Science pulp has been written before: John Carter, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers. They're all classic heroes of space fantasy. What's unique about Millar's and Parlov's "Starlight" is that it takes a classic trope in science fantasy, "hero transported to an otherworldly realm," and makes it its own. The first issue makes a good start. Imagine Disney's "Up" mashed up with classic, pulp fiction; and you have "Starlight." Duke McQueen just lost his wife of thirty-eight years to breast cancer. His two adult sons seem very distant in their relationship with their father. The dreams Duke has of youth, strength, glory, and honor in space seem all too real. The death of Duke's wife, heart-breakingly portrayed in the simple, solemn (and at times silent) panel work of Goran Parlov, represents a "paradise lost." She was his world; and without her, can he stand to remain in it?
Nearly a hundred years ago, Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote what's hailed by many as one of the first novels of science fantasy: "A Princess of Mars" (1917). In it, a wounded Confederate soldier (John Carter) is transported to Mars when he's trapped in a cave by his pursuers. He becomes that world's champion and redeemer. After he returns to Earth, he longs to go back to the love he left behind: Dejah Thoris. Air Force pilot Duke McQueen has similar qualities. Like Buck Rogers, he was hurdled into space toward a strange, new world (we catch glimpses of this in flashbacks and dream sequences). He not only longs for his wife. He longs for others to believe his story (as shown in a grocery store scene). Moreover, with his wife no longer with him, he longs to return to a galaxy far and away. By the end of the first issue, he may get that chance.
"Starlight" has the makings of a good, fun, but tragic story. It not only gives readers a taste of what adventure in space could mean for its protagonist. It also provides the pathos readers need in order to really care about this character and his ordeal. Millar includes heavy issues such as cancer, loneliness, loss (of life and of reputation) and empty-nest syndrome. It's possible that his own children dismiss him even as the world-at-large dismiss his story. Goran Parlov's art and colors are beautiful. The full-page spread of the alien city on the opening page of the book is eye-catching.
What's good about this story is what's potentially problematic for it. "Starlight," no matter how well-written and wonderfully drawn it is, stands in the shadow of a century's worth of famous science fiction short stories, novels and comics books that have dealt with the same tropes. Some readers will accuse it for being unoriginal. However, if Millar's character-driven story has just enough plot twists, action, key interactions between characters, and emotion to set it apart from its predecessors, it can be a winner.
"Starlight no. 1" is well-written, and the art is great. If readers are unfamiliar with Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, or John Carter; then Millar's story will feel fresh. For those of us who are familiar with them, let's do ourselves a favor: read it. Let's trust that "Starlight" will not be a simple re-tread, but that it will attempt to do something different. Something we could not have imagined.
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