Back in the autumn of 1971, comic book writer Mike Friedrich had been chronicling the adventures of the Justice League of America for almost two years, and it had occurred to him that he hadn’t created a major lasting opponent for the team. He decided to go all out, and not only manifest their most dangerous and powerful villain, but a true horror as well. In Friedrich’s grand finale of his time on the JLoA, he created the emotional parasite, Starbreaker. Meet me after the jump as I discuss the Justice League Vs. the Cosmic Vampire!
When a Thanagarian teleporter went awry and the molecules of three Justice Leaguers were spread across the universe, they were thankfully reassembled via Zeta Beam on the planet Rann. In those days before tight continuity, Rann was the home of Earthman Adam Strange, one of my favorite characters even when I was a wee one when these stories first appeared, and the planet was a known entity to JLoA readers. Not only was Strange an honorary Justice Leaguer, but he was also a cool combination of both John Carter of Mars and Flash Gordon, truly the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, in this case, his adopted world was under siege by a threat even he could not defeat – the cosmic vampire, Starbreaker!
When Superman finally found his teammates Green Lantern Hal Jordan, Hawkman, and the Flash on the ravaged planet Rann, Adam was more than desperate. Starbreaker, still an unknown entity to the Justice League, had unleashed giant mechanical bugs called Mechanix on two of Rann’s largest cities to prepare it for destruction in its suns. The four Leaguers split into teams to protect the cities, and so does Starbreaker, splitting himself at the expense of a great deal of energy to combat both teams.
Friedrich and the DC Universe
While the team of Superman and Hawkman had little impact in a long-lasting way, Mike Friedrich had for the first time since Green Lantern and Green Arrow award-winning ‘search for America’ put old friends Flash and GL together. The GL/GA stories by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams had certainly changed Hal Jordan quite a bit, but this momentary team-up proved that he and the Flash were still friends, and still a great team. The Silver Age and the Bronze Age merge, as Friedrich (and other writers) tried to Marvel-ize DC Comics’ continuity.
Much like Steve Englehart bringing the martial arts and monsters arms of Marvel into the center of the Marvel Universe in Avengers when they battled the Legion of the Unliving, Mike Friedrich was doing similar work with the Justice League. He’d brought in his teen wonder Robin to his recent JLA/JSA team-up, and while this foursome battled Starbreaker on Rann, the rest of the League dealt with the League of Assassins on Earth. Lines were being crossed and continuity built, and there was more to come.
The Cold Hard Facts
Separately, our heroes on Rann had managed to defeat Starbreaker and save Rann, but that said, they had really only been fighting energy duplicates with only a third of the monster’s power. After the defeat, and the depletion in power, the cosmic vampire turned his full power, and his vengeance on the Earth. Starbreaker was coming, and on his way, he was already destroying other worlds to power his revenge. Previously, it was all reputation, and being told Starbreaker was a badass, but now we see a world die at the hands of this vampiric combination of Galactus and a Sun Eater, and it only gets worse.
Despite some desperation and fear at see files from the Guardians of the Universe, the Justice League is ready. They had never faced a threat this powerful before. When Starbreaker makes Earthfall in downtown Central City, the league’s mightiest members are there to meet him. Superman, Green Lantern, and the Flash (flying as if a tornado, something I’d never seen before, but I took it as an indication that this was serious) were easily dispatched as if fleas beneath the giant Starbreaker as he demolished much of the Flash’s hometown.
Watching from their satellite headquarters, the Justice League’s hopes and confidence were crushed watching their mightiest so quickly defeated. Trapped in the depths of despair – no doubt feeding the power of Starbreaker as Earth now moved on its death march into the sun – Hawkman gets the group into the satellite’s video library (a full decade before video was even a thing, the League was cutting edge) to view member recollections of their first recorded case in Justice League of America #9. Hawkman’s plan works, and rouses the team’s spirits. It even gives the League an idea on how to stop their foe – fight him on an emotional level as opposed to physical – and that’s when a mysterious stranger invades the satellite!
Sargon the Sorcerer
Before future writers made nightmares of Sargon’s continuity, he was a magician hero of the Golden Age, apparently a native of Earth-One as the Flash notes Sargon was a hero when they were kids, but then he also adds he’d had a few suspicious run-ins with him recently. This is Friedrich again linking the DC Universe. Later writers would have Sargon jump Earths multiple times, and switch sides as hero and villain. The facts are this, he may have been a villain recently, but now the whole planet is in danger, he would help the league against Starbreaker – that’s the bottom line that he’s there for. He nicely fills the magical hole that later on would be taken by Zatanna, Doctor Fate, and the Phantom Stranger, but the League of this time had no such expert.
Sargon’s power comes from his Ruby of Life, once in their trust, he send teams of heroes to retrieve two other such rubies to add to his power. These, combined with Green Lantern’s Power Ring, and the technology of Hawkgirl in the Thanagarian spacer and Supergirl in the Fortress of Solitude, allow Sargon to build a trap for the cosmic vampire. New age before there was new age, the heroes bombard Starbreaker with their positive energy while simultaneously battling him physically. They force him to expend his energies, splitting himself to fight the JLA in different time eras, while the Atom manipulates his decisions into defeat and despair.
Despite these stories being among my favorite JLA stories of all, Starbreaker languished in comic book limbo for decades. The grouping of heroes that would called the Justice League just before the death of Superman would be the first to unearth the vengeance of Starbreaker in 1992. Wearing a slicker more demonic appearance, but playing the same planetary death march game, this time with Maxima‘s homeworld Almerac, the cosmic vampire was back, and this time, he was here to stay for a bit.
As the DC Universe began its own march to its end in a series of annoying mega-crossovers, Starbreaker became a staple in the cosmic villain game. Not only was he responsible for the big planet kidnapping of Rann that caused a war with Thanagar, but it was also theorized that Starbreaker was the adult form of a Sun Eater. For the uninitiated, Sun eaters are creatures that eat suns, and have been responsible for the deaths of Ferro Lad, Parallax, and, ahem, Ferro Lad again, because comics. Think Galactus with suns instead of planets.
Although he may have been forgotten for decades, this villain left the impression on me that writer Mike Friedrich wanted, the League’s most powerful enemy. Darkseid, step back, Starbreaker always has first place as far as I’m concerned. Vampires are cool, but cosmic vampires are cooler.