REVIEW: “Starlight #5” Up, Up, and Away

(w) Mark Millar (a) Goran Parlov $2.99 Image Comics
(w) Mark Millar (a) Goran Parlov $2.99 Image Comics

Starlight is perhaps the best Millarworld book since Kick-Ass. While it still relies too heavily on tropes and clichés to tell its story, it also captures the charm and ethos of Millar of days past. Sympathetic heroes populate “Starlight #5” and the inevitable betrayal manages to work thanks to Goran Parlov’s phenomenal artwork in capturing the beauty and splendor of comic book action scenes. Although, unlike Kick-Ass—and most other Millarworld books for that matter—the tone and atmosphere are kept light and fun throughout this issue. It never turns the corner and becomes overly brooding, dark, and vulgar, but stays happily in its campy world.

Parlov manages to capture the magic of the Kirby-era artists while imbuing modern sensibilities to his visuals. The science-fiction setting is the perfect outlet for his thin lines and angular style. Character designs are consistent, and facial expressions are usually spot-on. Occasionally a panel is a little too busy but most look excellent with great framing and terrific angles. Without an artist like this I fear for what this book might have been. When mundane elements start to make you question the direction of the story, Parlov is there to provide a sturdy backbone to prevent the book from collapsing.

Duke and Space-Boy are two likable heroes that provide a compelling reason to continue reading this series. Duke’s redemption works really well as a story device as it’s reminiscent of an Obi-Wan Kenobi-esque resurrection after long, dormant years filled with doubt and denial. There is also a very strong connection to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s first two John Carter of Mars tales, what with the liberating of a planet and returning home after falling in love with a princess there and then returning many years later to find the planet once again in peril. Space-Boy is the typical white, male orphan whose parents are taken by a force outside his control, and now he seeks to destroy that force. Not exactly new material, but again Millar captures a voice for the character that is easy to read and brings enough emotion into play to tug on your heartstrings.

For those that are so inclined, there are also several references to Greek mythology within this series. Aside from the mythological nature of the story itself (virtually all Western literature from the Bible to Marvel Comics are descended from Greek comedies and tragedies) there are some pointed references sprinkled throughout this series. First up is the planet name itself: Tantalus. Before becoming an important etymological piece behind the English word tantalizing,  Tantalus was a character in Greek mythology who was kind of a bad dude. But I’ll get back to that in a second. It follows that the resident of the planet Tantalus would be named after one of the character’s children: Broteas. The ugly child is transformed into Millar’s brutal, dictatorial regime and called the Broteans. Remember when I said Tantalus was kind of a dick? Well, he fed his more famous son, Pelops (whose the namesake of the Peloponnesian region of Greece), to the gods at a banquet. Thanks to that act the Mycenaean Saga is kicked off in earnest. Finally, the only piece to be revealed for the first time in this specific issue is the revelation of the Charybdis. These creatures attack Duke (after he escapes from Broteans) and are summarily defeated. Her roots lie most famously in Homer’s The Odyssey as Charybdis is a sea monster who sits opposite Scylla (another beastie). This piece of Odysseus’s journey is especially tricky because to avoid one you must sail too closely to the other. The beasts in “Starlight #5” are just as deadly and just as susceptible to the greater ability of a hero as their namesake.

Verdict:

With strong nods to Greek mythology, great characters, and a phenomenal artist “Starlight #5” is a mediocre comic wrapped in the garb of an amazing one. Ultimately, the art and characters can’t completely escape the gravity of the ho-hum story, but neither does the meager plot completely suck the life out of this installment.

“Starlight #5” earns 7.3 / 10