The last several years have been good to Mark Millar. The Kick-Ass trilogy has had two chapters turned into films, and The Secret Service is currently in production with director Matthew Vaughan (Layer Cake, X-Men: First Class) at the helm. He has four current books on the shelves in either single-issue or trade-paperback form—not to mention whatever secret projects he might have up his sleeve. With all of these things on the table, no one would begrudge the man if he chose to leave it at that. But with “Starlight #1,” we are instead taking the first steps into what is being called the Expanded MillarWorld Universe™. Anyone who took the time to read the Letters Section of any of his recent books (Kick-Ass 3, Jupiter’s Legacy) knew this was coming. But I’m not sure, given the creator, any of us knew it could feel so subtle.
Opening with the line, “I feel like an idiot,” we meet our man, Captain Duke McQueen. He has just saved an entire planet from destruction, and he is seemingly nonplussed. Hardly a showboat, he is a humble hero who is reluctant to claim his role as savior, even when faced with a gigantic Amazon beauty who wants him to smile and wave to the people he has just rescued. He is being hailed as an intergalactic celebrity, and all he can think about is how foolish he feels as the center of attention. It is a bold choice to make the leading man of this book such a schlub, but it sets up and allows for a stark juxtaposition of dueling realities upon his return to Earth. No one believes his wild story of space travel and planetary conservation: not the Air Force, not the press, not the people around him. He is quickly discredited, discharged from the military, painted a charlatan, and forced to retire to civilian life. Luckily for him, he still has his health, his wonderful wife, and his two young sons to come home to.
Jump forward in time four or five decades and his beautiful wife has died of cancer and his two sons have all but forsaken him, choosing their own personal ambitions over his decline into solitary senior living. He is shown no respect by the kids in his town, mocked to his face at the grocery store, still haunted by a past that should have been his crowning achievement. Instead, it is the bane of his existence.
Even when Duke goes to great lengths to celebrate the life of their mother on the anniversary of her passing, he is literally left out in the rain by his children. It all feels like an even sadder version of the first ten minutes of the movie Up if Ed Asner’s character was replaced by Flash Gordon or Buzz Lightyear and then everyone called him crazy.
This all plays a lot like the start of a film. The pitch, the quick summary, and the overall tone of the book all have the feeling of a movie, and rightfully so. Theatricality has always been a strong suit for Millar and the choice to recruit Goran Parlov was a stroke of genius. His use of space, his ability to provide scale, the confident-yet-minimal line work, deeply expressive facial work, and strict adherence to a very specific aesthetic and genre make this book something to marvel. All of this is elevated even more by the expert color work of Ive Svorcina. The bright colors of the alien planet Tantalon are made even more distinct when compared to the heavy browns and earth tones of civilian life. You can feel just how much loss and doubt McQueen is feeling now that life has passed him by.
Later, he can’t help but wonder if returning was the right choice. Well, he just might get a second chance. In the middle of an appropriately heavy rain storm, he is jarred out of his state of lament by earth-shaking rumblings outside his door. Aghast and soaked in rain water, he is greeted by the site of an alien spacecraft. Where this goes from here, we shall see. Maybe Captain McQueen gets his due, after all.
How “Starlight #1” establishes Mark Millar’s ever expanding universe has yet to be seen. There were no obvious tie-ins or Easter eggs to his other books—at least none that this particular reviewer was able to find. But, what this book lacks in connective tissue, it makes up for in distinctly mature art and storytelling. Dare I say it even feels a wee bit sophisticated? I just might. In an effort to be as balanced as possible, I actively tried to find something wrong with this book. Something I could pick apart and be critical of. For the life of me, I cannot say I was successful in this endeavor, save for the lack of an obvious and immediate Millarwold tie-in. It is equal parts sad, introspective, meta, endearing, and refreshing. I have stated before in previous reviews that I believe a first issue of any book succeeds or fails depending on expert writing, art, or a great hook. This book has all of those things and more. As fans of this medium, we should all be excited.
“Starlight #1” shines bright with a perfect 10/10
Mike Sains is a Staff Writer at Capeless Crusader. When he isn’t writing, he’s podcasting at various places online. When he isn’t podcasting, he’s collecting comic books, FunkoPop! figures, and vinyl records. You can hear him on Geek Girls, Nerd Boys, The Tower of Sour, and The Inverse Delirium, all available on iTunes. Follow him on Twitter @MikeSains.