Golden Age Starman Archives volume 1


By Jack Burnley, Gardner Fox, Alfred Bester, Ray Burnley & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-622-4 (HB)

After the staggering success of Superman and Batman, National Comics/DC rapidly launched many new mystery-men in their efforts to capitalise on the phenomenon of superheroes, and – from our decades-distant perspective – it’s only fair to say that by 1941 the editors had only the vaguest inkling of what they were doing.

Since newest creations The 6Sandman, The Spectre and Hourman were each imbued with equal investments of innovation, creativity and exposure, the editorial powers-that-be were rather disappointed that these additions never took off to the same explosive degree.

Publishing partner but separate editorial entity All American Comics had meanwhile generated a string of barnstorming successes like The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and radio sensation Hop Harrigan and would imminently produce the only rival to Superman and Batman’s status when Wonder Woman debuted late in the year.

Of course, AA had the brilliantly “in-tune” creative and editorial prodigy Sheldon Mayer to filter all their ideas through …

Thus, when Starman launched in the April 1941 issue of Adventure Comics (relegating Sandman to a back-up role in the venerable heroic anthology), National/DC trusted in craft and quality rather than some indefinable “pizzazz”. The editors were convinced the startlingly realistic, conventionally dramatic illustration of Hardin “Jack” Burnley would propel their newest concept to the same giddy heights of popularity as the Action Ace and Gotham Guardian.

Indeed, the strip – always magnificently drawn and indisputably one of the most beautiful of the period – was further blessed with mature and compelling scripts by Gardner Fox and Alfred Bester: compulsive and brilliant thrillers and even by today’s standards some one of the very best comics ever produced.

However – according to the artist in his Foreword to this stunning deluxe hardback collection – that was possibly the problem. Subtle, moody, slower-paced stories just didn’t have the sheer exuberance and kinetic energy of the most popular series, which all eschewed craft and discipline for spectacle and all-out action.

Happily, these days with an appreciably older and more discerning audience, Starman’s less-than-stellar career in his own time can be fully seen for the superb example of Fights ‘n’ Tights wonderment it truly is, and – in his anniversary years – cries out for a definitive archival collection… especially since his legacy descendant Stargirl is a big shot TV sensation…

This epic collection reprints the earliest astounding exploits of the Astral Avenger from Adventure Comics #61-76 (spanning April 1941- July 1942), including some of the most iconic covers of the Golden Age, by Burnley and, latterly, wonder-kids Joe Simon & Jack Kirby.

Burnley came up with the Starman concept but, as was often the case, a professional writer was assigned to flesh out and co-create the stories. In this case said scribe was the multi-talented Gardner Fox who wrote most of them. The illustrator also liberally called on the talents of his brother Dupree “Ray” Burnley as art assistant, and sister Betty as letterer to finish the episodes in sublimely cinematic style.

In those simpler times origins were far less important than today, and the moonlit magic here begins with ‘The Amazing Starman’ from #61 as America suddenly suffers a wave of deadly electrical events. Appalled and afraid, FBI chief Woodley Allen summons his latest volunteer operative. Bored socialite Ted Knight promptly abandons his irate date Doris Lee to assume his mystery man persona, flying off to stop the deranged scientist behind all the death and destruction.

Almost as an aside we learn that secret genius Knight had previously discovered a way to collect and redirect the energy of Starlight through an awesome handheld device he calls a “gravity rod” and resolved to do only good with his discoveries…

The intrepid adventurer tracks diabolical Dr. Doog to his mountain fortress and spectacularly decimates the subversive Secret Brotherhood of the Electron.

In #62 the Sidereal Sentinel met another deadly deranged genius who had devised a shrinking ray. It even briefly diminishes Starman before the sky warrior extinguishes ‘The Menace of the Lethal Light’, after which ‘The Adventure of the Earthquake Terror’ (#63) depicts the nation attacked by foreign agent Captain Vurm, using enslaved South American tribesmen to administer his grotesque ground-shock engines. He too falls before the unstoppable cosmic power of harnessed starlight. America was still neutral at this time, but the writing was on the wall and increasingly villains sported monocles and Germanic accents…

Adventure Comics #64 pits the Astral All-Star against a sinister mesmerist who makes men slaves in ‘The Mystery of the Men with Staring Eyes’, after which – behind a stunning proto-patriotic cover – Starman solves ‘The Mystery of the Undersea Terror’, wherein the ship-sinking League of the Octopus proves another deadly outlet for the greedy genius of The Light…

‘The Case of the Camera Curse’ in #66 layered a dose of supernatural horror into the high-tech mix as Starman tackles a crazed photographer employing a voodoo lens to enslave and destroy his subjects, before #67’s ‘The Menace of the Invisible Raiders’ introduced the Astral Avenger’s greatest foe. The Mist devised a way to make men and machines imperceptible and would have conquered America with his unseen air force had not the Starry Knight stopped him…

Alfred Bester provides a searing patriotic yarn for #68 as ‘The Blaze of Doom’ sees Starman quenching a forest fire and uncovering a lumberjack gang intent on holding America’s Defence effort to ransom, after which Fox was back for #69’s ‘The Adventure of the Singapore Stranglers’ in which the heavenly hero stamps out a sinister cult. In actuality, the killers were sadistic saboteurs of a certain aggressive Asiatic Empire. American involvement in WWII was mere months away…

The martial tone continued in ‘The Adventure of the Ring of Hijackers’ as Starman battles Baron X, whose deadly minions are wrecking American trains carrying munitions and supplies to embattled British convoy vessels, although a welcome change of pace came in #71 when ‘The Invaders from the Future’ strike. Brigands from Tomorrow are bad enough, but when Starman discovers one of his old enemies had recruited them, all bets are off…

In #72, an Arabian curse seems the reason explorers are dying of fright, but the ‘Case of the ‘Magic Bloodstone’ proves to have a far more prosaic – if no less sinister – cause…

With Adventure Comics #73, Starman surrendered the cover-spot, as dynamic duo Simon & Kirby took over ailing strips Paul Kirk, Manhunter and Sandman. However, ‘The Case of the Murders in Outer Space’ proved the Knight Errant was not lacking in imagination or dynamic quality, as he matches wits with a brilliant mastermind murdering heirs to a Californian fortune by an unfathomable method before disposing of the bodies in an utterly unique manner…

Sinister science again reigned in #74 as ‘The Case of the Monstrous Animal-Men’ finds the Starlight Centurion tragically battling ghastly pawns of a maniac who turns men into beasts, whilst #75’s ‘The Case of the Luckless Liars’ details how Ted Knight’s initiation into a millionaires’ fibbing society leads to Starman becoming a hypnotised terror tool of deadly killer The Veil

This initial foray into darkness ends with a rollicking action riot in ‘The Case of the Sinister Sun’ wherein cheap thugs of the Moroni Gang upgrade their act with deadly gadgets: patterning themselves after the solar system in a blazing crime blitz until Starman eclipses them all…

Enthralling, engaging and fantastically inviting, these Golden Age adventures are a lost high-point of the era – even if readers of the time didn’t realise it – and offer astonishing thrills and amazing chills for today’s sophisticated readership. Starman’s exploits are some of the best but most neglected thrillers of those halcyon days, but modern tastes will find them are far more in tune with contemporary mores. This book is a truly terrific treat for fans of mad science, mystery, murder and stylish intrigue…
© 1941, 1942, 2000 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.