In his youth, Captain Duke McQueen found himself to be the saviour of a distant planet, toppling its tyrannical dictator with swashbuckling daring-do. Now retired, recently widowed and generally thought of as a crank by everyone but his late wife, McQueen is visited by an young off-worlder with the news that that distant planet is once again in dire need of his legendary heroics.
Usually remarked upon for him blunt brashness and general extremity, renowned comics writer, Mark Millar, has rarely been accused of being nostalgic or sentimental.
Basing the majority of his work firmly in the contemporary, Millar is able to hit the collective consciousness with ease, making his work contextually important but leaving it with a shelf life of practically nothing; meaning that while his stuff is always fun to reread, the deluge of pop-culture references dates it terribly.
His latest completed mini-series, Starlight, represents, in many ways, a welcome departure from his usual output yet manages to keep some of those traits that make a comic very recognisably a Millar book.
That snappy, almost cocky dialogue is exactly what you’d expect if you’re a regular reader of Millar’s comics, and the confidence of storytelling is present and correct, ditto the ‘what if…’ launch pad that most of his stories explode from… ‘what if Batman was a supervillain?’ (Nemisis), ‘what if a normal kid tried to be a superhero?’ (Kick-Ass), ‘what if James Bond had a reprobate nephew?’ (The Secret Service)… ‘What if Flash Gordon got back to Earth and no one believed him?’
From here it’s all quite novel; firstly we have a story featuring a character that is not super confidant or ultra nerdy, with plenty to say about anything and everything, but a broken hearted old man, with not much to say about anything; second, gone are the swaths of laughter inducing ultra-violence, replaced by semi-violent, none-too-graphic acts of high adventure; third, moments of forceful left-field swerves give way to nostalgic predictability; and lastly, snark has been entirely overridden with genuine heart-feltedness.
It may seem like a picture is being painted of a Millar comic without edge, but somehow that couldn’t be further from the truth, and while it’s true that it doesn’t contain the kind of moments that you can show to someone and have them immediately hooked, it is possibly the most touching thing Millar has ever written.
Good examples of this are during the brief flashbacks to McQueen’s times with his wife; these moments of just a few quiet panels hold the potential to just about bring you to tears. Equally, while every part of the story plays out exactly as you’d expect it to, rather than amount to a boring read it actually results in a predictable and crowd-pleasing yet unlikely array of situations that’ll have you punching the air with child-like glee.
Millar’s expertise as a writer is undeniable, but it’s doubtful this book would’ve been successful in its intentions if it weren’t for its illustrator, Goran Parlov, even if it was handled by one of the more well known, superstar artists that Millar is accustomed to working with. While Steve McNiven, Leinil Yu and Duncan Fegredo might have slick, showy and detailed styles, I’m not sure they’d be able to hit the level of emotion that Parlov seems to be able to with his much more simplified style and design.
Known more for his work with Garth Ennis (Punisher Max, Fury – My War Gone By) Goran Parlov is a penciler/inker that manages to infuse his work with remarkable character, emotion and movement via line work so sparing that it beggars belief. His portrayal of age and effort is rare indeed but is executed with an effortlessness that if not analysed could pass you by without drawing your attention to quite how extraordinary it is.
Not entirely original and quite predictable, Starlight still manages to render a classical adventure serial type story with a fresh, rich and textured bent that equates to almost pure enjoyment. It’s finale, though a little rushed, is satisfying to the point that a follow-up would more than likely be to its detriment, so let’s hope, unlike the rest of the Millarworld output, that no sequel is planned. Highly recommended to any and all comic fans.