Fan News

Stargirl: Unpacking the Return of Starman

Stargirl: Unpacking the Return of Starman

By Joshua Lapin-Bertone Wednesday, September 21st, 2022

Welcome to the Couch Club, our recurring column devoted to all things #DCTV! This week, Joshua Lapin-Bertone explains why we shouldn't judge Starman too harshly this season on Stargirl.

Sylvester Pemberton is kind of a mess, isn’t he? It’s hard to come to any other conclusion after watching him destroy a grocery store as he impulsively attacked Sportsmaster and Tigress. This is more than Starman being a spoiled rich boy turned superhero. The guy is going through a lot, and not just because last week’s episode of Stargirl ended with him being tossed into the air like a rag doll.

Look, I get it. Sylvester Pemberton is trying to adjust to his resurrection and it hasn’t been easy. He came back to life, but there wasn’t a life to come back to. His family and his former teammates are dead, and his beloved Cosmic Staff has bonded with a new hero. Life moved on without him. He still has his former sidekick Pat, but seeing him has become a constant reminder of how life left him behind. Pat now has a wife, kids and a new team of heroes. True, they’ve all welcomed Sylvester with open arms, but seeing them only drives home the point that things have changed.

Despite the season premiere’s great opening montage, it didn’t escape my notice that Sylvester didn’t go on the family camping trip. As the season begins, the Dugan-Whitmore family returns from a trip to Yellowstone, but we see that Sylvester was left behind. (Fun fact: you can find out what happened on this family excursion by checking out the Earth-Prime: Stargirl tie-in comic.) The family took this trip shortly after defeating Eclipso, which means that it wasn’t long after Pat and Sylvester reunited.

Think about that for a moment. Sylvester finally returns to Pat after a long search and Pat immediately leaves with his family on a camping trip. For his part, Sylvester didn’t seem outwardly bothered by this, but I have to imagine that inside he was hurting. When the Dugan-Whitmore family returns, they’re smiling and laughing, demonstrating a bond that Sylvester missed out on.

There is a lot for Starman to adjust to. The former millionaire is sleeping in a basement, and he has to accept the fact that his sidekick Pat is no longer the pushover he once knew. He’s also dealing with survivor’s guilt, blaming himself for the slaughter of his teammates. We saw some of this when he broke down on the couch in “Frenemies – Chapter Two: The Suspects.” And let’s not forget the way the Shade pushed his buttons either. The former Injustice Society villain told Sylvester that Pat was the only one that came to his funeral and that nobody wanted him back. For a man who didn’t have a life to come back to and who saw everyone move on without him, those words probably felt like the truth.

Having Crusher and Paula Crock live next door may be fun for us as viewers, but for Sylvester, it’s likely a bit traumatizing. As fans of the show, we got to see Sportsmaster and Tigress transition from enemies, to allies, to wacky neighbors, making it less jarring for us. Sylvester didn’t get that luxury. He didn’t see Crusher awkwardly bond with Pat, or Paula chat with Barbara about how difficult it is to raise teens. The last time Sylvester saw the Crocks, they were murdering his best friends.

Keeping this in mind helps us understand Sylvester’s mindset. Sportsmaster and Tigress are more than just villains who reformed—they participated in the slaughter of Starman’s longtime teammates. In Sylvester’s eyes, these people are the reason why his life is currently in shambles. Not only are the Crocks walking around scot-free, but Pat has welcomed them into his home like old friends. As if the original Justice Society meant nothing.

If you were Sylvester, wouldn’t you be angry as well?

I’m not saying Starman was justified in attacking the Crocks and destroying that grocery store. (Although truth be told, I’m glad he did because that fight scene was epic.) Sylvester’s actions were messed up and the man is carrying a lot on his shoulders. Maybe it’s not the best idea to entrust him with something as powerful as the Cosmic Staff. Then again, taking away one of the few connections he has to his old life would probably send him spiraling further. There are no simple solutions to Sylvester’s complex issues.

I’ll be honest, I’m still not 100% sure that this is the real Starman. Maybe it’s an imposter, or maybe it’s someone else brainwashed into thinking they’re Sylvester. I’ve been reading comic books since childhood, and I’ve learned to always be suspicious of resurrections. The 1993 Flash storyline “The Return of Barry Allen” followed a similar path. Barry Allen, who had been presumed dead, returned but began acting moody and erratic. It turned out he was Thawne in disguise.

I’m probably being a bit too paranoid here. Maybe this is the real Starman. This is a good time to remind you all that I know as much about future episodes as you do. I don’t know who killed the Gambler, and I don’t know what’s going on with Sylvester. Heck, until the end of the most recent episode, Sylvester was one of my suspects.

I’m not trying to excuse any of Starman’s actions this season, but it is important for us to know where they’re coming from. It’s not easy to lose everything while being forced to carry on. But as Stargirl has demonstrated, Blue Valley is a place for new beginnings. We’ve seen a new Justice Society rise out of the ashes of the old. We’ve seen villains like Shiv fight for justice. Starman may have lost his old life, but I think he has the opportunity to build an even better one.

Just so long as he doesn’t burn it all down before he realizes that.


DC's Stargirl airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. CST) on The CW. For all the latest from Blue Valley, visit our official Stargirl series page.

Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.

NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Joshua Lapin-Bertone and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.