Starman | Origin | The Basic Pattern of the Scripts | The Mist | Saboteurs | Crime Stories
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These best Starman stories are preceded by their issue number.
The Golden Age Starman has two great merits. One is the beautiful art of Jack Burnley. Image after image is beautifully executed, and pleasing to the eye. Burnley was a fine draftsman. His professional quality work could have graced any age of comics, from the 1940's to the present. His specialty is the human figure. Burnley's work is especially oriented to the good and the noble. He likes heroes. The art depicting Starman, and his secret identity Ted Knight, is at the center of most of his compositions. Like Michelangelo, Burnley's heroes are always well-muscled, idealized men. Burnley does not concentrate on villains. His best known villain, The Mist, is not grotesque; rather he is a man whose body is mainly hidden by a cloud of mist. The mist art-work is beautiful. Burnley was also good at moody, nocturnal landscapes. These too are big on melancholy, suspenseful atmospherics. They do not have an atmosphere of horror.
The other merit of the Starman tales is as escapist adventure stories. It is fun to imagine oneself as one of the characters in these stories, having these adventures. This is partly due to the scripts, and partly to Burnley's art. This element of adventure is not the most academically prestigious aspect of storytelling today. But it is present in the series. As Burnley takes us to great caverns in Kentucky, or along a huge spiral ramp, or flying through the night, it is hard not to feel a rush of excitement. All of these images have been re-thought through in Burnley's imagination. He presents each clearly and forcefully, as the most prominent part of his composition.
Burnley has little interest in cities, or in urban life. His characters do indeed like to go out to night-clubs or movies, but they are just as at home in country mansions or yachts. This gives the tales a very different flavor from Superman or Batman. Starman actually lives in Gotham: not Gotham City, but just plain Gotham. It is not clear if this is the same city in which Batman lives. It is certainly a clone of New York City. However, we see very little of this city. Burnley does like to show the outside upper stories of buildings, deserted and at night. There is a moody grandeur and loneliness to such shots.
Jack Burnley is sure that this first tale was not scripted by Gardner Fox, but otherwise he does not know its author. By contrast, the Grand Comics Database is skeptical of this, and ascribes it to Fox, pointing out that it is in Fox's writing style. I have no proof one way or another, but tend to think that the Grand Comics Database has a point. The story is quite similar to many subsequent tales written by Fox. On the other hand, Fox could simply have used this tale as a model when he went on to write his stories.
The opening pages showing the different ways the power and electrical supply could be attacked are both imaginative and frightening. They reflect the deep fears of Americans that Hitler might be readying an attack on the US, which indeed he was. The paranoia that grips each episode of Starman, showing the American nation under siege, was in fact not too far off from real life. The menaces in Starman are more science fictional than those of the real world. But even here, the difference is not as great as might be supposed. Real life Nazi rockets scientists such as Werner Von Braun were having a devastating effect on London.
Woodley Allen, the FBI chief, is the typical fatherly, dignified figure of social authority that seems necessary for a certain type of hero to function. Long before super-heroes, such men were clichés in spy novels, especially those of William Le Queux. They certify that the young hero of the story is not a loose cannon or a vigilante, but is acting on the orders of patriarchal social authority and the power of the state. There is something deeply right wing about this. It suggests that the state is the source of morality, one that supersedes any moral code, personal initiative, or intellectual promptings. Such father figures were common in spy novels, where the survival of the state was treated as the highest good, but not in detective stories, where the detective acts on his own initiative, based on ideals of justice and democratic citizenship. Greater super-heroes than Starman, such as Superman and The Flash, did not have such figures of social authority in their tales - rather, they acted on their own. A character like Woodley Allen is perhaps a logical consequence of the Starman theme of America under siege, however. He represents the American government, and makes it clear that Starman is acting to protect the country.
The first episode of Starman sets up the hero's powers and characterization, but it does not explain how he got his powers, or took on the role of Starman. It is not a true "origin" story, unfortunately. We also do not learn too much about the background of Starman's secret identity, wealthy young playboy Ted Knight. While Ted Knight is described as the inventor of the gravity rod that gives Starman his powers, neither here nor anywhere else do we see him in a laboratory, or working as a scientist.
Ted's complaints about his health remind one of Zorro, especially in the recent Rouben Mamoulian film, The Mark of Zorro (1940), which appeared just before the creation of Starman in early 1941. In their secret identities, both men are always complaining of boredom and fatigue. Both men are social aristocrats, who are fiercely polite and well mannered, and who use well-bred social formulas in their conversation to slip away and change into their secret identity. Both men are over-refined, to the point of effeteness. It is a rather odd characterization for a super-hero. Both men are elegantly dressed to the teeth in fancy evening clothes. They might act silly, but they always look genuinely good - an important part of their characterization. One might note that Starman's gravity rod is as important to him as Zorro's sword. Both are long, stick like figures, which the hero holds in his hand. Both are the source of the hero's power.
Ted Knight starts out at the top here, wearing white tie and tails. You cannot get any more dressed up than this. Ted Knight is probably the Best Dressed hero of the Golden Age. There were quite a few other society figures of the period, such as Batman's Bruce Wayne. But Burnley had the artistic skills to make his character's high fashion clothes convincing. Please see my list of Heroes in White Tie and Tails.
Jack Burnley had spent ten years as a sports cartoonist before going to work for the comics, according to his fascinating introduction to the Archives edition. This shows in Starman's uniform. Starman's helmet has a flange on top, but otherwise looks much like the helmets worn by football players of the era. Even the ear pieces resemble those of football players. Starman often looks as if he is a quarterback suited up to play for Harvard. The story "The Invaders from the Future" confirms that Ted Knight played football at college, just like Gardner Fox's other character, the Golden Age Hawkman. There is a quality of idealistic nobility to Starman that was often ascribed to college football heroes of that era. He is depicted as a figure of idealized manliness.
Unlike later Fox patterns, this does not end up in the same place where it starts. It is not a complete cycle, in other words. More importantly, it lacks the driving inner logic of other, later Fox cycles. It has nothing to do with Starman's super-powers, unlike the zeta-beam cycle that gives Adam Strange his distinctive science fictional identity. Please see the article on Adam Strange for more details about this cycle, and about how Fox used cycles in general to build his stories.
The Starman cycle has some common features with the Adam Strange cycles to come. We usually saw Adam Strange on Earth, before he took off for the planet Rann using the zeta-beam. This Earth introduction was always a separate, well marked episode in the tale, usually a little story in its own right. Similarly, the Starman stories first show our hero with a sequence depicting Starman in his secret identity of Ted Knight, society playboy. These too are little self-contained mini-stories. Just as Fox showed great imagination in coming up with new locations and events for Adam Strange' opening sequence on Earth, so do Fox and Burnley here try to make these Ted Knight sequences as varied as possible in setting and feel. Burnley is inventive with his hero's clothes, rarely showing him in the same upper crust outfit twice.
The Adam Strange tales placed less emphasis on the villains, than on the high tech science fiction menaces they used to threaten Rann. I think this was partly a matter of Fox's creative personality - he was not oriented to villains at all, preferring both heroes and sf ideas. There is a somewhat similar balance in Starman. We see the high technology menacing Earth, long before we meet the villain behind it, in the Starman tales. And in the later sections of the story, the villain shares space with his henchmen, his architecturally splendid lair, and various traps he has set for the hero. Villains are still more prominent in Starman than in Adam Strange; but they will not be the all-central characters that readers who idolize, say, the Joker might expect.
As was mentioned above, all the ideas that make up the Starman cycle were present in the first tale, which Fox may or may not have written. So it is unclear whether Fox created these ideas. However, he did turn this story into a cycle. He was the one, apparently, who abstracted the plot, and came up with the above common pattern which would appear in story after story.
Starman tales often have a final crisis, in which Starman's life is threatened by a villain exploiting some weakness or vulnerability in his powers. Fox never shows the same approach twice, consistent with his theme and variation approach. However, this also means that these weaknesses in Starman's powers are never remedied or addressed.
This is the first story certainly by Gardner Fox in the series. The shrinking ray anticipates his Silver Age Atom tales. This story contains a duel between a shrunken Starman and an non-shrunken henchman of the Light. It anticipates the many duels between the tiny Atom and his large antagonists. Fox explicitly wonders in the dialogue whether a tiny man can defeat a large one. Then he goes on to demonstrate how, just as the Atom will twenty years later.
The Light is bitter in this story about his earlier rejection by the academic world. Perhaps this is just standard equipment for a mad scientist. But Fox wrote other tales about academics who are painfully rejected by everyone around them, and who then come up with inventions: see the Strange Sports Stories "Goliath of the Gridiron" (The Brave and the Bold #45, December 1962-January 1963).
The Light's name reminds one of Fox's penchant for giving both his heroes and his villains physics-based names.
FOX CYCLE. The Light keeps shrinking different people, over and over again throughout the story. This is typical of a Fox cycle. It is something that can, and often does, happen over and over, sometimes with a change of protagonist. Fox will use this "change of protagonist" on a regular basis throughout his career, to construct his stories.
Perhaps even more important for Fox's future work is the ending of the story. The defeated Light briefly discusses his never implemented plan to shrink all of humanity. Such mass protagonists will be a key structural element of Fox's cycle-based stories. They are often brought in as surprise twists to Fox tales, often extraordinarily startling in their imagination. Even here, in this simple discussion, the idea is quite surprising.
REFERENCES. At one point in the tale, the Light looks at the shrunken Starman, and sneers "Little Man, What Now?". This is the title of a famous anti-Nazi novel (1933) by Hans Falluda. It was made into a film by Frank Borzage in the United States (1934). It is startling to see it in the dialogue. It adds elements of bizarre humor. It also suggests that the well educated Fox was trying to sneak some cultural references into his scripts.
Fox continues his cultural references in the next tale, where Ted Knight is referred to as the "Imaginary Invalid", courtesy of Molière and his play of the same name (1673). He also has a servant named Jeeves, a P.G. Wodehouse reference. Jeeves only rarely appears in the Starman tales, and is not an important continuing character.
The Adventure of the Earthquake Terror (#63, June 1941). Captain Vurm, a Nazi agent, has come to South America from Germany, and set up a machine that can cause earthquakes in the United States. Vurm's origin country is not named in the tale, but it is obvious to everyone. Long before the United States entered World War II on December 7, 1941 (Pearl Harbor Day), the comic books were ferociously anti-Nazi. Many of the comic book heroes fought little else than Nazi villains. The comic book creators did not just dislike Nazis, they hated them, with an intense passion than comes through even today.
The story takes place in a fictitious unexplored part of South America, a plateau hidden by mists called the "Land Beyond the Clouds". Although it is not explicitly identified as such, it strongly resembles the Guyana plateau, setting of Conan Doyle's science fiction novel, The Lost World (1912). Fox includes a tiger like animal from this region, with a unicorn-like single horn on his forehead, and has him fight with the hero in a trap. This anticipates the later Fox animal called the trigrabar, with whom Adam Strange fights in a similar way on Rann: see "The Fadeaway Doom" (Mystery in Space #68, June 1961). Starman suggests that zoos would want such an animal, anticipating the alien animal collecting to come in Fox's Star Rovers tales.
Unfortunately, this story contains an appalling low point for Fox. The Aztec Indians in this tale are racist caricatures, cruel and savage. There are no stereotyped villains in Fox's Silver Age tales, and apparently he outgrew these figures. One might point out that the 1960's Atom stories by Fox and artist Gil Kane are the first Silver Age tales to include non-stereotyped African-American characters. However, it is unfortunate that he ever included such stereotypes in his fiction. What are Aztec Indians doing in South America, anyway - they are a Central American group. The story also makes a contrast to the very well informed Silver Age Fox, who wrote accurately about locations all over the world.
On the last page of the tale, Burnley illustrates Fox's narration showing a spiral ramp descending through the interior of the villain's lair. This looks for all the world like the spiral ramp that will later be inside Frank Lloyd Wright's real life architectural classic, the Guggenheim Museum (1943-1959). Were such ramps common in observatories - the lair here has an observatory-like dome? Or did Burnley and Fox make this up for the tale? Fox would include later spiral ramps in his stories: see "What Happened on Sirius-4?" (Mystery in Space #69, August 1961).
The Mystery of the Men With the Staring Eyes (#64, July 1941). A gang of zombie like men commit crimes in Gotham, they are fearless and super-strong, and seem to be under hypnotic control by an unknown bad guy. Once again, this tale suffers from an ethnically stereotyped villain.
Burnley's art is quite effective in the opening scenes, which show the hypnotized men crawling up the faces of urban buildings, standing on balcony ledges, and so on. It reminds one of similar scenes (without zombies!) in Orson Welles' pioneer film noir, Journey Into Fear (1942). The party scenes that follow also have excellent evening wear costumes. It is unfortunate that this good beginning is not part of a less racist tale.
Unlike the Superman tales, media people never occur in the Starman stories. There are no reporters, photographers or news reel cameramen. The Golden Age Starman tales never give a clear idea about how much the public knows about Starman. This story says that there have been newspaper reports about him, and also shows a policeman who has never heard of him. People who encounter Starman doing his deeds neither seem surprised at his existence, nor awed by meeting a celebrity. Silver Age super-hero stories almost always showed one of these two alternatives, but I suspect that Golden Age tales were far more casual about the public's reaction to their hero's appearance.
The Mystery of the Undersea Terror (#65, August 1941). Unknown forces are causing United States ships to vanish into thin air. This tale resumes the Starman paradigm of a serious threat to the well-being of the United Sates, after the last episode's conventional crime tale.
Many different sections of this tale have a nautical feel. In his Adam Strange scripts, Fox often had similarities in tone and subject matter between his Earth openings and events on Rann, even if there were no logical connections. All parts of the story would have a common atmosphere and feel. Similarly, here he has Ted Knight on his yacht, in a tale that is a sea mystery.
This story, like other Starman tales, often has groups of men hanging around in the background. These function almost as a Greek chorus, adding to the plot, and occasionally delivering a line of dialogue, but not really differentiated as individual characters. The various groups are of all walks of life and social classes. We have the guests on Ted's yacht, and the sailors captured by the villain whom Starman aids. The men in such groups all tend to be dressed in similar clothes: formal wear for the yacht party, sailor's outfits for the captured men. Starman plainly likes associating with each group. He treats them with respect. Burnley's art tends to idealize such men. One can see similar groups of men in Wolfgang Petersen's movie Air Force One (1997).
CLOTHES. Burnley has Ted Knight in a tuxedo in this tale, on board his yacht. He was similarly clad in evening clothes in his last two stories. However, all three of the tuxedos are in three different styles! So Ted Knight has at least three different tuxes. He must own tuxedos the way other men own suits. All three are black and very elegant. Probably the dressiest was the double-breasted one he wore in "The Mystery of the Men With the Staring Eyes". The one in this tale is a little sportier, in keeping with the bon vivant nature of a yachting party. Ted also owns two light colored ones that will show up later in "Adventure of the Ring of Hijackers" and "The Strange Case of the Luckless Liars", not to mention his white tie and tails.
In his introduction to the Starman volume, Burnley states that the Starman series was inspired by Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon. The elegant men's fashions in the series remind one of those in Raymond's work, both Flash Gordon and in Raymond's previous strip, Secret Agent X-9.
Burnley's illustrations are full of nautical gear. His Navy officers wear fancy dress uniforms, of a kind somewhat similar to those seen in the naval parade sequences in Alfred Green's film It's Tough to be Famous (1932). Such clothes are rarely seen today.
And when Fox has Ted go undercover as a sailor on a merchant ship, Burnley has him decked out in a seaman's sweater and white nautical pants. Together with his black visored yachtsman's cap, he looks like a sailing man. Just as in the semi-documentary Hollywood crime films to come, going undercover here means getting to dress up in clothes appropriate for the part. This is Starman's first undercover role in the series, and the only one in the first 16 stories.
The Case of the Camera Curse (#66, September 1941). A young man develops a magical camera that makes a hypnotic slave of anyone whose picture he takes. The use of black magic in this tale is atypical: most Starman stories are pure science fiction. Even here, however, the magic is combined with the scientific properties of film and cameras, to produce its effects.
The relationship in the Starman stories between a crime lord and his henchmen was often one of some form of slavery. In general, these criminal gangs, with their exotic, colorful leaders and an endless supply of brutal, menacing henchmen, remind one of those in 1930's movie serials. There is a very close relationship in general between Golden Age comics and the horror movies, B-movie series whodunits, and movie serials of the 1920's and 1930's.
The young crime leader in this tale is what we would today call a nerd. He is scrawny, youthful, and his glasses, bow tie and bad, unruly haircut suggest a complete lack of machismo. It is a type that still pops up today in movies and TV shows on computer geniuses. Both then and now, the situation is one of a socially rejected young man whose technical skills have unexpectedly given him limitless power. Sometimes he uses his powers for good; in this tale, he becomes a criminal master mind. The type seems exclusive to fiction: I work professionally in the computer field, and have never met anyone in it who at all resembles a movie nerd. The media need to get out into the real world, and get a more reality based look at modern high technology.
Even this young crime leader is given a sharp, double-breasted suit. Burnley dresses most of his characters this way. The police officer in the tale has a double-breasted uniform. Such clothes would be the signature of the 1940's, and they were clearly the rage at this early date. One also notes Allen's snazzy dressing gown, also a forties specialty. It has a shiny collar and cuffs.
This story is at its best when it deals with Woodley Allen. He is put into deep trouble in this tale, and Starman helps him out. Woodley Allen seems at his most vulnerable here. The final image of the story, with Starman standing with him arm around Allen's shoulder, is a powerful image of brotherhood and friendship.
This is the first Starman tale with an alliterative title. It shows that as far back as 1941, Fox was turning out alliterative phrases.
It is not clear who wrote this fine tale. Jack Burnley's introduction ascribes it to Bester, the Grand Comics Database to Fox. It is certainly worth fighting over: it is one of the most entertaining pieces of storytelling in the series. The Table of Contents of the Archives edition ascribes it to Fox, and the next episode to Bester, but one suspects that this is just a typo.
This story involves changes from the earlier Starman tales. They had tended to open with a sequence depicting the menace attacking America, and without continuing characters. This tale instead starts in the middle of the adventure, with Starman battling the menace; the flashes back to one day before, taking the tale up with Woodley Allen as before. This gets Starman into the plot right away. It's an ingenious modification to the cycle, one that is followed in the subsequent tale.
Secondly, Starman now has a wider range of powers. For example, he can shoot a light from his gravity rod; it is referred to as "lunar light". There are several such named, specified improvements or extensions to his abilities. None is very radical, but all are pleasant. This super-hero reader thoroughly enjoys such things, and wishes that there were more of them throughout the saga. One of the changes actually contradicts other stories in the series. Both earlier and later tales depict Starman's gravity rod as vibrating in response to Allen's summons. This makes sense: Ted wears it concealed in a holster under his clothes, and he is able to feel the vibrations as a signal. It's like today's vibrating beepers. By contrast, this story has the rod flashing. This is a beautiful idea, albeit less practical - Starman would not usually be able to see a flashing rod under his clothes. A change like this supports the idea that this tale was written by Bester, or at least someone other than Fox.
Other discrepancies in support of Bester's authorship: Allen gets a somewhat different title here, Defense Chief of the FBI, one used in neither earlier nor later stories. None of the other Starman tales suggest that Allen is involved in "Defense". Also, the narration uses "we" here for what seems to be the only time in the series: "We turn the clock back one full day and look into the office of Defense Chief Woodley Allen of the F.B.I.". Giving the narrator sight ("look into the office") also is a strategy alien to Fox's scripts in the other tales. It would be fascinating to see what a full scale computerized statistical analysis of the grammar and vocabulary of comic book stories might reveal. So far, such analyses have principally been done of Shakespeare's plays, and other Elizabethan literature. They might help assign authorship to countless comic book stories whose script writers are unknown.
There is less emphasis on Starman's playboy side here. We see Ted Knight, not at a society function, but as a tourist at a huge Kentucky cave with Doris Lee. He is dressed in a decent suit, but he is basically experiencing a pleasant vacation, something that is far more middle class than many of his previous appearances in the magazine. Alfred Bester would eventually go on to become an editor of a travel magazine, Holiday, so perhaps this travel motif is a natural for him.
Fox keeps to the innovations of the previous tale. It too starts with an action scene, then flashes back. In this tale, Ted Knight and Doris are once again tourists in a nature area, this time at a ranch out West. This is a bit more upper crust than the previous tale, but still much less playboy like than the series' early episodes. Both Ted and his rival Bill Baxter are in the elegant sports wear of the 1940's.
Both Fox and Burnley show their affinities for men in groups. The tale contains forest rangers, lumberjacks and FBI men. All of these are macho, glamorous professions, and are a staple of kids' adventure stories. As in other groups of men in the tales, each group is dressed largely alike: the FBI men in suits, the forest rangers in their uniforms, the lumberjacks in woodsman gear.
Adventure of the Singapore Stranglers (#69, December 1941). Axis agents sabotages US ships. Yet another Starman tale with ethnically stereotyped villains. This story is the worst Starman tale in the series.
About the only good sequence in the tale is the opening, with Ted and Doris dancing at a party.
Adventure of the Ring of Hijackers (#70, January 1942). Starman stops mobsters in the pay of the Nazis who are trying to hijack trains and trucks full of supplies for Great Britain. This is one of the most exciting Starman adventures, with vivid art showing confrontations on tops of trains, trucks and bridges. Most of the action takes place at night, and is depicted by some of Burnley's most vivid art. This tale is just as moody and atmospheric as the early science fictional Starman tales, even though it has no sf elements. In many of the early Starman stories, the architectural features involved the villain's lair. Here, however, we see familiar but interesting constructions from daily life, like bridges and trains. These are at least as absorbing. Many scenes show panoramic views of trains or bridges stretching out into the distance. These scenes tend to be emotionally evocative. They encourage meditation.
In this story, Fox starts with an action sequence involving Starman, one which sets forth the menace. This follows the paradigm modification introduced in "The Menace of the Invisible Raiders". But instead of introducing a flashback, Fox makes the next scene follow directly after the first chronologically. This scene is a romantic one between Ted and Doris, as before, and the plot sweeps forward from there.
Not only Starman, but also Doris is a strong supporter of aiding Great Britain. Such aid is seen as a hope for the future. Doris always speaks her mind in the series, and is vigorous and sensible. These saboteur stories have encouraged a somewhat greater role for Doris in the tales. Bester had pioneered this earlier with his "The Menace of the Invisible Raiders".
The Invaders from the Future (#71, February 1942). A mysterious stranger steals Professor Juniper Grimm's new time machine, and uses it to steal inventions from the future, such as lightning clouds to attack America's oil refineries. This tale is a weird mix of the time travel tale and the typical Starman plot of a villain who menaces America's infrastructure. Starman does not get to go to the future, and the device is under-utilized in the tale.
The time machine in this tale is a sphere. Even at this early date, comic book time machines seem to be small spheres, with room for just a few passengers inside. This approach will persist throughout the Silver Age in the 1950's and 1960's. Unlike Silver Age time machines, which tend to be made out of transparent plastic or glass so we can see everything going on inside them, this one has opaque walls, but with a series of circular windows. Silver Age time machines slowly fade out and disappear into the future; so does this machine, but it starts spinning rapidly first.
Please see my list and discussion of time machines.
The best sequence in the story shows Starman battling the lightning cloud above the refinery (page 5). As in the previous tale, these scenes combines large industrial buildings, nocturnal moody atmosphere, and aerial views. Burnley's art here is dramatic, with creative compositions. He does unusual and creative things with lightning. These scenes remind one of Japanese art, with their bold, original use of dramatic composition. There was much consciousness during the early 1940's of the importance of energy, more so than of any other time in American history before the energy crisis of the 1970's. Please see my list of works about Energy, Oil, Power and Physics.
Also good: a brief sequence in Florida, showing Ted Knight on the golf course, in sweater and slacks (page 3). Ted looks remarkably glamorous in such gear. In the original comics the sweater was a pale yellow; in the Archive edition it is bright yellow. This is not quite the combination of yellow sweater and white dress shirt that looks so patrician. But it is close.
The giant electric cannon is phallic (page 6). So are the helmets of the invaders.
SPOILERS. The solution is an example of a Famous Mystery Plot.
SPOILERS. I like the way Woodley Allen the FBI chief wants to solve the case without Starman's help (page 2). This doesn't happen: Starman horns in anyway. And in a way that is embarrassing to Woodley Allen (page 3, bottom left panel). At the tale's end, Woodley Allen comes up with a good trap - a vindication of his ability.
Woodley Allen's double-breasted suit is first rate (page 2).
The spiral stairs are nicely geometric (page 9).
The Case of the Murders in Outer Space (#73, April 1942). A villain tries to murder members of a rich horse racing family by putting them in small rockets and sending them through the stratosphere from New Jersey to California. This demented and not very plausible plot does allow for a lot of excitement.
Burnley's art shows some of the drama of "Adventure of the Ring of Hijackers" in the first half of this tale, with its pictures of docks, car chases, and draw-bridges.
Ted Knight becomes a steeplechase rider in this tale. He looks great in his red coat and rider's cap (page 3). Unfortunately, the script never lets Ted succeed at anything. This story resembles the golf scenes in "The Invaders from the Future", with Ted taking part in various upper class athletic events.
The villain holes up in an abandoned fortress in New Jersey. Is New Jersey really full of old fortresses, and if so, are they really abandoned and neglected? This reminds one of the Batman TV series, and the way the Penguin always had his headquarters in an abandoned warehouse. I always loved this as a kid, and have never been able to go by any old warehouse without wondering if the Penguin might like it! Burnley's excellent art makes the building a traditional fortress of gray stone. This whole idea is more entertaining than plausible.
The Case of the Monstrous Animal-Men (#74, May 1942). A scientist's ray turns men into beings with the heads of animals, bodies of men, and animal powers and personalities; he employs them to commit crimes. Like Fox's previous villain the Light, here is another evil scientist with a ray that transforms people.
This tale is mainly uninspired. The episode about the wolf-man is fun, and reminds us that Universal Studios made a horror film called The Wolf Man (George Waggner, 1941) shortly before. Its screaming heroine (played by Evelyn Ankers) recalls the screaming woman here.
Burnley's art shows skill with the treatment of the animal men. Their athletic bodies recall that of Starman himself.
The Strange Case of the Luckless Liars (#75, June 1942). Nicely done whodunit, in which Starman has to solve a series of attempted murders of the members of an exclusive Gotham club. This is the only whodunit among the series of the first 16 Starman tales. Fox shows ingenuity in the basic setup of the crimes, as well as in their solution. Synopsizing these would "spoil" the story. Fox's later science fiction mysteries in Adam Strange often have unusual set-ups, especially involving robots and their mechanisms of control. This mystery is much less sf oriented, but it too is off-trail in its basic premises.
The mystery has elements of the apparently magical or supernatural that comes to life. This is in the tradition of many impossible crime and pulp Weird Menace mystery tales. Such stories show seemingly supernatural or magical events, that are later shown to have purely rational explanation. Fox will write several such mystery tales for the Silver Age Atom. Please also see my list of comic book Impossible Crime and Weird Menace tales.
Attempts to kill a group of powerful, upper class men formed a popular subject for Golden Age mystery plots. Bill Finger also wrote such tales, such as the first Joker story, "Batman vs. The Joker" (Batman #1, Spring 1940). Finger's treatment of this theme is darker and more horrifying than Fox's, in keeping with the literary personality of the two men.
This story is one of the few times that Ted Knight talks about his other role as Starman. It gives an interesting insight into his personality and attitudes.
The Case of the Sinister Sun (#76, July 1942). (This story has no title; this is the title assigned to it by the Grand Comics Database and the Archives edition.) A gang of crooks gets high tech weapons, and each adopts the motif of an astronomical object: the Sun, the Moon, the Comet. Such high tech, costumed crooks were common in other comic books; this is their first such appearance in Starman.
The Moon's freezing gun anticipates such later villains as the Icicle in Justice Society tales, and the Silver Age Flash nemesis, Captain Cold.
The mixture of antique, traditional looking costumes, and high tech weapons, will later be found in Fox's "Attack of the Crocodile-Men" (Hawkman #7, April-May 1965). There is something piquant about the combination of ancient looking clothes that recall magical powers, and high tech tools.
The Comet has the best costume, with his comet-shaped head piece. His gauntlets are cool too.