Justice League of America #189 (April, 1981)
“The Return of the Starfish Conquerer!”
Writer – Gerry Conway
Pencils – Rich Buckler
Inks – Frank McLaughlin
Letters – Ben Oda
Colors – Gene D’Angelo
Editor – Len Wein
Cover Price: $0.50
Been awhile since we covered any Justice League… it’s been even longer since we talked any about Starro!
We open on board the Justice League Satellite where Black Canary is running Firestorm through an obstacle course for training… which he keeps cheating his way through by making himself immaterial via his atomic restructuring hoo-doo. He argues that the course is supposed to make him hone his powers… and becoming immaterial is one of them, to which, Dinah doesn’t have much of a response. She does, however, rub it in that she’s able to get through the course with ease.
We shift scenes to somewhere on Long Island, where a young boy named Terry Watson is trying to break in his brand new fishing rod. He manages to catch… well, not a fish, but what looks like… okay, you’ve seen the cover and I’ve seen the cover… it’s Starro.
We follow Terry home where he gets a tongue-lashing from his folks for sneaking off to go fishing. Terry enters the home, and is acting and speaking quite peculiar. His father, Ward, snatches the box he’s carrying and looks inside. It’s, yeah… it’s still Starro.
Then, it’s Mom’s turn…
We next jump ahead one month. We’re in Central Park where Red Tornado and Wonder Woman are hanging out with Reddy’s main squeeze Kathy and her daughter Traya. Wonder Woman believes that this is Tornado’s way of letting the League know that he’s “found a purpose” in life. Diana and Kathy talk the “emotional logistics” of loving an android.
Meanwhile, nearby… Ward and Terry Watson lurk by the lake. Their eyes are deadened and their expressions blank. Before them in the water, there’s a bubbling.
Suddenly, what appears to be a giant starf… okay, Starro attacks a couple in a rowboat. Wondy and Reddy hop to action!
Wonder Woman rushes in first… and gets zapped pretty good for her troubles. Kayoed, even!
Red Tornado fares no better… because, apparently… even an android can
cry be knocked out by a giant starfish. Starro then emerges from the drink and… I’m not sure if he’s threatening the humans, or just making a proclamation… either way, he informs them that they’re about to witness “the arrival of greatness”.
And then, like any dictatorial starfish might do… he reveals his origin! Like all of it… while panicked New Yorkers run around like lunatics! Ya see, he fought the Justice League before they even were the Justice League (Brave and the Bold #27). After being defeated, one of his “segments” blew off… and grew into a whole new Starro. This Starro fought Aquaman (Adventure Comics #451)… and guess what? The same exact thing happened! This time around (is this really only Starro’s third appearance?!) the Watsons found him… and nurtured him back to his conquering-size.
Starro continues to blast away at the New Yorkers, turning them all into mindless slaves. Meanwhile, at the Fortress of Solitude, Superman is trying to gauge how powerful Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern ring is. I guess this is what they do in their “off time”. Hal claims that it’s all powerful, however, that power should only be used a little at a time. Their chat is interrupted by the sounding of their JLA Comlinks… and so, they’re off to the Satellite!
Upon arrival, they find that the only other Leaguers there are Canary and Firestorm. Also, Wonder Woman and Red Tornado… but they’re knocked out. Dinah explains that Superman and Hal are actually the only ones to answer the call, since she and Ronnie were already there. This is because “something” is jamming communications… however, the Aurora Borealis above the Fortress of Solitude allowed the “broadcast” to come through.
Wonder Woman and Red Tornado begin to stir, and explain that the threat they now face is… Starro the Conqueror (hey, they spelled “conqueror” right this time!). Speak of the starfish… he… er, it’s currently holding court at Times Square… where it’s feeding off of some of the nearby “protein”, which it needs to grow big and strong. Oh, and also to climb the Empire State Building, King Kong style. Well, maybe a little differently than King Kong did.
The Justice League arrives just in time for Starro to begin… firing off miniature Starros!
Firestorm, being the impetuous and impatient yoot’ that he is, rushes in… and gets a starfish to the face! Wonder Woman attempts to lend a hand, however, he starts blasting willy-nilly.
The rest of the League takes their positions and attempts to both fight Starro… and contain all of the minis. Hal constructs a net… however, it’s almost a moot point, there are just so many of these little buggers being produced, there’s no hope of catching them all.
Just then, more baby starfish! The little buggers latch on to Hal (and Red Tornado for that matter), and both heroes succumb.
We’re down to Superman and Black Canary. Dinah rolls through and offers up a diversionary holler. Superman lunges in for a shot at Starro’s eye… however, gets caught up in an “atomic blast crossfire” wherein Starro uses all of its appendages? segments? arms? legs? points? to nail him but good.
With Superman out for the count, Dinah starts laying in to Starro with her karate prowess. She is halted, however, by the sight of her teammates… with starfish on their faces! This distraction is enough for Starro to nail her with a fish of her own. Oh, Superman gets one too!
As Starro stands triumphant atop the Empire State Building… a seagull flies by. We follow the bird all the way to an Aircraft Carrier off Long Island where… the other half of the Justice League (Batman, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Elongated Man, Flash, and Aquaman) is… I dunno, hanging out? Anyhoo, the seagull “reports in” to Hawkman, and he shares the news with his teammates (and the United States Navy). One Naval officer suggests, if the “Starro Infection” is as bad as they say it is, they will have no other choice than to… destroy New York City!
What a fun issue! I think today we’re almost programmed to scoff at things like Starro… discount it as a silly Silver-Age relic (which, I mean, it kinda is), but here… Starro’s built into a pretty credible threat! I mean, he beat (arguably the stronger) half of the Justice League… without even breaking a sweat!
Sure, the road we took getting there was a bit weird… I mean, some kid fishing it out of a fishin’ hole. I guess there are stranger ways this could’ve come up… but, still. I found it pretty hilarious that Starro controlled the Watson family into nourishing it back to “fighting size”. The image of Mama Watson spooning “protein” into Starro’s midsection will probably stick with me for awhile.
I dig they way they’re trying to “humanize” Red Tornado here. I always kinda looked at him as Vision without the charm. Stories like this go a long way toward changing that.
I feel like the members of the League were all depicted great here… except perhaps Wonder Woman. Seems like she went down a little too easy for my liking. Seems like she was a “one-and-done” during both battles. I liked that Hal was kind of acting “defensively”, trying to neutralize the little buggers while the others faced “Big Starro” head on. Pretty cool attention to detail there, just the fact that somebody was thinking about containing the threat.
We get a great cliffhanger here… and one I’m pretty excited to follow up on. I’m pretty sure this is my first time reading this one… and while, I’m about 99% sure that the next issue won’t feature New York City being destroyed, I’m still left guessing how they’ll get through this one. Part of me is sure it’ll be underwhelming… but, that’s just the comics-cynic in me.
I asked during the synopsis whether or not this truly was Starro’s third appearance… it almost seems impossible, doesn’t it? Well, did some digging around my usual digging haunts and come to find that, yeah, this is (discounting reprints) only the third time Starro has tried to Conquer! Of course, from this point forward he would be a bit more prolific… even, not too long after, appearing in Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew!
Overall… had a really good time here, and I’m guessing if you’re a fan of the League, you will too! Doesn’t look like this one’s been collected, nor (for whatever reason) been made available digitally. So, this one will be a bin dive, but shouldn’t run ya all that much. Worth a look if you come across it!