James Robinson's most famous series for DC Comics, Starman was one of the steps away from the Nineties Anti-Hero and into The Modern Age of Comic Books. The series followed Legacy Character Jack Knight, son of the Golden Age Starman (there were plenty of others) and something of an Author Avatar. Jack is a reluctant newcomer at first, but over the course of the series, his character develops into something akin to old-school heroes while maintaining a distinct personality.Starman is also notable for Robinson's dusting off of plenty of older characters. Golden AgeCard-Carrying Villain The Shade, for instance, returned as an Anti-Hero, complete with Belated Backstory. The entire Starman legacy was touched upon, with most of the characters involved (especially the original, Ted Knight) growing out of the one-note molds from their original stories. Along the way, Ted Knight's colleagues in the Justice Society of America were highlighted and brought back to prominence, eventually leading to the highly popular JSA title. (Jack was briefly a member, and new-JSA founder Stargirl carries on his legacy.)Jack Knight first appeared in Zero Hour #1 (September, 1994) and soon graduated to his own title. The ongoing lasted for 81 regular issues (October, 1994-August, 2001), though numbering begun with #0. Starman was also one of the series revived as part of the Blackest Night event. In Starman #81, Jack never appears, with the Shade taking centre stage instead against a Black Lantern David Knight.
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List of Starmen
The book makes extensive use of previous Starmen. For a brief list:
Ted Knight. The original version. First appeared in Adventure Comics #61 (April, 1941). A scientist testing his equipment while serving as a hero. Served as a member of the Justice Society of America. Father of Jack.
Starman of 1951. A mysterious character taking up the identity. Eventually revealed to be Doctor Mid-Nite/Charles McNider, a fellow member of the JSA. The concept of an established hero using the Starman identity in the 1950s was inspired by Detective Comics #247 (September, 1957). In said story, Batman claims the mantle.
Mikaal Tomas. First appeared in First Issue Special #12 (March, 1976). A blue-skinned alien, scout of an invasion force. Decided to side with Earth against his people. Originally a one-shot character.
Prince Gavyn. First appeared in Adventure Comics #467 (January, 1980). A member of an alien royal family. Condemned to die to prevent him from claiming the throne against the senior heir. The near-death experience activated superpowers within him.
Will Payton. First appeared in Starman vol. 1 #1 (October, 1988). A regular human mutated by a space-faring bolt of energy.
David Knight. First appeared in Starman vol. 1 #26 (September, 1990). Son of Ted and older brother of Jack. Claimed the mantle of his father and served as a rival to Payton.
Jack Knight. First appeared in Zero Hour #1 (September, 1994). Son of Ted and younger brother of David. Took the mantle of Starman when David was killed in action.
Courtney Whitmore. First appeared in Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. #0 (July, 1999). A teenage superhero originally known as Star-Spangled Kid. After Jack Knight retired from superheroing, Courtney received his cosmic staff and mantle. She continues the Starman legacy as Stargirl.
Thom Kallor: First appeared in Adventure Comics #282 (March, 1961). First debuting as Star Boy of the Legion of Super-Heroes, at least two versions of Star Boy have become Starman. One version eventually went back in time and joined the JSA.
This series contains instances of:
All There in the Manual: Important bits of backstory which pay off in the "Grand Guignol" arc are found only in the first Shade miniseries and in various text stories, not to mention the re-used backstory from Robinson's The Golden Age miniseries.
Author Avatar: Jack Knight, was blatantly and unabashedly a dual creator avatar. The first volume's introduction has a third party writer note that Jack is writer James Robinson and that he bears a strong resemblance to artist and designer Tony Harris.
Cavemen vs. Astronauts Debate: In Starman #13, one of the Mist's goons has a bizarre conversation with the captive Mikaal about who the best big screen Philip Marlowe was. He then admits that he once murdered a man for daring to claim it was George Montgomery.
Jack: This one isn't about collectibles but it's the same kind of thing. I'm in a book store ... for new books. I've gone a little bit crazy and I'm about to spend a couple of hundred bucks. I murmur under my breath "money's too tight to mention". Now the guy behind the register, he hears this. He looks at me, nodding his head knowingly like we're in some "club of cool" together. He says, "Yeah, Simply Red" like it's a password, and now we do the secret handshake. And I'm thinking "Simply Red"? Lame English band. More soul at a polka convention. And the book store guy thinks he's on some kind of inside loop with that.
Sadie: That's the smuggest thing I ever heard. A guy tries to be nice and you stand there hating him just because he hasn't heard of the Valentine Brothers. You're like my ex-boyfriend. He was that way about authors. He'd deliberately drop obscure quotes and references. He'd take over conversations at parties. But none of what he read was for the love of it. His knowledge was like a weapon. Don't tell me you're like that. I don't want another jerk. I've had... Hey, why are you smiling? Jack: Because you've heard of the Valentine Brothers.
Continuity Porn: Perhaps the poster child for this trope in DC comic books. Notably, not only does Starman rely on the greater DC canon, but it has its own strong internal canon as demonstrated in the last few arcs, wherein every Checkhov's Gun is set off.
Cool Old Guy: Both Ted Knight and Wesley Dodds qualify in spades.
Crash into Hello: Jack's first encounter with Sadie is when he bumps into her at a carnival. She chews him out and is gone in two panels.
Dead Person Conversation: Every real-time year included one issue where Jack talked to his brother, who died in the first issue. Later conversations would also include other deceased DC characters, including their father Ted.
Death by Origin Story: Played with. David Knight dies in the first issue after doing nothing of note (apart from fighting the Will Payton Starman), but Jack takes an entire story arc before taking up the mantle. David becomes more interesting after his death, popping up in the annual "Talking With David" stories and even getting his own story arc at the close of the series.
Death Is Cheap: Jack's back before the end of one issue via a body made out of new body parts.
Distaff Counterpart: Averted with Stargirl, who only took the name after Jack retired; she was Star-Spangled Kid when they first met.
Played straight with the one-off "Stargirl" of the 1940s, who was Ted Knight's girlfriend.
Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: Averted with the revelation that The Mist raped Jack while he was unconscious, which is very unsettling for him. A lot of his angst comes from the fact that The Mist also got pregnant and plans to raise the child to become a villain, but the rape angle isn't played lightly either.
Exiled from Continuity: Jack's retired and Robinson actually has a contract with DC stating no one else may use Jack. That way he avoids having some other writer make drastic changes to the character or what not now his day is done. But he did bring Mikaal back for his Justice League run.
He has shown up a couple of times, but only in crowd shots at weddings and funerals, and an occasional flashback image. The last image of him is most likely Sue Dibny's funeral in Identity Crisis.
Notably, when the 81st issue was released as a Blackest Night "zombie title'' tie-in, Jack didn't even appear—it featured the Shade and Black Lantern David Knight.
Inverted with "Sand and Stars" where Robinson was very keen on making sure Wesley Dodds stayed in continuity since his book Sandman Mystery Theatre was placed in the Vertigo imprint where characters usually separate from DC canon.
Goggles Do Nothing: Averted, as Jack's bomber jacket and aviator goggles are specifically meant to offset the odd conditions of flying with an extremely bright staff.
Good Is Not Nice: Jack could be the poster boy, at least early on in the series. He is told, point blank, by the ex-girlfriend he is trying to romance again (using his becoming a superhero as evidence of his newfound maturity) that "You may be a hero, Jack Knight, but that still doesn't make you a nice person."
Grand Finale: Grand Guignol. It even has 'Grand' in the title! There's a few issues after it to tie up loose ends but it wraps up the story.
Limelight Series: For the entire Starman legacy, but most of all for the Shade, who got two minis of his own as a result - a four-issue one during the series' run, and a twelve-issue one as part of DC's big 2011 relaunch.
Not So Different: Nash lays this trope at Jack's feet. Jack spends several issues trying to convince himself she's wrong.
Passing the Torch: In the final issue, Jack passes the cosmic rod to Courtney Whitmore, who becomes Stargirl.
Police Are Useless: Averted with the O'Dares, a family of cops that assist Jack. They start by capturing the Mist while Jack fights the Mist's son, and they keep that level of competence for the entire series.
Put on a Bus: Jack at the end of his series, at James Robinson's request.
Rape Discretion Shot: When Jack is drugged into unconsciousness and raped by Nash, the second Mist, the scene occurs from his point-of-view as a very strange erotic dream. Additionally, while the implication is there in the initial scene, it isn't until many issues later that the series confirms the fact that a rape occurred with a Wham Line.
"Rashomon"-Style: In "Taxicab Confessions", three different characters tell three different versions of the story of how Jack and Mikaal saved Starfire from space pirates. The issue takes place in the future, a couple of hundred years after the events recounted, so none of the storytellers have objective knowledge on what happened, though one of the stories certainly sounds more likely than the other two. "Rashomon"-Style is also used to do a little metafictional gag on DC continuity: there have been three different DC characters called "Starfire", so in each of the stories Jack and Mikaal rescue a different Starfire.
Red Skies Crossover: The cosmic rod fails in one issue due to the Genesis event... and it is never spoken of again.
Reed Richards Is Useless: Subverted in-series. As part of Jack's original bargain to take up his father's job as the town superhero, Ted had to agree to find applications for the cosmic energy he had discovered and harnessed apart from making weapons. By series end, Ted had apparently patented a number of technologies that would revolutionize the world... but the idea never quite took in the shared universe.
Reincarnation: Used in one or two cases, depending on how you count it. Matt O'Dare was the DC Western hero Scalphunter and would later go on to be reincarnated as Thom Kallor aka Starboy of the Legion of Super-Heroes.
RetCon: If you want to keep track of them all, you'll need a scorecard. Many of them were Author's Saving Throws to redeem older characters.
Probably the most notable was the retconning of The Shade, an old Flash villain, who was revealed to have been not so villainous after all, and who would eventually turn into an actual hero. The reimagined Shade was so popular he got two mini-series of his own.
There was also a hint from fortune-teller Charity that Jack would someday meet an old friend of his father's. The hint was originally meant to refer to Hawkman but Robinson's plans to revitalize the character in Starman were sidelined. Charity even tells Jack later that their paths have changed and he might never meet "the winged hero" after all.
This even happens in Jack's internal monologues, where he ponders how he always equated maturity with enjoying the musical numbers in Marx Brothers movies that weren't Chico and Harpo goofing around with the instruments.
Shout-Out: More than a few. One example: the "Powdered Toast Man" graffiti and drawing of Ren on a lamppost at the end of issue 1.
Shrinking Violet: Nash, for much of the first arc — until Jack kills her brother and she becomes The Mist.
Star Power: The entire point of Ted's research that enabled him to build the Cosmic Rod and its derivatives. It's also hinted that the power-wielded by each Starman/Girl is a unique variant of a unified source, not unlike Marvel's Power Cosmic split amongst various beings.
In a crossover with Batman and Hellboy, a group of neo-Nazis build a machine to collect power from the stars in order to awaken an Eldritch Abomination.
Jack and Mikaal travel across space (and time) to arrive in the 31st Century and team up with the Legion of Super-Heroes. Later in the same arc, they travel into the past and visit the planet Krypton, before it blew up.
Jack and his brother David, ripped from time before his death, by Doctor Fate are sent back to the year 1951 to help protect Opal City at a time when Ted Knight was still in an insane asylum.
To Hell and Back: Jack, The Shade and Matt O'Dare do wind up going to one of DC's Hells at one point.
Un-Cancelled: Came back for one issue thanks to the Blackest Night event; Jack was absent and the story focused on the Shade and Hope O'Dare.
What Could Have Been: The producers of Smallville had plans to adapt the series for television at one point. Eventually, the two-part episode "Absolute Justice" featured the JSA, including a Cosmic Rod-wielding Stargirl.