WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Justice League #34 by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Bruno Redondo, Howard Porter, Hi-Fi and Tom Napolitano, on sale now.
While never as iconic as Batman or Superman, the idea of Starman is almost as old as DC itself, and the DC Universe as a rich history of characters who operate under that title. While several of DC's Starmen have been related, others have completely different origins and power sets, with their use of the name bordering on haphazard.
Since Justice League has just put a few Starmen in the middle of the effort to save the entire DC Multiverse, we're taking a quick look back at all of the major DC heroes to hold that title.
The original Starman first appeared in a story by Gardner Fox and Jack Burnley in Adventure Comics #61, introduced as a scientist and astronomer named Ted Knight. His greatest creation was the Cosmic Rod, which allowed him to fly and manipulate energy. He fashioned a garish red and green costume for himself after he was convinced by his cousin Sandra to become a costumed hero in Opal City. Sandra herself was also the first Phantom Lady, another early superhero.
As Starman, Ted Knight would become a member of the Justice Society of America, and served as a pilot during World War II. Unfortunately, this early part of his superhero career was also wrought with tragedy. His girlfriend Doris was murdered, and he also realized his own part in the creation of the atom bomb. This caused him to have a mental breakdown, and he would eventually go into semi-retirement. From there, he married a woman named Adele, and the couple had two sons, Jack and David. before his eventual death.
Like the rest of the Justice Society, Ted spent years in limbo before recently returning in Justice League, where he returned alongside the team in a WWII-era adventure.
Starman of 1951
Originally, Batman very briefly operated as Starman in 1957's Detective Comics #247, by Bill Finger and Sheldon Moldoff.However, on the post-Crisis DC continuity, the Starman of the 1950s was actually Charles McNider, the original Golden Age Dr. Mid-Nite.
McNider had briefly taken over the role for his friend Ted after Ted's nervous breakdown. Eventually, a time-traveling David Knight, Ted's son, would visit the past and took the role of 1950s Starman.
Mikaal was the Starman of the 1970s, who was originally intended as a one-off character created by Gerry Conway and Mike Vosburg. As a blue-skinned alien, Mikaal could fly using discs on his feet, and, after having his sonic crystal embedded into his chest, could also emit powerful energy.
With an origin that was similar to Marvel's Captain Mar-Vell, this Starman was not at all related to Ted Knight, and his name was actually an homage to a David Bowie song about a benevolent alien. The song mirroed Mikaal's own backstory, that of a would-be conqueror who instead turned on his race to protect the planet Earth. He went on to be heavily featured in writer James Robinson's 1990s Starman series, where he interacted with the Starman family proper. It also featured him as being in a gay relationship, which was a ground-breaking development at the time. Robinson would also bring the character back during his run on Justice League, where he would become close friends with Congorilla.
Created by Paul Levitz and Steve Ditko, Gavyn was a spoiled alien prince who was summarily thrown from a spacecraft after challenging his sister's rule. His latent mutant ability allowed him to survive unaided in space, and he was later given a staff and wristbands to channel his cosmic energy.
Again, this Starman had no relation with any of the previous Starmen, and was to believed to have been killed during the events of Crisis On Infinite Earths. He later re-emerged as the beam of energy that gave the next Starman his powers and went on to become the being called Fusion.
Will Payton is one of DC's more notable Starmen. Created by Roger Stern and Tom Lyle, Payton was a magazine copy editor who was struck by a mysterious energy source from outer space. This gave him flight, super strength, shapeshifting, and energy powers.
Over the course of his own series, he formed a decent rapport with other heroes, and even assisted Superman once. Eventually, it was revealed that the energy that gave Payton his powers was actually Gavyn, and that the fusion of the two may have either been literal, or that Gavyn took over Payton's body. However, he ultimately died fighting the villain Eclipso in the early '90s.
David Knight, the son of the original Starman, took over the role in Opal City after his father retired, even using the same suit and Cosmic Rod. David idolized his father's tales of heroism and relished the opportunity to step into his father's footsteps.
Unfortunately, David would not see much action in publication as Starman. After taking up the mantle in 1990, he was killed in 1994 by an assassin who meant to strike at his father's legacy. However, he still helped mentor his brother from beyond the grave on more than one occasion.
Like his brother David, Jack Knight grew up idolizing his father's past, but as he grew older, he resented it. He saw his father as having put far more effort into being a superhero than being a scientist or a father, and his disgust with the role of Starman only grew with time. After David's murder, however, Jack takes it upon himself to become the new Starman, as long as his father begins to actually use his scientific acumen for the greater good and not just costumed heroism.
Jack himself refuses to wear the gaudy classic Starman costume, instead wearing a leather jacket with a star on the back, as well as a pair of goggles. Utilizing his father's Cosmic Rod, Jack would go on to easily be the most successful and popular version of Starman in a landmark, critically-acclaimed '90s series by James Robinson, Tony Harris and Peter Snejberg. The series was praised for both its groundbreaking post-modern storytelling as well as its world-building, which tied every part of Starman's history together into a cohesive whole. Jack, like his father, would join the Justice Society of America, but upon retiring himself, he would give the Cosmic Rod to Stargirl.
Thom Kallor was actually a member of the Legion of Superheroes. Created by Otto Binder and George Papp, he was known as Star Boy, and he had the ability to change the mass and size of objects.
After time-traveling to the present, he was a borderline insane patient at an Opal City asylum, who soughta cure for his condition while working with the Justice Society. Though his insanity was briefly cured by Gog, Gog's death caused him to once again become mentally unstable. This led Thom to a gravedigger job, where he would find the corpse of Kon-El/Superboy, restoring him to life in the future using the Legion's technology.
Created by Grant Morrison and Howard Porter, Farris Knight was the villainous Starman of the 853rd century, who was a descendant of both Ted Knight and his enemy the Mist in the DC One Million crossover. He wields an alien version of the Cosmic Rod called the quarvat, and travels back in time to kill his hated ancestor, Ted Knight.
While he was corrupted by the villainous tyrant sun Solaris, he had a change of heart after meeting Ted and eventually sacrifices his life to defeat Solaris.
The Return of Will Payton
After years off-panel, Will Payton has recently returned in Justice League. His cosmic powers are the result of an attempt to harness the powers of the Totality, which fell to Earth from the Source Wall. He eventually teams up with Ted Knight and Farris Knight to defeat the villain Perpetua. In Justice League #34, however, it looks like Payton met his end at Perpetua's hands - literally.
For the moment, it's not clear if his apparent death is permanent or what it could mean for the larger Starman legacy. With the return of the Justice Society and Ted Knight and the return of Farris Knight and his future timeline, the DC Universe still has more stars than it has in quite some time.