Previously, in Comics 101: As our STARMAN marathon barrels on, Jack Knight has just returned from outer space, to find an Opal City as beautiful and intact as the day he left her, despite an ominous declaration in an earlier issue that Jack would return from space to find the city in ruins. How did that happen? Let’s find out…
In some ways, STARMAN had become a victim of its own success. Writer James Robinson had always conceived as the series as a finite one, or at least had a long-range plan in mind; that had been clear from the beginning with some of the long-range predictions about the characters made early in the series’ run. However, as the series grew in popularity, naturally DC Comics was looking to capitalize on that popularity with ancillary series, and by the spring of 1999, two new spinoffs had been created: STARS AND S.T.R.I.P.E., from Robinson and co-writer Geoff Johns, and a full revival of the Justice Society, JSA, from Robinson and co-writer David Goyer.
So what’s the problem? Growth is good, right? Well, the problem was, both of these series involved Jack Knight, who was at the time still in deep space in the pages of his own book. Still, no big deal — we can just assume that these stories take place after Jack returns from space, after all, no one really expected him to be out there forever. Only here’s the thing: since we “knew” that Jack would return to space to a destroyed Opal, why would he be out gallivanting around with the JSA, or at the least, why doesn’t he seem more broken up about it? Robinson’s solution to the problem was a good one, if only slightly less dramatic, forestalling the assault on Opal to a period of time shortly after Jack’s return, long enough to accommodate his inaugural adventure with the JSA, before everything went straight to hell.
If we were to look at things chronologically, then Jack’s first adventure following his return to space would have to take place in STARS AND S.T.R.I.P.E. #0, by Geoff Johns, James Robinson, and artists Lee Moder and Chris Weston. STARS AND S.T.R.I.P.E. introduced new Star-Spangled Kid Courtney Whitmore, stepdaughter of Pat Dugan, former Golden Age hero and sidekick to the original Star-Spangled Kid, Sylvester Pemberton.
What’s the connection to Jack, you ask? Well, Courtney became the Star-Spangled Kid after finding the late Sylvester Pemberton’s old Cosmic Converter Belt in a box of her stepfather’s things, a belt given to him by none other than Ted Knight, Jack’s father. “But wait a minute,” I hear you ask, “wasn’t that what the Mist’s son stole way back in the first issue of STARMAN?” Correctamundo, which was one of the little problems this issue was looking to explain.
In this zero-issue debut, which introduced the reader to Courtney and Pat even before their official origin, which began in the next issue, we see Jack fighting alongside Courtney and her stepfather (who has crafted a giant set of robotic armor he calls S.T.R.I.P.E. so he can accompany her on her missions as The Star-Spangled Kid and make sure she stays safe) against the Icicle, son of the original Golden-Age JSA villain. As Jack and company try and put away the Icicle, back at his observatory, Ted reflects on his relationship with the original Star-Spangled Kid, and the Kid’s final meeting with Jack, long before Jack himself took up the Starman mantle. In the flashback, set around the time that the Star-Spangled Kid had founded his own super-hero team, Infinity, Inc., made up of the children of the JSA, the Kid pays a visit to Ted in order to get some repairs made to his damaged Cosmic Converter Belt (just to refresh your memory, the Cosmic Converter was merely a version of Ted’s Cosmic Rod worn around the waist, given to the Kid while Ted was out of action with a broken leg). While there, Jack drops by, a much surlier and more unpleasant Jack than we’re accustomed to seeing, clearly going through his punk stage at the time:
While Jack and his father fight, a call comes in that the Icicle is holding Opal’s water supply for ransom, and the Kid, with a borrowed Cosmic Rod, flies off to deal with it. Now a grown man, Pemberton is beginning to consider ditching the “Star-Spangled Kid” moniker, as he easily dispatches the Icicle.
This, by the way, also explains how it is that the original gold belt wound up in a box in storage in Jack’s shop way back in STARMAN #0.
We next see Jack in JSA SECRET FILES & ORIGINS, where he’s about to learn of the death of his friend Wesley Dodds, the original Sandman:
At adventure’s end, the suggestion is made that the Justice Society of America should formally re-unite on a permanent basis, and the invitation is proffered to all of the younger generation, including Jack.
Even with the problems it caused to the overall STARMAN story arc, seeing Jack complete his father’s legacy by replacing him in the Justice Society was a welcome sight, well worth the trouble. However, it’d be the last bright moment for Jack for a while, as he headed into the darkest and most enthralling story arc in the STARMAN series, “Grand Guignol,” in which artist Peter Snejbjerg truly came into his own, and in which James Robinson masterfully tied up scores of subplots, loose ends and revelations into an equally masterful epic.
Which, it turns out, we’ll get to next week.