The Men Who Wore the Star

Last time, we began our look at DC’s STARMAN, focusing on the original, the Golden Age Starman Ted Knight, as created by artist Jack Burnley in the pages of ADVENTURE COMICS. While Ted got a considerable promotional push from the publisher, including membership in the company’s trademark super-team, the Justice Society of America. However, Starman never truly caught on with the comic-reading public and faded into obscurity by the late 1940s, only to reappear with the rest of the JSA as recurring guest-stars in the Silver Age DC Comics of the 1960s. While Ted Knight himself only resurfaced occasionally in the DC Comics of the 1970s and ’80s, apparently the name itself was considered too good to lie unused…

Some ideas don’t even make sense after you explain them.

Take, for example, DC’s anthology series from 1975, 1ST ISSUE SPECIAL. Every issue would debut a new character or feature, in the hopes of generating enough enthusiasm to then launch them into their own series. However, it also placed itself in the awkward position of contradicting itself right there in the title, as it couldn’t really be a first issue if it were, say, #7 now, could it?

Anyway, among the characters to make their debut in 1ST ISSUE SPECIAL were Green Team: Boy Millionaires, Mike Grell’s Warlord and — wouldn’t you know it — Starman. However, this was a distinctly different Starman, as readers would see in 1ST ISSUE SPECIAL #12 (March 1976).

Written by Gerry Conway, and drawn by Mike Vosburg and Mike Royer, “Starman” introduced readers to Mikaal Tomaas, a blue-skinned alien from an unnamed alien planet, who has come to Earth to prevent its enslavement by his people, a race that “requires combat emotionally,” as Mikaal tells one of his human rescuers. A lone renegade on the run from his people, Mikaal has to contend with the leader of the “Enslaving Earth” project, Master Komak, as well as the First Guardsman of the alien race, Turran Kha.

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Mikaal’s arrival on Earth is somewhat less than smooth, as he’s immediately accosted by a group of young toughs unhappy with the government’s expenditures on NASA (no, seriously), who decided to take it out on the hapless astronaut, paying no mind to the fact that his skin is blue. Mikaal makes short work of them, then passes out while exploring a grocery store, after using the amulet at his throat to dissolve the shopkeep’s rifle.

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By issue’s end, Turran Kha had located Mikaal, and the two were about to engage in a titanic battle, with the very fate of the Earth hanging in the battle. Too bad this was 1ST ISSUE SPECIAL, because next issue would be an entirely new character and storyline (a revival of Jack Kirby’s New Gods, to be precise), and this dangling plot thread would be left to dangle for over 20 years.

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The Starman name was left to Ted Knight’s annual guest shots in each summer’s JLA/JSA teamup for the next four years, until 1980, when DC returned the title ADVENTURE COMICS to its former multi-feature status after decades of being either a Superboy or Aquaman title. ADVENTURE #467 (January 1980) featured both the return of Plastic Man and the debut of yet another all-new version of Starman, this time created by writer Paul Levitz and Spider-Man’s co-creator Steve Ditko.

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The new Starman was an outer-space royalty-type named Prince Gavyn, who was one of two potential heirs to the throne of the Galactic Empire, along with his sister, Clryssa. According to custom, when one sibling was chosen to rule, the other would be put to death, a tradition Gavyn naturally planned to abolish as soon as he took the throne. Unfortunately for him, his sister wasn’t quite as forward-thinking, so when it turned out to be she that was named Empress, she went right along with tradition and had her brother thrown into the vacuum of space without benefit of life support, or even a nice heavy coat.

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So Gavyn was tossed into the void, where he in fact did not die, but instead was saved thanks to the intervention of an ancient alien named Mn’torr, who sensed great potential and power in Gavyn, bestowing upon him bracelets and a staff that allowed Gavyn to convert stellar radiation to bio-energy. Or something like that.

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Anyway, in his new guise as Starman, Gavyn defended Throneworld from threats foreign and domestic for the next 12 months, until both he and Plastic Man were booted from ADVENTURE COMICS to make way for, of all things, DIAL H FOR HERO.

Prince Gavyn had two more appearances in the ’80s: the first was in an issue of DC COMICS PRESENTS, a Superman teamup that firmly established the new Starman as a part of the DC Universe, and which also killed off Gavyn’s sister at the hands of Mongul, leaving Gavyn as the new Emperor. However, Gavyn didn’t have much time to celebrate his new position, as his next (and final) appearance came a couple of years later in two panels of CRISIS IN INFINITE EARTHS, in which he’s shown once more in the Starman costume trying to prevent a wave of anti-matter from destroying Throneworld, and being wiped from existence for his efforts.

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Doesn’t seem to be a lot of luck being in the Starman business, does there? Maybe our next contestant will do better, as we jump ahead to 1988, and meet yet another new Starman: Will Payton.

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Making his debut in the premiere issue of his own new series, STARMAN #1 (October 1988) hit stands only a year or two after Ted Knight and the rest of the Justice Society were thought to be permanently put out to pasture in THE LAST DAYS OF THE JUSTICE SOCIETY, a one-shot which banished Starman and his JSA compadres to limbo, fighting the forces of evil forever in an endless loop, expected never to return. With the name now up for grabs, writer Roger Stern and artist Tom Lyle introduced us to Will Payton, a pleasantly average chap minding his own business camping in the Colorado Rockies, when he’s unexpectedly zapped by an energy beam searing down from above, seemingly drooping poor Will dead on the spot. Will wakes up a month later on the slab about to be autopsied by curious doctors, wondering why this average-looking male corpse was tremendously dense and heavy.

Payton soon discovers that the mysterious energy had given him a whole array of fantastic superpowers, including the power to control his body mass, flight, the ability to emit energy blasts, even the power to shapeshift, altering his face and body at will. Will’s sister Jayne encourages him to go out and start being a superhero, even making his costume for him, while Will remains hesitant to go public. Eventually, Will doesn’t have much of a choice, as we learn that the energy blast that empowered him was meant to hit a secret government project set on creating its own federal-controlled superbeings, and once they realize that he has the power that was earmarked for their own subjects, they begin sending all manner of baddies after him, trying to regain his power.

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The new Starman found himself frequently working closely with STAR Labs, helping them out in exchange for their help in discovering more about his newfound powers, in particular STAR Labs scientist Kitty Faulkner (who would occasionally transform into the orange-skinned mohawked Rampage due to her own scientific mishap), with whom Will would eventually begin a romantic relationship.

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Before along, yet another Starman would surface: David Knight, the heretofore unmentioned son of Ted Knight, who appeared on the scene in STARMAN #25 (September 1990).

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Infuriated that someone had usurped his father’s name and his birthright, David, cosmic rod in hand, challenged Will to a public battle over it, only to discover that he was being manipulated by none other than his father’s old enemy the Mist. Chastened, David gave up his claim on right to the Starman name and faded back into obscurity. For now, anyway…

STARMAN was a decent if unremarkable series, with a likable but ultimately a little dull protagonist at its core, and stories and artwork that were steady but never spectacular. The series ended after 45 issues, and some six months after that Will Payton met his demise, sacrificing his life in an attempt to stop Eclipso in the pages of ECLIPSO: THE DARKNESS WITHIN #2, leaving the DC Universe once more without a Starman.

Luckily, it would only be two years later that the next Starman — and the greatest one — would come along.

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