Adventure Comics

Starman in Adventure Comics #467-478

Adventure Comics #470 cover

"First Encounter!"/"Uneasy Lies the Crown!"/"Death in a Dark-Starred Void!"/"To Die A-Borning!"/"Starman Must Die!"/"...And Only One Shall Survive!"/"Twixt Hammer and Anvil!"/"The Chains that Bind!"/"In Battle Joined!"/"Crown or Coffin!"/"The Search for Mn'Torr!"/"..And Death's Icy Touch Shall Come Searching"

Written by Paul Levitz
Penciled by Steve Ditko
Inked by Romeo Tanghal
Colored by Adrienne Roy and Glynis Oliver
Lettered by Gaspar Saladino and Milt Snapinn

I was completely unaware of Steve Ditko's Starman until he showed up as cannon fodder in an episode of Justice League Unlimited. Intrigued, I tracked down the 1979 issues of Adventure Comics that featured the character.

These twelve issues represent most of Starman's appearances (except for the final wrap-up to this storyline in DC Comics Presents, his ignominious death in Crisis on Infinite Earths, and a few scattered mentions in James Robinson's Starman series.) The plot is pretty simple: "Starman" is Prince Gavyn, one of the potential heirs to the throne of a galactic empire. When his sister Clryssa ascends to the throne, tradition demands that Gavyn be executed — but he's saved at the last second by a mysterious alien named Mn'torr. Mn'torr reveals that Gavyn has evolved far beyond the rest of his species, and can manipulate the energies of the stars themselves. With his newfound powers, Gavyn secretly aids his sister in her battles against aliens and the scheming Lord Oswin.

As stories go, this isn't a bad one. The names are silly and there are some weird subplots I could have lived without (Empress Clryssa falls in love with Starman, because she doesn't realize that he's her brother), but in general, Paul Levitz tries to keep everything simple and moving forward. Unfortunately, what works for an eight page story tends to fall apart when you can read the whole saga at once. You're constantly being reminded of what happened eight pages ago, and there's no time to stop and smell the roses. Interesting concepts are wheeled out and then discarded with as soon as Starman's finished with them. In an age where comics are "written for the trade" it's intresting to see one that quite clearly isn't — and suffers because of it.

For me, the real reason to buy the comic is Steve Ditko's art, and he gets off to a good start. His Starman has a powerful, classic costume — bold red and yellow, with a prominent star motif. Sure, the sparkles on his abdomen are kinda fruity and his gauntlets look too much like Captain Mar-Vell's "nega-bands," but it manages to be simple without being generic. The inks by Romeo Tanghal smooth out some of Ditko's rougher edges, while imparting a power to his figures that's more in line with a traditional DC Comic. Unfortunately, the eight page format hampers Ditko's storytelling — he can't really break out the kinetic fight scenes that he excels at.

Adventure Comics #472, p. 4

Adventure Comics #472, p. 4

Fortunately, his storytelling skills are strong enough to make even pedestrian scenes readable. In this sequence from Adventure Comics #472, he pans backwards in the opening panels to introduce new characters, which also allows him to give you a sense of space without using an establishing shot. Consequently, you're able to effortlessy follow the camera reversal and zoom in the fourth an fifth panels. This is the sort of basic storytelling that modern creators should learn to emulate — it's not exciting, but it's not confusing either.

Starman in Adventure Comics is completely skippable unless you're a Ditko completist. It doesn't have the weird edge of his more personal work or the strange energy of his later Marvel work like Rom or Speedball. A mild recommendationto avoid.

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