If you read my review of the Starlight #3 last month, you’ll know I complained that Mark Millar seemed to be playing it a bit safe with this book. There were a few too many story elements and character traits derivative of other big science fiction sagas. But it was a good enough read, a decent summer blockbuster of a comic for $2.99 an installment. So you may understand me when I say that I’m mostly contented but slightly disappointed that Starlight #4 continues the trend of being “just good enough”.
Issue four picks up with hero Duke McQueen, sidekick Space-Boy, and leather jacket-enthusiast Wes Adams, stuck in prison, awaiting execution from the diabolical Lord Kingfisher, a man so evil and ostentatious he wears a helmet that is somehow more phallic than Darth Vader’s. Luckily, the rebels manage to bust him out just in the nick of time and their leader, Tilda Starr, puts Duke in charge of the resistance.
This issue was mostly more of the same swashbuckling derring-do and standard sci-fi adventure we've seen before, but it did yield one exceptional scene: a beautiful moment where Duke is handed his old sword (or a replica of it, at least) and memories of past adventures come flooding back to him all at once, as well as a memory of young Duke pleading with his wife to believe that all these adventures actually happened. If you’ve been keeping up on the series, you might remember that Duke was the only human to ever travel to Tantalus and that most people didn’t believe a single word of his story upon his return. Hearing that his wife believed him was actually very touching, and while Duke’s subsequent heroic speech to the rebel forces was a tad cliché, it didn’t feel nearly as hokey as it should have. Hats off to Goran Parlov for his ability to portray a lot of emotion in his art with or without dialogue.
In fact, Mr. Parlov may be the true star here, along with colorist Ive Svorcina. This book really pops on every page with exciting tones and incredibly detailed alien environments. The forest of dead giants in particular captures a magnificent sense of scale and I was sad to see that the story of these giants doesn’t seem like it’ll be revisited. Additionally, while the panel layouts are simple, they’re also incredibly efficient and there’s never a wasted space or a superfluous panel.
But even with all that praise about the art and a few singular moments, I still feel like Mark Millar is just resting on his laurels here. The dialogue can a little stiff and unmemorable at times, the characters, while fun, never deviate far from their archetypes with exception of Duke, and unless Millar throws in a crazy curveball in these next few issues, the story itself will feel like a letdown considering that Starlight #1 has one of the best first issues I’ve read all year. Let’s hope he proves me wrong.