Chris Peruzzi is a comic book superhero historian who is passionate about how today's comic book heroes are the new mythology for America.
"Star" DC Superheroes
One of the strangest quirks of the DC Universe is the number of heroes that have adopted the handle of “Starman.” These heroes have decided to go with that name when any of a plethora of other names could have done the job just as well. So the question we need to ask ourselves is, “Why Starman?”
I include Stargirl in this because . . . well, you know. I try to be a “woke” kind of guy.
The name Starman has existed in the DC Universe since the Justice Society of America and has continued to the Legion of Superheroes and beyond. Heroes choose this name for their own reasons. Whether it is because they like the phonetic ring of the name or whether they are taking the name to honor a previous “Starman” is inconsequential.
Much like that name “Captain Marvel” is to the Marvel Universe, the DC Universe has an infestation of Starmen, and it’s not likely to go away.
9 "Star"-Studded DC Universe Superhero Names
- The First Starman: Ted Knight
- The Second Starman: David Knight
- The Third Starman: Jack Knight
- Stargirl, Formerly the Star-Spangled Kid
- Starman IV: Prince Gavyn
- Starman V: Will Payton
- Starman VI: Mikaal Tomas
- Starman VII: Star Boy, the Time-Lost Legionnaire
- Starman 1,000,000: A Once and Future Starman
1. The First Starman: Ted Knight
I think a good place to start is with the classic golden age mystery man—of course, known as Starman, Theodore “Ted” Knight.
Back in the days when you could design a superhero costume with a fin on your cowl and still not be laughed at (Adam Strange being the exception as I’m sure it was a new thing on the alien planet, Rann, where he remains its sole champion), Ted Knight fought the forces of evil as Starman. Wearing a cape, red tights, and his “fin helmet,” he used his patented cosmic rod to fly and fight crime in his hometown of Opal City (originally Gotham City, but later it was reconned to Opal City).
As he was already an engineer, scientist, and astronomer, it was only natural that he would keep his prize invention from the Nobel Prize committee and instead waged war against Opal City’s underworld—because that’s what people did back in the forties.
Well, that and work on atomic bombs for the allies.
In any event, Ted found like-minded heroes with the Justice Society of America and joined them to fight world-threatening menaces. After DC’s Zero Hour event, the old JSA reverted to their correct elderly chronological age, and Ted retired.
Ted ultimately died fighting against one of his old foes, the Mist.
2. The Second Starman: David Knight
The short, tragic career of the second Starman, David Knight, is worth noting only because sometimes following in your father’s footsteps is a bad idea.
David Knight, the eldest son of Ted Knight, took the Starman mantle after his father retired. While most people would blanch at the thought of wearing an outdated fin helmet over red long johns and a cape, David embraced it.
In his first and last outing in Starman #0, David was killed by the son of the Mist.
This did not stop his ghost from visiting his brother Jack annually.
3. The Third Starman: Jack Knight
Jack Knight is the younger son of Ted Knight and brother to David Knight, the second Starman.
Unlike David, he thought being a superhero was a bad idea. When David was killed, Jack was the next target on the murderer’s list. He avoided almost certain death by finding and using his father’s old cosmic control staff. The older prototype was much longer than the subsequent models as they were the short “hand-held” gravity rod versions.
Jack took on his father’s Starman mantle with his own Gen-X twist. Where Ted and David based the Starman motif on the science of astronomy, Jack went with the mystical practice of astrology. He wore a sheriff’s star with steampipe goggles and a leather jacket with an astrological star chart on the back to top it off.
Jack took the mantle of Starman with the condition that his father would stick to just doing science and staying out of the superhero game. As Jack was already trained in karate and jujitsu, he used his cosmic staff as an actual fighting staff.
This Starman’s adventures were mystical rather than scientific. Jack teamed up with other mystical heroes, as well as the enigmatic immortal known as Shade. He fought foes like the magician, Mordru, and went to Hell to bring back the good incarnation of Solomon Grundy.
Jack joined the next generation of JSA heroes and eventually handed his Starman mantle to Courtney Whitmore—who became Stargirl.
4. Stargirl: Formerly the Star-Spangled Kid
Courtney Whitmore couldn’t help but become a superhero. She practically fell into the role.
Pat Dugan (aka Stripesy) married Courtney’s mom. As the former partner to the original Star-Spangled Kid, Sylvester Pemberton, he stored his gear. Courtney found Pemberton’s Cosmic Converter Belt.
The Cosmic Converter Belt was invented by Ted Knight (once again, the man needed another hobby). The belt grants its wearer enhanced agility, speed, stamina, and strength, along with the neat feature of shooting energy stars. If you’re a natural gymnast, this belt is a gift from heaven.
Courtney originally used the belt and costume to act out on her teenage-angst-fueled resentment for Pat’s marrying her mother. Pat, who was an inventor/auto mechanic, built the Special Tactics Robotic Integrated Power Enhancer (S.T.R.I.P.E.) to help him keep an eye on her. Together they fought crime in Blue Valley as the new Star-Spangled Kid and S.T.R.I.P.E.
Courtney fought alongside the Justice Society of America, where she found “religion.” She went from being a rebellious teen to being a full-fledged believer in the superhero lifestyle as well as the legacy of what it means to be in the JSA. Jack Knight gave his cosmic staff to Courtney as he passed his Starman torch to her.
The post-52 story on her is that she went through Pat Dugan’s office and found the rod, the belt, and a star-shirt. She was told by Pat that the original Star-spangled kid was dead. After going against the Shadow-thief, she found her brother dead and her mother and stepfather injured. She now fights for Justice League Unlimited.
5. Starman IV: Prince Gavyn
The downside of being a spoiled royal heir to an alien empire is that no one likes you very much. Prince Gavyn discovered that he was also a mutant. This was just icing on the cake when it comes to getting dealt a natural royal flush in the luck category. I say this because when you are in line for the throne, you naturally have your share of enemies who would love to see you get thrown out of an airlock and into space without a suit.
It was a good thing that his mutant abilities allow him to survive such things.
His entire backstory screams “rebel heir to the throne.” With that being the case, he needed to get the entire hero package with that. Gavyn received jeweled wristbands and staff that allow him to channel his cosmic powers (sort of like Harry Potter and his wand—the power comes from him; the wand helps him control it) to fire energy bolts and travel interstellar distances.
Shortly after Prince Gavyn won all his battles and ascended to the throne, his body was converted to energy and was fired to Earth, where he was infused into the body of . . .
6. Starman V: Will Payton
I don’t know what the statistics are to getting struck by an interstellar energy bolt to get miraculous superpowers, but in the DCU, it’s relatively high.
Will Payton gained a ton of superpowers when he got hit with an energy beam that gave him super-strength, flight, and energy projections (leave alone a bit of mild shapeshifting). As a copy editor, these powers aren’t very useful, but if you want to be a part-time superhero, they’re pretty nifty.
His career as Starman was relatively short, but he was well-known and well-liked in the superhero community. He helped both Superman and Hawkman when they needed it after they were depowered.
In any event, at one point, it was theorized that he was the amalgamation of both his essence and that of Prince Gavyn.
7. Starman VI: Mikaal Tomas
The sixties were a confusing time and when aliens land on Earth.
This Starman got his name from the David Bowie song.
Mikaal Tomas (aka Michael Thomas) comes from Talok III, and he arrived on Earth on a mission of conquest. Well, he turned against his people because that’s what aliens do when they come to this planet. In doing so, he became a superhero.
He has a sonic crystal in his chest that can fire bolts of energy, and he can fly with the use of “Mister Miracle” like flight disks. The crystal also gives him some degree of invulnerability.
The Talok people have dark blue skin, and in the distant future, they’re represented in the Legion of Superheroes by Shadow Lass.
This Starman is also gay. His partner, Tony, was killed while visiting his parents in New York. And because he’s killed by mysterious supervillains, Mikaal goes on a mission of vengeance. Currently, he’s begun a relationship with the superhero known as Congorilla.
He has been a member of the Justice League and is currently one of Opal City's guardians.
8. Starman VII: Star Boy, the Time-Lost Legionnaire
Medical science is a wonderful thing. When it works and progressed to a point in the future, diseases like extreme depression and personality disorders can be controlled with a pill. Unfortunately, if you’re a time-displaced Legionnaire without those daily doses to keep you sane, you might be left in the care of twentieth-century medicine.
This Starman was the Legionnaire’s Star Boy, and he is a formidable force. When his powers aren’t near Kryptonian in strength, he has the power to increase the weight of anything he sees. Okay, that doesn’t sound like much unless you’re fighting him, and he increases your mass to be that of a white dwarf star. Things can get heavy.
And when you’re Thom Kallor from the planet Xanthu in the thirtieth century and your powers make you borderline schizophrenic, you can manage your illness with thirtieth-century medicine. While on two missions (the first was a mission to retrieve Wally West from the Speed Force, and the second was to help resurrect Superboy), Thom goes back in time, and the trip does not do his sanity any favors. While in this era, Starman spends his time as Danny Blaine (his hero on Xanthu) and as a patient at the Sunshine Sanitarium‚where he looks forward to Taco Tuesday.
Starman’s one love interest is the legionnaire Dream Girl.
9. Starman 1,000,000: A Once and Future Starman
In the far distant future in the 853rd century, Farris Knight, the last in the Knight line of Starmen, used an advanced cosmic rod (a quarvat) while with the Justice Legion Alpha. While betraying his team (it happens when you’re descended not only from Starman but also “The Mist”), he explains that he fell under the influence of Solaris, the artificial evil sun.
After going into the past and meeting Ted Knight, he turned against Solaris and was a large part of destroying it.
Well, the Starmen I spoke of are the main ones. There are two others.
The first, believe it or not, was Batman. Yes, THAT Batman. Back in the silver age of comic book stories, Professor Milo uses a device that causes Batman to fear his own bat brand. He just couldn’t stand looking at anything bat-related.
Okay, stay with me on this one.
Bruce Wayne could not use his bat-a-rangs, wear his bat-emblem, go into the bat-mobile. What’s worse was that the criminal underworld knew this as well because when Batman and Robin cornered a thug, he opened a small box with a bat inside of it, causing Batman terror. Batman’s only recourse was to announce his retirement.
Enter Bruce Wayne as Starman . . . with a star-mobile, star-a-rangs, and star… other stuff. “Starman” knew that it would only be a matter of time before the criminal underground would figure out that he is really Batman and use bats against him again. To remedy this, Robin ties Batman to a chair and forces him to endure bats and bat stuff repeatedly until he was cured.
Then there was the old West Starman, Victor Sono. He came from Italy with his father, who was crippled during the Civil War. Before more tolerant and sensitive times, this was a major obstacle in getting a job as a sheriff. So, bad guys killed Victor’s dad.
Victor was bent on revenge but made the mistake of stealing Jonah Hex’s gun in error before firing into a crowd of mean people. Hex dropped the boy off at an orphanage. Years later, Victor went all vigilante and killed corrupt sheriffs. After he killed them, he’d collect their tin stars and add them to his coat.
Hence, a “star” man.
There Are Many Starmen in the DC Universe
A year or so ago, I wrote an article about the legacies of “Captain Marvel.” There are Captain Marvels everywhere, and, more than anywhere else, they were in the Marvel Universe.
Well, the DC Universe has an infestation of Starmen.
If the character isn’t a Starman, he’ll be a star-spangled one. It’s just the way among Starpeople.
I was also inspired by the old 1984 movie Starman, starring Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen. There are things about that movie that sticks to a comic book lover and lover of the superhero genre. My favorite line of the movie is from Starman himself.
“Shall I tell you what I find beautiful about you? You are at your very best when things are worst.”
It’s an inspirational line from an optimistic fan of Earth. I can’t say a lot to support that as I’m still a fan of the Joker’s thesis in The Dark Knight Returns. He said something about humanity and how they’d eat each other. What can I say? People don’t impress me.
But I digress. Star people are the thing in the DCU. Whether they be actual extraterrestrials, beneficiaries of extraterrestrials, fans of astronomy or astrology, or just people who are patriotic of the stars and stripes, they like using “star” in their handle.
As a writer, my bottom line boils down to the story. If the star-hero protagonist is part of a good story or a good series of stories, I’ll be buying that title. I found the adventures of Jack Knight to be the best ones. The writers, James Robinson and Tony Harris, hit a hole in one when they decided to use a Gen-X slacker who studied karate and was essentially a retro-geek hero. Throw in a legacy that he didn’t want into the mix, and you’ve got some good reading.
The Jack Knight series of Starman was, in itself, an homage to all Starmen as the writers would bring a different (or even deceased), Starman, into the plot.
I think the name, despite its plainness, is magical.
Without the context of the hero, it conjures images of an extraordinary man. The stars have fascinated mankind since the first caveman looked out upon the night sky and saw pinpricks of light. The stars are beautiful. Before astronomers attempted to exorcise that magic away, children would wish upon a star. And even astronomers and physicists think they are beautiful.
Whether they say a star is a gas giant or a sun that has gone supernova, the fact is that its light that is continuously traveling the universe to us is a phenomenon that has already happened thousands or millions of years ago.
So, the simple name, “Starman,” is cool. What we can see with it, very much like stars, is that when one burns out or dies, their light shines on from one hero to another . . . to another . . . to another.
© 2021 Christopher Peruzzi