Starman #33. Solomon Grundy lies dying and now Jack Knight, Batman, Sentinel, and the Floronic Man must band together to save the reformed criminal. However, to save the pale giant, they must face past incarnations of Grundy, all of which are evil to the core.
Okay story time RE: Starman #33:
It’s probably about 1997. Starman is one of my two favorite comic books that come out every month (along with Preacher; and they typically come out the same day). Haven’t heard of Starman? I’m not particularly surprised. Jack Knight is the son of Golden Age hero [also] Starman, and Starman is the story of Jack taking up the superhero business after his brother David (interim Starman between daddy and Jack) is killed. Jack doesn’t really want to be a superhero. He runs a second-hand shop and mostly gets tattoos. To give you an idea about a typical story, at one point his second-hand shop is attacked by a maniacal villain-to-be as Jack unwittingly has a Hawaiian shirt that is a magical teleportation portal in inventory.
The battle is resolved by, um, Jack selling the would-be villain the shirt.
Starman was offbeat and heartwarming. Sure there was violence, sacrifice, murder, and even galaxy-spanning space adventure, but it was a largely a comic book of small stories, albeit perfectly executed by James Robinson (who would later execute Sean Connery’s movie career as the screenwriter for LXG) and Tony Harris (Harris would later become my favorite active comic book artist). Today’s Starman #33 cover is of course by Harris.
So here’s the story:
In the mid-1990s comics were in a very different spot than they are today, fueled as they are by billion dollar blockbuster films coming out of Marvel Studios. The entire industry was coming down off of the 1992 bubble boom driven by the breaking of the Bat, the Death of Superman, and infinite chromium variant covers coming out of Image and Valiant. The nostalgia wave would not hit for another five years, and Iron-Man for another maybe eight after that. Comics for comics sake were in a precarious position, and telling small — if great — stories about a second-hand store salesman and his ex-superhero pops needed *ahem* some sales if they wanted to stay buoyed at studio like DC.
How do you bolster sales?
Look at that g-d cover.
Notice anyone standing behind ole tattoo’d Jack?
Starman #33 sold out basically everywhere.
That’s great, right?
Um… The average comic book store ordered like two copies of Starman every month. Some people — like yours truly — were the avid and loyal readers of this aforementioned title Starman. And these Batman fans bought up all our copies!
Even my friend Brian K. Vaughan — who had never read Starman once in his life — bought a copy of #33 (which I’m guessing even twenty years later he never even read). “What can I say? I buy any book with Batman on it.”
It took me maybe four months to hunt down a copy of Starman #33 to even out my collection. This was super shitty because the next issue was the beginning of a new story arc; also because Batman — who had been written as maximally grumpy while visiting Opal City — finally cracked a smile and revealed his favorite Woody Allen movie (Crimes and Misdemeanors, natch).
So if the definition of great comics cover is to sell more comic books — especially by attracting readers who wouldn’t normally pick up your title — there is no better exemplar than Starman #33.