'Stargirl': Ted Knight to Batman, a complicated legacy of superheroes who bore the 'Starman' name
If you thought 'Into the Spider-Verse' was confusing with its multiple Spider-Men from all corners of the multiverse, you would be in for a MUCH harder time figuring out the legacy of DC Comics' Starman. The name of the superhero who inspired Stargirl has been taken up by more men than Batman has sidekicks. And speaking of Batman, even he took up the mantle of Starman for a brief adventure. Whatever it is about the name, it's one that DC Comics comes back to time and again. We take a look at some of the most influential Starmen of them all.
The man who started it all. Introduced in 1941 by Gardner Fox and Jack Burnley in 'Adventure Comics' #61, Ted Knight created the gravity rod — later known as the cosmic rod — which allowed him to harness latent "radiated starlight" from the atmosphere. His cosmic rod allowed him to manipulate the forces of gravity, as well as emit energy to deal with whatever foes he came across. He was very much a product of the Golden Age of comics — his red suit, finned helmet and green cape is not a look that's aged well and it is a design Starmen have avoided using later.
The younger son of Ted Knight, Jack Knight, was a reluctant superhero. His older brother, David, was the one who volunteered to take on the Starman mantle. When David was killed by the Mist, Jack agreed to become a superhero on the condition that his father uses his technological prowess to help better mankind. Introduced in a highly acclaimed series written by James Robinson, Jack Knight's story centered around themes of legacy as he fought beside the various Starmen through history, determined to do things his way. He eschewed a superhero costume and wielded an upgraded version of his father's gravity rod — the Cosmic Staff — which he would later pass on to Stargirl.
The Starman of the 80s, created by Roger Stern and Tom Lyle, Will Paxton's origin has been retconned a few times. In one version, he received his powers after being hit with essence of yet ANOTHER Starman — the alien Prince Gavynn. More recently, however, he was brought to the present in the pages of Scott Snyder's 'Justice League' run, playing a pivotal role in the cosmic events of the series. The energy that gave him his powers was retconned to not have come from Prince Gavynn but from a part of the enigmatic, all-powerful Totality itself.
Despite the many, many, many people who have taken up the Starman name, the Starman that is featured on DC Universe's 'Stargirl' never actually took up the name in the comics. Sylvester Pemberton's name was Star-Spangled Kid in the comics, with his adult sidekick Stripesy, who joined him on the Seven Soldier of Victory team. When Sylvester grew up, he took on a new name, Skyman, though he later revealed to Ted Knight that he had considered calling himself Starman.
Joel McHale's version of Starman seems to be a mix of the various Starmen who have appeared through DC's complicated history, but the name he uses is Sylvester Pemberton — the hero whose costume was modified by Stargirl.
Honorary mention: Batman
Though it was only for a single issue, Batman himself took on the Starman name, with a bright yellow and red costume that even outshone Robin's. After Batman was given an artificially induced fear of bats and all bat-shaped things, he took on a new persona as Starman so he would never again have to look at a bat-like thing in ANY shape or form. By the end of the issue, with some help from Robin, he gets over his phobia, and that version of Starman is never seen again.
The legacy of Starman is one of DC's most tangled and confusing, spanning its entire history. Some who took on the Starman name have nothing to do with any of the others, while some are directly connected to the main legacy. Though there have been many Starmen over the years, however, there has only ever been one Stargirl and that's Courtney Whitmore.
'Stargirl' releases May 11 on DC Universe.