LinkExchange FORWARD


A Summary of the Career of the
Will Payton STARMAN

by Joel Ellis Rea aka “COMALite J”

The Will Payton version of Starman was one of my favorite, if not the favorite, DC character of the late 1980s and early 1990s. He was a perfect P.O.V. character, one to whom everything that we old DC fans had long since found jaded was new, and we, too, could encounter them as new again through his eyes (as Power Pack [another favorite of mine] was for Marvel a few years earlier). When he met Superman, it was as if we had met Superman for the first time, for instance. The basic concept was simple: an ordinary, average man who wakes up one day with super-powers from an unknown source. No traumatic origin story. No obsessive heroic type who has trained for decades to the peak of perfection. No superhero parents or mentors from the Golden or Silver Age who pass on the role. Just an ordinary man who lived in an extraordinary world, but in a part of that world where most of the extraordinary stuff was far distant (like, say, movie stars are to people who live hundreds of miles from Hollywood), and suddenly finds himself a part of the extraordinary. For these reasons (among others), I decided to make Starman my POV character through the story that lays the foundation for the massive DC 1994 Summer Annuals crossover. To make sure everyone has a fair chance at figuring out what's going on, and realizing that not everyone has read this version of Starman or remembers it as well as I do, here is a summary of his career. (Note: my collection is still in boxes from my previous move, and scattered around, so this is all from memory — I may be mistaken on some details, but the overall story is accurate.)

Starman #1 opens with national park rangers finding the apparently lifeless body of a man, lying still in the center of a scorched area of ground on a large hill. He has no heartbeat and is not breathing, and shows no other signs of life. He’s long-haired and bearded as if he hadn’t groomed himself in a month, and his skin has a reddish tone to it almost like a sunburn yet different somehow, but otherwise he looks normal. He’'s wearing clothes that one would wear when hiking or camping. When the coroners come to remove the body, they find out something else strange: though of average height and build, the body is very heavy, on the order of several hundred pounds. It takes three men to lift it into the coroner's van.

The body is laid out on the coroner's slab, as the coroner and his assistant prepare for autopsy. The coroner leaves the room for a few minutes, and while he's out, the body wakes up! The assistant faints in shock. The former body gets off the slab and tries to wake the assistant back up, when suddenly the coroner comes back in. “You — you’re dead!!” shouts the coroner. “No, he only fainted,” replied the ex-corpse. “Not him, you!!” The pulse-impaired fellow was of course taken aback by this, and as the coroner approached him, he decided to flee, and lept out the open window — not realizing that this was a national park area in the mountains and that the coroner’s office was on a very steep hillside a long way up. That wasn’t much of a problem, though, as the red-skinned man soon figured out that he could fly!

He flew back to his home, and his sister Jayne is stunned to see him. “Will! Where have you been!? We’d had you declared missing!” “What, I just went on a hike yesterday.” “Not yesterday, last month!” We learn that Will had indeed hiked up a large hill (or small mountain — this being inland California) and had decided to take a brief nap in the sun. That was where he was found, a month later, surrounded by charred ground but himself unburnt in the slightest (except for the reddish skin).

He then showed Jayne that he could fly, and together they figured out some of his other powers. Jayne, being a fan of the various DC superheroes, was ecstatic, and talked Will into becoming a superhero. Because among other things he could emit light and heat, she named him “Starman,” and made a yellow-and-purple costume with a large asymmetric star motif on the torso. She was going to make him a mask, but when he went to shave, he looked in the mirror and noticed his skin being reddish and how long his hair and beard were, and said to himself, “That’s not how I should look!” Thinking of his self-image caused his hair to shrink, his skin to resume its normal hue, and his beard to vanish! He learned then that he could change his appearance at will, so no mask was necessary. As Starman, he looked totally different from Will Payton. His eyes were blank white, his hair a different shade of brown and curlier, and his whole form was bulked up (he had considerable superhuman strength, not quite Wonder Woman or Martian Manhunter level, but probably stronger than, say, Aquaman, but he didn’t need the bulk to manifest the strength — the bulk was simply to look more like a superhero). His face also looked more sculptured and heroic, with bigger chin (complete with cleft), etc.

His first public adventure involved saving a construction worker pinned under a piece of heavy construction equipment. Jayne saw the situation on the news and told Will that this was his chance to make his debut, and he shifted to Starman form and flew into town, and rescued the man, lifting the enormous crane with considerable effort. He was greeted with much applause, and people shouting his name, glad that finally their city would have its own superhero.

Over time he learned part of his origin: an organization of nationalistic extremists in Utah called the Hutchings Institute had sent a satellite into orbit, designed to collect stellar energy, concentrate it, store it, and fire it as a beam to Earth where it would be fed to a team of special operatives, bestowing super-powers onto them. This team would then help Hutchings to remake America the way it “should” be. Something caused the satellite to misalign, its beam striking the sleeping Will Payton hundreds of miles away instead. His body had gone unconscious for the month it took the changes to finish occuring in his body, which probably spared him enormous pain. The Hutchings Institute and its operatives, who finally got powers of their own but considerably less than they were supposed to, and each of them only having one of Starman’s powers and at a lower level than his, were among his most determined foes early in his career.

Starman had many adventures, including meeting both Superman and Batman, helping Superman quickly regain his nearly-exhausted powers after his self-exile in space by exposing him to highly concentrated solar energy emitted from Starman’s own body, and later trying the same trick unsuccessfully when Mr. Mxyzptlk removed not only Superman’s powers but his very Kryptonian-ness during the Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite, during which he also used his shape-shifting powers to briefly impersonate Superman, with his approval), and also including stopping a metahuman hitman with the power to phase through walls (who has since been seen in many other DC books, but this was to the best of my knowledge his first appearance). The assassin phased a plasma gun into Starman’s abdomen and fired, and Starman said, “Ow! That hurt!!” The assassin was shocked at this, and thought that phasing the gun into his abdomen alone should’ve killed him. “What are you made of!?” he asked. “I don’t know!” replied Starman.

He would learn part of the answer later, during Invasion!, when he was not affected by the Dominator “gene bomb” which sickened and threatened to kill every human with the newly-discovered “metagene” responsible for most super-powers in humans. Indeed, Starman was apparently the only super-powered human who was not either an alien, a magic-user or supernatural-empowered superhuman (like Hawk, Dove, or Power Girl, or the various Elementals such as Swamp Thing), or whose “powers” were really technology (Green Lantern, Booster Gold, etc.), to be unaffected — this despite the fact that his origin seemed to be the most classic example of a metahuman origin: an encounter with some energy or other threat which would normally kill (say, being doused with lightning-electrified chemicals, or being hit by a beam from a satellite), but which instead triggers the metagene to activate super-powers. When he wondered why he wasn’t affected by the gene bomb to the Martian Manhunter, J'onn J'onzz casually replied, “Probably for the same reason I’m not. You’re not human enough.”

That remark devastated Starman. He turned to Dr. Kitty Faulkner (aka Rampage, first seen in the Superman books), who analyzed him and learned that he was very well-named indeed — he was in fact a living, walking, breathing (even though he didn’t need to — something he found out in one of his adventures with Superman) star, a stable nuclear fusion reaction that just happened to be shaped like a person. Starman began to wonder if in fact Will Payton had survived that beam, or if maybe Starman wasn’t really Will Payton at all, but only a bundle of space-born nuclear fusion energy that thought it was Will Payton, having absorbed his memories even as it fried him, and had shaped itself accordingly.

Partly because of this, Starman decided he had to “find himself,” so he walked out into the desert, leaving his costume behind, and using his power to grow a beard and otherwise changing his appearance. While out there, he came across what appeared to be a group of Khund warriors left over from the Invasion!, attacking some humans. He intervened, tossing what appeared to be Khund fighter craft aside like toys and was in the process of beating up one of the “warriors” when he heard people shouting, “What do you think you’re doing!?

So it was that a sci-fi movie crew filming a B-movie inspired by the events of Invasion!, produced by Alan Markham and starring actor Spencer Boyd, met their new metahuman stuntman, “Bill Beard.” “Mr. Beard” was able to increase the bang/buck ratio of the special effects considerably. In persuading “Bill,” Mr. Markham led him to what he at first thought was just another prop Khund flyer, but was actually a working prototype of “the future of personal transportation,” a Möhler 4001 . While there, “Bill” helped Mr. Boyd come to grips with the alcoholism and drug addiction that was ruining his career, health, and life, which in turn helped “Bill” come to terms with his own humanity. Markham deduced that “Bill” was actually Starman, as the two bade each other farewell.

Starman had other adventures after this, and discovered that he was apparently losing his sense of smell, but Dr. Faulkner revealed that he actually had to “practice” being human, lest he lose various aspects of his humanity such as his senses. But this ability to shut off his sense of smell at will came in handy once, when dealing with an ambitious non-super villainess who seduced men with pheromone-laden perfume. Other women that Starman met on more friendly terms include the aforementioned Dr. Faulkner, the new Phantom Lady, and Power Girl.

Neither Will nor Jayne told their mother Marie that Will was Starman, but Starman encountered a man who was hit by an out-of-control truck at an intersection while saving some kids from the same fate. The man was critically injured, but lived long enough for Starman to recognize him as Ray Deming, the father who had abandoned the family over a decade earlier, and confront him with the fact of his identity. I don't remember if Ray had changed his surname, or if the Paytons had changed theirs when Ray left them. Will forgave Ray for leaving them, just before Ray’s death. Months later, Marie found out about this, and was extremely upset that Will told Ray before he told her. She kicked him out of the house.

Starman encountered Eclipso, who informed him that he actually caused Starman’s origin, moving the Hutchings Institute’s satellite beam so that it struck Will instead of their team of operatives. He said that he did this for a reason, and that one day Will would aid Eclipso in achieving his evil ultimate goals. Starman refused to believe this.

Other adventures included meeting David Knight, the (eldest, though we thought he was the only at the time) son of the original Starman (Ted Knight), who wore his father’s costume and wielded his Cosmic Rod, to determine who had the right to the name “Starman,” but David was being manipulated by the original Mist, his father’s arch-enemy. This laid groundwork for James Robinson’s current Starman series involving Ted’s younger son Jack Knight, who wears a different, subtler costume and wields an older version of the Cosmic Rod. He and Will never met, but supposedly will soon during the current “The Stars My Destination” arc.

After this Starman series ended, Starman’s next appearance was during Eclipso: The Darkness Within, in which Eclipso revealed the reason for his causing the origin of Starman: he possessed him, as he did so many other heroes. Eclipso’s possession normally has visible signs, including pointed ears, red eyes, and the “eclipsed” face, but Starman’s shape-shifting ability enabled Eclipso to hide these effects, so that he was able to use Starman to infiltrate the heroes, and almost succeeded in absorbing all of their abilities permanently. During this infiltration, at one point the Eclipsed Starman shape-shifted himself into Metamorpho’s form, and while in that form was also able to transform into gas, just like Metamorpho himself can, even though Starman had never before taken a non-human form. Starman was crucial in Eclipso’s temporary defeat. After being freed from the possession, he was so angered that Eclipso had used him for evil, that he seemingly sacrificed his own life by detonating himself in a massive explosion of solar energy inside the abdomen of Eclipso’s massive body (formed from his own Black Diamond Palace on the Moon), along with Dr. Bruce Gordon’s solar energy bomb — solar energy being the one force that could harm Eclipso. This happened in E:TDW #2. Starman thus apparently died a true hero’s death. Eclipso was dispersed and his Moon base destroyed, but he reformed himself soon after on Earth, as told in the Eclipso regular series (remember from the Introduction to this crossover that the origin of Eclipso as given later in that series does not apply to this alternate DC history).

This was the last that has been seen in current continuity (not counting flashbacks) of the Will Payton Starman, though he should appear shortly in the current Starman series. Jack Knight has learned that his girlfriend “Sadie” is actually Jayne Payton, who became lovers with him to persuade him to find her brother, whom she is convinced is not dead, but out in space somewhere. Jack is currently on that quest in the current Starman books as I write this. He will find Will held captive on the planet of yet another Starman, the late Prince Gavyn who died during the Crisis on Infinite Earths.

In my “Alternate DC of Five Years Ago,” in the pages of Showcase ’94, we’ll find out what happened in this alternate reality, following the events of E:TDW #2. This story takes place months ago, before the other stories being published at the same time in Showcase ’94. It consists largely of flashbacks, which happen still earlier, indeed beginning right with the end of E:TDW #2. This story is entitled, appropriately enough, “Starman: Life After Death” and will run in four parts, from the February through May issues. Following that will be the Unknown Crossover.

  1. The Möhler 400 was described in two issues of Starman published around January 1990. In the letter column, the writer thanked the Möler company for providing drawings and specs on the Möhler 400. Turns out that it actually exists, at least in early prototype form. A year later, the January 1991 issue of either Popular Mechanics or Popular Science (I can’t remember which) had a cover story on it, looking just like it did in the comic. It’s basically a real-life Jetsons car. It seats two, is about the size of a sports car, can take off from a driveway and land in a mall parking lot (and vice-versa — true VTOL), is computer-controlled so that it’s extremely easy to fly, runs on automotive premium unleaded gasoline, can fly well over 200mph at an altitude of something like 20‚000', with a range of several hundred miles before refueling. It is not a car, not a plane, or any other current class of vehicle, but is the first of a whole new category of vehicles: the volanter (a French term). I find it fascinating that a DC superhero comic scooped P.M./P.S. by over a year on such a major technological innovation! (return to referencing text)

All characters are ™ DC Comics
"alt.showcase.94" concept by Joel Ellis Rea.
This story is © 1999 by Joel Ellis Rea.