The Read Pile: Starman
Every comic fan has them: the stack of hardcovers and graphic novels designated “To Read”. If you’re like me, this stack gets to unruly proportions, threatening to topple and destroy anything in its path. Things that I’m far too ashamed to say I haven’t read yet sit in this ever-growing tower of geek, a monument to my inability to pass up on a sale priced trade at my local shop, and a constant reminder that I’m always far too busy to do the things I want. So every now and then, I’ll grab a collection at random and throw a spotlight on it.
For most of the past year, the final three omnibuses (omnibi?) of James Robinson and Tony Harris’ Starman have been sitting in my “To Read” pile, taunting me. Having previously read the first three massive hardcovers chronicling Jack Knight’s reluctant voyage into becoming a hero, I bought the last three in a Black Friday online sale last year and had every intention of reading them as soon as I received them in the mail. I loved the first three collections, and was eager to finish James Robinson’s story, but I didn’t get around to it until months ago. After finally finishing Jack Knight’s tale, I can safely say this:
Why didn’t I read this sooner?
Starman is the tale of Jack Knight, the son of the Golden Age Starman, Ted Knight. For years, the Knights have lived in Opal City, which has had some variation of a Starman protecting its citizens for decades. After his brother David is killed on his first patrol as Starman, Jack reluctantly takes up the mantle to protect the city, facing old threats of his father’s and slowly becoming a new kind of champion for Opal.
At first glance, Starman doesn’t really sound like anything you haven’t heard before. Published by DC Comics as a part of their post- “Zero Hour” event, the book has many ties to the history of DC, in particular the Golden Age heroes of the 40’s. However, while super heroics are a major part of what makes Starman click, it’s the father/son relationship between Ted and Jack Knight that really makes the title stand out as one of the best series of the last 20 years. Jack’s like many 20-somethings: he’s directionless, rebellious, and doesn’t take direction easily. Jack’s the kind of guy who’d rather watch a vintage movie or search an attic for vintage junk than fight crime, but after the death of his brother, he reluctantly takes up the Starman mantle.
Jack’s profession as a junk storeowner defies everything his father and society wants from him. Even his outfit doesn’t fit in with the other heroes of the DC Universe: instead of a cape and bright costume like his father before him, Jack opts for everyday clothes. A leather jacket, t-shirt, and aviator goggles are just as good as a cape and cowl in his eyes. Ted Knight badgers his son at every turn, his frustration stemming from the fact that he desperately knows what his son is capable of. Ted and Jack’s arguments are more compelling than any criminal Jack faces. Their verbal battles are so well written that you feel like a fly on the wall, or at an awkward family gathering watching an argument take place that you don’t want to take sides in. Yet despite their arguments and differences, there’s a lot of love between Jack and his father. Even though they don’t always agree, they still love and believe in each other.
This relationship is the focal point of the 75 issue series, but it’s not the only one.Starman’s supporting cast rivals that of other famous heroes like Spider-Man and Superman. There’s the O’Dare Family, who have all served on the police force longer than Opal has had a Starman, Mikaal Tomas (the Starman of the 70’s), and my personal favorite, The Shade, an immortal former enemy of Ted’s who is now an unlikely ally. The few issues that focus on Shade’s back-story are some of the highlights of the series, as are the yearly “Conversations with Dave”, where Jack converses with his dead brother. There are also appearances from Batman, Alan Scott, Superman, and even Hellboy, and all of these interactions have an effect on Jack on his journey to become a hero.
Writer James Robinson clearly put a lot of himself in the character of Jack Knight. In the incredibly engaging afterwards to each volume, Robinson goes through each issue, giving us background information on the story’s creation and evolution. Robinson also gives us background knowledge on his life at the time, covering everything from his relationship with editor Archie Goodwin, his divorce, and even his now-soured friendship with David S. Goyer. It’s a fascinating look into the life of a comic book writer, and adds to the value of these volumes. If you’ve ever wanted to get into comics professionally, they’re required reading.
Starman was no slouch in the art department either. Tony Harris drew the first 45 issues of the story, with artist Peter Snejbjerg completing the remaining 30 issues. It’s fascinating seeing the pages that put Harris on the map in Starman, and his art definitely lives up to the hype. Snejbjerg is an excellent replacement for Harris as well, and it’s extremely entertaining to hear his side of the story in the afterword of volume 5.
The scope of Starman is vast, covering everything from the 1940’s Opal City to Space itself, but at the heart of it is the relationship between a father and his son. Robinson was allowed to tell the story he wanted to, and I sincerely hope we get to see Jack again someday. With the release of The Shade mini series this past year, the world of Jack Knight is still alive and well, so maybe we will see him again. But for now, we have these wonderful collections that any fan of the medium, DC or not, needs to read.