Adapt This Now: James Robinson’s Starman

Starman Jack KnightNot every great story has yet been turned into a TV series or movie. Adapt This Now is a series where we highlight some of our favorite tales that Hollywood has yet to adapt — books, comics, videogames, etc. — and suggest that they get on that pronto.

The Should-Be Source Material: DC Comics’ Starman #1-80 (1994-2001)

The story in a nutshell: Jack Knight is the youngest son of Ted Knight, the original Starman from the Golden Age of heroes, former defender of Opal City and a former member of the Justice Society of America. However, after his older brother, David, is assassinated on his first night out upon taking up his father’s mantle (by the son of one of Ted Knight’s most fearsome arch-enemies, no less), Jack soon understands his place as the son of a superhero and himself becomes the new Starman. His stint as Starman will see him join forces with the unlikeliest of allies, travel to the far reaches of outer space and even become a father.

Why Hollywood needs to adapt this ASAP: Hollywood is getting pretty good at adapting comic books and superheroes to the big and small screen (though I’d say there’s a better batting average when it comes to comic-book movies versus TV shows, but I digress), and some of those shows and movies have gone to some pretty interesting places. But one thing that none of these movies or shows have yet touched on is the concept of legacy. One of the significant elements that separates DC Comics from Marvel is the notion of passing on a mantle, sometimes from one family member to another. It’s a fascinating and engaging concept, both conceptually and thematically and nowhere is this more apparent than in writer James Robinson’s 80-issue (81 if you count the first appearance of Jack Knight in Zero Hour #1) masterpiece.

The story centers on Jack, who, until his brother’s death, couldn’t have cared less about being a superhero. His father confesses that it was always Jack whom he wanted to succeed him, but Jack was always far too interested in collecting and selling kitsch. The notion of donning a cape and wielding a Cosmic Rod was boring, and Jack was far more content to haggle over vintage and antique collectibles. But once his family is nearly destroyed and his beloved city threatened by a deranged, bloodthirsty, would-be supervillain, Jack soon accepts his place as his father’s successor. (Though he still refuses to wear the silly costume.)

There are actually three families at the center of Starman. The Knights, the Mist and his children, Kyle and Nash, and the O’Dares, a family with a long and storied history as protectors of Opal City by way of law enforcement. Any good story needs drama, and with three very tumultuous families at the center, there’s certainly no shortage of that, and all of it comes bearing a unique thematic weight thanks to the legacies at play. Each family has children living in the shadow of their elders and lineage, each eager to define themselves and their path.

Starman also features one of the most interesting side characters I’ve ever encountered in a comic: The Shade. The Shade was originally a shadow-manipulating thief pitted against The Flash (Jay Garrick edition). Robinson turned him into something far more compelling when he introduced the character as having a Victorian flair, a morally ambiguous standing and an honest love for Opal City. He may have a past as a supervillain, but when it comes to maintaining the peace and security of his beloved Opal, The Shade is more than willing to do whatever it takes, including offer aid and assistance to the city’s new champion.

The most challenging part of any adaptation, however, would be if the showrunner decides to include the more cosmic elements of Robinson’s story. At the risk of getting too spoilery, the narrative eventually takes Jack to the far reaches of space where he encounters the other men (and beings) who have adopted the name of Starman. This partly involves the use of an intergalactic taxi service. As you might have guessed, this is both ambitious and perhaps a bit too weird for audiences, although if people can get excited about a movie with a talking tree and a machine-gun toting raccoon, I don’t see this being much of a problem.

Given the sprawling nature of Starman, as well as the fact that Robinson wrote this story with a very defined beginning and end, this would best be served as a multi-season television show. There’s very little in the way of explicit violence and only a little bit of sex, so there’s no real need to lobby for a network like HBO or Showtime to pick it up, though doing so would likely guarantee a higher level of production value. Heck, get Paul Dini/Bruce Timm to run an animated series. Oh god, I’m already disappointed this will never happen.

Really, though, my main reason for wanting it as a series is because it would mean a greater chance of getting regular “Talking with David” segments. These interludes would appear at the end of every few issues and it always found Jack reuniting with his (now deceased) brother, allowing them the chance to commiserate and bond in a way they never could or did when David was among the living. “Talking with David” quickly became my favorite part of the entire series, and I’d be a little heartbroken to see these bits left out.

Ultimately, regardless of whether this gets made as a movie or a TV show, regardless of what they trim (and there will always be things trimmed), I just hope they get the characters right. This is one of the all-time great longform stories within the medium and Robinson fires on all cylinders throughout, giving us a story that is as intimate as it is expansive, allowing us to follow along with Jack’s maturation, both as a hero and as a human being. Over the course of 80 issues, I truly came to love and understand Jack in all facets and he has since remained my all-time favorite comic book character for this very reason. I’ve yet to encounter another hero that feels as layered and interesting and relatable as Jack Knight, and I’d love for more people to share that revelation.

Who should be in it:

Jack Knight: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Ted Knight: James Cromwell

David Knight: Jensen Ackles

The Mist: Paul Giamatti

Nash: Krysten Ritter

The Shade: Jason Isaacs

  • I’ve never read any of this comic, but if someone puts Cromwell, Ritter, Giamatti and Isaacs in a movie — ANY MOVIE — I’ll be there.

    • Stewart Smith

      What if it’s a TV like I want it to be? Will you still be there if it’s a TV show?