Nerding Day: Stardust, Part 1 🌭

Hey, you—with the love handles: how would you like to fistfight Old Testment God?

That was the trick question asked in each issue of Stardust the Super Wizard, a comic about an omnipotent, unelected space-sheriff who only had one combat level, meaning horrified mobsters suffered the same ferocious punishment as galactic warlords, and it was The Infinity Gauntlet #4 treatment.

Sorry, I forget some of you don’t speak superhero. I’ll explain. Alcoholic comic artist Fletcher Hanks arguably created the first superheroine, Fantomah, but his second-most famous work was Stardust the Super Wizard, a misanthropic asshole’s version of Superman wearing Batman’s utility belt.

Stardust had every power except empathy, no weaknesses, and even less drama. No matter what the peril, he had a ray or gas to solve it. He was said to be invulnerable, dodged every attack regardless, and was proportioned like the Titan who bullied the Gigachad in high school. It’s unknown if Stardust had any weaknesses, because the one time an opponent landed an attack, Stardust let him do it just to toy with his hope of survival. I’m highly confident he’s related to the Engineers from Alien, given that he’s 9’ tall, and despises all the parts of humanity he can’t seed with his starspawn.

Also, Hanks put all of Stardust’s physical stats into the X and Y axes, leaving him with no Z for the ass:

“The most remarkable man that ever lived” is an all-seeing, all-powerful sky-wizard who lets bad people hurt good ones so he can mangle crooks for committing crimes he could have stopped. The superhero genre was still in the neonatal ward when Fletcher Hanks realized it was Gods vs. Mortals, and decided Mortals needed more body horror to tamp their big ideas.

I hope it helps you make sense of why your grandparents vote the way they do. Because of their choices, all of the 1930s’ sci-fi nightmares are just the 2020s’ everyday slog. Hanks was a 1940s gonzo cartoonist and a 1930s abusive father, so he was a torturous Da-Da who made torturous dada; yet somehow he predicted our entire stupid existence.

Stardust can eavesdrop on the entire universe and flies 10 million times the speed of light, but never arrives in time to save the man in the street, just the elites. If you wondered why God lets bad things happen to good people, it’s to justify the murders and mutilations he’s plotting in his lab. Phobos University awarded him an honorary doctorate in devising punishments for the crimes he let happen. It’s like, torture for poetry’s sake, man—you dig?

Like most superheroes, Stardust has a code against killing: it disrupts his important work of mutilating still-screeching criminals. He might grant you eternal life, but only so you could suffer forever for kidnapping a billionaire. Stardust stories are duller than the knives his readership uses to make their victims squirm more, because to Hanks, narrative is just build-up. The real attraction is incommensurate retaliation. It’s the “Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker” of superheroes, but instead of crashing through a wall at the end, we’re all cast into hopeless agony.

If Stardust caught you jaywalking, he’d transform-ray you into a blue jay, and then tear your legs off. “You, who sought to be king of the crosswalk racketeers,” growls this parody of art deco, “You shall never walk again!” Then he’d fling you across the galaxy to Cybertron, so you could be stepped on by cars for a million years. It was a drunk’s idea of irony, and it was hatefully rad.

Got it? Now let’s look at the highlights reel from The Further Adventures of Young YHWH, all of which perfectly predict the 2020s.

Stardust enemies tend to declare themselves the enemies of civilization, and want to return to a savage state when they can enslave everyone else.

You know, typical enemies-of-America stuff.

First off, Will Eisner fixed this panel; I’d put $100 on it. The Eisner studio was practically teenagers, and in walks this middle-aged lush mumbling, “Kids whaddaya do a supes hero ok I’ll super you this man of star-metal skin f’r $20 and rum,” then immediately draws all of his characters facing away from the camera.

One Eisnerian correction later, The Secret Army sees a headline that says “Wizard-cop incoming at framework-breaking speeds to mercilessly annihilate crime” and recognizes it as the hornets’ nest they want to roundhouse. Forgivably, they have awesome weapons.

Suddenly: common sense! It doesn’t last.

“Oh God. Oh no. We’re fucked, we’re all fucked, it’s seen us, save yourselves with cyanide.”

Six pages in, Stardust has already floored the pedal to Spectreville. We’re still shaking hands with this new superhero, and suddenly he’s murmuring beneath a sweaty brow about the divine wind reaping the wicked.

Our—well, not hero, but our featured deus ex machina—brings the feds up to the roof to gawp at these men reliving the horrors of their crimes for five minutes. This is what people did for fun in the age before television.

Would it surprise you to learn at this point that Fletch’s dad was a 19th Century Methodist minister? I’m going to assume the method was locking Hanks in the closet to contemplate why sneaking a second fistful of rye flour for morning stirabout was the devil’s breakfast.

To prevent meddling, The Notorious RtB plans to capture Stardust with glue, wind machines that aren’t fans, and magnets. Rip, you moron, those are what you use to catch vermin in a produce warehouse, and Stardust is powered by the energy of an unreachable sun.

World War II’s barely begun, but Rip-the-Blood wants to get a global conflagration going by kidnapping the president via fake Japanese plane. What the hell? Stardust debuted two years before Pearl Harbor.

Anyway, he kidnaps the president like it’s nothing.

Stardust never administers one punishment when nine will murder that man so hard his atomized remains think twice about ever forming covalent bonds with known felons. Stardust makes Rip-the-Blood watch as he blows up the man’s (occupied?) munitions factories, then flings his accomplices into space to die.

I can’t lie, this is great. Only when Rip has nothing left does Stardust hurl him into the sea, a.k.a. the space of earth. It’s a slow death for warmongers. Suddenly, I’m listening to what this peacenik space-fascist has to say. Do the Bush administration next!

Stardust casually leaves to end another world war on Mars, off-panel. Or at least talking about it loudly. This is the kind of thing witnesses clearly remember you saying before you commit a premeditated crime: “Time to go tutor some blind nuns how to bake bread for the poor! Goodbye, everyone! I am leaving the party now, at 9:05 p.m., a forty-minute spatial tubular from my private star if I break all universal constants!” A month later, the bodies of four dozen cosmic terrorists are found drifting in Martian orbit, screaming endlessly in quantum-superpositioned flames.

Ummm…wait. I don’t like where these are going. All of 1939’s imagined threats are our real ones: air pollution, megastorms, rising seas, war profiteers, overpopulation, overheating Earth. At one point a global pandemic stops all industry. We get the worst of the Space-Wizard’s world minus the terrifying benevolent tyrant to save us.

Most Stardust foes employ a private army to increase odds of survival when he inevitably turns their weapons against them. The Demon is the first idiot to take on Stardust with nothing more than an assistant, which means he has to eat a city-killing tidal wave all by himself. Stardust sidearms him headlong into the force of all the hate in the cosmos, but feels there’s important work left to be done in desecrating his body.

The Giant has a lot of subtextual backstory. He’s older than Babylon, the same size as Stardust, and the only person who knows how to disrupt the blue Atlas’s technology. He has a very supportive friend named Kamet. He hates Chicago, so you’d guess he’s from Milwaukee, but he loves slavery, so you might figure Baton Rouge. Anyway, he’s retired to the Southwest, like all old people.

Can’t believe we’re all gonna die at the hands of a guy with a pro wrestler mullet.

I don’t think I’m conjecturing too much that these two are the same ancient race, making Mad Gobi the Sinestro to his Green Lantern, the Venom to his Spidey, the Brockbaby to his Seanway. Maybe that’s why Stardust is oddly restrained for once.

Either it’s professional deference or these monsters can’t die. Then again, maybe our space cop figured no point in a harsh lesson when the guy’s just pressing the gas to our destination.

Racketeer Wolf-Eye and his Crime Wizards, a.k.a. the Miracle Men, have a vacuum ray!

They’re kidnapping elites like “automaker Henry Lord” to destroy the economy. Oh, boo hoo, did a union-busting Hitler-patron dangle in the sky for a bit? My heart, she shudders for that poor, parboiled Nazi.

Without titans of industry to do whatever the telegraph version of shit-tweeting is, the economy tumbles. The dismantling of public transit is delayed an entire week now! But this being Fletcher Hanks, he’s nested at least two extortion schemes in this kidnapping.

Seems like that ray could just vacuum up the money and resources directly, but no one consulted me about my hobbyist schemes to assault billionaires.

Wolf-Eye embiggens himself with a growth ray (now his third super-science ray) but is immediately shrunk by Stardust’s “Fuck your ambitions” ray into a little guy.

It’s unclear if the superhero drops Wolf-Eye off with the Feds or the interplanetary police, but at least this crook’s not doomed to live forever in contemplation of his agonies. Stardust must recognize and respect a fellow ray-pervert.

This one’s not by Hanks, so we don’t care! But he’s an Earth warlord who subjugated Mars.

Let’s see how Superman vs. John Carter fan-fiction shakes out.

Hahahaha, look at these giant feebs, I’m glad they’re dead.

This is what happens when you stop body-shaming people for being different and marry someone for their oversized mind. Martinious conquered this planet by seizing control of its economy entirely through milk money muggings. Thank goodness Captain Eugenics shows up to kill them in the sixth-most horrific manner possible.

Boy, this one tapdances on the thorn of “Is it a slur or does he travel the byways?” You can’t outright say Hanks strips are racist, but then again, Stardust might have eradicated all the other races already.

Here it is. This is the dumbest plot any comic crook ever farted out, and I’ve read villains who want to turn all water on earth into gold. Three idiots with a little knowledge want to halt the Earth’s rotation and send everyone else sliding off at 800 mph so they can keep all the good stuff. They chain themselves to the wall while—wait, this can’t be right…“half a billion” humans rocket to orbit. Is that what they thought overpopulation was? Dear lord. We are a cancer of the earth’s biomass. The Demon wasn’t wrong, he was just inept. To my point:

Orbis non rotat, orbis non sufficit. This is the most realistic panel in the entire series, even though it’s suddenly the lost Canterbury Tale.

The world might have stopped turning, but Clipp doesn’t. Stardust sidewinds him into space like M. Bison.

Then chases him down to inter him in agony.

This is it. Peak stupidity provoking peak cruelty. This is Stardust’s The Creation of Adam, his Purple Rain. A plan this dumb requires a complete syllabus of crime does not pay. Everything after this is going to be weird conceptual stuff that has fans saying “His old stuff was better.”

And we’ll see those avant-garde kills when Stardust returns next month to fight Lepus the Super Fiend! This one is a rare 1900🌭 two parter!

Brendan quit Twitter, but his newsletter now lives unobtrusively in your inbox.

This article was brought to you by our fine sponsor and Hot Dog Supreme: EveryZig, who is forever boiling in orbit of our sun for downloading one episode of Designing Women.