Starman: A Comic Book for People Who Don’t Like Comic Books

Though the series concluded several years ago, Starman will forever burn bright as one of the industry’s great accomplishments.

Set firmly within the DC Universe alongside Superman and Batman, Jack Knight is the son of Ted Knight, otherwise known as the retired superhero Starman.  Ted has grown far too old to wear the red and green tights any longer, so his oldest son, David, is more than willing to carry on the family legacy.  Jack openly mocks his brother and finds the capes and tights crowd too ridiculous to stomach.  However, after David is killed soon after his unveiling, Jack finds himself in a race to save his father’s life.  Though he refuses to wear the gaudy costume, Jack masters the Cosmic Rod, his father’s invention that grants them their powers.  Their home, Opal City, dubs Jack the new Starman and he begrudgingly becomes the city’s plainclothes protector and even comes to relish the title.

The series ran for almost one hundred issues and was entirely written by James Robinson.  In Jack Knight, Robinson created one of the best-rounded characters you’ll find in not just comic books, but any form of literature.  Jack has as many nuances as do we all, and Robinson isn’t afraid to explore even those that don’t make him the most heroic of protagonists.  However, while a master of characterization, Robinson also knew how to bring the adventure.  Jack finds himself from the alleys of Opal City to the furthest reaches of time and space. 

Consequently, the title isn’t Jack’s alone.  Robinson made a point to include any and all who bore the name “Starman” over the years, and he developed a cast of characters so interesting that they almost stole the spotlight from Jack.  In reality, Ted Knight had been Starman in the comic books since World War II, and Robinson made ample use of such a rich and diverse history.  He even took a laughable Flash villain called The Shade and turned him into one of the most charismatic accomplices you’ll ever have the pleasure to meet.

Robinson specifically delivers wonderful interactions between father and son-Ted and Jack.  Initially the two could not be more different, but in the end, they both realize they had far more in common than they could have possibly imagined.  Jack must also balance a complicated love life as well as a rather unconventional role as a father himself.  And all the while, he’s trying to run an antique store.  As you can see, this is not your normal comic book. 

The primary artist for the series was the incredibly talented Tony Harris who can currently be found working on Ex Machina.  Harris worked his tail off at giving us a setting unlike any other, and so Opal City became an instant classic, far more visually recognizable than Metropolis or Gotham.  And like Jack, Harris seems to have little interest in conventional appearances.  His renderings are truly artistic, and he pays special attention to anatomy, lighting, and architecture.  The mere shapes and styles he uses to border and embellish his drawings are astoundingly detailed and aesthetically alluring.

Starman is a comic book for all connoisseurs of literature.  It tells a complete story from the first issue to the last with such panache, such style, and such uniformity that it will boggle your mind.  And best of all, it avoids all the comic book clichés and offers authentically identifiable and appealing characters that will remain in your heart long after you’ve read their adventures.

Best of all-it’s just flat-out cool.  When all is said and done, it’s just a cool piece of art that everyone will benefit from having experienced.

Now is the perfect time to get acquainted with Starman as DC has given it a terrific honor and released it as an omnibus collection.  You can find the first installment here:

Justice Society of America: Thy Kingdom Come (Part I) – A Graphic Novel Review

I’ve always enjoyed JSA, mostly because Geoff Johns has made a point to keep one foot in the past with the title while keeping the other foot firmly planted in the future.

With the Justice Society of America re-launch, the team has a new mission statement of making sure the world has better heroes, and so they are first tracking down legacy heroes and training them to deserve the mantle they’ve assumed.

Thy Kingdom Come is particularly fascinating because it reintroduces Superman from Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come series.  In expert juxtaposition, Johns makes a point that while the Earth-2 Superman thought Earth-1’s heroes weren’t heroic enough, the Kingdom Come Superman finds Earth-1’s (New Earth’s) heroes inspiring and invigorating.  Any writer will tell you that good writing means making use of unusual perspectives, and Johns does just this with KC Superman.

Furthermore, I love the KC Superman because he has an edge to him.  He’s damaged goods.  After all, he watched his world’s heroes demean and destroy themselves and did nothing until the (relatively) very end.  He wants a fresh start as well, a chance at redemption, and that makes him very compelling.

But among such heavy themes and dangerous adventures, Johns also brings about quite a bit of joyfulness.  Boxing matches between Wildcat and his son, fundraising at the local firehouse, and ski trips are just part of what makes this team such a delight to follow. 

Johns also mixes established, semi-established, and brand new characters in this book and gives each a chance to shine in an appealing and engaging manner.  To have characters over half-a-century old such as Flash and Green Lantern interacting with brand new legacy characters such as Wildcat II, Cyclone, and Citizen Steel brings an unpredictability that is missing in several other DC titles.  Throw in semi-established characters using familiar names like Hourman, Liberty Belle, and Starman, and you’ve got something exciting, amusing, and captivating.

For me, Justice Society of America continues to be a must-read and I really look forward to where the title is heading with its heavy referencing to Kingdom Come and multiple-subplots.