DC Comics loves its legacy heroes. Sure, you can pop out a Flash or a Green Lantern or two, but it takes a special character name to be so generic it can be applied to multiple characters with occasionally dramatically different looks, abilities, or powers, such as Manhunter.
Another such example would be Starman. DC’s had about eight or so of those guys, and many were celebrated in one form or another in the 90s with James Robinson’s fantastic Starman book. One such Starman who maybe didn’t get as much attention was an early 90s version. That Starman, one Will Payton, did and didn’t appear in Jack Knight’s adventures and for a very good reason.
To start, what was the deal with the Starman name? The first Starman was Ted Knight, an astronomer who discovered a way to channel starlight into a handheld weapon, the cosmic rod, that allowed him to fight the forces of evil using the powers of flight, energy blasts, and so forth. Think of a Green Lantern whose power ring didn’t work very well. This character first appeared in the 1940s, joined the Justice Society, and like most of the Justice Society disappeared when the Golden Age of comics ended. A few other characters would carry the name here and there, with Ted himself reappearing when the JLA/JSA crossovers started happening. A space-based alien prince, one Prince Gavyn, had a few adventures that ended when he was killed by the anti-matter destruction that was the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Being between Starmen meant that a new one could appear, and that Starman would be one Will Payton.
One night, copy editor Payton was out in the desert, as copy editors are wont to do, when he was hit by a bolt of energy from the stars. Payton found himself transformed. He had superhuman strength, flight, could fire energy blasts, and could do some mild shapeshifting of his features and clothes. Taking the name Starman, Payton did the standard hero thing in his own series starting around 1988, and during that period he fought the usual assortment of bad guys and helped heroes like Superman.
But wait, this character first appeared in 1988, but Jack Knight’s series started in 1994. What happened to Payton?
Well, he died. The cosmic entity Eclipso had the power to possess people in the grip of anger and Payton was one of the first heroes Eclipso had turned in a crazy scheme to take control of Earth’s superhumans, and when the heroes were freed from Eclipso’s control, Payton saw they were in trouble while still trapped inside Eclipso’s physical form. Eclipso’s weakness was sunlight, and sunlight is just starlight, so Payton basically gave off all his power at once in a massive explosion that temporarily knocked Eclipso out long enough for the others to get away and seemed to kill Payton.
A couple years later, Jack Knight was Starman and he struck up a relationship with a woman named Sadie. Sadie turned out to be Will’s sister, and she was sure her brother was still alive. Because he was that kind of guy, Jack and another former alien Starman, Mikaal Tomas, took to the stars in a spaceship to go check. And Sadie was right! Sort of…
See, they found Payton on Throneworld, the planet formerly ruled by Prince Gavyn. He was being held prisoner, but it turned out, Payton wasn’t the prisoner. Gavyn was. Yes, it turns out Will Payton had been killed by that energy beam from space! The beam was the last residual effects of Gavyn dying, and it was Gavyn’s consciousness in that beam. The beam basically put Gavyn’s mind inside Payton’s body, but so deeply even Gavyn himself believed he was Payton. So, Payton used those nifty minor shapeshifting powers to turn back into Gavyn.
And Gavyn’s been back ever since. So, really, when Will Payton got himself misplaced, he was already misplaced and no one knew it yet. At least that settles a few things.