Starlight: The Return of Duke McQueen by Mark Millar and Goran Parlov
Without a doubt, Starlight: The Return of Duke McQueen is my favorite comic book by Mark Millar. Any fan of pulp science fiction will want to read this book. It is told well, is full of wonder, and is simply delightful. Starlight both invokes and honors older science fiction stories that have as their primary aim the hope of instilling astonishment in readers as they flip quickly through the pages to find out about the hero’s adventures in space. And in Starlight, we take joy in Duke McQueen’s tale, both devouring the pages and never wanting it to end.
The main way in which our astonishment is earned is through the art. Goran Parlov’s art is what initially made me want to read this comic when I saw the first monthly issue on the stands. The very first page is an establishing shot giving us a scenic view of an alien planet, one that is stunning in its beauty. As we turn the page, we see a young Duke McQueen kneeling before the planet’s queen who is bestowing an award on him in front of the citizens who are all thankful for McQueen’s saving them from the tyranny of their previous ruler.
Then we are shocked back into McQueen’s reality years later as he wakes up an old man on Earth. We find out that McQueen, instead of taking the Queen’s offer of marriage and a kingship, came back to Earth to marry his girlfriend. In the present, McQueen is a widower and a grandfather with children who have no time for him. We find out very soon in the narrative that when the young McQueen returned to earth with his alien space suit and tales of adventure, he was publicly scorned. Only his girlfriend and future wife believed his stories. In between giving us these depressing moments of our disgraced hero’s everyday reality, Parlov treats us to scenes of McQueen’s daring adventures as a young man on a colorful planet with wonderful creatures and jaw-dropping geography.
McQueen, after being laughed at as a fool for years by his neighbors, would surely like to be respected as a great hero again as he once was years ago on an alien world. But he’s never had the ability to return. However, now would be a perfect time to leave Earth: His wife his dead, he has disbelieving and unintentionally cold children, and he seemingly has no friends. Given that the expected often happens in a story such as this one, a familiar-looking spaceship lands in his backyard. It seems like McQueen is needed again. But it’s not going to go as smoothly this time around.
This book lacks the surprises in MPH, another recent work by Millar, but for me, Starlight is a more enjoyable comic book for two reasons: First, as I mentioned before, the art is stunning. Secondly, I really like the premise of the story: An older man going back to achieve the heroic deeds that seemed easier in his youth. I think there’s an important point being made here about youth’s inability to understand their elders, not to mention a related point about how, as we grow older, we often judge ourselves unfairly on criteria we should have reconsidered a long time ago. However, McQueen, you won’t be surprised to find out, finds his heroic path again, but you’ll need to decide what themes are conveyed by his being victorious as an older man.
Finally, I think I’m willing to rate Starlight higher than MPH because I already want to read Starlight again (and have read parts of it twice), yet I have no desire to read MPH again, even though it was a fun ride. One final plus is that Millar’s Starlight, like MPH, is a single-volume story, so you won’t need to wait for volume two, as is common in comics. In other words, you have no good excuses for waiting to read an almost perfectly written and drawn pulp science fiction story. Please don’t let this one pass you by.