Last week, I took a look back at Starman: Sins of the Past and a review that I wrote of it a long time ago. Back then, I put forth the theory that the entire Starman series could be viewed as a metaphor for the comic industry at that time.
Jack Knight was the grown-up fan, too cool for superheroes, learning that it isn’t the costume or the powers that make the superhero, but the heart inside them. And that one can indulge in “self-propagating kid stuff” without it coming to dominate one’s personality. You can still be an Indie hipster and a superhero. You can read The Moth and Strangers in Paradise. You can even buy Marvel and DC Comics! Any conflict in properness is in your own head.
This theory was apparently relayed to James Robinson, writer of Starman, at a time when the finale of the series was written but not yet published. Robinson said that it was a good comparison, although he was curious how – pushing that analogy to its’ logical conclusion – I would analyze the end of the Starman series.
That analysis comes now.
In the issues leading up to Starman #80, Jack Knight went through a lot of changes. He lost his father, the first Starman Ted Knight after Ted gave his life to save his city one last time. Jack became a father, having recovered his son from Nash; the super-villain who raped Jack in order to have his child. He made peace with his father, brother and his brother’s murderer thanks to the after-effects of a spell now broken, which prevented anyone who died in Opal City from moving on to the afterlife. And he made the decision, after a talk with Superman, to retire from the superhero business to focus on being a father. But before he could talk over his decision with anyone else, Jack was pulled across time and space to have one final adventure.
Returning from his trip through time, Issue #80 opens with Jack returning home to find that everything is as he left it except that the mail has arrived. With the mail is a letter from Jack’s long-time girlfriend Sadie. She says that she is pregnant and that while she loves him, will always love him and that she would give up her everything to be at his side regardless of the dangers, she can’t ask the same of their child.
She gives Jack her new contact information in San Fransisco and asks him to give up being a superhero so that they can have a life together. Even ignoring his previous decision regarding his son, it’s a no-brainer for Jack to make his choice. And over the course of the rest of the issue, Jack says his goodbyes to the friends he’s made throughout the series.
This sequence is oddly bitter some six years later. The first three people Jack goes to talk to and ask if they will protect his city once he is gone are Ralph Dibny, Sue Dibny and Ryan Kendall. Or as they are better known today, The World-Famous Elongated Man, The World-Famous Rape Victim and The Second Black Condor – You Know, That Guy Who Got Killed In Infinite Crisis Who Nobody Cared About – No The OTHER One.
It is painful to read these scenes years later – seeing Ralph and Sue so full of hope after having helped Jack save his hometown. Even Black Condor, who was only brought into this series as a substitute for Hawkman after DC Comics nixed Robinson’s plans to use Starman as a springboard to bring Hawkman back from the dead, became a likable character under Robinson’s pen and deserved better treatment than he received years later. And I don’t think I need to detail what happened to Ralph and Sue several years later in Infinite Crisis except to say that I really wish DC Comics had gone with Robinson’s reported proposal for a new Elongated Man series to follow up Starman instead.
There are two other things I notice in this sequence that are worth noting.
First, the reoccurring theme of family. The importance of family and the idea that there are different types of families comes up throughout Starman and this issue in particular.
Jack gives up the life of a superhero to become a father. He adopts the alien Starman Mikhal Tomas as his brother, in spirit if not formally. Jack also adopts metaphorically adopts Courtney Whitmore (aka Stargirl) into the family of star-powered superheroes by giving her his jacket, goggles and Cosmic Rod. He says his goodbyes to the three surviving O’Dare Family cops. Mason O’Dare and Charity the fortune-teller are getting ready to settle down and start a family of their own. Even the one bit of action in the issue – an assassination attempt on Jack by the villainous Spider – is motivated by a son’s desire to avenge his father and a family feud spanning two centuries.
Second, the reoccurring theme of change as a positive force. Too often, change is viewed as a bad thing and the stories of nearly every character in Starman can be seen as an affirmation that even the least and worst of us can find redemption.
Jack Knight, of course, starts the series as a selfish prick but grows to become a better person despite his heroism. In one of the best lines of the series, an old girlfriend tells Jack – who claims to have changed a good deal because of his heroic lifestyle – that “You may be a hero… but that still doesn’t make you a nice person.” At that point she is right, but eventually Jack does change for the better. Indeed, every single action Jack takes in Issue #80 is ultimately selfless.
This issue also brings us to a conclusion of sorts regarding The Shade. Considered by many to be the other main character of Starman, Shade’s past was revealed over the course of the series. We learned that despite his playing the super-villain against The Flash, he never committed crimes in his adopted hometown of Opal City and he didn’t kill superheroes or innocents. In Sins of the Fathers, The Shade comes to Jack and tells him that Opal City needs a Starman to protect it and that even with his considerable power he is not one to play the hero.
As the series progresses, The Shade does become more of a hero. At first limiting his role to offering knowledge and support to Jack and the police, Shade eventually finds himself storming into Hell itself to save people and stopping mad bombers. Shade also becomes less of an aloof immortal. In his first appearance, we see him eating dinner alone. In his last appearance, he is welcoming Jack into his home and discussing how he plans to go after The Spider.
This scene is an ironic treat for fans who remember Shade and Jack’s first meeting. Whereas Shade once said that Opal City will always need a Starman to protect it and Jack was reluctant to take the job, Jack is now somewhat reluctant to leave his role as a hero behind him despite knowing that his city is in good hands and Shade’s telling him that Opal City doesn’t need Starman anymore. And Jack turns the tables by pointing out how Shade himself has become a hero and remarking how Shade’s love of Opal City all but demands he protect it – the same argument Shade used when convincing Jack to become Starman.
There are other changes, of course. Life into Death, as Ted Knight passes on but his legacy lives on. Job into Job as Clarence O’Dare moves from Detective to Special Police Liaison To Superheroes to Police Commissioner. Change as Development as Quiet Mason O’Dare coming out of his shell as his love for Charity changes him. Change Coming Full Circle as Mikhal Tomas going from mentally-damaged mute to peace-loving Bohemian to the alien warrior reborn.
So how does my theory about Starman as a metaphor for comics fandom stand up in the face of this analysis. Pretty well, I think. To extend the metaphor, Jack values his time as a hero but ultimately realizes when it is time to give it up. He can look back on the memories fondly. He notes that he may return some day if needed. But for the most part, he is content to end things and move on. Likewise, a comic fan may look back upon their favorite stories and how they shaped them fondly, but how if they are ultimately unhappy with how things are, they must work to change them or know when to quit.
I think that many comic fans could benefit if this attitude were applied to their own fandom. To realize that there is more to life than just comics and that a change is as good as a rest.
I have some further thoughts on that point but that will have to wait until next week.