Thousand Faced: Starman

Writer: James Robinson
Art: Tony Harris
Published by DC Comics

Legacy. This is what Robinson’s Starman has to offer that touches me. I must be on my third or fourth read of this excellent title and it still gives me shivers of delight and glows of warmth. Nobody in their right mind no matter how cool he is would want to be Batman or even know him. He’s an obsessed dick. His parents were murdered in front of him. He’s a kick-ass creature of the shadows, self-made in the fires of his will and plagued by major personal demons. Jack Knight as the seventh Starman (yes…the seventh) is the guy you could really see yourself being or at the least the guy you would want to hang with. He’s the son of Ted Knight the original Starman and protector of Opal City. Dressed like a Christmas tree with an art deco fin on his head and wielder of a cosmic rod, Ted Knight has been at the super-hero biz since the 40s and has great friends and family. Jack is his oldest son. He never wanted to be a hero. He’s not really possessed of that sort of ego and yet that is exactly the sort that we should want to save us when he is needed. Jack Knight. I think of him as a sort of Kieth Richards of super deeds. He doesn’t make a big deal out of himself. He does what he does because he is building on a legacy from the men he loves and admires and so he carries on the sacred trust. He’s a mensch. I love him for that.

Why Starman? Why now? Well I had planned this month to be filled with columns of reviews of some terrific war stories. Had them all saved up in digital form and everything. The files got corrupted and thanks to the public library in Johnson County I found three of six of The Starman Omnibus. Six hardback volumes you could kill a small dog with if you wielded even one of them correctly. They are priced at $49.95. I have never in my life dropped damn near half a Franklin for a book. I am not that kind of people but I will tell you this: If I had the money for collecting quality I would spend it in a minute to have all of these in my home. Then I would carefully loan them to select readers who have a fondness in their hearts for reading the best that this comic’s medium has to offer. I would expose them to it like it was the fucking Holy Grail because work like this for people who love it is exactly that. To fondle the bright pages and smell that book smell and dive deep into it and drink deep of the love which Robinson and Harris have created is the stuff that keeps me going when the grunting swine of greed and power strive to take the light out of this world. How nice it is to find truth in fantastic fiction while enduring the shit storm of lies that a political campaign season produces and assails us with through the electronic media. How sustaining to have some character in the characters we expose ourselves to. How good it is to tuck myself into a comfortable reading position and read Starman again.

The series begins with the killing of David Knight, the sixth Starman as he’s about to take flight from a clean Opal City art deco building. The Mist, an arch foe of Ted Knight is determined to destroy his old enemy before senility renders him useless to do so. The plan is a good master plan which includes killing off Jack as well who is an antiques dealer and wants nothing to do with the family heritage at this point. Yet his brother is killed and his father hurt and The Mist will not stop coming. His children are involved including the punkette and sexy Nash, his daughter. Finally the villains attack his mother’s legacy, a wing of the Opal City museum. Jack is dragged into fighting as Starman because the city has no other protector and absolutely requires a Starman. With some training in Jiu-Jitsu (Kodenkan most probably), a leather jacket with an astrological symbol stitched to it’s back and a Cracker Jacks silver sheriffs badge from the 50’s pinned to the left breast as well as some anti-flare goggles, Jack suits up. He also has an early version of the cosmic rod which is a big ass stick with a cool elongated bulb at one end. For a non-costume this is one really cool look. Truth be told, I had a hard time appreciating Tony Harris’ style of art at first. It looked rough and unformed and not to my standards of what I would spend for a comic read. Yet there was something there. The writing, though Robinson claims otherwise, always had that special pull of dedication and love to its characters. That includes the city itself. Robinson wants Opal City to be a living entity in this book and he has transmitted that to Harris very well. Think Gotham City but not as covered with shit. The reason it is so pristine is Starman and a handful of others who are civic-minded enough to do battle for it. Eventually it comes down to a battle to the death with the Mist’s son and Jack uses the rod to fry him all tee-hee carboneezy, as the WWI pilots used to say. This drives The Mist into total cognitive meltdown and sets the stage for Nash to be the new arch for of the new Starman. It’s a great introduction to one of the best story lines and characters that DC has ever put forth.

I have to mention The Shade. I just love him. The Shade wields shadow and is supposedly the perfect antithesis to Starman except he’s more like a rogue who plays by his own rules and loves the city even more so than Jack. He’s an immortal who has had offers from The Devil and turned them down. He does good deeds and plunders when convenient because a guy with powers who likes nice things ought to take some of them now and again. He wears a top hat and has this smooth old world style that is rife with antiquity and depth like well…a guy who’s been around all the blocks and then some. He drinks absinthe with Oscar Wilde and is partially the inspiration for The Portrait of Dorian Grey. Oh there’s also a creepier influence who steals souls with a demonic poster too. See? It’s cool stuff like that which this title is just chock full of.

By the time the series is in its thirties as issues go; it is fully realized and sparkling with the developed talents of Robinson and Harris. There is a pirate who seeks justice. There is a mad bomber called Dr. Pip who just wants death and destruction for its own sake and to make a bit of cash on the side doing so. Nash is the new Mist and really puts Jack through his paces sans any super power or even clothes. A hero that fights down a crowd in his underwear with a claw hammer is as basic as it gets. She calls him “my love” and in her psychopathic way means it. It’s like a Batman/Joker relationship except The Joker doesn’t have a functional womb. Yeah. Think about those implications. Nash sure does.
In all of it there are those personal moments the characters experience and share that make the book special. Jack’s love for old things is obviously one Robinson has and you get to find out such really cool arcane knowledge because of it. You get imbued with that same sense of wonder for this cast away and near forgotten debris of our past culture. You realize that old is not useless. You witness the passing of Wesley Dodd, the original Sandman and miss him like it is someone you personally knew. There is a sweet and heroic version of Solomon Grundy and his passing makes pangs in your heart. The O’Dare family is a family of cops that make you wish your city was fortunate enough to have an Irish clan like that in its police force. Jack falls in love and even boffs the original Octo-Girl. It must be quite a night when testicles meet tentacles.

The other night I called my daughter, Katie and told her to find this series or check to see if her fiance, Stuart already has these in his collection. You see Stuart is a very avid fan of Superman and believes he will live his life with the example of Superman to guide him. Hey, I’m a Joseph Campbell fan and if a myth can ground you into being a good person, I’m all for it. It occurred to me while seeing Jack curled up on his couch, waiting for a pizza to warm and looking at the various cool collectible stuff in his apartment that my daughter isn’t engaged to Superman at all; she’s the love of Jack Knight and that made me feel so very good and proud because I love both those guys.
Yes. I’m reading this series for the rest of my life. Bravo Mr. Robinson and Mr. Harris. Well played, Sirs!

by Bill Hilburn

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