Whenever I reach the conclusion of an issue of Starlight, I am - much like the book’s main protagonist, Duke McQueen, during his interplanetary misadventure - reminded of better times. See, when you get to the end of this Mark Millar-driven Image book, you see emblazoned atop a page a host of five-star reviews, among which is the first score I gave it for Comic Bastards: a far cry from what I will give it here today. Thing is, I still think it deserved that score, and I truly wish it still did. Unfortunately, things have changed, and rather than aging gracefully throughout its run, this retro sci-fi action-adventure story about an aging gentleman hero returning to an alien world to recapture his legacy while once again setting it free from extraterrestrial tyranny has tumbled ungainly into cliché. I wanted to believe in Starlight and in the concept of Millarworld, but it’s hard not to echo Duke’s enemies here that all of this feels like has-beenery.
My problems with this issue began with what was essentially a Batman origin story rehash, but on an alien world, with an alien family, coin imagery instead of pearls and a requisite vow of dark adolescent vengeance. It then meanders at a stilted pace through an otherwise rushed sense of “character building,” narratively weak and ineffective treachery, and finally - inexplicably - a car with an eight-track player ... because we apparently really have to drive it home that these advanced aliens are “starstruck” over our human past.
There are laser fights, jetpack flights and harrowing ambushes aplenty, but I wanted more out of Starlight. I wanted what the first issue promised: Unforgiven in space, a Flash Gordon weighed-down by time and memory; but so far, this is just your average, bog standard space jam with nothing new to add other than tepid octogenarian heroics. And that’s too bad.
The (if you’ll pardon the forthcoming space pun) “gravity” with which Millar approached this story at its outset was so beautifully human and heavy, with such a great sense of pathos, that I thought - I hoped - it would become something special. But with leaden, expository dialogue all over the place, each time hitting overused tropes, this has leathered all too predictably.
There are moments that shine this issue - like Duke crawling out of a pile of beat up Creatures from the Black Lagoon - but they are too few and far between to make Starlight into anything worth remembering, be it internally of Millar’s body of work or otherwise.
Parlov’s art suffers similarly. Like Millar of the series as a whole, he starts strongly in issue five, and he dabbles in moments of true visual brilliance - particularly in the scene with the sweet Earth ride (which he clearly took time to lovingly render), but everywhere else, this feels rushed and shoddy.
He clearly has the chops to do great work - again just like Millar (who has reached his status for a reason, let’s all be honest) - but his command of figure work and expression are seemingly squandered in favor of mostly sparse backgrounds and shaky linework. I’d blame it on deadlines, but those are regularly missed anyway.
I don’t hate Starlight, and it’s certainly not enough to make me dislike Millar or Parlov’s work in general, but for a story that started off so powerfully, this has devolved into an unfortunate slog. I’ll stick with it to the end, but really only because that will come next issue and because I’ve already come this far. I just wish Starlight made me feel something other than resigned.
Writer: Mark Millar Artist: Goran Parlov Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 8/13/14 Format: Print/Digital