THE UNADAPTED: Starman

Posted: August 2, 2014 in Arrow, DC, Flash, Smallville, Starman, The Unadapted
Promotional ad for Starman #0

Starman is a character that dates back to the Golden Age of Comics. For those who didn’t bother with the link, the Golden Age was a time from about 1938 to 1950 when superhero comic books were churned out like crazy and comic publishing became a big business. Many of DC’s sizeable stable of characters were created in this period. Among them was Ted Knight AKA Starman, a science-hero from the 1940’s who had a baton that enabled him to fly and shoot energy beams. It was powered by star-light, hence the name. The character was a member of JSA and All Star Squadron where he was often overshadowed by his teammates and rarely got a chance to shine (Ha! Puns). The character languished until he was revived in a post-Zero Hour series in the mid-90’s created by James Robinson and Tony Harris.

Jack Knight
Ted Knight

The new series followed Ted’s son, Jack. He resents his father’s lifestyle and would much rather collect antiques than deal with supervillains or universe-altering events. He thinks costumes are dorky and feels much more comfortable in a leather jacket than he would in a cape. His older brother, David, inherited the hero-gene and has taken over the Starman mantle from their father.

Within the first issue, David is preparing for his first night as Opal City’s guardian. As he stands triumphantly over his city, about to take flight, he is shot in the chest and falls to the pavement below. This leads to series of events orchestrated by Ted’s former enemies to destroy his family. In the midst of this crisis, Jack is forced to fight for his (and his father’s) life and as a result, becomes a new incarnation of Starman. The comic often acknowledged the idea of “heroic legacy” while at the same time dashing expectations and playing against type. In the doldrums of the 1990’s where most comics had a uniform style and lack of creativity, Starman was like nothing else on the newsstand.

The Shade, an antihero, became
a standout within the series

Jack’s critically acclaimed adventures ran for 80 issues before being ended by series creator James Robinson. In that time, the book collected a rich and well-rounded cast of supporting characters. Jack and Ted were mainstays of the series but they were often accompanied by Mikaal (an alien former-Starman), The Shade (a reformed villain with questionable motives), The O’Dares (a family of police officers) and many, many other colorful sorts. The series is fondly remembered for its fully realized relationships, deep history rooted in the lore of DC comics and complex plots (some of which lasted the entire length of the series). While superheroics did play into the narrative, the action typically remained “street level” meaning that it was usually squarely focused on the characters within the story and avoided being too grand.

Almost…

Because of said grounded action and the character’s cult appeal, he should be a shoe-in for a long-form adaptation, like a television series. In fact, as far back as 2001, Starman was optioned for a pilot. It languished in development hell until it was ultimately killed with the failure of Birds of Prey. Since then, there has been comparatively little said about an adaptation of Starman. There are occasionally rumblings of a feature film or series, but they quickly die down. In 2009, it was announced that the Justice Society of America would be featured on the series Smallville and that Stargirl (the heiress to the Starman mantle) would appear with Jack’s trademark cosmic staff. While Jack himself didn’t make an appearance, elements of his character were given to Sylvester Pemberton, the former Star-Spangled Kid. Sure, he had Jack’s swagger, coat and weapon of choice, but it wasn’t the same. If anything it only got fans more energized for a Starman adaptation, rather than placating them.

If there’s ever been a perfect time for a Starman television series, that time is now. As mentioned earlier, the character is immensely filmable. He has an interesting group of supporting players and most of his important stories (save Stars My Destination) could easily be told within the confines of a television budget. The first volume of the series, Sins of the Father, would make an excellent pilot and not require much in the way of changes. This story efficiently establishes the main characters and would give the show a concise direction for its first season. From there, the series could shoot the difference between season-long stories and one-off adventures, just like the comic did.

Damn, what a cast of characters…

In short, there are precious few comic book series that are so tailor-made for television. With a little bit of ingenuity, respect for the source and a good cast the potential for the show is limitless. Hell, DC could even introduce the character via Arrow or The Flash and tie it into their shared television universe. It would take very little to fit Opal City’s denizens into this world. And what’s more, it would provide a different take on the “hero” archetype than the other two shows, thus not making it seem redundant. Oliver Queen strives to be a hero while often falling short, Barry Allen has always been a well-intentioned hero who now has the ability to do even more while Jack Knight wants nothing to do with being a hero but reluctantly becomes one. Sadly, it doesn’t sound like there are any plans to bring this story to screens any time soon. But if this season of comic book television proves to be fruitful, who knows what’ll be up for adaptation next year.

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