This one’s a bit rambling. I’ve never had the encyclopedic comic book knowledge and retention that my sweetie possesses. In fact, I came to comics quite late, and have relied upon him whenever questions of varying sorts arise. All this is to say that I apologize in advance for the slapdash nature of this post, and any inaccuracies are my own. My fact-checker is busy with his own work in his office across the house.
Starman (Ted Knight) was a Golden Age superhero. A scientist and astronomer, he developed a Cosmic Rod (aka Gravity Rod) that afforded him the ability to manipulate energy, and to fly. Clad in red tights with a star upon his chest and a fin upon his head, he was often allied with the Justice Society of America.
In the mid-1990’s, James Robinson launched a new Starman series. Ted Knight has retired, but his older son David stands poised to take up the superheroic mantle. On his very first patrol, he is killed. Younger son Jack reluctantly agrees to step into the Starman role.
Jack Knight is not a natural hero. He’s long disdained his father’s spandex-clad past and his choice of superheroics over family. Jack distanced himself to focus on a normal life as an antiques dealer. Following David’s death, he finds himself targeted by his father’s old enemy. Anger and stubbornness and some martial arts training lead him to take up the Rod (it’s okay to giggle), later reworked into a sweet looking staff, and the name of Starman.
It’s under his terms, though. Jack insists his father use his scientific genius to benefit the general good, and not keep it solely confined to the hero game.
The story had a finite run. Along the way, Jack Knight fights alongside the biggest of heroes as well as allies from his father’s past. He makes awkward peace with his brother’s ghost. A long time villain, the Shade, becomes a mentor. Their shared love of Art-Deco influenced Opal City is a binding force. He meets the Legion of Superheroes. He meets Adam Strange. He meets the best, most heartbreaking incarnation of Solomon Grundy. He meets Santa Claus.
Jack Knight’s sprawling journey takes him to all corners of the earth and to the farthest stars. Even so, his story is rooted in simplicity. He’s a guy with a staff, jujitsu training, and a decent heart. Ultimately, he realizes that what he missed out on from his own father is something he cannot deny his own son (born of his father’s enemy’s daughter… just go with me here). Being a father is more important than being Starman.
Jack gives the world of heroes one final gift: he bequeaths the Cosmic Staff to a young Courtney Whitmore, later to be known as Stargirl and all ‘round awesome superheroine.
Everything about Robinson’s run – the narratives, the interweaving of DC characters past and present, the art (from cover to page layout), the mythology of Opal City – makes this one of the most compelling and re-readable stories in DC’s long history. Thank your for that, James Robinson. Thank you forever and then some for Jack Knight.
If you’d like a more insightful look at Robinson’s Starman, check out The Dorky Daddy’s take. It’s wonderful.
Honorable Mention: Jenny Sparks, spirit of the Twentieth Century.