Times Past, Present, and Future, A Look Back at Starman, Part V
Part V: Giants, Demons, and the Gutter of "Stars"
Before I proceed with the second half of the 'Starman' series, I'd like to address the various comics and specials that prominently featured Jack Knight. Since 'Starman' takes place in a comic book universe where characters interact, and since Starman's popularity was on the rise, Jack Knight made guest appearances in other books. There were also 'Starman' related specials and crossover tie-ins. In time, Jack Knight joined the newest incarnation of the JSA, for a brief time.
The following is a list of 'Starman' specials and related comics. While none of these books are necessary to understand the overall "Starman Saga", most of them are entertaining and enhance the general atmosphere of Jack's corner of the DC Universe.
Girlfrenzy: The Mist
by James Robinson, John Lucas, and Richard Case
'The Mist' was one of seven specials released as part of DC's "Girlfrenzy" fifth week event. Each comic featured a female character from another monthly series. All told, they included Tomorrow Woman (dead), Batgirl (retired), Donna Tory (effed up continuity), The Secret (victim), Lois Lane (sidekick), and The Ravens (villain). Many fans agreed that the books did not portray their female stars in positive lights. (In short, they sucked.)
In this book, The Mist's baby boy is kidnapped by Black Hand, a former Green Lantern villain. Black Hand wants the Mist to steal a weapon from the government for the release of her baby. Mist steals the weapon, but is caught by Mary Marvel of the Marvel family. The Mist tells her what's happened and the two of them catch Black Hand.
Once again, James Robinson takes an obscure DC character and gives more breadth and depth to his character. The Black Hand fancies himself a budding criminal mastermind. But a confrontation with the Mist proves that he doesn't have the guts. The Mist also plays Mary Marvel for a pasty quite well, right up to the end. If you wanted to see more of the Mist after "Night and Day" and 'Starman' #38, then track this book down. The art's quite good too. A little angular at times, but the close-ups of people's faces makes up for it.
by Robinson, Peter Snejbjerg, and Wade Von Grawbadger
In November of 1998, DC launched its "DC 1,000,000" crossover. Every monthly comic was numbered 1,000,000, and featured the heroes and worlds of the 853rd Century. The overall story had the JLA of the far future trade places with the present-day JLA. The modern heroes were meant to participate in celebrations honoring Superman's return from the center of the sun. (Stay with me, this gets big). Unfortunately, an evil, artificial, sentient sun of the future, Solaris, hid a techno-virus in the future JLA. This virus is slowly driving every person and machine on Earth insane. At the same time, Vandal Savage launches his plan for world domination, beginning with a nuclear strike. Ironically, the Savage of the future is working with Solaris to kill the original Superman.
One of the members of the future JLA, (Justice Legion A), is that era's Starman, Farris Knight. Farris visits Ted, his ancestor, in time to save him from an assassin. Farris then briefly relates how the name of Starman has been, (or will be, or will-has-been, or whatever tense you use when you're from the future and talking about your history that has yet to happen), used by both heroes and villains. Farris suspects that a "bad seed" was passed down from The Mist to her and Jack's son and further down the family line.
When Ted tells Farris how proud he his of him and the Knight family, Farris confesses his true mission: He's working with Solaris to kill Superman. He's come to Ted's observatory for a green meteor Ted found years ago. This "Knight Fragment" is, of course, Kryptonite. But even after this confession, Ted asks Farris to look for the good in his heart. He still trusts Farris to make the right choice.
Farris' choice and his fate are left for the reader to discover in the "DC 1,000,000" mini-series. The trade paperback should still be available. Not only does it collect the entire mini-series, but this comic as well. I whole-heartedly recommend it. It's one of the best crossovers in recent years.
If you want to "turn on" someone to 'Starman', this might be a good book to use. While it doesn't have Jack, it does have Robinson's unique prose style of dialogue and his additional of unconventional character details. Also, this is the first comic by the future monthly series art team of Snejbjerg and Von Grawbadger.
by Robinson and Mike Mignola
The first, and only, cross-company crossover to feature Starman, this two-part story sees Mike Mignola's Hellboy track down magically-powered neo-Nazis who have kidnapped Ted Knight. The kidnapping takes place in Gotham, which naturally involves Batman. When the Joker launches his newest crime, Batman must stay behind while Hellboy and Jack Knight follow the trail to South America.
The action is fast-paced; there isn't much dialogue. One thing I noticed upon re-reading it recently was how respectful Batman was towards Hellboy. Batman acknowledges Hellboy's greater experience with magic, and thanks him for coming along. When Jack shows up, Batman tells him how he envies "your ability to find light in the darkness." This is a far cry from the gruff, rude, antagonistic Batman we saw in "Infernal Devices". Eh, maybe it's just an act Bruce Wayne does around the people he can't trust. Or maybe I'm reading too much into it, and Robinson wanted to have a little fun with the Dark Knight.
I remind you that these books, in no way, have any impact on the monthly 'Starman' series or the story it tells. That's especially true for 'B/H/S'. But it's a fun action story with great art from Mignola. It makes me want to read some issues of 'Hellboy', so it works as a marketing tool. The cover price of the two books totals $5.00. They should still cost about that much, unless this had a really low print run and is being gobbled up by Starman and Hellboy fans. But I doubt it.
Starman 80-Page Giants
by Robinson, John Lucas, Mike Mayhew, Steve Sadowski, Tom Nguyen, Wade Von Grawbadger, Dusty Abnell, Drew Geraci, and Tim Burgand
In 1998, DC briefly brought back its 80-page Giant, a super-sized comic format from the Silver Age. While the original Giants were issues of a monthly series published with reprinted stories, the modern Giants contained all-new material. If I remember correctly, the 80-Page Giant specials were last published in 1999, maybe early 2000. Sadly, there was only one Giant for Starman.
The stories in this book all revolve around an African statue with a knife hidden in its head. The statue's origins related back to the days when Opal City was under the care of Scalphunter, and The Shade was just making it his home. As the statue changes hands, it becomes involved in battles fought by Ted Knight, Jack Knight, Mikaal Tomas, the young O'Dare children, and the mysterious Starman of 1951. In fact, this is the first story to feature the Starman of '51, since he was first mentioned in 'Starman' #29. But it gives no clues to his real identity.
Each story is drawn by a different artist, resulting in a strange visual patchwork. Abnell and Geraci draw the O'Dare story in a bight, simple style, much like a cartoon. It adds to the fun and innocence of the story. It stands in stark contrast to the dark and gritty art of Brigand for the Mikaal story that follows. Overall, it's a nice "hero sampler" of the many men who've defended Opal; their strengths and weaknesses, their highs and their lows.
JSA #1-4, JSA Secret Files and Origins #1
by James Robinson, David Goyer, Steve Sadowski, and Blair
Taking place just after Jack's return from Space, we see a new Justice Society of America formed by its surviving members and the heirs of the originals. The team first comes together at the funeral of Wesley Dodds, the Golden Age Sandman. There, the group is attacked by servants of Mordru, an evil immortal wizard. Mordru seeks to kill the reincarnation of Dr. Fate. The JSA organizes itself to stop him. Fate is reborn, as is the new team.
A few things worth mentioning about this story: To my knowledge, this is the first time Mordru has appeared in present-day DC continuity rather than the 30th Century of his enemies, the Legion of Super-Heroes. The 'Secret Files' book has a "Lost Pages" story about Jared Stevens, the last person to get Dr. Fate's artifacts and the star of the series 'Fate' and 'Book of Fate'. I liked those books, and was sorry to see him die in this story. Kid Eternity buys it too, in case you bought his old Vertigo series.
The art and writing in this series were quite good. Unfortunately, I got bored with it, as I am wont to do, and dropped it after issue #15. (The fact that the new Star-Spangled Kid was shown to be alive and well in the future didn't help either. More on why that's a bad thing later.) You can pick up the story in the TPB "JSA: Justice for All".
Regarding the continuity of this story, 'Starman' #61 places this story about two days after Jack returns from space. When he returns, he recognizes the new Kid and greets her by name. Now keep that in mind as we move on to. . .
Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. #0
by Geoff Johns, James Robinson, Lee Moder, Chris Weston, Dan Davis, and John Stokes
Yes, the appearance of Jack Knight is used to sell a new book. Jack as guest star. Possibly the height of his fame. Too bad the book sucks.
This book is the first appearance of Courtney Whitmore, the new Star-Spangled Kid. Courtney's mother has just married Pat Dugan, who used to be Stripesy, partner to the Golden Age Star-Spangled Kid, Sylvester Pemberton. When Sylvester died, his cosmic converter belt (an invention of Ted Knight's), was returned to Dugan. Courtney discovers the belt and her foster father's old life and threatens to expose him to her mother. To buy her silence, he lets her use the belt as the new Kid, while he follows in a robot suit called S.T.R.I.P.E.
Wow. What a great way to start off a new super-team: Blackmail, deception, and mutual antagonism. 'Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E.' was one of many short-lived comics DC cancelled in the late 90s. But unlike, say, 'Chase' or 'Challengers of the Unknown', no one missed 'Stars'. That's because readers hated Courtney Whitmore. She's an annoying tart who's cruel tricks and snotty attitude just make you want to hit her all the time. Maybe I'm taking this too seriously, but I can't enjoy a story where I'm told that the person I dislike the most is going to be the "hero".
Still, this book has to be the best issue of the series. It was the only one co-written by Robinson, and features great art by Chris Weston and John Stokes. Weston and Stokes draw the flashback story about the original Star-Spangled Kid. At that time, Sylvester wasn't a kid anymore and was considering becoming the new Starman. Ted was all for it, since Jack was an 80s punk and disrespected the role of Starman. The high quality of that art almost negates the effects of looking at the childish scrawling of Lee Moder and Dan Davis in the rest of the book. Their work is a slightly more detailed version of the "animated style" seen in 'Gotham Adventures'. Except without the style, heart, and ability.
After the book was cancelled, Johns expressed his regret, saying that he was trying to create a book that would appeal to young girls. Hmm, really Geoff? Did you really think that a book starring a TRL crowd member with an attitude and numerous references to Golden Age DC continuity would attract pre-teen girls to the few, and often hostile, comic shops in their towns? Is that called ego or stupidity? It must be ego, since his current work on 'The Flash' shows some talent and brain activity going on.
What really bugs me about this book is where to place it in Starman continuity. The story takes place between issues #8 and #9 of the regular series, according to the title page. The new JSA is referenced in the story, so it takes place after 'JSA' #4, at the earliest. When Jack returns home from space and sees Courtney, in 'JSA Secret Files', he calls her by name. That tells me they've already met. But when? Jack's been home from space for only one day. Did they meet before he left? Was this meeting shown in 'Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E.' #1-8? I'd check, but that would mean reading the book. Somebody e-mail me with the answer, because this is making my head hurt. On with the next story.
by Robinson, Goyer, Sadowski, and Blair
After the events in "Grand Guignol", Jack returns to the team for two more adventures. First, stopping Kobra from seizing control of the world's communications network and holding the world hostage. Next, fighting Extant who has created a chaos-based universe at the end of time. At the conclusion of this battle, Jack leaves the team for good, as does James Robinson. Issue #15 was the last issue co-written by Robinson. And while the book is still worth reading, it just doesn't hook me.
Not much else to say about these books. Jack plays a supporting role in the stories. Other than talking Atom Smasher out of killing Kobra, and the occasional quip, he doesn't say or do much. Oh, and while Jack can be seen on the covers of 'JSA' #6, 7, and 8, he does not appear in the issues. I guess cover artist Alan Davis didn't get a full script for each issue he did.
Sins of Youth: Starwoman and the JSA Jr
by Geoff Johns, Drew Johnson, Rich Faber, and Rodney Ramos
Klarion, the witch boy, has reversed the ages of everyone on Earth. The young got older, and the old got younger. Why? I don't know, I didn't read it. I think Klarion was just playing a big prank that got out of hand.
Anyway, the JSA, now all reduced to 10-year-olds, is led by a grown up Courtney Whitmore on a mission to space. They seek an age-reversing ray from a planet formerly ruled by Doiby Dickles, the Golden Age Green Lantern's former sidekick.
Not much to say, except how silly the whole thing is. JSA Jr. run around like annoying kids, while Courtney takes charge in Jack's jacket and a more menacing version of his rod. Oh, and Jack says "Booya". Seriously. This fifth-week event took place after 'Grand Guignol", and is referenced again in 'Starman' #80. But I'll save that piece of bad news for my last article.
For the other 'Chase' fans out there, Cameron Chase and Mr. Bones appear on the last page, when Klarion breaks Black Adam out of prison. Again, no real point, just a fun cameo.
Well, that about covers all of the major 'Starman' related specials and appearances. You don't need to read any of them to understand the larger story, but some of them are just plain good books. Others are crap, and should be avoided like the plague.
For a complete list of every book where Jack Knight shows up, including 'JLA' and 'World's Funnest', visit the Starman Compendium Website at www.members.aol.com/nachro2/starmenu.htm. You can also see sketches of Starman characters by a variety of artists at www.pmayhem.com/starman, including a Shade sketch by Bill Sienkiewicz.
Next time, I'll review "Stars my Destination", covering issues #47-60, with guest appearances by forgotten DC space heroes, the return of yet another Starman, and a piece of the future seen in 'Kingdom Come' comes true.
Oh, before I forget, ask your local shop if you can still order the Starman poster by Alex Ross and Tony Harris. I know I will!
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