For those of you who aren’t comic book fans, Starman was one of the best titles of the last 20 years or so. Published by DC Comics, it was a book about legacy and history; not only was it the story of Jack Knight, a young man forced into taking up his father’s mantle as his city’s resident superhero, but it was the story of Opal City and its inhabitants, a disparate group who proved that the past still lives with us. The Wild West, Victorian London, the age of piracy and the age of the Rat Pack all came together to help tell Jack’s story. And yet, for such a large canvas, it was really a book that thrived on relationships – relationships between the characters, and between the characters and history. It’s a fantastic book, and well worth checking out.
But let’s narrow things down, because this is yet another of my twelve blogs of Christmas. Reading writer James Robinson’s Starman follow-up The Shade reminded me that there was a Christmas issue of Starman. Published in 1997, with art by Steve Yowell, ‘Christmas Knight’ tells of Jack’s meeting with Pete, a homeless guy with nothing to wear except a stolen Santa suit and no possessions except a locket containing a photo of his deceased wife and son. Only now the locket has been stolen…
The story isn’t, of course, about a stolen locket. Partly it’s about grace – Jack and Pete’s quest brings them into contact with a number of men on the fringes of society, forced into crime due to a lack of food or shelter, and while Jack is the protector of Opal City, he’s also smart enough and wise enough to realise these people aren’t a threat – he ends up giving them money to buy Christmas lunch. “Ain’t you going to arrest me?” one of them asks; “Not tonight.” Jack replies. While this quest takes Jack into corners of his city he’s not altogether familiar or comfortable with, there’s a sense of ‘there but for the grace of God…’ US census data released today reveals that almost 50% of Americans are now either low income or living in poverty. We live in economic times in which any one of us could end up in Pete’s situation.
And that’s another theme of the issue, and of Starman in general – everyone has a story. In other issues we discover that a super villain collects old transistor radios, and that Batman’s favourite Woody Allen film is Crime and Punishment. It’s not a surprise that we learn that Pete is a veteran of the Korean War, that he knows CPR… Everyone has a story. That’s another strength of Starman, its regular hints of stories that we never see, throwaway lines that point to a bigger history than we ever learn. That Big Issue vendor you pass in the town? He’s got a story full of twists and turns and complex characterisation. Sure, we know this in our heart of hearts, but how often do we suppress that knowledge? Christmas is a time to remember this.
And so Pete ends up spending Christmas dinner with Jack and his friends. While we don’t really get to see dinner, the preparations for it that we do see, interspersed with Jack’s quest, point to it being a redemptive meal – one of the attendees is seeking forgiveness from his family, another gets to spend Christmas with the woman he’s started to love from afar, and a former supervillain gives this family of heroes a priceless signed first edition of A Christmas Carol (the film version of which Jack was watching earlier in the issue – as the second most famous Christmas story of redemption and restoration, it getting namechecked twice is important). A joke is made about the name’s of the dinner’s female attendees – Faith, Hope and Charity – but these virtues are present throughout the issue in more ways than one.
After all, it is Christmas.