by Dan Swanson
By 1949, Opal City had been without a resident mystery-man for over three years.
In December of 1945, after protecting both Opal City and New York City for close to five years, Starman held a press conference to announce his retirement. In the question and answer session afterward, he revealed that both the mayor and the police commissioner of Opal City still had ways to contact him in emergencies, as did the Justice Society. It was a very emotional press conference, and it was unique, because as far as anyone could tell, this was the first time a mystery-man had ever publicly announced his retirement.
Earlier that year, Starman had embarked on a vigorous personal crusade against crime. For about two solid weeks, if there was any significant criminal activity anywhere in Opal City, Starman had been there to stop it. He had brought so many captured criminals to the police that they were almost tired of seeing him. In most cases, he supplied enough evidence to convict. In many cases, he had intimidated the criminals to the point that they confessed voluntarily. By the end of the second week, violent criminal activity in Opal City had almost ceased, and it remained at an all-time low for the next six months.
When Starman announced that he would retire, the police had expected a sharp rise in criminal activity, but this didn’t happen. A large percentage of Opal City’s criminals were in jail, while many had moved to other cities, and still others were convinced that Starman’s retirement was a ploy meant to trick criminals into getting themselves captured by acting recklessly. As a result, Opal City’s criminal activity remained unusually low in the early postwar years, to such a point that Opal was named “America’s Safest City” for two years in a row in 1946 and 1947.
After two full years without a Starman sighting, most people were finally convinced that Starman really had retired. As criminal activity began to slowly but surely increase, Opal City Police Commissioner Red Bailey was extremely worried. Over the past several years, the low level of criminal activity had convinced the city council to reduce the size of the Opal City police force, saving money that they could then divert to their own districts. In Bailey’s opinion, Opal City only had half the cops it needed, but nobody listened to him. Opal City politicians had a long history of dismissing alarmists and their causes — it was what they did. As the level of criminal activity rose, the politicians all pointed fingers at the police, conveniently ignoring the fact that they had cut police funding by fifty percent over the past two years.
Starman’s sudden and unexpected appearance in Baltimore in December of 1948 had apparently scared some of the criminal element in nearby Opal City into hiding, and the crime rate temporarily fell. (*) But by March, 1949, it had jumped up again. In fact, the level of criminal activity in March was higher than it had been at any time in Opal since Prohibition. And the police were too undermanned to do much about it. Opal City had become a powder-keg ready to blow.
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Brave and the Bold: Hourman and Starman: Times Past, 1948: Time and Stars.]