant it was dark all the time, so Snejbjerg drew only shadowed hulks for a good deal of that story. When Jack goes back in time to 1951, Snejbjerg gets to draw a little bit of the city, but throughout his run, you can tell there are places where Harris would have gone nuts with the architecture, and Snejbjerg seems to choose a different way to tell the story. His softer lines (very often he drops holding lines altogether) don’t work quite as well with the starkness of the Art Deco style. So Snejbjerg, as a “legacy” artist, goes a different way than a Harris clone, which works perfectly well. Harris, at this point in his career, seemed to have trouble with big crowd scenes, and Snejbjerg has to draw a lot of them, both in space and during “Grand Guignol,” and his style seems to suit those more than Harris’s does. Perhaps by the time he left the book, Harris would have been good enough to do that sort of thing (and despite his work on Ex Machina, for which he used a lot of reference material, his work has become more cartoonish in the past 15 years), but it seems like Snejbjerg was able to bring a messy energy to the book that Harris lacked. In other words, Snejbjerg carried on the artistic legacy of the comic by making the book his as much as Harris did, and while some things were lost, some things were gained, as well.

The theme of a legacy is just a sub-theme to the main one that Robinson examines throughout the comic, however. Robinson is particularly obsessed with fathers and sons, and this motif dominates the book like no other. Obviously, the most important one is Ted Knight and his relationship with Jack and David. Robinson sets up the clichéd dynamic of the good son/black sheep very early, in issue #0, as we see David and Jack arguing right before David goes out on patrol and gets killed. Jack insults him and, by extension, his father, and doesn’t get a chance to apologize to David before he dies. Robinson takes the idea of Jack rejecting the Starman legacy and lays it on a bit thick in the early issues, but he also begins subverting the “black sheep” motif, too, as in issue #3, he gives us a nifty flashback in which Jack first “remembers” that David always wanted to be Starman growing up, but then the real memory comes through – Jack himself wanted to be a superhero. Robinson does a good job showing his complicated relationship with David throughout his fight with Kyle, the Mist’s son, and this begins the rehabilitation of his relationship with his dad, who does come off as a bit of a jerk in the first few issues (and yes, he was upset that his son was dead, but still). Jack’s evolution from callow punk to honorable man is the main story of Starman, and that includes repairing his relationship with Ted. The irony is that Jack should be the one to take up the mantle, because even though he’s not a “hero” type at the beginning of the comic, he is the one obsessed with old things, and his reverence for the Justice Society is evident throughout the comic. David looked to the future to a degree, and was murdered. Jack looks to the past, and ensconced in the legacy of the DC Universe, he’s able to build a wonderful relationship with Ted and learn a great deal about the superhero past of the DC Universe. Through Jon Valor’s curse, he’s also able to repair his relationship with David, as they become friends over the course of the series even though David is dead. When Ted Knight sacrifices himself at the end of “Grand Guignol,” it’s not only for Opal, but for his son and his grandson. By that time, he and Jack are the ideal father and son, and Ted knows that Jack can carry on as a good father, passing a legacy – not of Starman, but of being a good father – down to Kyle, Jack’s son. In the grand scheme of things, that’s far more important than Starman.

The relationship between Ted and Jack (and David, to a degree) isn’t the only important father-son pairing in the comic. They’re everywhere, in fact. Some are literal and some are metaphorical. One could argue that Culp is the Shade’s “son,” although they’re more like brothers. The Mist wants his son to inherit his legacy as a super-villain, but Jack kills Kyle before he can blossom in evil, so his only accomplishment is killing David. The O’Dares, of course, pass down their legacy, from Carny O’Dare in the early twentieth century to the brood of siblings that ally themselves with Jack. The second major story arc, “Sins of the Father” (in issues #12-16), connect the children to the parents – in this case, it’s the Mist killing men who “dishonored” her father. This is the story arc in which Nash rapes Jack, too, with a son – Kyle, named after her brother and her father – the result. In issue #15, we meet Frankie Soul, who wants vengeance on Mikaal because the alien killed his father, Louie, a costumed villain in the 1970s. Frankie ends up as a foot soldier in Culp’s army, his entire life defined by hatred of the Starman name. He dies without getting his vengeance, forgotten by everyone. In The Shade mini-series, we meet the Ludlows, who pass their hatred of the Shade down through the decades, all because Shade left the two young twins alive when he killed the rest of the family. When the Shade meets the last Ludlow, it’s significant that Craig Ludlow, who has a son, wants to end the feud between his family and the Shade, while his childless brother Gary is perfectly willing to keep the fires burning and is killed for it while Craig (and his son) survive. Simon Culp’s entire plan hinges on Jon Valor’s curse, and Valor was only in Port O’Souls because he received a letter from his son indicating that Justin was in trouble. Justin was killed by Cob Dunning, who framed Valor, leading to Valor’s death on the gallows and his curse on the city. When Jack and Mikaal go into space, the end up on Krypton in the past, where they meet Jor-El. He’s at odds with his father, as he wants to explore and live outside the confines of Kryptonian life, while Seyg-El, his father, is very conservative. Later, Jack talks to Superman, giving him an idea of what Jor-El was like when he was young (the issue in which they meet, #75, is actually called “Sons and Their Fathers”). The exploration of what it means to be a father and what it means to be a son is all throughout the comic, and it makes the women in the comic stand out even more.

Robinson writes women perfectly fine, but the fact that they’re females is almost completely beside the point and even detrimental in some cases. There are three major women in the comic – the Mist, Hope O’Dare, and Sadie. Hope is basically a man, and while she’s a decent enough character, she doesn’t stand out too much from her brothers. She’s defined by what she’s not – she’s not the elder statesman (that’s Clarence), she’s not the crooked cop who’s a reincarnation of Brian Savage (that’s Matt), she’s not the traitor (that’s Barry), and she’s not the tight-lipped uniformed cop (that’s Mason). She’s the GIRL, and that’s really all she is. Sadie, for as interesting as she is, remains a plot device. Robinson introduced her in issue #7, when Jack bumped into her at the circus. In issue #10, they meet at Charity’s place, where Sadie is rude to Jack, which doesn’t seem like the tack to take if she wants him to rescue her brother from space. Jack meets her briefly in issue #17. By issue #30, they’re “dating” – Sadie says they’ve gone out three times, but in that issue, she tells Jack that she had been dumped by her fiancé and that’s what drove her to Opal. By the second annual, Robinson had changed that, as she narrates that the “bad news” about her brother – Will Payton’s death – caused her to leave her home. She heard about Jack and decided to ask him for help. Issue #30 came out in March 1997. The Annual came out in September of the same year. During that time, it seems like Robinson decided what to do with Sadie, so he retconned her original appearances and worked it into the story. It makes Sadie even more of a plot device, and when she leaves Jack late in the series, she switches functions to be the reason he leaves superheroing and Opal City (and it’s a bit significant that the child she’s carrying is a girl). Obviously, in a tightly-plotted comic like this, several characters are plot devices, but Sadie is a fairly major character, and we learn very little about her over the course of the run, meaning she remains more of a reason for the hero to do things rather than a more fully realized character. Finally, the main female character in the comic is Nash, the Mist’s daughter who becomes the Mist in her own right and sets herself up as Jack’s archenemy. Nash is an interesting character, mainly because, even more than Hope, she’s almost totally defined by what she’s not: She’s not the Mist’s son. The Mist clearly wants Kyle to take over the family business, but Jack kills Kyle in issue #3. Nash, a shy stutterer before Kyle’s death, transforms into a raging villain set on vengeance. She desperately wants her father’s approval, but by the end of the book, it’s clear that the Mist has almost nothing but contempt for her. In issue #72, he tells her that she’s a joke and that her brother “would have brought the world to its knees.” Robinson clearly thought about this, and it’s interesting that he chooses to define their relationship within the father-son dynamic he uses throughout the series. “Nash,” as well as being a homonym of “gnash,” which implies rage, is also a distinctly masculine name, implying that the Mist wanted another son and was stuck with a daughter. Even when the Mist is not in his right mind, he has no respect for his daughter. Jack visits him in issue #24, and he calls Nash a “silly little snit” when Jack – whom the Mist thinks is his son, Kyle – tells him that Nash should carry on the name. Nash is a decent enough villain – she kills the men who violated her father’s sanctuary in the 1940s, she takes down the second- or possibly third-tier Justice League single-handedly, and she rapes Jack and bears his child – but like Sadie, Robinson doesn’t really get into her life too much. She’s trying to be a good mother, naturally, which to her means teaching her son to hate Jack Knight, but even though she’s an interesting character, she’s somewhat shallow. When her father kills her, it’s more to show how horrible he is, and while we shouldn’t feel sympathy for Nash, exactly (she is a super-villain, after all), it’s odd how little we do feel toward her. Robinson actually gives the dead Kyle more of an emotional send-off, as he shows up in the final “Talking With David” issue (#76) to beg forgiveness from Jack. It’s a better final appearance than Nash gets, even though she does manage to give Jack his son before she dies. Again, none of the female characters in Starman are poorly written, and they’re a diverse cast of characters, but when we consider that Robinson’s big theme is how sons deal with their fathers and grow out of their fathers’ shadows and become fathers in their turn, the women can’t help but seem like outsiders crashing a party.

Ultimately, though, Robinson writes a brilliant story, and Harris and Snejbjerg (plus the many fill-in artists) draw a brilliant story, one that takes advantage of the long history of the DC Universe while still creating something unique and fascinating. Robinson sneaks a family drama into a superhero book, and if you want your superhero book to have any resonance, it has to be about something more than superheroing. Jack’s maturation from punk to man, Ted’s acceptance of his son and his ultimate fate, the Shade’s evolution into a hero, and the building of a history of a city all form a beautiful story with dozens of fascinating characters and side roads. Robinson might have stretched “Stars My Destination” and “Grand Guignol” out a bit too long, but that’s a minor complaint, especially when you read them all together and see the large puzzle all at once. Starman is a wonderful series for many reasons, but the way Robinson uses the DC Universe is a big part of its greatness. The fact that he uses it to illuminate the way different generations carry on or deny their histories is a brilliant move, and it makes the series one you can read over and over, because it means different things to readers at different points in their lives. That’s a pretty cool thing to realize.

Starman is available in trade paperbacks, but if you haven’t gotten it yet, the best way to read it is in the six Omnibus volumes that DC released in 2008-2011. They include all the ancillary material for the series, some of it fairly essential (The Shade mini-series, for instance), and some not so much (the 80-Page Giant is a fun read, but doesn’t really add anything to the overall story). They also have Robinson’s afterwords, which are good reading, and some interesting introductions. Starman is one of my favorite series, and I’m glad that both times Brian has done his “greatest runs” poll, it’s scored pretty high, as it means it’s not being forgotten. Those of you who haven’t read it yet … get on it!

I apologize that it took me so long to write this up. I finished re-reading the series in May, but my daily posts last year just took up so much time I didn’t have a chance to write about it. I will try to get to these more often, because I love writing them. In the meantime, you can always check out the archives!

[I guess the omnibuses are out of print; I linked to the “Compendium” below, which collects the first half of the series.

When I wrote this, it had been about eight months since the previous entry, hence my apologies in the first paragraph. I can’t believe it was only seven years ago that I still had time to write so much that I would apologize for taking so long! Now I just hope I can do one of these every six months! I feel bad about that, but real life continues to get in the way!

There’s a ton going on in Starman that I didn’t write about – I could have done a more plot-oriented essay, but part of the fun is reading it and seeing how the plot all fits together. Robinson has Jack meet Wesley Dodds, who of course teamed up with his father years earlier. He and Captain Marvel have an adventure together. The space adventure is long, but he meets Adam Strange and visits the blue planet where Alan Moore once sent Swamp Thing. “Grand Guignol” is long but quite good. The Dibnys are in this comic! Robinson succumbed to some of the bloodthirsty excess that characterized DC in the new millennium, but he struck a terrific balance in this book between hope and horror. It’s very well done. So, yeah – I could have written more about the plots. But I didn’t.

Some commenters on the original post mentioned issue #81, which was part of Geoff Johns’s zombie-fication of the DCU. It’s … fine, I guess. It’s not a Jack Knight story, and it doesn’t really fit into this series, so it’s unnecessary. I don’t know if it’s collected in the second “Compendium,” but if you’re committed to buying these in single issues, you can safely skip it.

Man, I love this series.]


  1. Darthratzinger

    For me this is the ultimate feel-good-comic book. That ending is so perfect.
    I´m glad that they never brought Jack back (as far as I know).

    1. Greg Burgas

      I don’t think they did. I know he appeared in some stuff during the run, but I don’t think he’s ever been back since it ended. Which is how it should be.

  2. One thing I like about Nash is that for much of the series she’s cast as the supervillain who’s too cool for school — ten steps ahead of everyone because she doesn’t play by the genre conventions. And in the end, it turns out she’s nothing of the sort.
    For that matter, there’s something beautifully pathetic at the end when the Mist tells Ted that he’d always imagined being the Mist had a greatness to it — and here he is, dying without winning.

    1. Greg Burgas

      I do wish she had been a bit of a better villain at the end, but I like your reading of it, and I wonder if that’s what Robinson was going for. I would assume so.

      1. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

        My first time through, I read it in a week.

        I think Nash’s fate worked really well within the context of Robinson’s themes of fatherhood and mentorship, etc.

        Ted always, ALWAYS wants Jack to be his own man, even as he eventually supports him and offers advice on how to be the best possible version of himself.

        The Mist just views his children as tools and extensions of his own “Grand Legacy.” They’re not people to him.

  3. tomfitz1

    Burgas: One of my favorite series to date. Probably one of James Robinson’s best works.

    Not really part of this particular run, but no mention of The Shade vol. 2 # 1-12?

    SAGA is pretty much the only other series that resonated as much as Starman. Starman has a lot less cussing.

    1. Greg Burgas

      When I wrote this, either The Shade wasn’t done yet or the trade wasn’t out, so I hadn’t read it yet. But it’s a fine comic; maybe it will show up here eventually.

  4. Jeff Nettleton

    Starman was one of the few books I was still getting, by the 00s. It was the only good thing to come out of Zero Hour. It was the perfect book for me, mixing in heroic legacies, pop culture, literature, pulp fiction, art deco, and swashbuckling adventure. Robinson was a writer who impressed me early enough that I was getting anything he wrote, prior to Starman, first catching him on Grendel Tales, then WitchCraft, 67 Seconds (picked it up after the fact), Illegal Alien and the surprisingly good Firearm. When Ultraverse started, I sampled the books and truly expected Firearm to be another Punisher-style guy with a gun and no brains. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be the most literate series in the Ultraverse, with references to all kinds of prose fiction and book discussions in the letters page. Then, Starman!

    I do kind of feel the series lost steam when Harris left and Archie Goodwin past away. Robinson seemed a bit lost and things he had been setting up seemed to fall by the wayside, like Rag Doll and his cult and Nash seemed to devolve, by the end. Grand Guignol was kind of disappointing for me, especially the way Nash plays out and the Rag Doll, just being revived by Neron, rather than the larger looming mystery of his disappeared body, set up previously. However, I felt he stuck the landing, with the final Talking With David and the final issue.

    I especially loved the meeting with Wesley Dodd and Dian Belmont and discovering that the one Jack worshipped, as a hero, was Dian! It was a wonderful twist that he was so in awe of her writing; but, at the same time, as the mystery unfolds, he sees Wesley as the hero he was, the one there at the beginning (Post-Crisis). he also had a great take on Wes and Dian’s mature relationship. It was refreshing.

    Loved the Times Past adventures and how Robinson often mined the obscure character box, with things like The Jester, from Quality Comics (as he had done, with Captain Triumph, in The Golden Age), or Alias the Spider, The Black Pirate or even the Red Bee, in one of the Talking With David pieces. He also handled Ralph and Sue Dibny better than anyone this side of John Broome, with the playful “Nick and Nora Charles” banter and the life and love they shared. Too bad Brad Meltzer F@%^&* it up for everyone!

    1. jccalhoun

      I agree. I think Archie Goodwin had a lot to do with the quality of Starman. The fact that nothing Robinson has done since has been nearly as good is indicative of that. (Airboy was… interesting… but I don’t know if it was good)

      1. I first encountered Archie Goodwin as the editor of Detective Comics in the early 1970s. I was impressed because he’d actually explain, matter-of-factly rather than with a wink or a joke, why they were doing certain things (like the switch to 100-page super spectaculars) and nobody did that back then. Or at least nobody I’d come across.

      2. Peter

        I think Archie Goodwin helped keep Robinson on task, but I also feel like Starman was clearly a place where Eobinson could indulge in his own interests. That helped make the book great, regardless of the editor. I do think Airboy was pretty dang good, but I don’t think any of Robinson’s other post-Starman comics projects have involved his pet obsessions so much.

    2. Greg Burgas

      The second half is a bit odd, but I have to think that’s kind of what Robinson wanted, because the success of the book probably meant he could do what he wanted (within reason, of course). I agree it lost a bit of steam with the space journey and Grand Guignol, but it really does read better when read all at once, and the grand puzzle can be seen. But it would be interesting to know if what ended up getting printed was identical to what he envisioned earlier in the series, especially with regard to Nash (see Fraser’s comment above about what he might have thought with Nash).

    1. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

      The Brookline Library had all 6 Omnibi, and I mainlined them when I was 20 or so.

      It’s such a wonderful series – Robinson clearly wasn’t “Writing for the trade,” but it’s impossible to stop reading.

  5. Peter

    Great series, I don’t have much to add besides I’m glad you mentioned the Omnibus editions… those might be the best collections of anything DC has ever produced. Not only are they comprehensive in terms of gathering ALL the Jack Knight-adjacent minutiae that was ever published and presenting that in a logical publication order, but the forewords and afterwords were incredibly good and the publication design was excellent, the size of the collection was optimal for reading (not too heavy or skimpy), etc. I wish DC followed that template for some other beloved series. I love a 100-lb hardcover as much as anyone, but it would have been great to get some other series in this format (like the Spectre! Or Sandman Mystery Theatre! Or Mark Waid’ Flash! Or while I’m dreaming, a proper collection of thr Alan Moore and Rick Veitch Swamp Thing runs with the original colors and a conclusion to Veitch’s run finally published…)

    1. Greg Burgas

      I agree. DC has such good series in the two decades post-Crisis, and so little has been collected, much less in nice collections. The Starman ones are really the gold standard, and it’s annoying that they’re out of print and that DC seems only committed, really, to collecting Batman comic in anything close to how they collected these.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.