By Gavin Rehfeldt.  Starlight is Mark Millar’s fantastically alternative take on space operas, enriched by gorgeous candy-colored artwork that’s easily worth the $2.99 alone. From an overall inconsistent body of work, this has to be among Millar’s finest. He draws superficial inspiration from Star Wars, Buck Rogers, and Flash Gordon, but shifts the tone towards the warmly tragic instead of favoring the epic grandiosity of those influential works.

A long time ago, Captain Duke McQueen was a hero, an “intergalactic celebrity” of Tantalus, a distant and spectacular planet. Upon returning to his home planet, Earth, he finds that everyone doubts the adventures Duke claims, the only person in his life that believes him being his loving wife. Time passes, and an aging Duke not only loses his wife, but what little remained of his credibility. His kids give up on him, and he finds what was supposed to have been the greatest experience of his life has become the bane of his existence. One rainy evening he receives an opportunity to revisit his adventuring days in the form of a space vessel carrying Space-Boy, a weary traveler with a bright pink shock of hair, who needs Duke’s help to take down the Broteans, an oppressive regime that has conquered his once peaceful planet. As this mini-series progresses, the friendship between Duke and Space-Boy deepens, and their adventure to restore peace has been exciting and very moving.

With the exception of All-Star Superman, I cannot recall many comics like Starlight that have so easily manifested both majesty and intimacy. Both works have an aspirational gentility and wit, but also a pervading sense of foreboding that is thrilling to experience. With Starlight, Millar is pulling together a sophisticated and understated work of lyrical beauty. It has a timeless quality, but also feels immediate. (Example: because Duke hails from Earth, the conquered planet claims “Earth fans” who dress like Earthlings and collect Earth things. The alien technology seems familiar but also off-the-wall, including a glove that entitles the wearer to telekinesis, introduced in #4, which is used to great effect in this issue.)

SL3As I’ve mentioned before, Starlight might appear derivative of other similar works, but one has to admire the editorial strengths of Millar’s writing. Reading this issue goes quickly in terms of dialogue, but Millar says a lot with little exposition, and lets artist Goran Parlov’s art open up the story and action. The scope of Parlov’s art is magnificent, and calls to mind a similarly talented line-man, the bandes dessinées artist, Moebius. Some of the space fashion seems to directly reference some of the design work of the French artist.

Further, there are arguments online that Starlight is an unoriginal work, a rip-off. (I don’t really believe in rip-offs, just bad writing.) No work of fiction is wholly original, and recognizable story elements are often what can communicate a narrative most effectively. For example, if one is going to “rip-off” something like Star Wars (you could call the rebel Tilda Starr the female Han Solo, but whatever, she’s awesome!), I have no complaints; there are worse sources for material to use as a springboard out there.

SL5So too, a good writer knows how to distill the good stuff, like the tale of Space-Boy, a Batman-styled origin story with echoes of Superman peppered throughout: his parents, while shot dead in front of his very eyes, also feel like the doomed Krypton intellectuals Lara and Jor-El. In my mind, the argument about Starlight being derivative is made invalid because Millar and Parlov have made an evident stew of original ideas and approaches to this modern myth. Starlight has just the right pacing and atmosphere that could have been thrown off by one too many details. (Or too few.) The dialogue and story is sexy at times and horrifying at others, but never vulgar. Popular culture references are used sparingly. The humor is all character based. Starlight is pitch perfect.

Consider this: Starlight could have been Millar’s gory, brain-splitting space saga (as one could easily expect from him), but instead he’s cast a comforting spell over readers by keeping the book cute and classy (with a modicum of classic Millar cussing). I’m impressed with his restraint, and for creating characters who are lovable and are fighting for a cause of which I am thoroughly convinced. (The villains are also very persuasive with their convictions.) I thought Jupiter’s Legacy would be my favorite Millar book this summer, but Starlight far exceeded my expectations.

Issue #6 is the grand finale to Starlight, and while there are certain hopes I have for these characters, especially Duke and Space-Boy, I mostly hope to simply be surprised and thrilled. 20th Century Fox has already picked up the book’s movie rights, so get in on the ground floor before this property shoots for the heavens.

Image Comics/$2.99

Written by Mark Millar

Art by Goran Parlov

10 out of 10