Warning: Major Spoilers Below
As The Blackstars mini-series comes to a close this week, we dive into the history of the characters and the concept here, going through all that came before it, inspired it and helped lead to it. These’s a fascinating history here, as you from ancient ’60s books with little to no relation through Crisis to 90’s comics with far too much relation to Green Lantern, all the way through the 2000s to the current Grant Morrison/Liam Sharp era.
It all begins, of course, in The Silver Age of comics, with The Legion Of Super-Heroes. A very young man named Jim Shooter takes on 3-issue arc assignments on Adventure Comics, the book that’s the current home of Legion. And after a storm of new characters and ideas, Shooter comes up with another: The Controllers.
In these original comics (Adventure Comics #357), we were introduced to the notion of these alien beings. Here, they were not Oans with ties to The Guardians Of The Universe, but separate entities entirely. They came from a parallel universe, where war and conflict had been a major problem. And so these all-powerful psychic beings sought to bring order and peace, in order to ensure no other worlds may go through what theirs did. Blessed with telekinetic, telepathic and a whole assortment of powers, they were what they called themselves, truly, The Controllers. Their original appearances make them more akin to The Builders from Jonathan Hickman’s Marvel Saga (Legion being his favorite sandbox, keep in mind. The influence is clear.) than anything else. Here, each Controller was tasked with coming up with their own means of creating peace, sent out to design their own tool. And so each made their own weapon or multiple.
The Controller we meet here is the last one remaining in the universe, as all the others had left, having felt that peace now existed in this future era of 3000 AD and that they were no longer needed. So while they were shady as all hell, they did, on some level, mean well. But this rogue Controller was different. His chosen weapon and design was, of course, the iconic Sun-Eater of the Legion mythology. And he’d remained behind because he felt he wanted to rule and throw about his power, have true control for himself. He wasn’t pleased with just what he had. And so he set his Sun-Eater about to kill galaxies, as crazy cosmic bad guys are wont to do. He eventually dies of a Controller equivalent of a heart attack (remember folks, a cosmic apple a day keeps a cosmic doctor away). But during Crisis On Infinite Earths, the entire concept of The Controllers was overhauled and re-tooled with a new origin.
Here they got their iconic origin of being this Oan-offshoot, who, after a Civil War, departed for another realm and came back evolved and quite different. As the above explains, not contain or restrain evil, but to eliminate it entirely was the aim. Time passed on, as Post-Crisis they didn’t see much usage. That is, until the 90’s came and…Green Lantern hit a precarious position.
The Darkstars would be the next big spot where The Controllers would appear. And save for The Sun-Eaters and a special device dubbed The Miracle Machine, which you may know from Final Crisis, these intergalactic agents would come to be the most notable legacy of the cosmic Controllers. Here was a completely fresh, new idea, which was yet rooted in the history of DC. Creator Michael Jan Friedman, having done a bunch of sci-fi work already was a big fan of Green Lantern and DC Comics. He spoke to DC Editors to try and do Green Lantern. But it was the 90’s and if you know your 90’s Green Lantern, you know what that era was like. That was a franchise sealed off, effectively. It was a place soon to bear Parallax Hal Jordan, with no Corps and the sole torchbearer Kyle Rayner. Nevertheless, despite all this, the itch to do something in that space was still there.
And so during a lunch, Friedman was asked to just pitch something new. And so he did, combining his love of two other DC concepts and characters- The Challengers Of The Unknown and Martian Manhunter. Like The Challengers, this new creation would be a team, a cast of characters with a back and forth who did wild things. But like J’Onn J’Onnz, the leading man, an alien by the name of Ferrin Colos (bald tattooed man above), would be a lone figure, thrust away from his homeworld. Playing into the Green Lantern context, Ferrin was, of course, the Abin Sur-figure. And yet, he was fairly different from Abin.
As you can see from the above letters page essays, The Darkstars were crafted as a deliberate deconstruction and subversion of The Silver Age mythology of Green Lantern. Of course the Abin Sur figure doesn’t just die, of course the all-powerful magic ring doesn’t just go to some random person, nor does it choose. The Abin figure lives instead and he’s the one making the choice. There’s no sentient devices of magical power here. There’s just cold, proper equipment. No rings. Instead you get a special tool called The Maser-Sling or a Maser-Blaster installed in your gauntlets, which lets you strike down your foe. You get an Exo-Mantle Armor to wear rather than wishing ring fitting you however you imagine. There’s different types and levels of armors, depending on rank, which bear varying levels of power.
The Guardians were, one must keep in mind, originally, fairly benevolent and decent, with their evil, cruel turn a much later and gradual evolution. And so The Controllers were placed in the role to deconstruct The Guardian idea, with them as terribly more shady and nefarious, as tons of plans were made and secrets were held. There was a cold ruthlessness here.
And, of course, the name of The Darkstars, is inspired by the stars some law enforcement figures have. But the key idea here, as you’ll see, was to not make an outright supervillainous group, but a more ‘grounded’ and gritty spin on the idea of a Space Cop.
Network for the Establishment and Maintenance of Order was what The Controllers chose to call their entire network system and plan for bringing order and peace to the universe. Their homeworld was a paradise of peace and they didn’t want trouble going about, so N.E.M.O. came to be. The Darkstars were, of course, the chief agents of N.E.M.O. And it was, essentially a sort of Space S.H.I.E.L.D. All of which is to say was a broken, terribly messy organization with plenty of corruption, agendas and everything from clean-up crews who hated their operatives to tons of questionable stuff. But the idea was, this terribly broken thing would reflect real life militaristic organizations, with its operatives more like real cops, as opposed to Green Lantern, which was a way more fantastical, out there and idealized concept of one.
In time, ex-Green Lanterns like John Stewart joined the crew, as did ex-Titans like Donna Troy. But in time The Darkstars, a deconstructive mirror for The Green Lanterns, much like the GLs themselves, would be decimated. Then its final remnants would die in a massive sacrifice in the 2000s, with Ferrin Colos perishing at last. And since then, there have been other riffs on the concept, but never has it seen a proper revival. This being chiefly due to one thing: The Green Lanterns were back. And so The Darkstars were seen as largely redundant and unnecessary.
From then on, every evocation of the concept would only be almost a sick, corrupted perversion of it, as in the 2000’s era, from around 52 and all that followed, we’d see the concept revived as operatives of Lady Styx. She’d managed to grab some gear and equipment and used it to make her own version of The Darkstars. And these were…different. Chiefly, one must understand, the goal here, post-Darkstar fall, was always to get at one idea: Evil Darkstars. Given Ferrin Colos, John Stewart, Donna Troy and many Darkstars characters were far from evil or villainous, The Darkstars as they existed weren’t inherently evil characters, although the organization was home to many evil figures. John Stewart or Donna Troy aren’t figures you’d put with an outright evil idea, so these takes that followed had to differ somehow. And so we effectively got three remarkable spins on The Darkstars from here on out, from the 2000’s period upto the 2010’s of Rebirth. They’re all varied enough, even visually speaking, in terms of look and design, that we can give them all distinctive nicknames or titles, even if the actual one in the texts was simply ‘Darkstars’.
This was a curious assembly of assumed-to-be dead Omega Men characters, all under the power of the aforementioned Lady Styx, a cosmic super-villain who believes herself to be divine and wishes for all to worship her. These folks had a curious and distinctive design due to artistic interpretation blending the classic Omega Men figures with that of the basic idea of a Darkstar uniform. Although lacking the iconic Maser-Sling of Darkstar tradition, they boasted a unique and lovely mix of the classic colors in a fun, stylized manner. These were a group of mind-controlled puppets who were a once renowned super-team.
Marked by their clearly distinctive white/black outfits, these other off-shoot of The Darkstars were also devout servants of Lady Styx. But no Omega Men were these individuals. And boast the classic signature Maser-Sling they did, ready to fire upon anyone Styx deemed even slightly irksome. They were her footsoldiers and force to take on anything that could cross her. The notion of The Darkstars as part of a cult is seeded here, even if never played with much.
Made during Rebirth, ages after the prior two, these were, again, fairly different. These were a bit closer to Green Lanterns, in that the Ex-Mantle Armors were actually sentient and alive, a bit akin to the way Green Lantern rings are, with a will of their own. And in a very Post-Geoff Johns maneuver, they choose their ‘hosts’ who become Darkstars. These sentient suits are all one collective, who rebelled against their Controller Masters and actually chained them up, using their telepathic powers and harvesting them for their energies to power their collective force. In effect, the comatose Controllers they held hostage were their Central Power Battery and any individual who joined with a suit became one cog in the larger collective consciousness of this machine intelligence system.
Thus the nickname Alpha, akin to The Alpha Lanterns, who were a blend of man and machine. And that’s what these were. Individuals who bonded with the suits claimed to have a will of their own, but they really didn’t and were warped. And a lot of the individuals who joined this group in this era were ex-cops (not too far off from the original interpretation in that one single sense). But a lot of these cops wanted to be…The Punisher, basically, which is a massive problem. They wanted to brutally murder and do whatever they liked and be free of consequence and feel righteous for it. So here, since its first proper return into Green Lantern mythology, in a Post-Johns world, you have a full on unambiguously evil armada of Darkstars. There’s no Ferrin Colos’ or Donna Troys, just completely face-less individuals piloted by their suits, bearing advanced and upgraded powers, such as instant teleportation, who were very clear supervillains. They may as well be Stormtroopers, basically, a lot of faceless fodder to be punched or wrecked. But once that’s done, the whole thing’s off and this interpretation falls off too, as it has no longevity or staying power as faceless bad guys.
Thus we come to The Blackstars, the new and final evolution of the modern conceit of Darkstars. It’s not the classical version of The Darkstars, but neither is it trying to go by that name and be something else entirely to irk folks. It’s something clearly, markedly different from the get go. ‘Black’ over ‘Dark’ as much like ‘Green’ in Green Lantern, Black is a color and is a much clearer opposite. And it sounds menacing, while also doubling as a reference to David Bowie. The Blackstars is the first, proper meaningful attempt to actually take the conceit of ‘outright evil Darkstars’ and do it right, essentially. And do it so that it has actual staying power, longevity and a clear mission statement to make it something that can work. So if you want ‘Darkstars’, that spot is still empty, some other creator some day can revamp them. But they can’t and likely won’t just revamp them as clearly evil, as The Blackstars already fill that niche. That’s the idea, at least.
Controller Mu, The Over-Master
“Imagine Controller Mu like a space cult leader. This is the Bhagvan Rajneesh version of a Controller and he has very different ideas about how the universe should be run.”
And so if you’re revamping the idea of Darkstars as outright villainous, you need to play with its founding figure and the idea of how that informs the conceit, too. And so instead of the regular Controllers, we get the sole, singular Controller. Going by the title of ‘Over-Master’, Controller Mu is exactly as described above, a cult leader. With numerous bodies, which he inhabits at once, he is One Mind In Many, as opposed to multiple Guardian figures. That pretty much sums up the ethos of the whole thing. He’s a paranoid mastermind, who stores backups of his consciousness and mind over computers, ensuring his eternal life and immortality. He can never die and will always return.
Replacing the traditional 70’s almost dance-attire looks of The Controllers here is a tight-fitting red/black/white suit of Darkstar design, evoking almost something out of Gundam. It’s that far more imperial, militaristic look. The loose old design is replaced with something tight and fierce. This dude means business. And of course, he’s based on the infamous Bhagvan Rajneesh, otherwise called Osho, who led The Rajneeshi movement in the 70’s and 80’s, attempting the largest bio-terror attack in America up to that point.
“Mu is The Controller. You are The Controlled.”
If The Controllers have N.E.M.O. to enforce their will, then the rogue Controller Mu has his equivalent. An almost opposite. Notice how OMEN is just NEMO reversed. It’s the little touches like these that speak volumes as to what the intent behind the concept is and the attention being paid here. It means, of course, Over-Master’s Executive Network. And it is also a significantly better acronym than NEMO considering their full forms. And of course, if N.E.M.O. has its ‘operatives’, so does O.M.E.N. The Knights Of O.M.E.N., if you will are obviously The Blackstars.
There’s a fun dichotomy in play here. N.E.M.O./O.M.E.N. are very much akin to the space equivalents of, say, S.H.I.E.L.D./HYDRA or SPYRAL/LEVIATHAN. Cosmic organizations of spies, cops and militaristic corps. All as mirrors for Green Lantern.
“I thought the Darkstars were an interesting concept,” Morrison admitted. “The original one was that they were an actual alternative to the Green Lanterns, but the methods were a bit more severe, more like Dirty Harry, but when I came to Blackstars, really, I wanted to tell a story about a cult. And I was super influenced by the documentary Wild Wild Country, about Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and has his acolyte, you know, Ma Anand Sheela. They were like Ra’s al Ghul and Talia and so I kind of love that dynamic. And it was really inspired by that. So I took the Darkstars and turned it into a breakaway cult called the Blackstars and they’re much more cultish, and they’re much more for the master, for the leader and I kind of, that’s what we’re exploring in this, these three issues, I think.”
“I think it was for the best, because then suddenly it was, “We have to do something that isn’t just the Darkstars concept and we have to do something that isn’t just the Controllers concept.
The Blackstar Code
“So, the idea was to do this breakaway sect. I watched the Wild Wild Country documentary series and I thought, “What’s the intergalactic version of this?” You can actually see echoes of that with the Controller. We’re not fully into that story, but that came in as an influence. We’re doing a breakaway sect. I don’t have to deal with Darkstars mythology and I don’t have to deal with the Controllers. But all of the stuff that we bring in—the idea of a Sun-Eater, and the cosmic vampires—and, again, it’s light and dark, as you’ll see.”
All of it is light and dark, and we just took that to an almost quasi-religious extreme, and a Controller who is really about control. How scary can you make control? To take that title seriously, and get into what he does, his manipulations are so complex and Machiavellian, it becomes terrifying. It’s on a scale you can’t imagine, and his fingerprints are all over everything you don’t even know yet. By getting away from that basic concept, the Darkstars and the Controllers, I think we’ve come up with something much fresher and much more interesting.”
And thus we have the idea of ‘Darkstars as a cult’ in play, but actually as the focus and the clear angle. But more importantly, it’s a very evident mirror to Green Lantern. A cosmic military force run by an Oan immortal with plans for peace and order, who hoard will-powered light weaponry and enforce their idea of ‘law’ and ‘justice’ across the universe? Sound familiar? And even past that, there is something larger than life, almost divine about the original conception of Green Lantern, with Oa as almost Heaven, The Guardians as Gods, The Lanterns as Angels, Anti-Matter Universe of Qward as Hell and Sinestro as The Devil. The subtext for reading those elements of GL is very much there. You have a group of individuals across the cosmos who gather under one sigil and almost worship it, they speak their sacred oath every day, as though it were prayer. And said words of power rejuvenate them. And so the idea of ‘Will’ as religion, akin to the way The Force (specifically its Light Side) is religion for The Jedi? That reading is obvious and exists in Green Lantern. So playing on that and doing its opposite, of ‘Control’ as religion, as cult, is a natural extension and outgrowth of that idea. The Blackstars are everything The Green Lanterns are not but could be assumed to be or read as, which is ultimately fascists.
Green Lantern has long had Violet Lanterns, Yellow Lanterns, Blue Lanterns, Red Lanterns, a myriad of figures. But if you were to think of them akin to The Jedi, they’ve never quite had their equivalent of The Sith. The natural easy leap is to assume The Sinestro Corps, but even in the original Johns run, they were a hoard of murderers Sinestro put together solely for a show to make Guardians change their laws. That’s really all he cared about, which is why later on, Sinestro himself would basically decimate the entire Sinestro Corps himself and it would be almost naught but ash by the end of Johns’ tenure. It was never quite that symmetrical opposite that Green Lantern perhaps deserved. And that’s what The Green Lantern fixes. It gives Green Lantern its own Sith, the clear opposing idea, down to Hal’s counterpart in The Blackstars, Belzebeth. A Vampire to contrast The Knight Of Light.
But curiously, if The Jedi asked for suppression of emotion, with The Sith encouraging emotion, in a fun twist, Green Lanterns ask you to express your emotions and be empowered by those feelings, while The Blackstars ask you to submit all that. So there’s a curiously fun reversal here, which makes sense, given Green Lantern is about power derived from emotion and feelings and self-expression. It’s positive and healthy. It’s free will, as opposed to oppressive will. It’s liberation of self by swearing oneself to an ideal, rather than submission of self to an ideal and its masters.
There are, effectively, three laws to The Blackstar Way:
*Let go of your Sense Of Self and Free Will
*Let go of your Shackles and Restraints
*Let go of your Ego and Join The Collective
Once complete, as the test is held on a Vampire World where not everyone is able to complete the process, you are a member of this cosmic cult. And upon doing so, you are required to ‘let go’ of and kill your past and past self by usually taking on a new name or title. It isn’t compulsory, as it comes down to the individual in question, but it is part of the process they use.
This is part of standard Darkstar gear, of course. It comes with every uniform and is a thought-powered energy blaster. The Blackstars would obviously use that capability, as they are all about militaristic strength and force, led by a Vampire Queen.
The conceit of ‘evil/villanous’ intergalactic agent cannot be complete without the inclusion of the old and ancient Green Lantern villain Evil Star. Hailing straight out of The Silver Age, this fella used to be a scientist who built his own special equivalent to a Green Lantern ring. Except, rather than draw charge from a mythical Power Battery, it draws power from stars and also keeps this ancient old man eternally young through that energy. He’s a genocidal monster who named himself ‘Evil Star’ as almost a satirical piss take on ‘Green Lantern’, as he felt ‘Evil’ was better than ‘Green’ and ‘Star’ was brighter than ‘Lantern’. The Blackstars rob him of his Star-Band and mass produce it, making it mandatory part of every operative’s uniform and gear. The Star-Band, classically, was always said to be greater than or more powerful than a Green Lantern ring and that’s part of why it’s in The Blackstar arsenal.
The Exo-Mantle is a classic, of course. But this Blackstar version, unlike prior ones worn by most Darkstars, picks up some special talents from the aforementioned Rebirth Darkstars, who we nicknamed Alphastars. These Exo-Mantles are much stronger, upgraded to be able to instantly teleport upon the command ‘Jump Mode Engage’. And they are of course a combination of silver and pure black, giving the whole operation a much more militaristic vibe. They ‘pop’ less and feel more practical and pragmatic, compared to an extravagant and bright outfit.
The Blackstars are a powerful force and that means an armada. And all of it is made up of hundreds of ships, all dubbed ‘Overmaster’, named after the classic obscure villain, whose ship became The Justice League base for years, until Grant Morrison and Howard Porter’s JLA had The Watchtower built. Overmaster One belongs, of course, to Controller Mu and is his personal ship, while Zero is the main operations base for the squad, the Lead ship. Two belongs to Countess Belzebeth and is for her personal use, as she is the second-in-command after Controller Mu and the general of the forces.
The Blackstar Universe
At the end of The Green Lantern, The Blackstars attempt to rewrite reality via Hal Jordan. But rather than rewrite the entire multiverse or Universe-0, which is the main universe, Hal Jordan simply reboots the dead, wreckage world of Universe-15. Thus creating The Blackstar Universe, where all the events of The Blackstars series takes place, as Mu and Belzebeth, those in-the-know, assume that their plans have succeeded and they’ve rewritten all of reality and everything that used to be. The universe and The Blackstars thus remain, open for any future creator to use or play with down the road, should they so choose. And it’s within this universe that we really get to meet some of The Blackstars characters and learn of their roster. Starting with…
Daughter of The Cosmic Vampire, Starbreaker, an old-school JLA villain, her heritage is that of The Vampyroi of Vorr. Her species are what The Controllers take and breed to create the terrifying threat of Legion comics, The Sun-Eaters. Sun-Eaters are merely the evolutionary higher form of the residents of planet Vorr. She’s among the richest individuals in the cosmos, boasting a galactic fortune, which is what bankrolls the whole Blackstar enterprise. Based on and inspired by both Elizabeth Bathory, Beelzebub and Ma Anand Sheela, she is a terrifying figure who, in contrast to Hal (who loves his father), loathes her father. In Interlac, the Krakoan of Legion comics, she is called Planet-Eater Lass.
Found by Mu after her failed attempt at war with The Controllers, who kidnap her people, The Countess joined Mu as almost the Talia Al Ghul to Mu’s Ra’s Al Ghul. Their dynamic is, of course, inspired by the aforementioned Bhagvan Rajneesh and Ma Anand Sheela of the Rajneeshi movement of the 80’s.
Hal Jordan goes undercover under instructions from The Guardians and takes on the title Parallax once more, as his initiation into The Blackstars requires him to let go of who he was and take on a new title, to truly earn the trust of his foes. Hal Jordan departs The Blackstar Universe, after having gotten married to The Countess, as they were a couple, being the sole operative to escape, in order to become Green Lantern once more.
Ziggle is the chief spy of The Blackstars. They’re a Durlan, who’re classic Legion shape-shifting characters and given they are alien and do not abide by the human binary, their pronouns are a distinct ‘hirz’. The utmost trusted secret agent, Ziggle infiltrates The Green Lanterns and dies saving Hal Jordan’s life, having fulfilled the mission Mu granted hirz. Ziggle remains alive in The Blackstar Universe.
A Psion, a race of beings created by The Guardians, Ssilth comes from a species of scientists who take a great deal of pleasure in testing and torturing things and distrust almost everything and everyone. Ssilth is Belzebeth’s chief aide, The Desaad to her Darkseid, her Alfred Pennyworth, if you will. He’s a cruel monster who is loyal to Mu and Belzebeth, who cannot stand disorder.
The Volanic agent who takes the spot of the beloved Volcanic Lantern Volk, he’s a nervous recruit who spends his time doubting his mission, even as he stutters out an All Will Be Will.
Trilla-Tru as a Blackstar operative, effectively. The Xudarian character is a creation of The Green Lantern and comes from a long line of Xudarian agents who’ve patrolled space, albeit not from the Tomar lineage.
Jessica Cruz as a Blackstar operative, with a Blackstar insignia running down her eye as opposed to a Green Lantern sigil the way it is in the normal Universe-0.
A Khundian, another classic Legion alien species, who values strength above all. She’s a warrior from a warrior culture who’s found a home in The Blackstars but is no longer sure if it is still the home for her.
The Blackstar Meta-Squadron
The Meta-Squadron is, of course all the Metas or superhuman figures of space in one group. A lot of these are the heroes of The Superwatch. As there is no United Planets in The Blackstar universe, there is no Superwatch and instead these characters are all Blackstar operatives. Seen above, from left to right are-Marta Zappix, Maxima-Matrix, Hal Kar and Luma Lynai. If you’d like to find out more about these cast of characters, check out our Superwatch piece, where we go in-depth on them.
The Blackstar Leader HQ, separate from their Overmaster bases. While the Blackstars re-make Oa to be their base in The Blackstar Universe, Asteroid X is hidden away in the Earth’s sun, a bit akin to how Superman built a space to live in the sun at the end of All-Star Superman. This is where Controller Mu goes to meditate or keep some of his spare backup bodies or other things pertaining to his plans.
This is, overall, a fairly comprehensive overview of the concept we have now, all that preceded it, what went into making it and what its roots are and how it reflects on the mythology now, both in its context and the larger context, via sheer comparison. Hopefully you now have a solid idea of the whole thing. Thank you for reading!