Review: STARLIGHT #1

Written by Mark Millar
Art by Goran Parlov
Published by Image Comics
Release Date: March 5, 2014

starlight1-coverMark Millar and artist Goran Parlov take to the skies with Starlight, the first new Millarworld series of 2014, and one that will launch a new cohesive Millarworld Universe. My pick for most anticipated comic of 2014 during the 2013 Comicosity Year End Awards lives up to expectations, as the first issue of the “Flash Gordon meets Unforgiven” story of Duke McQueen has a strong premise, carries a surprising amount of emotional weight, and is beautifully drawn. When all of these aspects are combined the result is an issue that may just be the best comic Millar has written in years.

Mark Millar is one of the more controversial personalities in the comic industry. It can’t be argued that he is one of the biggest names in comic books with numerous smash hits at Marvel, a creator-owned imprint in Millarworld that has sold literally millions of issues, and resulted in two major motion picture blockbusters with more on the way. Despite his success in the business he seems to have as many “haters” as he does fans. One of the issues his detractors often point to is his reliance on over the top hyper-violence, instead of genuine emotion, to drive the plots of his books forward. The first issue of Starlight features only a little violence, and is the most emotionally driven Millar issue I’ve ever read, and I’ve read them all. If given the opportunity, this could very well be the book that starts to change the perception of Mark Millar in the eyes of his detractors. For fans of his previous work, it will be a pleasure to see him reach for the stars with a genre he hasn’t explored before.

Starlight tells the story of retired Air Force pilot Captain Duke McQueen who years ago was whisked away to a far off alien planet where he saved the people of Tantalus, and ended up becoming the biggest hero in the galaxy. Drawn back home by the love of a girl, he spends the better part of four decades living a quiet life on Earth where he raised a family, and dealt with the fact that nobody believed his outrageous stories. The story picks up on Earth where an older McQueen is trying to put the pieces together after a traumatic event that turns his world upside down. It is the focus on this life altering event that drives the issue forward, and Millar is able to craft an emotional issue that almost moved this reader to tears. The writing of Mark Millar is toned down here when compared to most of his other work, but not to the point where his unique voice is neutered because of it. You still get a few one liners that would feel at home in one of the writer’s other projects, and there are a few lines of dialogue that are a bit on the nose, but it is Duke’s thoughts on life, love and death that shine through to help make the issue special. The scene at the restaurant is one of the sweetest things that Millar has ever written, and will touch even the darkest of hearts, while the Duke’s internal thoughts at the church will break hearts everywhere. The use of flashbacks to McQueen’s time in a different galaxy is the source of the action in the issue, and provide a glimpse at the sense of pulp adventure and fun that we have to look forward to as the series progresses. The way Millar structured these scenes set in the past, by juxtaposing them with quiet, somber scenes in the present help illustrate the emotional turmoil Duke is going through while also adding a bit of fun to the issue. The concept of love, loss and moving on is at the very heart of the story, and by the time the last page rolls around you think you know what is coming next issue, and not just because it’s the basic concept of the series. It would have been easy to just skip to the old man coming out of retirement for a swashbuckling adventure part of the story, but Millar wisely spends the first issue earning that the hard way by getting the reader emotionally invested, and making them feel for and understand why Captain McQueen would be willing to leave it all behind again to head back to the stars.

It says a lot about this story that readers sympathize with, and get to know more about Duke McQueen in a few silent panels than in several issues of most books, and while a lot of credit should be given to the structure of Millar’s script, it is the beautiful art of Goran Parlov that ties it all together. Parlov may not be the first name you would have thought of when thinking of a perfect fit for a big space adventure, but after reading this issue you will see why Millar has been doing nothing but singing his praises since the book was announced. Parlov’s artwork is just a complete joy to look at. His work with Garth Ennis on Punisher Max and Fury: Max has shown his ability to draw grizzled vets, and that style expectedly fits right home with the heartbroken earthbound Duke McQueen. However, from these books there was just no possible way to guess just how perfect Parlov would transition to pulp adventure aspects of the book. The juxtaposition between the present day and flashbacks mentioned in the previous paragraph is made successful by both the script and the art. While the scenes on Earth are darker, somber and a bit static, the scenes on Tantalus are bright, fun, flowing and far more dynamic in nature. It will be interesting to see how Parlov combines the off-world adventure from the flashbacks with the gruff, aimless older McQueen. Not to mention that the brief look we get at Tantalus shows off Parlov’s brilliant design work with the alien species, and it should be a treat to see more next month as the story leaves Earth.

Starlight #1 is an issue that will make you cry, make you laugh, make you smile, and make you want to come back for more. One of the biggest writers in the industry putting his spin on the pulp adventure side of the science fiction genre with a perfect artist for the job should be enough of a reason for readers to take notice, but when the unexpected emotions come and hit you like a ton of bricks, that’s when one will realize that Starlight has the potential to be something special.

The Verdict: 9.5/10 

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