It’s perfectly fair to think of Mark Millar as an arch-cynic. After all, his world is one easily defined by the homophobic beatdowns of Kick-Ass, the Avengers-mocking sexual violence of The Authority or the stomach-churning womb-bomb of Nemesis, all meta-textual shocks and convention-burning subversion, but this comes from a place of love. Millar doesn’t show superheroes a crudely violent power fantasies because he loathes the medium; he loves the medium, its absurdities and all.
If 2010’s surprisingly touching Superior (with artist Leinil Francis Yu) showed the flipside of the myth and just how pure and empowering superheroes could be, Starlight does the same to the escapist science fantasy of Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and John Carter Of Mars.
Its hero is Duke McQueen, a retired space adventurer and test pilot whose adult children are faintly embarrassed by his childhood stories of saving alien worlds, but this square-jawed all-American alpha male in the twilight of his life is given a second chance at being someone when Tantalus, the planet that needed him so many times before, gives his one final chance in the form of Manga-haired boy sidekick Space Boy.
If the setup has a touch of Tim Burton’s Big Fish, then the body is closer to Stephen Spielberg’s Hook (especially Space Boy, who plays the “I believe in you” Tinkerbell to Duke’s Peter Pan) or Walter March’s overlooked Return To Oz as once-harmless storybook foes seem suddenly feral and genuinely dangerous, a world once so familiar seems to have fallen into ruin under the jackboot of the evil Broteans, foes so foe-like they need no motivation nor back story.
As much as it draws heavily from the aforementioned Flash Gordon and chums, there’s the unpredictable oddness of Alejandro Jodorowsky and Moebius’s The Incal in there too, and while the message and modus operandi is pure Millar, the world he revels in is a beautiful surprise, full of heart-stopping wonder and wide-eyed awe.
Goran Parlov is the most appropriately inappropriate artist for this project too. The honest-to-god heroism of this world is a far cry from the violent and murky world of The Punisher, Black Widow or Outlaw Nation, but Duke’s weather grit is a family tragedy and an underslung MI6 away from Frank Castle. He has a similar set to his jaw, a similar straining of ancient ligatures pushed to their limits, and the same poignant sense that this one could be the last one.
The set-dressing may be escapist, but it plays upon masculine fears of irrelevance, of values once cherished and no longer shared, and there’s a tremendous sense of love and lightness of touch to Starlight, made even more powerful by a creative duo whose worlds seldom have much use for hope and optimism.