web stats

CSBG Archive

Almost Hidden – Roger Stern and Tom Lyle’s Starman

Even with this large amount of comic books that have been collected in trade paperbacks, there are still a number of great comic books that have never been reprinted (I’d say roughly 60% of them are DC Comics from the 1980s through the mid-1990s). So every day this month I will spotlight a different cool comic book that is only available as a back issue. Here is an archive of the comic books featured so far.

I want you folks to e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com with your suggestions for comics that I should feature this month. I’d like to see what you all would like to see get more attention.

I had more than a few requests for Roger Stern and Tom Lyle’s run on Starman. I can’t think of how to split the series up, so how about we just pretend that it would be an “Absolute” edition and we can just say “reprint the whole run!”


An interesting aspect of Stern and Lyle’s run on Starman is that they wrote and drew every issue of their 25 issue run – no fill-ins for either one of them. Pretty impressive.

Starman was an clever concept by Stern. While the character was being developed, DC decided it would make sense to tie him in with Invasion!, before Invasion! even BEGAN! And sure enough, Starman was probably more tied into Invasion! than any other title – even those written by Keith Giffen (architect of Invasion!)!

The basic concept of the book is something fairly similar to what Dwayne McDuffie would later come up with for Static. For years, comics have had the “new Spider-Man” – comics meant to evoke the early Ditko/Lee Spider-Man stories about a “normal” person suddenly given powers. That idea was used a lot before Starman and it has been used a lot since (Kyle Rayner is a good example). And it should, because it’s a great idea.

However, what made Starman a bit different was that he was a good deal more meta-fictional about it all. Here was a guy who, once he had powers, actually STUDIED superheroing and based himself on what he thought a superhero SHOULD be. You rarely see that level of self-realism from superheroes (similar heroes like Nova and Darkhawk tended to play it by ear). McDuffie took that idea to another level with Static when he had Static actually acknowledge the FICTIONAL construct of the superhero and use that to influence his actions – while in Starman, the influence is actual – he studies “actual” superheroes, not comics and movies.

Tom Lyle co-created Starman with Stern, and he does a generally good job on the series, although he gets a good deal better as the series goes on. Lyle had only being working as a regular artist for a couple of years (at Eclipse Comics – Airboy, for instance) so he definitely had a lot of growing to do as an artist, but to his credit, he did the work and by the time he finished the run he was basically the polished artist that he is today.

Here’s a sampling from the first issue so you can see how Will Payton is compelled to become a hero…

The villain Deadline, introduced in Starman #15, was perhaps the longest lasting contribution to comics from Starman. He’s a neat villain (Stern also did a nice job using DC continuity to bring in good unused characters like the mercenary villain Bolt and the scientist Kitty Faulkner and her alter-ego Rampage!)….

Finally, in Lyle’s last page as artist of the book, in #25, he debuts Starman’s much cooler looking costume…

I know this series gets overshadowed by the James Robinson/Tony Harris Starman series (which IS a better series than this one, don’t get me wrong), but that’s a shame. There are room for both of these series out there!


Ha ha ! One of my guilty pleasures! I have this run.

I’m thinking made-for-Showcase down the line.

For any fans of Will Payton . . . .how did you take the origin-changing news that James Robinson wrought? Also . . . what about issues #26-27? It’s the debut of David Knight and his first tour of duty as Starman VI, and the Mist upgrading to Nimbus.

Stern is indeed one of the greatest underrated writers of comics.

He made Will Payton relatable.

Speaking of great unreprinted runs, how about Airboy (and for that matter the Skywolf back-ups, some of which Lyle drew)? Your perspective on these “almost hidden”s has been verrrrry limited. There’s a lot of great unreprinted work outside the world of post-crisis DC.

I miss Will Payton.

That being said, I’m also the only person on Earth that preferred his first costume. The colors were garish but it’s a cooler design in my eyes.

I read a bunch of these issues as a kid by checking them out from the local library. I liked them, but don’t really remember much about them. I also wasn’t aware Roger Stern was the writer, who’s work I love. I was thinking of trying to put together a run of this series, and I’d say this pretty much sealed the deal. Cool stuff.

James Robinson’s origin change never worked — Stern had tied in the villanous Power Elite and Dr. Melrose to o well in the original series, and the retcon doesn’t really explain their involvement (or the Elite’s Starman-like powers) at all.

It’s somewhat odd that the most frequently-seen element from this run seems to be Will archfoe-in-waiting Deadline, who turns up again and again in bit parts in the DCU. Robinson did much with David Knight, of course, but it’s Deadline who was the legacy of this series for many years before, during, and after the better-known Starman’s series.

This isn’t a guilty pleasure. It’s still to this day probably one of my favourite superhero comics ever. Will Payton was probably Roger Stern’s greatest creation.

I remember when this book came out, I just started going to college and of all the comics I brought into the dorm, this was the one that was most loved by most of my dormmates. And it was Stern’s characters: Will Payton was just so relateable and the verisimitude of the characters and the situation were just note-perfect.

I despised the retcons Robinson did to it. I also loved the Levitz/Ditko/Starlin Starman, but I saw no reason to tie the two characters together.

Nick: I prefered the first costume as well.

Another article at CBR, another comment thread where people whine about how they “despise” INSERT WELL-WRITTEN COMIC here. Still, unless I’m mistaken, James Robinson isn’t British, so this proves it’s a “nerds hate good comics” thing, not a “American comic fans hate British writers” thing (as I originally suspected, since Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison are the usual targets).

Hm. I suppose one has to actually read this to appreciate it, then, because based on this post it just seems very, very “meh.” Brian refers to “similar heroes like Nova and Darkhawk” and that’s exactly the kind of vibe I get from the pages depicted, here.

I loved this series back in the day, and while the style is very much late 80s/early 90s, it’s still very well-done. I too didn’t care for the origin change in Robinson’s Starman, but loved both series.

I have not read the full runs on either Stern’s Starman or Robinson’s Starman except for the synopses and excerpts I’ve read on CSBG, but to me the Stern Starman seems more up my alley, even though the Robinson one is generally better regarded. Robinson’s Starman is more appealing to me in terms of art, but in every excerpt I read I find Robinson’s dialogue excruciating, especially the pop culture references and humor. Peter David pulls it off way better and it even annoys me after a while when HE does it.

I still plan to try both series in their entirety to get a better feel. After all, it may just have been reading the excerpts chosen out of context on this blog that have prejudiced me.

given how will got used as part of robisons jla. can not believe dc has not reprinted his earlier run.for after all the dc has proven to have space for more then one character with the same name. including star man.

Another homage to the classic machinery-lifting scene in Spider-Man #33?

I just read a Deadline appearance in the ’93 Hawkman #1.

@Mr F.D.: considering that only 3 people out of 8 before you even MENTIONED the Robinson Starman, and Jason just asked what people thought of the origin change, Omar said the retcon “never worked”, and only Graeme “despised” the changes Robinson made, your point is flawed. None of those 3 said they didn’t like the Robinson Starman, just that they didn’t like what the Robinson Starman series did to THIS Starman. I don’t see that this “proves” “nerds hate good comics”. It shows that people think there are more good (superhero) comics than just the Moore/Gaiman/Morrison canon, and there’s nothing wrong with spotlighting that. A lot of the comments I see about Moore/Gaiman/Morrison seem to take issue with the unquestioning love that some of us (myself included) have for these creators’ works, and point out that they too have flaws. Nothing wrong with that, depending on how the comments are worded.

Also, given in this particular case, that Robinson’s more recent work has been panned, people are looking back at his earlier stuff and finding the flaws that they maybe overlooked back then.

Besides, right at the end of the post, Brian says that the Robinson Starman is a better series, so chill, man :)

I think, having read this sequence from issue 1 again, I’ll have Roger Stern sign my copy when I go to Ithacon next month.

Nah, nerds just hate other nerds with different opinions.

James Robinson is British, but moved to the US about a decade ago.

I love Tom Lyle’s work! His work on both Robin and Spiderman in the 90’s was amazing! A great talent!

I actually picked up this run a few years back after skimming an eBay listing too quickly and winning an auction for what I had thought was the Robinson series. While the first year of rookie hero / invasion stuff was fine, I was really impressed by the second year where Stern did some great character work with Will and his family relationships (#16 Father Calls Me William stands out). Good stuff.

Ed (A Different One)

August 25, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Stern’s Starman has everything a loved about Stern’s run on ASM – there’s just something about both runs that really clicked for me and that hasn’t diminished with time either.

@ Rob Schmidt – Yeah, I didn’t even pick up on the fact that that was an homage to the Spidey-lifitng-heavy-machinery motiff until just reading this again in this post. Lots of echoes between this Starman and many of the classic things that made Spidey great.

I just got done reading Robinson’s Starman storyline will they kind of ret-conned Will Payton’s origin and place in the universe. I have mixed feelings about it. I know what Robinson was trying to do – he was trying to integrate all of the “Starmen” into a coherent whole with similar power-origins – if not outright character-origins. But it just didn’t quite pull it off and changed too much of what I loved with Stern’s actual origin of the character.

Robinson’s Starman is good stuff overall though – don’t mean to take a knock at the series as a whole. I just don’t think it accomplished quite what it set out to do when integrating the other Starmen into it’s own mythos.

I loved the first Starman costume so much more than the black one. I even loved the colors, simply because they were so different than any other hero’s color scheme.
I had a chance to speak to Lyle about the change years ago and IIRC he said he liked the first one more too. The DC brass decided it didn’t though and requested/demanded the change.

Further, the weakest thing about this Starman series was its extreme lack of memorable villains. Deadline was OK, but not great. I would have loved to see some more original, memorable badguys.
It was also odd to see that Batman drove the Batmobile all the way out to Arizona, IIRC.

I also preferred the original costume to the red and black redesign. Still do. Better dynamic and I actually liked the yellow and purple color scheme since the brightness of it felt pretty true to the tone of the series whereas the red/black one felt a little too dark for me. This is my favorite DC series ever and I was disappointed to see the changes that Robinson had to the origin of this character. Although I liked his Starman run also. The artwork was very good and the writing and storylines were also very solid. So much so that to the day I remember it fondly and go back and reread many issues. All in all I think this is truly a lost gem when it comes to DC series.

Robinson’s Starman was overrated, self-congratulatory dreck. Similar to Ennis’s Preacher. In 10 more years, no one will know or care.

Stern and Lyle’s Starman, on the other hand, will one day (not yet, not yet) be regarded as one of the best superhero books of the late 80s-early 90s.

A pity that you wrote this interesting column, but didn’t have the courage of your convictions to go all the way and admit that Stern and Lyle Starman was better than the insipid Robinson version. Sad.

^yeah, right
take your head out of your ass, buddy, or you will suffocate

I liked Will Payton’s original look and costume better than the second one. I always assumed it was supposed to be reminiscent of the Arizona state flag since the character was based in Arizona.

There have been a few retcons involving this character and I don’t really care for either of them but neither is terrible.

Marc D:
“A pity that you wrote this interesting column, but didn’t have the courage of your convictions to go all the way and admit that Stern and Lyle Starman was better than the insipid Robinson version. Sad.”

You’re projecting your preferences onto Brian. Not cool. He admits that the Robinson Starman series is the better of the two, so I’m not sure why you think he lacks the “courage of his convictions” to say something he doesn’t believe.
Personally, I like both Starman books. I think they’re relatable in completely different ways. I liked the ‘everyman’ approach Stern took with Will Payton, and I love Tom Lyle’s art (whatever happened to him anyway). I also like Robinson’s Starman. Especially the character work, the long form storytelling, the atmosphere, and using Opal City as if it were a character. He created a world, which I found appealing.

Hated how Robinson treated this character. What was his beef?

Like Tony, I love both Starman books. The James Robinson version broke new ground, created a whole sub-universe, and was a major piece of superhero storytelling with an unique style that is neither old-timey Silver Age nostagia nor grim & gritty deconstruction. I would say it’s an (non-gritty) anti-hero making his way towards being a real hero.

The Roger Stern version was “just” a really good straigthforward superhero story with an amazingly likeable hero. And that is okay. Not everything must be groundbreaking.

And I’m not sure Robinson “hated” or “ruined” the Will Payton version. Actually, James Robinson was going to use Will Payton as the star of his book! He couldn’t, because DC had him killed in some typical 1990s crossover. But originally, Will Payton was going to travel to Opal City and connect with the Starman legacy.

Anyway, as things turned out, I agree that the “twist” Robinson added to Will Payton’s origin was unnecessary and felt like yet another attempt to replicate Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing. But before that he had an issue, Starman #36, that starred Payton and was a pretty good summation of what made the character great.

On the surface, it seems like Robinson is shitting on him by portraying him as a superhero that “no one likes”, because Will lacks an edge. But that is mostly Will’s own self-steem issues and the opinions of the psychopathic couple he is fighting against. The story is really about how Will Payton was a real hero, despite lacking a “tragic past” or a “legacy”. He acted like a hero just because he was a decent guy at heart. To me, that story pretty much defined the Will Payton character and was a respectful homage.

And that makes it even sadder when Robinson retcons his origin and undermines the “just a decent everyman” aspect. But I’m not sure that counts as ruining the character.

I remember Deadline from a great done in one issue of Peter David’s Aquaman run.

I have a 1990 Starman Poster autographed by Stern & Lyle. It is 8 1/2 x 11. Any idea of its worth? It is black & white.

Just dug out my collection of STARMAN. Still love the will Payton character. In essence issues 1-25 was a massive origin story. Sure there might not have been any grand arch villains, but it was better in some ways to see an average guy becoming a superhero and learning to deal with it. Family problems, work problems, balancing regular life with being a superhero.
It’s too bad dc effectively killed him off, I would have liked to have seen this series grow, it had a lot of potential.

just got 1-25 bound, hardcover.. so worth it.

Leave a Comment



Review Copies

Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.

Browse the Archives