For Those Who Came In Late: As our marathon STARMAN coverage continues, Jack Knight has just taken off into deep space in an antique starship powered by his Cosmic Rod, in search of Will Payton, a predecessor in the role of Starman and more significantly the brother of Jack’s girlfriend Sadie. This has left both Jack, and to some degree the series, floating in the void…
By far the longest story arc in STARMAN up to this point, Jack’s adventure in space, “Stars My Destination,” spans 13 issues, with only two single-issue breaks in the narrative, one for a TIMES PAST story revealing the origins of Jack’s ship, and one for a brief cutaway to goings-on back in Opal City.
Although the trip had been foretold since Jack’s very first issues, once it had begun, even the most fervent fans of the series had to admit it went on a little long. It very much felt like Robinson had stories he wanted to get to about a bunch of DC’s various space characters, and since he knew this would be his only chance to have Jack in space, then, dammit, he was gonna get to all of ’em. The problem was, since so much of the appeal of the series had been how very grounded in reality Jack was, and his interaction with the city he loved, removing him for the Opal for over a year, and placing him in a very fantasy-based environment — well, all of a sudden it didn’t quite seem like the same book anymore. Don’t get me wrong: it was still a great book. Just not the same.
Complicating matters even further was the book’s new look, as Jack’s artist and co-creator Tony Harris had departed the book just as Jack left Earth. Why? At the time Harris chalked it up to deadlines, that he was unable to give the book the attention he felt it deserved and still keep to a monthly schedule. Later interviews Harris gave indicate an unhappiness with the space-travel arc, and a certain decision that Robinson made that reportedly infuriated Harris, so much so that he even stopped providing covers for the book. What was that decision? I’ll let you know when we get there.
Regardless of the whys, the loss of Harris had an immediate and profound impact on the book: Jack just didn’t look like Jack any more. Harris’ immediate replacement, Steve Yeowell, is a fine artist, but one whose cartoony, minimal style is a complete mismatch for the moody, dense style that STARMAN had become famous for.
Another change could be found in the writing department, as suddenly Robinson had a co-writer, David Goyer. Usually credited as co-plotter, with Robinson receiving sole credit for dialogue, Goyer came on board with STARMAN #48, the first issue of “Stars My Destination.” This is strictly speculation, but one has to wonder how much impact the untimely death of STARMAN’s original editor, Archie Goodwin, had on Robinson. Goodwin had been a mentor to Robinson, and was directly responsible for getting Robinson the STARMAN series. Reading between the lines of interviews Robinson gave at the time, there was a sense that the loss of Goodwin had affected him greatly, and that much of his love for writing comics had been diminished. Was that the reason why Robinson brought in his friend Goyer to help plot the series? No one can really say, but it’s clear that with the loss of Goodwin, the departure of Harris and a modified hand at the wheel with the Robinson/Goyer team, the second half of STARMAN would start off as a somewhat different animal from the first.
At the beginning of “Stars My Destination” in STARMAN #48, STARMAN’s once prodigious supporting cast had been whittled down to two: Mikaal Tomaas and a Mother-Box-generated hologram of Ted Knight, a bit of a cheat to enable Ted (or at least, a simulated Ted) to stay in the series while Jack was away from Earth. This issue did take care of a nagging bit of mischaracterization from an earlier issue, namely, the JLA’s callous refusal to help Jack in his quest for their lost comrade Will Payton. A hologram recorded by the League indicated their assistance in providing the Mother Box (that handy bit of all-knowing sentient technology from Jack Kirby’s NEW GODS series) that would guide Jack to Will, along with their best wishes.
Even that year’s “Talking With David” issue seemed off, not only because it wasn’t Harris providing the wonderfully moody black-and-white interiors we’d all grown so accustomed to, but the emotional content was sorely lacking, as instead of it being a talk between brothers as it was meant to be, we’re instead treated to David talking to Mikaal Tomaas, warning him of the hardships to come and advising him that he’d have to grow tougher and accept his destiny as a hero if they were going to survive. This all while Jack battled an exiled Solomon Grundy and his vegetable duplicates of the JSA, having set down on a remote planet to make repairs to the starship.
Things improved for the better with STARMAN #50, with the arrival of the series’ new regular penciller, who would stay with the series to the end: Peter Snejbjerg. While Snejbjerg’s art was cartoonier than Harris’ to be sure, it had a darkness and weight about it that Yeowell’s lacked. And most important, Jack looked like Jack again, with the longish face and Roman nose that we’d grown accustomed to.
The issue itself began Robinson’s full DC sci-fi travelogue with Jack’s ship being mysteriously drawn into the 30th century by a mysterious shadowy force, where they meet the Legion of Superheroes, as well as the Legion’s own resident stellar hero, Star Boy. We discover here, thanks to the immortal Shade, that Star Boy is destined to return to the 21st century someday and become Jack’s successor as Starman, continuing the series’ overall emphasis on legacy.
Next up on Jack Knight’s Magical Mystery Tour was, of all places, Krypton. Thanks to a time travel glitch on the way back from the 30th century, Jack and Mikaal wind up a few decades too early, landing on Krypton and meeting up with a young Jor-El, seemingly giving him not only the ideal for space travel but even galactic charts to Earth, which is honestly a bit much on the predestination paradox scale even for me. Not that the issue is bad — I particularly enjoyed the sequence with Mikaal and Jack being interrogated by Jor-El’s father’s Giant Floating Head, who tries to pull the old “divide and conquer” questioning trick straight out of NYPD BLUE:
Having escaped Krypton and made their way back to the correct decade through a helpful spacewarp, Jack and Mikaal make a stopover on Rann, adopted homeworld of Earth archaeologist and adventurer Adam Strange, after Mikaal detects the presence of his old enemy Turran Kha, thanks to the crystal embedded in his chest.
Adam Strange and Rann welcome Jack and Mikaal with open arms, especially as Rann is hosting an intergalactic peace conference and treaty-signing. With a mysterious enemy faction looking to disrupt the conference, Adam welcomes Jack’s help in keeping the peace and looking for the terrorists. During the formal reception, the terrorists strike, and though Adam, Jack and Mikaal fight valiantly, they head right for their target: Adam’s wife and daughter. With Adam unable to get there, Jack dives to protect Alanna and…
The next issue opened with one of the most disturbing sequences in the whole series for my money in which Jack comes to Sadie in a dream and informs her that he’s died, and that she should tidy up the affairs he’s left behind and then move on. The calm, matter-of-fact conversation between the two, juxtaposed against the horror of Jack being burned alive, is just creepy as all hell.
As it turned out, Jack wasn’t dead, as he discovers waking up in a tube in the lab of Sardath, Adam Strange’s father-in-law. While Jack clung to life, his flesh was cloned and reapplied to his skeleton, allowing him to emerge whole and hearty, if also disturbingly free of ink:
This, by the way, reportedly infuriated Tony Harris to the point that he stopped doing covers for the series. Whether it was just the incredulity of incinerating Jack to the very bone and then cloning him back to health, or the audacity of talking away from Jack all the tattoos that Harris had given him, who knows?
Jack and Adam recover Aleea from the terrorist forces just before Adam is pulled back to Earth by the Zeta Beam, and Jack quickly asks him for a favor:
Meanwhile Jack is saved by the assembled alien delegates, spurred to action by Sardath with a little prompting from the hologram Ted Knight.
After a rather goofy interlude involving Space Cabbie, Tommy Tomorrow and Ultra the Multi-Alien, “Stars My Destination” concludes with a four-part finale held on Throneworld, the homeworld of the fallen Starman Prince Gavyn, where Will Payton is being held prisoner and where Jack’s starship is blown out of the sky:
Jack and Mikaal are recovered and tortured, where they meet up with the de facto ruler of Throneworld, Jediah Rikane, who, when he learns why they’ve come, informs them that he does in fact have Payton locked away, after finding him floating in space, and having determined that Payton somehow carries within him the soul of their rightful ruler, Prince Gavyn.
Since with Gavyn gone, Rikane gained not only Gavyn’s power, but also his bride, Lady Merria, he wasn’t taking any chances, and has him stashed away on their prison planet, where he promptly sends Jack and Mikaal as well.
There the two Starmen meet up with a rebel faction within the prison, including former Omega Men member Tigorr, New God speedster Fastbak and ex-Green Lantern Medphyll, and the group leads a revolt, with the help of the rescued Will Payton. After all the time spent getting there, the introductions between Jack and the object of his quest are understated and satisfying:
While grappling with his very sense of identity, Will, along with Jack and Mikaal, leads an assault on Throneworld, with the help of some inside players. I don’t want to give away too much more here, as the finale really is the high point of this entire arc. Suffice it to say that by the end of STARMAN #60, justice has returned to Throneworld and leave it at that. Ironically, Jack returns home empty-handed, as Will, still uncertain whether or not he believes that he’s somehow the reincarnation of Prince Gavyn, finds himself convinced to stick around in the hopes of learning more:
As Jack hops on a Zeta beam back to Earth, we have a prime example of the other problem with this arc. We’ve previously discussed how Robinson liked to drop in little hints toward the future throughout the series. Well, back in STARMAN SECRET FILES, before Jack had even left for space, a “History of Starman Timeline” appeared, in which, toward the end, this chilling entry appeared:
The near future: Jack returns from space to find Opal City in ruins.
This ominous portent had hung darkly over this entire arc, the knowledge that Jack would return at the end of this adventure to find his beloved home reduced to rubble. Which is was why it was both surprising and oddly disappointing at the end of the issue for Jack’s return to be met with this sight:
So why had plans changed? Turns out it was strictly business. More next week.