In the first five pages of Starlight #5, we hear Space-boy narrate his economical origin story. When a hovercraft pileup claimed the life of one of the Brotean royal family, Space-boy’s parents were the attending physicians, and when they could not save their patient, the Broteans were sorely disappointed. In lieu of a malpractice suit, Brotean soldiers were dispatched after Space-boy’s fleeing family and served summary executions. The orphaned Space-boy is told by a cruel Brotean officer that he must now learn to beg. Space-boy vows that he will hunt down the officer responsible for his parents’ deaths. When Duke hears this tale of woe, he takes Space-boy out for target practice, and they shoot up some pottery. “Will you get him for me?” asks Space-boy, to which Duke rejoins, “I’m going to teach you how to get him for yourself.” Male bonding and ammunition propulsion is the usual man-medicine in the action genre, so this scene has a certain nostalgia for aficionados of shoot-em ups. Just as you’re getting a little weepy, the rebels are gassed and the spy in their midst stands revealed. As the gas settles, Duke is revealed, and he’s wearing his space helmet; completely alert and prepared, he takes the ambushing Broteans by surprise. Tantalus appears to be working a Narnian magic on Duke, revitalizing him with a youthful vigor better suited for these climactic battles. He kills a few and chases the rest through the gas, only to see that countless Broteans have surrounded the rebels. Abruptly, Duke turns the other way and jumps off a cliff into the Sea of Karkinos, in which we are told live the carnivorous Charybdis. The Broteans leave him for dead, and the rebel Tantalans are taken for public execution. Soon after, Duke walks out of the surf, trailing the bodies of dead Charybdis.
Reviews of the fifth issue have not thus far been altogether generous, with many critics damning the comic with faint praise and calling the chapter cliched. To these critics it must be said that all of Starlight is a variation on a theme. In Starlight we see that only an Earthman can save the alien world, a trope that echoes throughout science fiction literature. While more immediately influenced by Adam Strange (who zeta beams to the planet Rann to save a sterile, helpless, advanced alien culture), DC Comics’ star-spanning hero borrowed heavily from newspaper science fiction, and Starlight is second cousins to Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers as well. There is a science fiction sub-genre of tales involving Earthmen that become interplanetary or time displaced messiahs, including John Carter and The Last Starfighter. Like his literary and cinematic comrades, Duke not only fights evil, he swashbuckles it with élan and derring do. So yes, Mark Millar appears to be hewing to the established form and plot-line of this sub genre. For instance, Millar’s foreshadowing in Starlight is so formal that the chapter endings loom ahead as obvious as billboards. The structure is so pointed and leading that it seems like magical misdirection worthy of Oscar Diggs, setting us up for an unexpected reveal in the series finale. But if the story ends with the optimism and sincerity with which it started, that is also a gift to the reader. Many current comics, including other comics written by Millar, reject or deconstruct the forms of genres, but it is not a requirement that Millar do this in all his works. And, if he chooses to tell this story straight, we are permitted to enjoy it despite the fanboy predilection for twisted tropes. Truth be told, Starlight is a wonderful story with a broad tapestry; if it recalls classics of pulp science fantasy, as devoted connoisseurs of such, comic fans should appreciate it all the more for these airs of nostalgia. Like the best of fantasies, Starlight reminds us that the innocence of childhood is what moves us throughout our whole lives; when Duke thinks his life is over, a child from the stars reminds him to win back his personal Elysium. And the fifth chapter is the most important chapter of all. In this climax, we learn that the alien boy has had it worse than Duke, and Duke makes a conscious decision to throw away his aches and pains and forget his personal grief in order to move with vitality and purpose.
Just as Millar summons the science fiction canon, so does Goran Parlov somehow manage to honor Kirby, Ditko, Toth, and Simonson in every panel. Parlov also has his own distinctive craft, undeniable preferences, and a look that is definitely “Parlovian,” such as a predominance of widescreen panels that give the comic a storyboarded look. Fox Studios thinks that Starlight has a cinematic feel too, as they are in talks for the movie rights.
Starlight is a highly recommended gem that will gravitate to the top of your pull list. Starlight #5 is the fifth issue in a six part series published by Image Comics and available digitally on their website and comiXology. Print editions can be found or ordered at your local comic shop.