Retro Review: DC Comics Presents #36

Welcome to the final part of my look at DC Comics Presents #27-29 & 36.

DCCP36

There are a couple things to love about this issue for me. First, this is a sequel to the Mongul story from issues 27 & 28. Second, there’s Starman.

Starman_1stApp

I first encountered this character from an issue of Adventure Comics (though I do not recall which one, but I do vaguely recall it was drawn by Steve Ditko), but I don’t think it was the issue shown above (man, there are times I kick myself for getting rid of some comics over the years–I will never, ever do that again). For some reason, I took a liking to the character (even the hokey costume design) and tried to find his other appearances, though I think I was pretty unsuccessful at this attempt. That is, until DCCP #36. Boy, was I pleasantly surprised when I saw Starman on that cover, and in a really cool blue costume!

DC Comics Presents #36 features Superman and Starman in a story titled “Whatever Happened to Starman?” Unlike the previous DC Comics Presents issues I’ve been looking at that were written by Len Wein, the story for this issue was coplotted by Paul Levitz and Jim Starlin. I love this cover. As with the cover of issue #27, I really like the juxtaposed colors. Then you have Mongul’s ugly mug colored the same as the Kirby crackled background. Finally, there’s the mass of blue that are Superman and Starman. Starlin definitely updated Starman’s costume for the better, and he looks even cooler with the white, fur cape inside the issue (this Starman is a prince).

DCCP36_01

The art in this issue is just fantastic. Starlin inks himself, and that really pays off. Also of note is dark backgrounds. Much of the action takes place in space, and either Starlin or colorist Gene D’Angelo (or both) decided to use blacks for the backgrounds. Sometimes the star-dotted black backgrounds swallow the foreground objects, but it makes the images look more real to me.

The first four pages of this issue serves as an introduction to the character as well as showing what happened after Starman last appeared in Adventure Comics. Starman, aka Prince Gavyn, has ascended to the throne of a far distant empire after the murder of the previous ruler, his sister. He attends her funeral and we get over a page explaining how he became Starman and then emperor. When Starman returns to his Throneworld he finds it ransacked and his betrothed kidnapped by a “monstrous being”. Despite this likely being a trap, Starman heads into space to save his wife-to-be and avenge the murder of his sister (because it must the same being he reasons).

There are two pages that involve Starman’s discussion with his dead mentor, Mn’torr (my, how subtle Starman’s creators were). During that talk, Starman learns that the empire will not survive and that he will receive help from beyond the known worlds. Starman continues his quest and does find his fiancée, as well as confronting her kidnapper: Mongul! There’s a brief fight where Mongul surrounds himself with some sort of energy field and hits Starman once, knocking the would-be hero out. Now, why didn’t Mongul use this power against J’onn J’onzz before the events of issue #27? :)

Starman awakens later to find himself in the familiar-to-us cube that held Superman’s friends in issue #27. So, what is it with Mongul and these size-reducing prisons? Is he such a petulant creature he must humiliate his prisoners by reducing them in size inside a clear, floating box? Or maybe it’s merely a matter of convenience? Regardless, Mongul leaves Starman in his prison with the threat of murder to force Starman’s fiancée to marry Mongul and “legitimately” become ruler of the empire. Some time later Starman is freed by Superman. This is on page 12: Superman doesn’t show up in his own book until page 12! I am amazed that this was allowed to happen. I can just imagine someone at DC responding, What? The star of the book doesn’t even appear until half-way through the story?! How did Starlin ever convince Julius Schwartz to go along with this? (I’d love to know this issue’s secret origin. Was Starlin behind it and Levitz was given to Starlin to help? Or, given that Starman was co-created by Levitz, maybe it was Levitz’s idea?)

Starman explains to Superman that Mongul plans to take control of the Imperial Crown, which can destroy planets with but a thought. At least Mongul is consistent in his desire for conquest by usurping power/weapons that can destroy worlds. The two heroes devise a plan to stop Mongul and head off to do that.

Back on Throneworld, Mongul is now emperor and about to stretch his near omnipotent control over the planets. Superman shows up to challenge Mongul to a knock-down, drag out, mano y mano.

DCCP36_02

Meanwhile, Starman is in the planetary system’s sun to dismantle or destroy the Imperial Crown’s power source. Once he sees the machine, he knows why he has the powers he does and who made the machine that made his bloodline emperors for generations. Back on Throneworld, Superman is succeeding in his bid to distract Mongul in a three-page fight scene that is drawn wonderfully. But Mongul proves to be more than a physical match for Superman and Mongul walks away from the fight. Ok, again I come back to what we know from issue #27, and how Mongul needed Superman to defeat J’onn J’onzz. Based on the fight we see here, that makes no sense whatsoever. In fact, Superman spells it out for us:

DCCP36_03

With Superman on ice, Mongul swaggers into a control room to contact his empire and decree that the empire shall marshal it’s forces to to strike against Mongul’s homeworld (remember that he was deposed by a religious fanatic) and then rule the universe! Poor Mongul. You would think he would start to develop an inferiority complex since even this plan fails. When he attempts to blow up one planet who refuses his will, his empire flies away. Literally!

DCCP36_04(Wow, someone sure liked the idea of engines large enough to move planets.
We get it here and with Warworld previously.)

Just then, Superman and Starman show up for round two. Luckily for them, Mongul just wants to go back to wherever he calls home now and lick his wounded ego. He teleports away, and the heroes collapse to the floor, exhausted. Later, Starman explains to Superman that the doomsday machine was built by Mn’Torr’s people, something that Mn’Torr apparently wanted to correct (and which got him killed). At the end, Starman reunites with his fiancée, and Superman flies out into space, heading home.

Given the focus that was on Starman, I can’t help but think that Starlin wanted to do a revival of the character (and perhaps Mongul would be Starman’s recurring nemesis?), so DC editorial used this as a testing ground to gauge fan interest. I certainly would have bought a new series starring (heh) Starman. In fact, I still would, if Starlin was working on it. If you want to know more about what happened to Starman after his adventure in this comic, check out the Wikipedia article on him (now I want to go read those comics).

Finally, getting back to the character thread that held my interest in this story for so long, we have a Superman who is not full of himself, even if he does rely a little too much on his fists instead of his brain. It shows a certain character development arc with Superman that I never expected in a team-up book, though this examination is inconsistent, as was demonstrated if you compare the first and third parts of this story with the second and fourth parts. Still, overall a pretty entertaining story.

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