Who knew that it would be a Mark Millar comic that pulled me out of a slump of negative reviews?
I have not been what you would call a “fan” of Mark Millar lately; the last time I bought a book because his name was on the cover was probably Nemisis. The one-two punch of that and Kick Ass left me pretty cold, so Supercrooks, a bunch of Kick Ass sequels, Jupiter’s Legacy and The Secret Service passed me by. I felt that Millar had fallen into parody, that he had become addicted to his own story tropes, that shock value and excess had replaced what was an inventive mind and taste for adventure in early Ultimate books, early Marvel 616 work and The Authority. Basically it all came down to that “incest baby/gay brother/booby-trapped uterus” thing.
What the fuck was that?
Anyway, the promo stuff I saw about Starlight pointed to the possibility that this wasn’t going to be parody-Millar. Preview pages and solicits reminded me of Ellis’ Red, The Incredibles, Ennis’ semi-recent aborted Dan Dare reboot, really any number of “grizzled vet comes out of retirement one last time to set things right” story. Sure, it’s a cliché that has been told well before but at least the main villain didn’t appear to be named “Fuckwich” or something.
So, in the polar opposite to my feelings on Dead Body Road a few weeks ago, Starlight is a familiar tale that’s well told. It starts with astronaut Duke McQueen receiving a medal for freeing the alien planet of Tantalus from the despotic rule of Typhon. Then we cut to now and Duke is back on Earth, older, and attending his wife’s funeral. The rest of the issue bounces around through time, showing some of Duke’s interstellar adventures, some moments with his wife and him preparing a dinner for his son’s on the one year anniversary of her death. The issue ends, unsurprisingly, with the appearance of an alien spacecraft outside Duke’s rural home.
This is, of course, all territory that’s been explored before. The ideas of moving on after a death, finding purpose later in life, the juxtaposition of fantastic adventures with mundane tasks. But Millar and artist Goran Parlov execute these themes so well that the book is a joy to read despite its reliance on cliché. Duke is a John Wayne-type all the way, an old school space hero who is uncomfortable with awards and adulation, who just wants to get home to his girl. Parlov draws him a little like Mr. Incredible, an older guy with big arms and a barrel chest, lined face but still handsome. He’s an excellent cartoonist so Duke’s face does a good bit of storytelling, especially in the scenes leading up to his wife’s funeral. The sons are pretty standard yuppie assholes, Parlov gives them both that “middle management rat-faced white guy” look that nicely visualizes their shitty personalities.
It’s hard for me to explain, and that’s my failing as a reviewer, why the dialogue in Starlight is any better than in Mercenary Sea or Dead Body Road but it is. It seems like Millar is able to write dialogue that is simultaneously naturalistic while also revealing of character. It manages to say something about the characters personalities, move the plot and not sound too hackneyed. Sure there’s some stuff here that could make you groan at the obviousness of it all but because the faces are so expressive and the characters so earnest Millar and Parlov pull it off.
As I’ve mentioned before, I really love Parlov and I think he’s a perfect fit for Starlight. He does a great job showing the age of a character, especially women. His storytelling is always clear and readable and he doesn’t skimp on backgrounds. He gets to design a few things in this issue; Duke’s outfit, some alien frontier scenes, and it’s all cool retro futuristic. He benefits from some wonderful coloring by Ive Šunjić too, including a sort of clear but overcast light in the scene outdoors after the funeral and the vibrant colors of Tantalus.
So overall Starlight is a great package, and, in my opinion, a return to form for Millar. Really the only criticism I have are some oddly placed word balloons, but I’m hoping that’s just an error of the preview copy. I eagerly await the next issue and also hope the series catapults Parlov to the superstar status that he deserves.