I am numb.
I sit here in my father’s observatory staring at the stainless steel of the walls, and it means nothing to me. When I was a kid, I thought this place was the center of the universe. No, it was close, but the real center of my universe… was her.
“I see you, Jack Knight!”
Jack giggled with delight as he ducked behind his father’s telescope. His mother Doris, with her auburn hair so perfectly coiffed, chased Jack around the observatory until she caught him.
She wrestled young Jack to the ground. “And now you must pay for your crimes, Vandal Savage!” Doris Lee Knight said as she held her five-year-old son tight. He squirmed, making a futile attempt to get away, but her arms held fast.
“Never, Starwoman! You can’t make me talk!” young Jack yelled at the top of his voice.
Doris raised her eyebrows. “Oh, really? Then you’ve never encountered a little trick taught to me by Doctor Fate!” Holding Jack securely with one arm, Doris raised her left hand and pointed her index finger at Jack. “The fickle finger of doom!”
And with that proclamation, Doris tickled Jack within an inch of his life, his howls of laughter reverberating throughout the observatory.
But there were no sounds of laughter here any more. That ended the day she died a short time later. Though he was only five at the time, he remembered the funeral vividly and the look upon his father’s face. No emotion. Hadn’t he loved her? Didn’t he care? Yet from the time they arrived until the time she was laid in the ground, Dad’s face remained carved in stone — unmoving, unfeeling, numb.
I am numb. Just like Dad. I finally understand.
Three days prior:
Jack Knight landed against the wall of the observatory with a crack and a thud. His two friends took the opportunity to run like hell.
“How many times do I have to tell you, you stupid $%&^? Huh? No smoking pot!”
Jack slowly stood up, wiping his mouth with the back of his fist. He looked at his brother David with murder in his eyes. Jack lunged for David, but David deftly stepped out of the path of Jack’s fist and hit him in the back. Jack smacked against the floor.
“I’m serious, Jack. If I catch you or those friggin’ losers you called friends here smoking that crap again, I will turn you in. Got it?”
Jack slowly stumbled up, his back aching, clutching his right arm. “Fine, whatever…” he said as he started walking off.
“Don’t you walk away from me, Jack. This isn’t over.”
Jack stopped his tracks and turned to face his brother. “What? You want to beat me up some more? Is that it? Is that how the big, bad Starman gets his jollies — from roughing up a teenager?”
David Knight exhaled and dropped his head in disgust. “God, you just don’t get it, do you?”
“Get what?” Jack said, walking back to his brother and getting in his face. “That you’re better than I am? That you’re the almighty wielder of the cosmic rod? That Dad always loved you better than me? That he couldn’t stand me? Yeah, I get it, asshole. And now you want to be just like Dad, passing judgment on me? Making me feel like I’m worthless? Believe me, I get it.”
David stood for a moment with his mouth open, not sure what to say. It wasn’t what he was expecting. “Jack, I…”
Jack walked back to the door. “Save it, ‘Star Boy.’ I’m not interested. Maybe I’ll get lucky, and the next mission you go on, someone like Solomon Grundy will snap your neck, and then I won’t have to listen to you anymore.”
“Jack, you don’t mean that…”
Jack opened the door and stepped out. Before he closed it, he stuck his head and left hand back in. “Don’t I?” he said as his middle finger went up.
The door slammed, and David’s heart crumbled.
“What am I doing wrong, Dad?” David said as he gazed up at the seat where he’d seen his father sit so many times. “Why can’t I get through to him?”
But no answers would come that day
Starman flew across the Opal City skyline, patrolling the city as his father was often wont to do before his disappearance more than a year ago. (*) He looked below to see the city teeming with life and bustling with activity.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Starman: Stars and Sliders.]
He landed on the Opal City Hall building, as he had so many times before, looking out over the majestic landscape. He understood why his father had fallen in love with this place. How could anyone not?
Now if I could only understand Jack.
David’s thoughts were interrupted by a glint of moonlight bouncing off something on the roof across the street. David stepped to the end of the building to get a better look.
At that moment David heard music, but where was it coming from? The sky had turned orange, and David could feel a pounding in his head. He looked down and saw a red stain seeping into his costume.
Oh, God! I’ve — I’ve been shot…
David fell like a limp rag doll from the top of the building, using the last vestige of his willpower to create a cosmic mattress to land on. As his consciousness faded, so too did the mattress, leaving Starman lying on the street, bloody and broken. He heard someone yell for an ambulance over the music in his head, and then the sounds grew fainter and fainter. David thought he could smell his mother’s perfume. And then he thought nothing at all.
“Time to go, Jack.”
Jack Knight said nothing as he continued to stare at the observatory walls.
Jules Black looked at Andy Murphy and shrugged his shoulders. “He’s been in here for three days, ever since he heard the news about David.” Jules was the manager of the Knight Trust, a foundation formed by David Knight after the disappearance of their father. He basically ran the entire financial aspect of David and Jack’s life. He had been a friend of Ted Knight’s for many years.
Andy Murphy looked back at Jules and shook his head. “You go on ahead, Jules. I’ll get the kid ready.” Andy was a relative newcomer to the Knight estate, having been hired by David as a personal trainer and, truth to tell, as someone to watch out for Jack when David was busy as Starman.
“Jack, it’s time to go.”
Jack suddenly came back into focus as both of Murph’s arms grabbed the boy and yanked him to his feet. “You may get away with this crap with everyone else around, son, but not with me. What the hell is your problem? You’ve been moping in here for three days. You reek! Now get your ass in the shower before I put you in the bathtub and wash you myself.”
Jack’s only response, as his features knotted in anger, was to spit in Murph’s face. Murph immediately drew his hand back and smacked Jack across the face.
“What the $%#& did you do that for? Get out of here — you’re fired!” Jack said as he tried to pull away from Murph. Murph brought himself face to face with the boy.
“Don’t work that way, sunshine. You can’t fire me; only Jules can, and that ain’t happening anytime soon. Now get your ass in the shower and get dressed. You’re not missing your brother’s funeral. If you’re not out in ten minutes, that slap on the face is gonna seem like a love tap. We clear on that?”
Jack stared into the man’s eyes. He was going to give one of his typical smart-ass remarks, but something about Murph changed his mind. As Jack walked back to the house to change, Murph headed to the limousine to join Jules, a grin crossing his face.
Unbeknownst to either man, the Shade appeared in the observatory and looked around for a moment. “Hmmm. This bears further investigation.”
The crowd gathered in much the same manner as the storm clouds did, quickly and with intensity. The gray pallor of the sky matched Jack’s mood perfectly. It seemed the whole town had gathered to bid David Knight a fond farewell, much as they had done months earlier at Ted Knight’s wake. Some were saying that the name Starman must have become cursed since the Crisis.
Jack looked across the stage. Jules and Murph sat next to him, both in dark suits that matched the sky above; Commissioner Clarence O’Dare was there along with his brothers Barry, Matt, and Mason and sister Hope, all Opal police officers, all in dress uniforms. The members of Infinity Inc. and the Justice Society of America, all dressed in their garish and colorful uniforms, stood by as an honor guard of sorts. Wonder Woman wore Amazon ceremonial garb, complete with cape and scepter. The others wore their capes in front of them, as if to further mute the kaleidoscope their costumes made. Jack, however, was dressed in his own unique way. He wore jeans that were shredded and full of holes. His black T-shirt emblazoned with a large hand, middle finger pointing skyward, the words below reading, Got a problem? His jacket was leather, chains adorning it in the oddest places. His head was covered with a black do-rag, and a pair of sunglasses concealed his bloodshot eyes.
Wildcat leaned into Patriot and whispered, “I knew the kid would take this hard, but he looks like he’s dressed for a rock concert, not a funeral.”
Sylvester Pemberton chuckled at that. “Jack’s always marched to the beat of a different drummer, Ted. Remember back in ’75 when Ted first gave me his cosmic rod? (*) David thought it was a great thing that I was taking his father’s mantle up while Ted was recuperating with a broken leg from his encounter with the British Bat. Even at the age of six, Jack just glared at me and stomped off. I don’t think he’s ever said two words to me.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Super Squad,” All-Star Comics #58 (January-February, 1976).]
“Yeah, I know,” said Ted Grant. “Even when we got the whole group together, families and all, I remember Jack just kinda goin’ off by himself and playin’. He never seemed to want to have anything to do with anyone, ‘cept maybe Terry.”
Syl looked at Ted with surprise. “Really? Terry Sloane?”
Ted scratched the back of his head. “Surprised the heck out of me, too. I went fer a walk around Carter’s estate during one o’ them get-togethers; think it was ’77 or ’78. I saw Terry swinging from a tree branch by his legs, upside-down, no less, and little Jack — must have been eight or nine at the time — just laughing his fool head off. Jack spent the rest of the day playin’ with Terry and his teenage daughter Geri. I asked Terry what he’d done ta get the boy to open up. Terry just smiled and said, ‘I understand loneliness, Ted.'”
“Oh, man,” Syl said. “And Terry died in ’79. No wonder Jack’s screwed up. The only people he ever cared about — Ted, Doris, Terry, and David — are all dead.”
“Don’t forget Geri. She’s gonna try ta talk to him after the funeral.”
“I think I will too, Ted. I owe Ted Knight that much.”
The endless parade of people passed by Jack, but he barely even registered them. Some grasped his hand; others tried to hug him. He felt like a dog’s chew toy, being moved and shaken in every direction at once. A man in a wheelchair came up to him.
“I am so sorry about your brother, Jack. He was a fine boy. Reminded me a lot of your father.”
Jack broke out of his stupor. “Do I know you?”
The old man smiled, his skin stretching like parchment paper, “Don’t you remember, Jack? I’m your great-uncle, Woodley Allen, FBI. Well, FBI retired, I suppose. I used to work with your father back in the day. I used to come by the house at least once a month for dinner. Your mother, my niece, was quite a cook.”
“Yeah, she was…”
“I have something for you, Jack,” Allen said as he reached into his jacket pocket. He pulled out a shiny metallic object that looked like a sheriff’s star.
Jack took the star in his hand and looked at it, a wave of memories crashing over him. “I remember this. But why is it dented? And where did you get it?”
“Your father and I took you and your brother to a movie one night, I don’t remember which one, but you dropped this in the car. I found it on the way home that night and put it in my pocket. I got a call from the Bureau a few minutes later. I arrived on the scene to help. There was a lot of gunplay that night, but we got our man. I got shot during the course of that evening. That star in my pocket stopped the bullet and saved my life. It cracked a rib or two, but I was alive, thanks to you. If you need anything, Jack, call me.”
The old man wheeled off, leaving Jack with the star in his hands. For the first time in days, a smile, however brief, crossed Jack’s lips.