There’s something special about writing and documenting comics history. Part of it is celebrating cherished things, part is speaking with favorite creators, and yet another part of it is just starting a conversation amongst fans.
Back Issue Magazine, published by TwoMorrows, is one of those magazines that I both love and dread. I love reading it, and contributing articles to it, but, if I am truthful, I kind of dread it because I always find every article so compelling. I find I’ve got to carve out big chunks of time to read it.
But hey, if that’s my worst problem life isn’t so bad, right?
Here’s an opening excerpt of my latest article, focusing on one of DC’s many Starmen characters. It was a kick to research and write, and here you’ll even see insights from fellow Pop Culture Squad columnist Mike Gold in this excerpt (and more in the full article).
Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art — John Keats
Imagine creating a comic hero with a proud historical name, the everyman quality of Marvel Comics and a unique fresh setting. It seems like a foolproof recipe for success. Instead, like a competent athlete overshadowed by a younger brother’s extraordinary success, the 1988 Starman’s fame was eclipsed. He would be relegated to the bargain boxes at the local comic shop and occasional guest appearances.
But there was something wonderful and bright and optimistic about this 1988 Starman series. Like a glance up into a sky full of stars on a summer night, this comic was full of hope, wonder and potential.
Another Star Is Born
While the name Starman has a long history, this incarnation of Starman was meant to be something new and different. In the first issue, editor Bob Greenberger provided two text pieces. “Star Light, Star Bright, Fourth Star I See Tonight” explained the history of the various Starmen who preceded this character. The second text piece, “The Rebirth of Starman” ran on the inside back cover (!) and detailed how Mike Gold challenged him to create a hero from an existing name.
“The retailers didn’t want to bet on the same thing,” said Gold. “They wanted to give something new a try.”
As Greenberg recounted, creating a new Hourman was of interest, but that name was already in use in Infinity, Inc. And so, they moved on to Starman. The company-wide Invasion series was also being planned, and there were natural synergies that could be leveraged with Starman. Greenberg also detailed how he recruited writer Roger Stern and artist Tom Lyle.
The first issue got things rolling along quickly. Readers are introduced to a hiker who is found in the wilderness. It’s all very mysterious and creepy. Soon the hiker, Will Payton, is on the run from the authorities, discovers his powers, and tries to sort it all out.
His saving grace, in his evolution to becoming a superhero, is his sister Jayne. She’s what we would today call a Fangirl. Jayne has a deep knowledge of how superheroes operate and has the skills to design his costume.
Ed Konecny of Comics, Etc. has fond memories of the character. “Unlike most characters at the time, there was no direct lineage to the last generation of hero,” said Konecny. “Ted Knight (the original Starman) had long since been obscured by the Crisis events. Golden age characters had lost their appeal and the rise of characters of “true grit”. Amongst the strangeness of the late eighties, a story about a lone hiker being found within a circle charred into the ground, and without a mark on him, smacked of aliens and the title Starman was still fresh from Jeff Bridges attempt to bring a character of the same name.”
For more on this Starman, and so many other Starmen, grab a copy of Back Issue #133, on sale now at finer comic shops. You can also buy it directly from TwoMorrows. Tell them Ed sent ya.