REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS STARMAN
One of the things I have appreciated about the ever-expanding line of Mattel's superb DC Universe Classics action figures is its increased willingness to venture into areas of the DC Universe seldom trod upon by the action figure world. This unequivocally includes DC's legendary Golden Age.
Consider the fact that in 2010, DC Comics has celebrated its 75th Anniversary. That 75 years can be, and generally is, divided into several notable periods, beginning with the Golden Age. This was when Superman and Batman were first created, and were soon followed by a host of other heroes, whose adventures carried them through World War II, saw them assembled as the Justice Society of America, and then more or less retired in the mid-to-late 1950's, when comic books in general fell into a certain amount of disfavor.
DC managed to revitalize, and outright recreate, many of their classic characters for the Silver Age that followed. Characters such as Flash, Green Lantern, and the Atom were completely reinvented, while newcomers such as Martian Manhunter and others came on the scene, eventually forming the Justice League of America. The Golden Age heroes seemed rather forgotten.
However, a storyline which appeared in an issue of The Flash revealed the existence of a Multiverse, in which an infinite number of Earths existed in slightly different dimensional planes. The heroes of the Golden Age had their own Earth. It was here that Jay Garrick was still the Flash, rather than Barry Allen, and Alan Scott was the Green Lantern, not Hal Jordan. The concept was soon carried over into the Justice League comic book, where annual team-ups between the Justice League and the Justice Society soon became the standard.
Following the Crisis on Infinite Earths, which resulted in ONE Earth and ONE universe, the history of the DC Universe was rewritten. The Golden Age heroes now existed on the same Earth as their modern counterparts. They had been active during World War II as the Justice Society, and an early mission had slowed their aging processes so that they were still somewhat active even in the modern day. Indeed, some still are, as part of the modern-day Justice Society of America, which operates as much as a team of legacy heroes training a new generation, as the Justice League of America operates to unify the best heroes of today.
Although generally not as well known as more modern heroes, certainly these Golden Age heroes, both those who have modern day counterparts and those who don't, are worthy of a great deal of respect. But, admittedly, it's taken a bit more to get action figures of them. If you're going to do a Green Lantern figure, it's likely to be Hal Jordan or Kyle Rayner, not Alan Scott. If you're going to do a Flash figure, it's likely to be Barry Allen or Wally West, not Jay Garrick. But if you've got a line like DC Universe Classics, you can do pretty much whomever you darn well please, and while the modern characters may come first, there's been a growing representation of the Golden Age characters.
Wave 9 of DC Universe Classics saw the inclusion of Wildcat and Guardian. Wave 13 saw the Spectre turn up. Wave 14 has Hourman and Alan Scott in it. I'm still waiting for Jay Garrick, but at least he managed to get into the DC Infinite Heroes line. And Wave 15 has STARMAN!
Technically, there are two Starman figures available -- classic and a more modern character, who is actually the son of the original. And honestly, there's been no shortage of characters named Starman in the DC Universe. The one presently affiliated with the Justice League of America as of this writing is a blue-skinned alien! Then there's the one who was, or is, or will be, a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes, formerly known as Star Boy, tossed backwards in time, somewhat mentally jangled because of it, and whose uniform is actually a map of the Multiverse! And there's the one from the 853rd century who turned up during the "DC One Million" event. He'd be an interesting figure challenge, given that the lining of his cape looked like a "Best of the Hubble Space Telescope" slide show. Frankly, Mattel could have done an entire wave just of Starman characters, and given that the average wave of DC Universe Classics figures consists of seven figures plus a Collect-and-Connect, they probably still would've missed a few.
I'm not at all sorry that Mattel chose the original, Golden Age Starman for the DC Universe Classics line. I've always thought the character had a good, straightforward costume design. Nothing too ostentatious. It looks good, it looks like a super-hero outfit, and the figure will fit in very nicely with his peers from the original Justice Society. And he's one of those character that you wouldn't really otherwise expect to see as an action figure, except for the fact that Mattel is delving into every corner of the DC Universe that they can.
Personally, I think it'd be a kick, were it possible, to travel back in time to when many of these characters were at the height of their popularity, before the "Silver Age" got rolling, before there even was such a thing as an action figure -- although there was no shortage of super-hero based toys of other types -- and just find some way to show off figures of Wildcat, Starman, Hourman, Alan Scott -- and throw in Superman, Batman, and Captain Marvel for good measure -- and just watch the reactions. And with a lot of these characters, it wouldn't even be something to imagine were it not for these 21st century action figures. That speaks a lot to the longevity of them.
So, who is the original Starman, and where did he come from?
Starman, whose real name is Ted Knight, was created -- well, pretty much by committee, based on the research I turned up. He was created by artist Jack Burnley, and editors Whit Ellsworth, Murray Boltinoff, Jack Schiff, Mort Weisinger, and Bernie Breslauer. It's a wonder he ever came to print. He first appeared in Adventure Comics #61, with a cover date of April 1941.
Ted, an astronomer and scientist, invented a device known as the gravity rod, later known as the cosmic rod. Initially intending them for use as a possible power source, Ted was convinced by his cousin, Sandra Knight, a costumed hero known as Phantom Lady, to use his invention to become a costumed crime fighter. As Starman, he becomes the defender of Opal City, and a frequent ally of the FBI. He is a member of the Justice Society of America for much of the 1940's, and, like other so-called "mystery men" of the time, served in the war-time All-Star Squadron.
During this time, the love of Ted's life was a woman named Doris Lee, who often chastises her seemingly layabout playboy boyfriend for his pretended laziness and hypochondria. Let's keep in mind here that character development wasn't a priority in the 1940's, and apparently between the playboy aspects and some of the rest of this, somebody must've figured that what worked for Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent would work for Ted Knight. I mean, what the heck, right?
Obviously, Doris was unaware of Ted's costumed persona. Doris was tragically murdered in the late 1940's and this event, combined with Ted's role in the creation of the atomic bomb, caused him to suffer a nervous breakdown, resulting in him being confined to a mental institution for several years.
Here I have to question the information. To the best of my knowledge, the only time where Ted Knight was confined to a mental institution was a mini-series called "The Golden Age". While an interesting story, it was also very clearly presented as an Elseworlds story, which means that it did not take place in the mainstream DC Universe. I suspect what we have here is either a misinterpretation, or someone who wanted to include it as part of the character's "actual" backstory because of the negative commentary it makes about the use of the atomic bomb -- something I won't comment on here. It's worth noting that "The Golden Age" is not cited in a section about "Other Versions" of the Ted Knight character. Now, in fairness, I don't recall that "The Golden Age" made any reference to Doris Lee, so it's possible that this still happened to Ted Knight in the mainstream continuity.
Like the rest of the Justice Society, Starman spends many years in retirement following the end of the so-called Golden Age of heroes, but returns to active duty to help monitor the team's spiritual successors in the Justice League. During his years as a civilian, Ted Knight married and had two children, Jack and David. David idolizes his father while Jack disdains what he regards to be the silliness of superhero life.
Straman finally retires from hero work permanently by the events of the "Zero Hour" mini-series. Previously kept young by the effects of an early JSA mission, along with many other members of the original team, Ted Knight is advanced to his natural age by the temporal villain Extant. He subsequently hangs up his costume and decides to concentrate on his original love - science and astronomy.
Following Ted's retirement, David inherits the mantle of Starman, which he eagerly accepts, but is killed early in his career by one of his father's old enemies. Jack inherits the title (and is the other Starman action figure in this assortment), but not without some grievances. The retired Ted Knight sometimes advises Jack and, over time, the estranged father and son reforge a reasonable bond. In exchange for Jack taking up the defense of Opal City, Ted agrees to use his inventions more for the overall benefit of mankind rather than strictly superheroics.
Nevertheless, Ted Knight remains a target. His old villains occasionally try to come after him, and during the DC One Million event, the Starman of the 853rd century comes after him, as Ted Knight is in possession of an artifact known as the "Knight Fragment", which can destroy the original Superman in the 853rd century. Believed to be the last remaining piece of Green Kryptonite, it is in fact the disguised last Green Lantern ring. Flung into the sun, where Superman resides in the 853rd century, rather than killing him, it makes him more powerful than ever.
The Starman of the 853rd century is actually in league with Superman's future enemy, the artificial sun known as Solaris. So he is no hero. However, he does reveal a number of details about Ted Knight's legacy. The future Starman is actually Ferris Knight, Ted Knight's direct descendant -- and there have been many, many Starmen throughout the hundreds of centuries. Yeah, I liked the DC One Million storyline. There's some figures I'd like to see...
Anyway, sometime after this, Ted Knight is confronted by two of his oldest enemies, Ragdoll and the radioactive Dr. Phosphorus. Ted is ultimately able to kill Phosphorus by raising him on a slab of concrete and then slamming him into the ground with the slab. Ragdoll leaves peacefully (and, one might expect, in something of a hurry). However, the battle and Ted's exposure to Dr. Phosphorus leaves him terminally ill with cancer.
Ted Knight eventually dies in battle with his old enemy, The Mist, transporting both himself and his enemy into the stratosphere with a variant of his gravity rod, where a doomsday bomb built by The Mist could expose harmlessly. He appears once more as a ghost, talking to his son Jack and giving him his blessing to leave Opal City to life the life of a husband and father in San Francisco.
As to his powers and abilities, Ted Knight had no natural superpowers. His abilities stem from the use of his inventions, the gravity rod and the cosmic rod. These devices channel an unknown form of stellar radiation which Ted is able to manipulate through the rod. As Starman, he possesses the ability to fly, project bursts of stellar energy, light, and heat, create force fields and simple energy constructs, and levitate objects. Extended use of the cosmic rod created a bond between it and Knight, allowing him to mentally summon the rod when separated from it.
Ted possessed a brilliant intellect, mastery of several sciences, and a gift for invention. In addition to the gravity and cosmic rods, Ted created the cosmic staff used by Jack, and the cosmic converter belt worn by his JSA teammates the Star-Spangled Kid and later, Stargirl.
Ted Knight's contributions to science, especially physics and astrophysics, were not fully recognized in his lifetime, but an encounter with the Legion's 30th century hero Star Boy reveals to him that his contributions were recognized, but not for hundreds of years after his death. His theories and writings were so revolutionary that, once fully understood, he was considered a peer of Isaac Newton and Galileo.
Not bad company to be in. So -- how's the figure? Really superb.
As I said early on in this review, Starman has one of those classic super-hero looks. He is not overly fancy, or ornate, but, while he may not be as well known as more popular characters such as Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Green Arrow, and others, he has a traditional super-hero look about him that will readily allow him to stand beside any of these legendary characters and fit right in just fine, thank you.
It is a bit of a wonder that someone didn't figure out his identity along the way, since interestingly enough, the one major dichotomy about Starman's design is that he doesn't wear a mask. He does wear a helmet, red in color, form-fitting to the head, with circular regions around the ears, and a curved tapered fin on the top. However, his face is fully exposed.
As to the facial design -- I doubt that there was much of a standard for the Four Horsemen to follow. Doubtless dozens of artists have drawn Ted Knight over the decade, and we're not really talking about a character who was ever prominent enough to have that sort of conclusive detail given to his facial features. Ted Knight was a fairly standard-looking man of Caucasian race, with brown hair and largely unremarkable features. It's rather interesting what the Four Horsemen seem to have done.
The face sculpt, and I hope I'm not reading too much into it, or something that wasn't planned, looks like something from the 1940's. And by that I don't mean that it looks like a toy from the 1940's -- perish forbid! Rather, the face has a sort of 1940's quality to it, like one might expect to see from a movie star or other celebrity of the time, in keeping with the expected "look" of the time period. The brown eyebrows are quite prominent. The blue eyes are larger than average, and are deepset and have a rather intense focus -- and are very neatly painted. The overall facial features have a not-quite-chiseled but -- I suppose I would call it "classically heroic" look to them. The question that might be raised is -- does it look like Starman? And I would have to answer -- sure, why not? If nothing else, it looks like I would expect Starman to look if the technology existed to make action figures like this back in the 1940's. That's a compliment, by the way.
The figure uses, for the most part, the same body molds as a significant percentage of the male characters in the DC Universe Classics line. The consistency is sincerely appreciated here, by the way. Starman's costume colors are interesting. They are predominantly red and green. That's not a color combination that turns up all that often. The only other character -- that's made it into the DC Universe Classics line -- that I can think of off the top of my head that has a similar color combination is Mister Miracle. And he has a lot more yellow on his costume, and uses a darker green.
Starman uses a pretty straightforward red and green, with some yellow, in a costume that is very traditionally designed. Starman is wearing a red shirt, with green trunks, red leggings, and green boots, along with a very nicely made green cape. He has a yellow belt, and a yellow star, very neatly printed on the center of his shirt. There's also a yellow star on the back of his cape. Hey, if Superman can get away with it, why not?
Speaking of Superman, there is one unusual detail about Starman's costume. He uses Superman's boots, the ones with that little notch in the diagonal top. And I'm trying not to be annoyed by the fact that they're more neatly painted than the Superman figure I have. Mild joke aside, I honestly wasn't aware that anybody besides Superman had this style of boot. Unfortunately, most of the artistic references I could find on Starman, which were few and far between to begin with, came from Justice League/Justice Society team-ups (and those interested in reading those classic tales, I readily refer you to the trade paperback series "Crisis on Multiple Earths), and honestly, there's such a population of heroes in these, that artistic glitches abound. I think this is a case where we simply have to trust that Mattel and the Four Horsemen would not give a figure something that the character was not supposed to have. So somewhere in his history, Starman must have worn boots designed like Superman's.
Of course, Starman comes with his gravity rod. This is a fairly small accessory, that doesn't really fit all that tightly into either hand. I recommend either careful display, or a Ziploc bag. Nicely sculpted, it's about 1-1/4" in length, and metallic gold in color. But this is not Starman's only accessory. He also has a pistol holster on his right side, attached to his belt, in which is contained a very futuristic gun of some sort. This was also a surprise to me. I think I need to track down some of Starman's more classic adventures and find out where this thing came from! The holster is an effective piece, though, flexible enough so that the flap comes up to remove the weapon. The gun itself is silver-gray in color, and very fancy.
Paint details are relatively minimal, but well done, especially on the face. The boots are nicely done, as well. Of course, articulation is superb. Starman is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. The cape is very flexible and doesn't hinder articulation at all -- which is more than I can say for the last time there was a cape anywhere near this color, which was on the aforementioned Mister Miracle, and is so inflexible it does hinder the figure's articulation. I hope we're past that problem for good.
Any complaints? Unfortunately, yes, and it worries me. The right leg was stuck, and in the package, the figure is posed with the right leg posed upward, in a sort of classic flight position. I was able to lower it mostly to a standing position, but not without damaging the joint. Now, it's not as though these figures are going to see a lot of rough play. However, the last time I encountered a stuck limb of this severity was back in Wave 5 -- a good long time ago -- and the last time I encountered a stuck leg of this severity was Lightray, in a Toys "R" Us two-pack, and trying to move his leg into position caused it to snap clean off! I had THREE of them do that in succession, and found out that a considerable majority of them were like that.
How many Starman figures are like this? I don't want to think about it. The cause? I don't know. I'm almost inclined to attribute it to the paint. Red and Green are distinctly opposite colors, and it might have been more difficult than usual to paint the green details on the red figure. But I don't really know. The ultimate cause, however -- is a lack of quality control. There is no reason that this should happen! This line is too good for this to happen, and it sure is too good for this to happen again! I really, sincerely thought we were past the time of stuck limbs, or overly loose limbs. I know that it's supposed to be possible to briefly boil an action figure and get stuck parts to move, but I've found that to be not terribly effective on these for some reason. And really, it shouldn't happen in the first place.
At least I haven't encountered any misassembled figures, but even so -- Mattel had largely dealt with these issues, and I was really hoping they were going to stay dealt with. Someone, somewhere, isn't paying attention, and they need to, before this escalates. Mattel plans to add articulation to certain figures in future waves -- double-jointed knees and elbows. Instead of that utter pointlessness, maybe they should focus on maintaining the present excellent design, and making sure that it works -- because it can, it has, and it should.
Now, in fairness, this is otherwise a truly excellent Starman figure. He looks great, the design and colors and excellent, everything else works on him, and I'm truly glad to have him. But I bring this matter up because I don't want to go through that again, and I don't want to see anything diminish the reputation of these fine figures.
So, what's my final word? I am truly delighted that the DC Universe Classics line is including these Golden Age heroes, such as Starman, Wildcat, Alan Scott, Hourman, and others. Their place and importance in the history of the DC Universe cannot be minimized. They came along at a time when there wasn't even such a thing as an action figure, really. It doesn't mean they're any less deserving, though, and in the case of Starman and his contemporaries -- better late than never, right?
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of STARMAN definitely has my highest recommendation!