This Starman was the third character to use the name at DC Comics. The original Starman was Ted Knight, a 1940s member of the Justice Society; the second Starman was a temporary identity used by Bruce Wayne in a 1950s Batman story. The name was resurrected twenty-years later by writer/editor Gerry Conway for an issue of First Issue Special. The series premise was that each issue was the first issue for an ongoing series, but that series would only materialise if the sales of the premier were good enough.
Mikaal Tomas first appeared in First Issue Special #12 (March, 1976) in a story illustrated by Mike Vosburg and Mike Royer. Conway had been inspired by the sci-fi and UFO craze to create a Starman who was an alien rebel stranded on Earth ahead of an invasion force of his own people. This was five years after David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust phase and the song “Starman.” I don’t know if there was a definite connection, but Ziggy and Mikaal certainly used the same colour hair dye.
Despite a rather impressive cover by Joe Kubert a Starman series never materialised and it looked like this was to be his only appearance – the story even ended mid-fight between the hero and a thug called Turran Kha.
Over the next twenty-years there were three more Starman relaunches (Prince Grayn, Will Payton, and David Knight), before James Robinson created a new 1990s Starman series that featured the adventures of Jack Knight, the son of the original Golden Age Starman. Part of the appeal of the 1990s series was the way it used the myriad Starmen from throughout DC Comics’s history and that include Mikaal.
Starman embraced the timing of Mikaal’s original adventure and postulated that it had actually happened in 1976 and not a couple of years ago (as DC’s sliding timeline would imply). Inspired by the books Night of the Circus by Angela Carter and Geek Love by Katherine Dunn Robinson decided to explain Tomas’s absence by saying that he’d been help captive in a circus freak show ever since his first appearance.
In the text piece to Cry For Justice #4 Robinson elaborated that:
Mikaal was a character that grew little by little in the Starman comics starring Jack Knight. I confess he wasn’t a character I had a full-blown soup-to-nuts character arc planned out for. Mikaal kind of created himself as he went along. His history/backstory/sexuality, all of it. In fact, Mikaal’s appearing in the book at all was more because I need a hook to keep writing the title more than I had any great notion for him to start with. [...]
The story of how Mikaal went from cosmic defender of the Earth to strung-out freak was something I had the luxury of time to let unfold. I wanted to use the whole ’70s lifestyle – sex and drugs and all that as apart of Mikaal’s descent.
To this end, apart from Tony [Harris]‘s wonderful art, I had the superb art of Craig Hamilton for the “Times Part” featuring Mik’s past life as a super-powered wastrel in the 1970s. He really went to down with depicting Mik’s excesses, and that issue is all the better for it. Remember, the ’70s was the era of David Bowie’s “Thin White Duke”, the wild takes of excess at Studio 54, and wilder tales of what went on at Plato’s Retreat. And it was the time of disco.
Mikaal’s arc during the Starman series started with him as a near catatonic survivor of the 1970s and built him up as he slowly began to remember his identity and the legacy of his war-like race.
After Starman wrapped Mikaal disappeared and it was another decade before James Robinson was asked to assemble a roster for a new Justice League series. DC Executive Editor Dan Didio suggested the name Starman, but Robinson had wrapped up Jack Knight’s story and didn’t want to open that box up again. He instead thought of the blue-skinned alien Starman:
I thought about how I left him in the air a little bit, and he had so much potential. Again, he’s an elegant guy but how we left him in Starman, he was beginning to reconnect with the war-like aspects of his race. So you get a guy who sometimes can do Cary Grant and other times he is Wolverine or whatever savage hero you want to throw at me. So we have that juxtaposition.
So Mikaal was brought back as part of the Justice League: Cry For Justice mini-series. That series was originally announced as an ongoing Justice League of America sister-title, but events meant that James Robinson ended up writing the main JLA title instead and Cry became a mini-series which set up his run.
Something odd happened in the JLA title. The gay blue-alien was becoming friends with a size-changing golden gorilla. The chemistry between Congorilla and Mikaal was always a high point of many of Robinson’s JLA issues and it eventually led to them gaining the one-shot spin-off comic Starman/Congorilla #1 (March 2011) during DC Icon’s cover month.
It came hurling out of the western sky, a brilliant blip of light on the east coast radar screens — a golden star in the murky New York night. Afterwards, the authorities would announce that a meteor had crashed in the North Bronx. For a time that would silence the hysterics who believed they saw something else that october evening — something alien and strange. Unfortunately for New York’s pease of mind — for once, the hysterics were right! (First Issue Special #12 (March 1976)).
The Invasion of Earth
Mikaal Tomas was born over 100 years ago and 3,000 light years away on the planet Talok III. The azure-skinned, magenta-haired populace of Talok III were one of the galaxy’s warlike races. They had a deep-seated emotional need to conquer, to defeat, and to subjugate their opponents. From the homeworld (their “Worldstone”) their ruling elite (the “Mind Council”) directed operations against an expanding circle of worlds. Like all of his people Mikaal shared that need for the intense emotional stimulation provided by conquest. However, he was by nature not given to violence unless driven by grief or anger. He was more than happy to sate his emotional needs in the arms of a lover, on a dance floor, or even a recreation drug than he was on the battle field.
Neither Mikaal nor his first love Lyysa Jurndall agreed with their society’s warlike ways. However, fate would not allow them to abstain from it as Mikaal was found to be biologically matched to a weapon called a Sonic Crystal, a device that collected and condensed cosmic energy from the stars. He was inducted into the army and quickly rose from Curate to the honoured level of Elite Warrior. Although considered young by his race’s standards he had still been taught the arts of war and how to make the cruel kill. He may not have felt the same drive for conquest as his people, but Mikaal did share their skill in battle (Starman (vol. 2) #28 (March 1997), Starman (vol. 2) #64 (April 2000), Justice League of America (vol. 2) #57 (July 2011)).
Mikaal and Lyysa were assigned to an elite reconnaissance force heading for the army’s next invasion target – a planet they called Meridian and its inhabitants called Earth. A base camp was established on the dark side of the Moon and infiltration plans were readied as a prelude to a full invasion. Lyysa hated what the Mind-Council had planned for Earth and told Mikaal that she intended to warn the humans. Mikaal pleaded with her that it was too dangerous, but she told him that “it’s better [to be killed] than living like a monster”. Lyysa was killed trying to steal a shuttle and the Mind Council sentenced Mikaal to death for attacking Lyysa’s murderer.
The desperate Mikaal managed to flee, but his stolen shuttle crashed into the North Bronx. He escaped a trio of local thugs and staggered into a hardware store where he was found by the owners, Ruth and Franklin Clay. They looked after him until he regained consciousness. He appreciated their help and it was they who first Anglicised his name to Michael Thomas, but he was forced to flee again after Ruth tried to alert the authorities to his presence. Komak, leader of the invasion force, could not allow Mikaal to defect so he dispatched the imposing Turran Kha (First Guardsman of the Worldstone) to hunt him. Turran caught up with Mikaal Tomas on the streets of Manhattan (First Issue Special #12 (March 1976)).
Turran escaped from that battle, but he was not the last soldier Komak sent to kill Mikaal – the Rahnolf twins, the Mighty Zag, and others died at his hand as he defended Earth in a series of surreal encounters. However, those battles petered out and Mikaal was left more and more to his own devices. A blue skinned man stood out everywhere in 1976 except for in the hedonistic world of the disco clubs. In there he was just another dancer, another person looking to fill a void within themselves, and he eventually turned to whatever relationship or recreation drug was available (Starman (vol. 2) #28 (March 1997)).
After six months Mikaal relocated from Manhattan to Opal City. He had picked up the nickname “Starman” after a reference to the David Bowe song so Opal (the home city of the original Starman) seemed as logical a place as anywhere for him to make his home. While on his way to Opal City he fought a gang of bank robbers who had stained their skin blue in an attempt to scare people. The old Green Lantern, Alan Scott, thought that Mikaal was part of their gang and that led to the prototypical hero-vs-hero misunderstanding. Nevertheless Mikaal would treasure the encounter with Alan Scott and recounted that “Alan Scott. He exudes heroism. He made me aware of what I lacked at that time.” (Starman (vol. 2) #64 (April 2000))
In Opal, Mikaal hooked up with a pair of lovers called Bruce and Tiffany and lived with them in an open relationship. Their trio came to an end when Tiffany brought home another lover called Louie Soul. Under the alias No Mercy Soul had been one of Starman’s enemies. Mikaal discovered them together and instinctively attacked Louie. There was a brief battle and Bruce was killed by Soul, but the villain escaped Mikaal’s clutches (Starman 80-Page Giant #1 (Jan 1999)). Mikaal eventually fought Soul again, but his Sonic Crystal disrupted one of Soul’s devices and caused it to explode killing him (Starman (vol. 2) #15 (Jan 1996)). Other enemies he fought during this time included the Goner (Starman 80-Page Giant #1 (Jan 1999)) and Felix Faust (with help from the Martian Manhunter, Starman (vol. 2) #29 (April 1997)).
The reason that Mikaal’s people had abandoned their pursuit of him was because of events on their homeworld. They had planned a series of invasions across the galaxy – not just of Earth – but their war against the Krypton-like world of Daxam went badly and they found themselves fighting an army of supermen. A genocide device was constructed for use against the Daxamites, but its was disrupted by one of the Darkstars and destroyed Talok III rather than the intended target. Many of those left on the Moonbase took their own lives when they heard of their Worldstone’s destruction and others fled into space to die. Only the base commander Komak survived and he came to Earth looking for a final confrontation with the traitor Mikaal.
Like Mikaal, Komak could not resist the addictive pleasures on Earth, but he wasn’t as careful as Mikaal and caught a disease from an Earth woman. The dying Komak returned to his original hunt and challenged Mikaal to a psychic duel. Mikaal’s lifestyle had dulled his memory and Komak was forced to explain why they were fighting. They battled silently in each others minds amid the chaos of an Opal City disco. Mikaal won, but in the process he killed the only other known survivor of his race (Starman (vol. 2) #28 (March 1997)).
The battle with Komak had seared the Sonic Crystal into Mikaal’s flesh and had rendered it inert. So he was unable to defend himself when he was grabbed from the streets of Opal City and drugged. Mikaal had fled to Earth in 1976, the confrontation with Komak happened in 1977. He would then spend the next 12 years as a living marionette, a toy, passed from collector to collector. The first was a Japanese business man who collected superhero memorabilia, the second was a European Countess who had other needs. Eventually a circus freak show owner called Mister Bliss killed the Countess and took Mikaal into his own collection (Starman (vol. 2) #64 (April 2000)).
Jack Knight was the youngest son of Ted Knight, the original Golden Age Starman. Many men had worn that name since Ted’s time and Jack had become the seventh Starman after his brother David Knight was killed by their family’s arch-enemy (the Mists). In his time Mikaal has been the third Starman, but his time in the lime light has been so brief that the Knights and most other people knew almost nothing about him. Jack was a bohemian in his own ways, but unlike Mikaal he managed to dodge his most self-destructive tendencies and focused his interests on collecting the ignored fads and fashions of the 1950s.
It was this love for things from bygone days that drew Jack to Mister Bliss’s Circus when it pitched its tent just outside Opal City. Jack was drawn to the Circus’ freak show, but he was unprepared for the blue-skinned “Cosmic Geek” he found there. Bliss tried to tell Jack that the Geek was actually “Greg Bailey. Comes from Albany. The blue-dyed skin, the ‘alien’ tongue, the electrical pulse in his finger-tips… they’re all part of the act.” Bliss was actually an incubus who fed off the continual pain of his imprisoned freaks, and the haunted, gaunt blue-skinned man was actually the long absent Mikaal Tomas. Bliss attacked Jack and may have defeated him if the sight of their fight hadn’t reawakened Mikaal enough for him to aid Jack in destroying the demon (“A (K)night at the Circus”, Starman (vol. 2) #7-8 (May-June 1995)).
Despite helping Jack defeat Bliss Mikaal was still withdrawn. He refused to speak English and his memories of the past were like “oil on rain-damp black stone. The oil and the water make a swirl of radiant silver-coopper-flow-mixed seven, seven Colourist bright. Nothing he can touch. Or define.” (Starman (vol. 2) #12 (Oct 1995)). He was passive until he was kidnapped by the gang of Frankie Soul – the son of Louie Soul, the villain who had died fighting him in the 1970s. Frankie beat Mikaal to within an inch of his life, but it wasn’t until Frankie’s henchmen tried to kill Solomon Grundy (who was also going through an innocent/passive incarnation) that Mikaal was roused temporally into action. His Sonic Crystal flared and destroyed the apartment they were being held in. For saving him Grundy swore to do anything – even die – for Mikaal (“Sins of the Child”, Starman (vol. 2) #12-16 (Oct 1995-Feb 1996)).
After his abduction Mikaal recovered the power of speech and was eager to talk (Starman (vol. 2) #17 (March 1996)). Despite the sudden flare up his powers still seemed inert and he still had no memory of the time before Jack saved him. Mikaal couldn’t even remember the name of his home planet (Starman (vol. 2) #25 (Dec 1996)). His mind was finally clear for the first time in so many years that, despite not remembering his origins, Mikaal decided to move out of the Knights’ Observatory and return to a semblance of normal life in Opal (Starman (vol. 2) #35 (Oct 1997)).
It was during a trip to the video store that Mikaal met Tony, the man who would become his long-term lover. The pair was happy together and Tony added the stability that Mikaal needed as rebuilt his life (Starman (vol. 2) #45 (Aug 1998)). When Jack asked Mikaal about his sexuality he answered “Gay? I’m alien, Jack. My actions are natural to my race, and shouldn’t… can’t be judged by human standards.” (Starman (vol. 2) #48 (Dec 1998)).
Return to the Stars
Jack Knight had heard from his girlfriend that another former Starman, Will Payton the fifth Starman, was still alive somewhere in outer space. Jack was determined to find him and borrowed a Victorian era rocket ship from the Shade and set out with Mikaal to find Payton (Starman (vol. 2) #45 (Aug 1998)). They were in space when Mikaal was overcome by a nightmare of Komak and Turran Kha killing Lyysa. His dream was so strong that he lashed out and damaged the ship forcing them to set down for repairs. Mikaal was knocked unconscious in an attack and had a visitation from David Knight, the restless spirit of Jack’s deceased brother. Mikaal told David that he didn’t think of himself as a hero, but David warned him that:
There will come a time when you will have to be the hero. Whether you have power then or not… it’s what is within you.. your inner strength that will be needed. [...] But one day Opal City will need a hero. Jack won’t be around. [...] Be ready, Mikaal. Be brave and be ready. (Starman (vol. 2) #49 (Jan 1999))
Mikaal got another wake up call when the two Starmen fell through a Shadow Cloud into the future of the Legion of Superheroes. Umbra, Tasmia Mallor of Talok VIII, recognised Mikaal on sight and addressed him as “My Lord!”
Umbra told him that he would eventually return to Talok VIII (twenty years into his own future) where he could become a legendary champion, but she had her doubts until he began to take David’s words to heart and started fighting more proactively. They eventually discovered the cause of their transit to the future was the Shade, the one from Umbra’s time. Mikaal helped free him by using the latent power of his Crystal to channel cosmic energy to Jack Knight’s cosmic rod. Mikaal and Jack then returned to their own time (Starman (vol. 2) #50 (Feb 1999)).
After Mikaal’s earlier nightmare, he had felt a burning sensation from his Crystal. He now knew that it was alerting him to the presence of Turran Kha. Its signal led them to Rann where Adam Strange was preparing to host a diplomatic event for the founding of a League of Planets. They found Turran’s crashed ship, but could not find him before his gang attacked the diplomatic function and kidnapped Strange’s daughter. Jack, Adam, and Mikaal managed to save her, but Turran escaped despite Mikaal’s Crystal flaring again (Starman (vol. 2) #52-53 (April-May 1999)).
Their trek eventually took them to Throneworld, capital world of the Crown Imperial empire. They were captured and tortured by Jediah Rikane, Prince Regent of the Empire, who sought to stop them from liberating Will Payton, who was also his prisoner. Rikane had discovered that Payton shared a common soul with Prince Grayn. If it became known that Grayn had been reborn as Payton Rikane would lose his claim to the throne. Mikaal also found that Turran was working for Rikane and that he’d been behind the attack on the Rannian diplomatic function. Mikaal’s increasing confidence and strength finally allowed him to regain full control of his powers in time to save Jack and himself from execution. They then led a successful revolt against Rikane with the help of Fastbak of the New Gods and the Omega Men. In the battle Mikaal finally confronted and killed Turran (Starman (vol. 2) #56-60 (Aug-Dec 1999)).
Return to Earth
Mikaal was reunited with Tony upon his arrival back on Earth and Tony noted how much stronger, more focused he had become. They were together for just one night before the spirit of David Knight reappeared to tell Mikaal that he was about to recover the last part of his missing memory – how he ended up in Mister Bliss’s freak show. He then got a phone call from Octavia, another of Bliss’s freaks, asking him to revisit the circus. She warned him that something was brewing, there were rumours of the Shade killing people. However, David Knight also told Mikaal that this wasn’t the time for him to succeed Jack and that what was to come wasn’t going to be easy for him.
Mikaal was then attacked and captured by agents of Culp (the wretched dwarf controlling the Shade’s actions). The ensuing battle brought in dozens of super villains from Opal Past including Frankie Soul (No Mercy’s son) and Crusher (Mister Bliss’s old henchman). Soul would have killed Mikaal in the battle had Solomon Grundy – who had some lingering memory of their past friendship – not sacrified his present incarnation to save Mikaal. The blue skinned warrior then made sure that Soul paid for that crimes with his life. However, the nightmare didn’t end until Ted Knight, the original Starman, gave his life to defeat the original Mist who had usurped Culp’s plans (“Grand Guignol”, Starman (vol. 2) #61-72 (Jan-Dec 2000))
Mikaal spoke at Ted Knight’s memorial (Starman (vol. 2) #73 (Jan 2001)):
Since Jack had saved him from Bliss’s freak show Mikaal had come to see Jack as his brother and had been accepted into Opal’s extended family of lawmen and superheroes. His recuperation at Ted Knight’s observatory and then living with Tony had healed him. His time in space and the fight against Culp had restored his powers and his valour. And he remained in Opal as one of its defenders after Jack Knight retired to San Francisco to raise his daughter with his fiancée (Sadie, Will Payton’s sister). (Starman (vol. 2) #80 (Aug 2001)).
Several years passed in Mikaal’s time line. He’s living in Opal with Tony, presumably helping out other heroes here and there. There is only one appearance of him from this time: When knowledge of the Justice League of America was erased by a villain the world still remembered the idea of a Justice League of something-that-began-with-the-letter-A. Several replacement JLA’s appeared and one of them was a Justice League of Aliens. Mikaal was pulled into that at the start, but he quickly recognised that it was not a good idea and walked away (Justice Leagues: Justice League of Aliens #1 (March 2001)).
Mikaal’s world was torn apart when Tony was killed whilst visiting his parents in New York. A supervillain attack on STAR Labs had spilled out onto the street and Tony was caught in the cross-fire. Mikaal arranged for Tony’s funeral and then set out on a quest for justice. Bobo Bennetti and the Shade aided Mikaal and he followed the evidence they unearthed to Blackhawk Island. There he met the unusual Congo Bill – the old big-game hunter who was now stuck in the body of the Congorilla. Bill was also seeking justice for his gorilla friends who had been killed during the kidnapping of a gorilla called Malavar (a scientist from Gorilla City). The azure-skinned alien warrior and the century old giant ape quickly became fast friends and followed evidence from Blackhawk Island to Paris, France.
There was some larger connected conspiracy behind the events that had left them both bereaved. They hoped to find out more when they cornered the villains Penny Dreadful (who’d been at the STAR Lab’s burglary) and Arak (who’d been at the kidnapping of Malavar). Mikaal stopped Bill from killing them (“He [Tony] wouldn’t want this — blood spilled in his name.”) and Arak confessed that they were working for Prometheus. Penny Dreadful killed Arak for talking and Mikaal was forced to kill her in self-defence. They’d discovered their enemy’s name, but the villains’ deaths meant the trail had gone cold. Mikaal and Bill then turned to Bill’s old ally Animal Man and found help from him and the Titan’s Donna Troy and Starfire. Together they approached the Justice League – who were also hunting Prometheus. The entire affair ended messily when the League were forced to release Prometheus in exchange for information on how to deactivate his bombs (Justice League: Cry For Justice #1-7 (Sept 2009-April 2010)).
After Prometheus’s escape Mikaal returned to Blackhawk Island with Bill in order to look for more clues to Malavar’s whereabouts. They were attacked by Tender Mercy and the Chair from Doctor Impossible’s New Gang who were searching for fragments of New Genesisian technology. Their lives were saved by a new incarnation of the Justice League organised by Donna Troy and Dick Grayson (who was now Batman). Donna was grateful for their help and asked the duo if they’d like to come back to the League’s Watchtower. That League fell apart after it emerged that Green Arrow had killed Prometheus in revenge for the death of his grand-daughter. What had been a friendly invite back to the JLA Watchtower rapidly turned into full-blown membership and Mikaal and Bill found themselves at the core of a smaller Justice League (“Team History”).
Mikaal was with the Justice League when they allied themselves with the Justice Society to fight the Starheart and free Jade and Alan Scott from it’s influence. Mikaal’s ability to survive in space meant that he was chosen to investigate the Starheart’s lunar base, but he was ambushed and the Sonic Crystal was ripped out of his chest. Through Miss Martian Mikaal was able to relate a telepathic description of the base’s interior to the JLA and JSA. The Crystal had become inimical to Mikaal’s life and he was close to death when Doctor Midnite found him. Midnite snatched the gem back from the Starheart and reattached it to Mikaal (“The Dark Things”).
Mikaal had been active with the Justice League or helping Bill ever since Tony’s death. So Bill became concerned when Mikaal vanished. They were both trapped outside of the energy dome imprisoning the JLA so he decided to track down Mikaal. He found him waking up after a days long bender and it looked like Mikaal was in danger of slipping back into his old addictions. Some friends may have taken a sensitive approach to his problems, but Bill told Mikaal to pull himself together and put his pants on. He then dragged Mikaal back into the search for Malavar as he was convinced that the gorilla scientist was the only person who could break through the energy dome.
Mikaal and Bill found that Malavar was on a quest of his own, he was searching for the Fountain of Youth so that he could restore the Tasmanian Devil (who has also been a prisoner of Prometheus). With Animal Man and Rex the Wonder Dog’s help Mikaal and Bill tracked down Malavar and helped him save Taz. Bill told Mikaal that Taz was also gay and while Mikaal appreciated the sentiment he told his friend that just because he and Taz were metahumans and gay it didn’t automatically mean they were destined to hook up. Nevertheless, seeing Taz reborn by the Fountain did make Mikaal realises that “Tony’s gone. Never forget him, never stop loving his memory — but life is too precious not to live it while I can.” They then helped Malavar use his technology to save the rest of the Justice League (Starman/Congorilla #1 (March 2011) “JLA: Omega”).