Throughout Starman’s run as a monthly comic longer storylines were punctuated by more compact plots not illustrated by regular artist Tony Harris, and intended to ensure he could maintain a schedule. The fill-in issue not produced by the regular creative team is generally viewed as a disappointing necessity, yet in the case of Starman it was almost always a pleasant surprise.

Part of the reason is that they were all written by series creator James Robinson. He used them to tell tales set in the past that didn’t immediately impact on the present day continuity, although hints of what would come are dropped, and in some cases he didn’t bother including anyone who bore the name Starman. Here he did. In fact there’s almost the full complement of them, although beyond the clever opener in which father and son reflect on each other, there is no Jack Knight, just his predecessors. That opener, though, is a prime example of the hints dropped. We’re briefly introduced to the previously unknown Starman of 1951, who’d remain an occasionally referenced mystery until the final collection, Sons of the Father.

In artistic terms, there’s an admirable variety. Craig Hamilton is astonishingly detailed and decorative in presenting the 1970s disco-era alien Starman in cosmic battle, and with the framing sequences for a later tale. Teddy Kristiansen is appropriately dark and gloomy as the Shade entertains Oscar Wilde, and both J.H. Williams III and Phil Jimenez are already very good, but Williams hasn’t yet found his style. Others aren’t as impressive. Early in his career Matt Smith starts well, but is extremely rushed and sketchy by his concluding pages, and although better than other work he was producing at the time, the stylised art of John Watkiss is an acquired taste.

There are treats to be had here, the text pages from the Shade’s journal for one, in which Robinson supplies a distinctive voice, and fans of the 1940s Starman should certainly be satisfied. He appears in three separate tales. We also see Robinson’s first take on the 1980s Starman, Prince Gavyn, way distant in space. In fact the only previous Starman given short shrift here is Will Payton, the out and out Earth superhero of the late 1980s. Hmmm. Wonder why that would be the case.

It should also be mentioned that those who’ve read the entire series may find it worthwhile returning here and reading Times Past again. In the light of what later occurs several portions can be re-contextualised.

Although enough further stories of this nature punctuated other material in the original Starman series, they were never collected in these paperback reprint volumes, which is odd. They can be found, however, within the pages of the Starman Omnibus, where the original issues are presented in order of publication. The next paperback collection is Infernal Devices.