The GeeksverseREVIEW | Starlight: The Return of Duke McQueen (Image Comics)

REVIEW | Starlight: The Return of Duke McQueen (Image Comics)
Published on Friday, February 13, 2015 by
Mark Millar and Goran Parlov take an Adam Strange pastiche to some very interesting places in Starlight: The Return of Duke McQueen.

  • StarlightTPBcoverStory: Mark Millar
  • Illustrations: Goran Parlov
  • Colors: Ive Svorcina
  • Cover: John Cassaday with Ive Svorcina
  • Starlight created by: Mark Millar and Goran Parlov
  • Format: 168 pages, full color, trade paperback; collects Starlight #1–6, originally published in single magazine format.
  • List price: $14.99
  • Sale date: 11 February 2015
  • Publisher’s description: Forty years ago, Duke McQueen was the space hero who saved the universe. But then he came back home, got married, had kids, and grew old. Now his children have left and his wife has passed away, leaving him alone with nothing except his memories… until a call comes from a distant world asking him back for his final and greatest adventure.
  • Click here to read our review of Starlight #1.

A number of creator-owned superhero comics produced by writer Mark Millar in the wake of his contentious turn-of-the-century departure from DC Comics are seemingly attempts to deconstruct the publisher’s most popular characters. Wanted‘s villain-protagonists are thinly-veiled recreations of DC’s rogues, Superior is a nod towards the Fawcett Captain Marvel, the main character in Nemesis, depending on whom you ask, is either an extreme version of Batman or an ersatz Joker; the philosophical and ethical conflicts that beset the superheroes of Jupiter’s Legacy echo those often seen between the leading members of the Justice League (the title’s initials should be clue enough); and MPH is a gritty urban take on the speedster hero exemplified by the Flash.

If we run with this theory, the hero of Starlight can be described as Millar’s version of DC’s Adam Strange: A pulp sci-fi adventurer who falls, quite by accident, into the role of the straight-shooting, jetpack-wearing hero to an entire alien world. Starlight‘s Duke McQueen doesn’t just serve the purpose of pastiche, however. As with Millar’s previous quasi-homages to DC’s superhero comics, the appropriation of a DC property’s blueprint is merely the launchpad for a themed digression.

Starlight finds the former Air Force pilot McQueen four decades removed from his galactic adventures on the planet Tantalus, and he is now an elderly recluse and a widower thought of by everybody, including his adult children, as delusional or in the beginnings of dementia. Only his wife believed that he was accidentally transported to another world during one of his missions, and that he freed that world from the clutches of its murderous dictator, Typhon.

Suddenly offered a chance to reprise his role as Tantalus’ champion, McQueen joins a small rebel cadre against the new threat posed by the forces of the invading Brotean Empire, intent on becoming the hero he once was, one final time. Millar manages to get a lot out of humor and pathos from scenes of the crotchety McQueen trying (and occasionally failing) to live up to his reputation: He is much, much older, after all, and is no longer as spry as he was in his physical prime.

Starlight does more than comment on pulp/sci-fi hero senescence. It also raises questions about wars of liberation and the liberator’s responsibility: For all his faults, the dictator Typhon might have been the only thing keeping the even more sinister Broteans from attacking Tantalus, and it is shown that the planet’s civilians are the ones who suffer the brunt of the Broteans’ rage for the guerrilla-style, hit-and-run tactics employed by McQueen and his rebel allies. Unfortunately, Starlight fails to explore these issues to anywhere near their fullest. Just as things start to get really interesting and the supporting cast of characters are coming into their own, the book comes to an abrupt and somewhat unsatisfying end. The narrative feels suspiciously truncated—as if Millar originally intended for the original limited series to run for 12 issues but was pushed for whatever reason to resolve the story in six—and as a result, the third act feels terribly rushed and the conclusion comes off as rather facile.

These problems are partially mitigated by Goran Parlov’s art, though. Starlight offers readers familiar only with Parlov’s work on gritty, Garth Ennis-penned crime and military-themed comics such as The Punisher, Punisher Presents: Barracuda, and Nick Fury: My War Gone By the opportunity to see the Croation illustrator channel Moebius’ flair for fantastical design through a rendering sensibility that draws inspiration from modern masters such as Jordi Bernet and Hugo Pratt. The result is nothing short of a virtuoso showcase for Parlov’s range, versatility, and dynamic visual storytelling skills.

Starlight: The Return of Duke McQueen is a flawed future classic: It never really comes together as a whole largely because of pacing problems, but Parlov’s art and the book’s first two-thirds are compelling enough that it should still be worth seeking out all the same for fans of pulp/sci-fi comics.

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