Somewhat surprisingly, given his recent output in comics, Starlight is the second Mark Millar book to be released this week, and it is by-far the superior title. Now, for the most part, I’m a fan of Millar’s body of work, at the same time admitting his oft-recurring proclivity for addressing the same central theme of cross-generational superheroism and/or villainy, and the trials and tribulations therein. I mean, both this and Jupiter’s Legacy have very strong elements suggesting that correlation. And that’s just this week. But what can I say? I enjoy that dialectic, and I think he does a generally good job exploring it. However, at the risk of sounding gratuitous, I don’t think Millar has ever before done such a truly great job of it like he has in Starlight, and if this is the first book in his Millarworld universe, consider me on-board.
Starlight #1 follows Duke McQueen, a quiet man in his twilight years who has just suffered the loss of his wife, Joanne to cancer (as is implied in a sad yet beautifully subtle scene). It is the culmination of an incredible yet strange journey for Duke, who claims to have, years ago, returned from a far-away planet called Tantalus in a way seemingly similar to the Zeta-Beam hops undertaken by DC’s likeminded interstellar adventurer, Adam Strange.
On Tantalus, Duke was a famous hero, a liberator of worlds and a would-be benign ruler alongside the behemoth beauty, Queen Attala. But Duke was willing to give it all up - the fame, the adulation, the power, the adventure - for one sole reason: Joanne. Mocked by his fellow man for his “flights of fancy” after his return, and now all but ignored by his children (and theirs) after losing literally the most important thing in the universe to him, the forlorn ex-Air Force pilot is suddenly reminded that the universe he once fought so hard to save might not be as finished with him as he thought. This is assuming, of course, that all of this isn’t just some massive hallucination.
In his afterword, Millar points out that Starlight was once described as Buzz Lightyear meets Unforgiven, and I can see the comparison, even at this early stage. In another way, it also reminds me of the best parts of 2008’s multi-Academy Award-winning film, The Hurt Locker, particularly in the scenes that jump between Duke doing mundane things like shopping for detergent while reminiscing in simultaneous panels about his various deeds on Tantalus.
The bulk of the emotive weight here, however, is in the relationship shared between Duke and Joanne, brief though it may be to the reader. It is so heartbreakingly, beautifully tragic that even though we only see her presence in four panels, she completely permeates this book with a palpable absence. If you’re anything like me, by the time you near the end of Starlight #1, its gravity (so to speak) will crush you, though not unpleasantly. At the same time, when we do see Duke swashing his buckle, it’s light, fun and equally gripping. The contrast between the two, then, becomes quite the quaffable dichotomy.
There’s really only one thing that made me tilt my head this issue, and it’s relatively small. I’m just not sure why a man would keep a room filled with framed personal embarrassment like Duke does of insulting old newspaper clippings from his societal decline, but even that feels marginally-forced, and only in passing.
On the contrary, another consistent for Starlight is the art from Goran Parlov. It looks very similar to the prevailing industry standard right now of thick lines and chiseled simplicity, but like Millar’s own style, it’s one that I don’t mind seeing repeated, and I think Parlov does a great job acting as a visual partner in telling this story. Props also must go to colorist Ive Svorcina, who does a great job in splitting the tone between the bright and intrepid optimism of Tantalus and the bleaker reality that Duke now faces on earth.
Along with this team, Millar is back to form with Starlight #1. Saying that, he does have a tendency to loosen his grip and his resolve as his series move forward, so I hope he can hold onto the tremendously mesmerizing melancholy he has established in this book, while at the same time capitalizing on the adventures that are no doubt on the way for Duke. If he can keep pace and the art can follow suit, Starlight may end up being regarded as the most rewarding thing he has ever written. To me at least, that’s saying a lot.
Writer: Mark Millar Artist: Goran Parlov Publisher: Image Comics Price: $2.99 Release Date: 3/5/14