For eagle-eyed comics fans, trailers for The Suicide Squad had the villainous writing on the wall since the very beginning. There were glimpses of enemy soldiers sporting strange coverings on their faces, and a giant, tentacle-like foot crushing a car. Oh, and a full glimpse of a “kaiju” villain on a monitor-screen in the background.
And with the release of The Suicide Squad, Amanda Waller’s mission for Task Force X becomes abundantly clear: Destroy everything relating to a mysterious “Project Starfish.”
[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for The Suicide Squad]
Or to get more specific, destroy the alien titan the Thinker calls Starro the Conqueror.
Starro is not the gleeful invention of writer-director James Gunn. The sea-space creature has a long history in the comics — and an even weirder place in today’s DC universe. So let’s talk about Starro the Conqueror.
Who is Starro the Conqueror?
To be blunt: Starro is a giant psychic starfish from space who can shoot lasers from his tentacles. He was the first villain that the Justice League of America ever fought, way back in 1960’s The Brave and the Bold #28.
At that time, DC Comics was in the process of updating a lot of its lesser-known characters for a new generation of youngsters — these days, we’d definitely call it “rebooting.” The Justice League itself was simply an atomic-era reimagining of DC’s WWII super team, the Justice Society. The team’s immediate popularity convinced rival upstart comics publisher Timely Comics to try their own superteam, The Fantastic Four, kicking off the Marvel revolution.
So, yes, the Avengers had Loki, and the Justice League had a giant psychic starfish from space.
What is Project Starfish?
Project Starfish is a unique construction to The Suicide Squad, and an attempt to weaponize Starro’s creepiest superpower. Conducted on the South American island nation of Corto Maltese, and overseen by the Thinker, the project hopes to weaponize a version Starro discovered and brought back to Earth by U.S. astronauts sometime following the end of the Cold War. This version of Starro is almost exactly like the one in the comics, so then the question remains...
What are Starro’s powers?
As a giant space starfish, or Star Conqueror, Starro can fly unaided through vast interstellar distances, fire lasers from the tips of his arms, absorb energy (even that of a point blank nuclear bomb), regenerate limbs, and, in some comics, change his size to grow bigger or smaller for convenience.
But later versions of Starro have really brought his psychic powers to the fore, making him as much of a cosmic horror sort of foe as he is a big starfish that can laser you to death. Starro can generate tiny duplicates with which he shares a psychic link, and once those duplicates have made contact with another sentient being, they assume total control of their mind.
Starro spores can hide under clothing as they pilot their hosts and pretend nothing is wrong, but when the jig is up and hiding is no longer a priority, you get the classic creepy Starro iconography: Dozens of superheroes with a starfish plastered across their heads, its central and unblinking eye staring with an alien hatred.
Starro’s mind control abilities carry over into The Suicide Squad, with the titan unleashing mind-control hell during a rampage across Corto Maltese. The Tinkerer makes sure to tell Bloodsport that once a person has been Starro’d, there basically a living corpse, giving him all the freedom to shoot them in the head like zombies. Did we mention The Suicide Squad is a bleak comedy?
What’s Starro like in DC’s current comics?
I’m so glad you asked. Right now Starro is presumed dead, but the Justice League managed to rescue a tiny polyp of him; a baby clone of Starro. They keep him in a jar, and named him Jarro.