There are a lot of pop culture phenomena you don't actually have to have a personal encounter with in order to know it. Most of us don't have to read the Shakespeare in order to understand the shape of them and recognise references to Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet. (But you could/should according to your own interests, of course! Just saying - most of us can recognise a tribute or parody or whaver even if we're not closely familiar with the original work.) I've never read (or watched?) Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers, but I can still see them in Starlight.
I hadn't really heard much buzz about this one before I read it. I think it might be a hit with those people who were infatuated with Steven Erikson's Willful child because of its retro-trekkiness, though. Some will adore this for being made out of genre staples and fashions that have mutated, or evolved, to become something quite different today. Some of Starlight's charm probably goes unnoticed by me, because I don't have a pool of nostalgia for these particular tropes. That said: This is still a charming story. It's sweet, and a bit sentimental, and I enjoyed reading it because what it does, it does well.
No, there aren't any very multidimensional characters here, or plot intricacies, or even a lot of theme, but it has the compelling what-if: What if a man from Earth went and became a hero on another planet - and then he went home to Earth, where no one knew about what happened, and no one believed him?
What if this man, Duke McQueen, is an old man by the time the alien planet reaches out for his help again?
The elderly superhero idea is enormously appealing to me - it has been since before I ever came across Frank Miller's The Dark Knight returns, though I struggle to identify earlier examples of it. When you look back at a character's adventures from his or her viewpoint a few decades later, it makes sense for those memories to have no more depth or sense than the short action snap-shots; Duke McQeen punching evil amphibians, Duke McQueen rescuing the princess from evil things, Duke McQueen punching something else, presumably evil. Once you get to a place where you can have thoughts about things you did 20-30-50 years ago, it gets harder to inhabit those memories, to remember your motivations and fears and ideas at the time. It gets flat. Like colourful still-images without a detailed narration.
(Mark Millar also authored Superman: Red son, which is appealing in much the same way: What if baby Superman didn't plonk down in the US, but in the USSR instead? What if?)
If this collection is branded volume 1, then, presumably, there's going to be a Starlight vol.2, at some point - which will be interesting, because I didn't register any very obvious story points to pull sequels and follow-ups out of. Though - I can probably imagine a few ways for it to go. The one thing I find delightful about the retro action adventure style, however, is that it can do anything without breaking its own form. There can be offspring or forbidden romance or clones or entire worlds and societies bringing in the next part of the story, even though you never heard or suspected anything about these up until that point. This can be intensely annoying when done unsucessfully, but Starlight? I think it can pull of nearly anything.