Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"There's a Starman Waiting in the Sky" -- A "Comical Wednesday" Post



If I were to try to give a detailed description of every character -- in comic books and elsewhere -- that's used the name "Starman," this would be my longest single post ever.

Ever.

Therefore, merciful s.o.b. that I am, I'm going to spare you the stories of all the Starmen out there. (But this'll still be a long one!) For instance, I'll only give a fleeting mention of the wonderful Starman film from 1984 starring Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen... and only because I liked it so much! 


And I'm going to talk about only a very few of the many Starman characters that have been published by DC Comics during the last 70 years. Here are most -- but not all -- of the "extras."


(Well, okay, I am going to mention the Starman in the upper left-hand corner, albeit briefly.)

Today's going to be a look at the three Starmen who bore the surname "Knight," but primarily about the very first DC hero to take up the role... Ted Knight!

No, not this Ted Knight! Cut it out, willya?

I suppose my first exposure to Ted "Starman" Knight was in this 1964 issue of Justice League of America, but I honestly don't recall his making any real impression on me at that time.


Nope, that wasn't until a year later, when DC's team-up title, The Brave and the Bold, paired two members of the JSA (DC's Golden Age, "Earth-2" Justice Society of America, remember?)! 



Personally, I liked the first story better... and I absolutely loved the character of The Mist, a revived baddie from the 1940s! (More on him further down in this post!)

Artwork for these issues was provided by the incomparable Murphy Anderson, by the way. Anderson is best known as an inker, but he's also one hell of a penciller, as well.

Murphy Anderson and the JSA... a match made in Heaven, IMHO!

Anyway, as I've told you before, fellow babies, I've been interested in many of the Golden Age characters whom I missed on their initial go-round ever since I realized they existed. And something about Starman clicked with me! Can't really tell y'all what, exactly. Maybe it was the gorgeous artwork provided during various stages of his career by artists such as Murphy Anderson, Jack Burnley, and Jerry Ordway. (More on Burnley later.)

Or maybe it was the cool "fin" on his helmet...


The original Starman, who first appeared in 1941's Adventure Comics #61, was really Ted Knight -- I'm providing a link to Ted's Wikipedia article, by the way -- a wealthy astronomer and brilliant inventor who'd invented a "gravity rod" (later called a cosmic rod) which could convert starlight into "cosmic energy," enabling him "to fly and to manipulate energy, at times in a manner similar to Green Lantern's power ring." In fact, later continuity "implants" established that Ted had worked on the development of the atomic bomb during World War II.

As did many of the superheroes of that era, Ted Knight played the part of the "bored playboy," and acted as a hypochondriac, to boot!


Starman joined the fabled Justice Society of America in the eighth issue of All-Star Comics, by the way....


And here's another All-Star Comics cover which I couldn't resist including!


Starman was co-created by a handful of DC editors and an absolutely terrific artist known as Jack Burnley (1911-2006).


It wasn't until the early 1970s, when DC started reprinting some of the original Starman tales from his 1940s run in Adventure Comics, that I first encountered the artwork of Jack Burnley.

As it turns out, Burnley also did frequent "ghost" work on characters like Superman and Batman in addition to his work on Starman! In fact -- and I'm quoting from the Wikipedia article I linked to a couple of paragraphs ago -- "Burnley was the first artist, after co-creator Joe Shuster, to draw Superman... The version of Superman he created was noted for its carefully drawn musculature, which set the style of superheroes for years to come."


Burnley's Batman illustrations tended to follow Bob Kane's style more closely... at least, at first!


Jack Burnley's 1940's work can easily stand up to many of the better artists that entered the field many years later. I mean, I've seen a ton of 1930s-1940s comic books (and comic strips), whether in their original form, in reprints, or online, and let's face it: Many of comics' early artists were well-meaning hacks, wage slaves whose stuff was passable at best. For every Jack Burnley, Mac Raboy, Hal Foster, Jack Kirby, Milt Caniff, Lou Fine, Matt Baker, Wallace Wood, Bill Everett, and others of their ilk, there were a dozen or so whose names have been largely (and somewhat justly) forgotten!

But Jack Burnley? His stuff was gorgeous, especially when standing beside the works of some of his Golden Age contemporaries!


Just feast your eyes on some of these classic Adventure Comics Starman covers!




And Jack still had his "chops" as of 1991, as shown in this recreation of the above cover illustration!

Something else I'd (almost) kill to own... *sigh*





In the 1970s, DC was nice enough to reprint the story that introduced my favorite Starman villain, The Mist! (The following splash page, however, is from one of ol' Misty's later appearances!)


Oh, a little aside here: If you wonder just how dedicated Ted (Starman) Knight was to fighting crime, he apparently wore his costume under his pajamas! (Hey, I never said these damned funnybooks always made sense, right?)


Anyway, before I jump forward from the Golden Age to the so-called Bronze Age, here's a strange fact I learned from the Wikipedia entry on Jack Burnley: "Burnley and his wife, former cabaret dancer Delores Ferris, relocated to Charlottesville, Virginia in 1981. Delores died at Heritage Hall in 2003 after surgery following a fall that broke her hip. Burnley died on December 19, 2006 at the Heritage Hall senior facility in Charlottesville, following a fall that broke his hip."



I'm not going to make a sick joke here, but... well... feel free to fill in your own.

During the 1970s and 1980s, several of DC's comics featured the older, "semi-retired" Ted Knight at one time or another. There was a brief revival of All-Star Comics which featured the modern-day exploits of the JSA. And after writer Roy Thomas (who's definitely one of the top three all-time JSA fans) left Marvel Comics for DC in the 1980s, he created not one, but three series (and a mini-series, and a one-shot "last" JSA story, and... never mind) about the JSA and the "Earth Two" characters, one of which -- All-Star Squadron, set in the 1940s -- had plenty of appearances by Ted (Starman) Knight. Due to the relatively limited scope of this post, I have to ignore all of them. Sucks to be me.

Over the years, DC also introduced more than one new Starman character, unrelated to Ted Knight. They met with varying degrees of success.

In 1988, DC decided to try again with a Starman named Will Payton. In issue #26, who should appear but David Knight, son of Ted, now wearing his father's costume (well, a copy, one can assume) and taking his dad's superheroic nom du guerre


And somebody at the DC offices must have liked me, because they also re-introduced The Mist (temporarily calling himself Nimbus) in that two-parter!


David's career as Starman was unremarkable, and short-lived. In what ended up being the last "new" comic title which I followed on a regular basis, the next Starman series -- which ran from 1994 to 2001 -- featured David's younger brother, Jack.


At the very beginning of Starman's first issue, we were shown David (Starman) Knight's unfortunate end. He was cut down without warning while patrolling Opal City.



The new Starman, Jack Knight, was reluctantly cast in the role. He refused to wear a "proper" costume, and instead of his dad's cosmic rod, he carried a prototype "cosmic staff" which the elder Knight had created sometime during the past few years.



Writer James Robinson developed a mind-blowing take on the Knight family's Starman legacy, superheroes in general, DC Comics history in particular, and (almost) more things than I can mention in this or any other post! He also  managed to fit all the DC Starman characters into the series at one point or another, and if that weren't enough, he created a couple more along the way!

The now-elderly Mist showed up in the new series, as did his son Kyle (who happened to be David Knight's killer) and Kyle's sister Nash, who eventually became the "new" Mist. Nash was a major player in the Starman title. In fact, she ended up giving birth to Jack Knight's son!


Regrettably, however, I'm going to give this highly-recommended Starman series short shrift (at least, this time around, but maybe someday...). And that's because I'm still busting my hump to limit the focus of this post to Ted Knight as much as possible. (I know, I know, "And failing miserably," you may be saying!)



Y'see, Ted Knight was also a "major player" in the new Starman title, whether in his current activities, or in occasional flashback stories -- designated as "Times Past" episodes -- which showcased him in his prime.


As writer Robinson started winding down his imaginative Starman series -- which ended with issue #80 -- he decided to tie up dozens of loose ends. Jack Knight actually retired from his life as a costumed hero, in order to raise his infant son. He bequeathed the cosmic staff to Courtney Whitmore, a young lady in the current JSA now known as Stargirl. (And if you think I'm leaving out scads of detail... well, yeah, you're right. I warned you this would happen!)

One by one, DC Comics has been replacing and/or re-vamping their surviving Golden Age characters, an unfortunate necessity once one has acknowledged that these heroes have been around for sixty to seventy years in "real world" time. Regrettably, this meant that Ted Knight, whose character had been wonderfully fleshed out by Robinson during his Starman run, became one of those "loose ends" I mentioned.



At the very end of an important -- and tragic -- multi-part storyline, the original Mist hid a nuclear bomb in Opal City, where Ted and Jack Knight lived. The bomb was set to detonate at the exact moment of The Mist's death. He then took poison to insure and hasten that end!

His daughter Nash, fearing for her own life and that of her baby son, attempted to stop him. He shot her. Her last conscious act before dying was to hand the child to Jack.

Ultimately, it was the aging Ted Knight, not his son Jack, who foiled the plan, by transporting himself, The Mist, and the building which contained the bomb to a point miles above the Earth!

In their very last moments alive, the two old enemies finally... finally... made peace with each other.


The Mist never lived to finish his sentence. And with his death, an era in comics history truly ended, for Ted Knight -- comics' original Starman -- died as well.

(I suppose if Ted Knight had to die, there was no more dignified a way. Not in a comic book, anyway.)

And unlike far too many characters in the "we make up the rules as we go along" field of comic books, I doubt DC will ever bring him back.

Nor should they. The character of Ted Knight, and Robinson's story for that matter, deserve to keep their dignity.

It says a lot for James Robinson's skills as a writer that this cynical Silver Fox was as moved as I was by a story in a freakin' "funnybook." But then again, that's what writers -- in any medium -- are supposed to do to their readers, innit?


Ted Knight, 191?-2000, R.I.P.

*  *  *  *  *

And finally, on a much lighter note -- no pun intended -- the one "Starman" whom you probably thought I'd forgotten!



Y'know, as corny as it may sound, I'll never hear this song without thinking of Ted (Starman) Knight! But you wanna know something? I'm okay with that.

Heh. Maybe I'll do a little star-gazing tonight...

Thanks for your time.

14 comments:

  1. star man is actually a pretty cool character...i even followed the new star man for a bit as his very casual costume caught my eye...cool post david...

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  2. Thanks, Brian. And thanks very much for being one of the few still hanging around and reading my stockpiled "CW" posts while I've been on my extended leave from other blogging duties.

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  3. STARMAN! You wrote this post for me, right? And you even included my favorite song, a song which has profound meaning even to this day. "Let all your children boogy" indeed!

    Best! post! ever!

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  4. PS: Suzie and I read it together, and we both cried at the end.

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  5. Maybe you like Starman so much because you are a star. Maybe. ;o)

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  6. I've intended to read the Robinson Starman series for years now...your blog post will encourage me to do that soon! I just need to find someplace that stocks back-issue comic books!

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  7. I shame to say that I have never even heard of Starman. But as I read your endlessly fascinating post I became aware that the character reminded me of someone. That manly chiseled face, that athletic build, that planet-embracing intelligence ... it was like looking in a mirror. Henceforth, let me be known simply as Starman.

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  8. @Sharpie: Kinda figured your response would be something like that.

    @AngelMay: Maybe? Thanks, but not feeling very... starry? starrish? starly? Not lately, anyway.

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  9. @Paul: Yep, the last couple of years I was regularly reading the new stuff, Starman and Sin City were just about the only things I bought.

    If you have trouble finding a place that sells back-issue comics, I recommend a place about 20 minutes from me, in Worcester, Massachusetts. It's called That's Entertainment, and is located on Park Avenue. (They have a branch in Fitchburg, as well.) They also sell the new stuff, as well as role-playing games, sport and non-sport trading cards, and tons of related (and unrelated) collectibles! Their website is here!

    In fact, I used to work there in the 1980s, and became great friends with the owner, Paul Howley... and... Hey, Paul! You tricked me!

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  10. @Alan... I mean, "Starman": That's great news! I'll send a note to DC, telling them they have someone to fill Starman's boots if they want to launch another Starman title!

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  11. One again, you add yet ANOTHER chapter to "David M. Lynch's History Of Comics And Other Fables." Good work, my friend!

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  12. Thanks for the PLUG! (I can always count on you)

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  13. Cake not signed inAugust 29, 2011 at 12:59 PM

    Funny odd little coincidence...Mr. Cake announced last night that he'd found "Starman" on Netflix and wanted to watch it tonight. What're the odds?

    (I'm not keeping up with the blogs very well so I'm just seeing this now...sigh.)

    p.s.
    Did you weather the hurricane okay?

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  14. @Cake: Big, bad Irene kinda wimped out by the time "she" got to my neck of the woods. Some areas close to me were flooded, but the worst I had to deal with was loss of power for six hours, plus a lot of annoying twigs and leaves in the parking lot. Thanks for asking.

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