Review: Starfire #1: The Orange Alien Princess has Arrived
Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti (Scripter), Emanuela Lupacchino (Pencils), Ray McCarthy (Inks), Hi-Fi (colorist), Dave Lanphear (letterer) Cover by Amanda Conner & Paul Mounts DC Comics June 10, 2015
When it was announced that the popular Tamaranian princess Koriand’r, aka Starfire, was getting her own ongoing title penned by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti of Harley Quinn fame, plus was getting a rocking new costume designed by Conner herself, I nearly cried I was so excited. Starfire has been one of my favorite comic book characters since I first watched the original Teen Titans cartoon show in 2003. Starfire gained a lot of popularity from Teen Titans, as did Cyborg – who has his own upcoming series to be released in July. While her cartoon counterpart initially drew me to the character, it was her time spent as a member of the New Teen Titans, written primarily by George Perez, that made me love her. Conner and Palmiotti are able to pull off a combination of her pre-Nu52 personality and her cartoon-inspired persona from Teen Titans. The result being a very fun, loving, and open Starfire that shined on-page thanks to the vibrant artwork of Emanuela Lupacchino, inking by Ray McCarthy, and coloring by Hi-Fi.
(Note: Below are spoilers, including clipped panels from Starfire #1)
In Starfire‘s sneak peak, we learn that after her break up with fellow outlaws Jason Todd and Roy Harper, Starfire is seeking a new life with less space adventures and more down-to-earth simplicity. She employs Superman’s help, and ends up on an island off the coast of Florida. There she meets Sheriff Stella Gomez who helps Starfire begin building a life in the small town she’s found herself in.
Right off the bat Conner and Palmiotti’s signatures are front and center. Much like the beginning of their popular Harley Quinn title, Starfire #1 starts out with its herione moving on from her past life, and starting anew in an area that emphasizes her own personality. For Harley, that’s a dumpy run-down apartment building that houses a bunch of boardwalk carnies. For Starfire, it’s the tropical landscape with outdoor bars, board shorts, trailers with marijuana leaves painted on the side, and a bright open sky for Starfire to fly through.
While both Harley Quinn, and Starfire share a similar narrative style, their tones are different. Harley Quinn employs dark humor to tell its story, while Starfire embraces a more earnest, lighthearted sense of humor that matches Starfire’s own personality. The set-up may seem a bit slow, as we read Starfire navigating through mundane things like finding money for housing, clothes, and a place to live guided by Stella, but there is beauty in the simplicity.
Lupacchino’s artwork for Starfire is beautiful. She did an amazing job defining Kori as sexy without sexualizing her. Her new costume emphasizes her sexy personality, without reducing her to body parts for the male gaze. While the issue certainly makes note that Starfire is sexy, she’s also described as being beautiful, and even cute. There’s agency in her sexuality that’s refreshing to read, and very in line with her previous characterization. Lupacchino is able to create a shower scene that didn’t make me cringe, unlike the original opening visual of Starfire in Red Hood and The Outlaws #1 did.
While Starfire is completely naked, instead of being gratuitous cheesecake, it reminded me of an old scene in Judd Winick’s Titans run where Starfire is sunbathing completely naked. In neither scene is Starfire reduced to an object; she’s treated instead as a character with agency within the narrative. It was very befitting for what had already been established previously in the issue, during Starfire’s short shopping trip with Stella, and meeting and kissing her new landlord’s grandson.
One troublesome note was the consistency of Starfire in her own solo, as compared to her character in Red Hood and the Outlaws. The two really don’t mesh; this makes sense considering each is completely different. Red Hood and the Outlaws is a gritter, action-adventure story of a rag-tag group of not do-gooders. Starfire is much more lighthearted, with lower stakes, a more slice-of-alien-life than action adventure. For fans transitioning over from Red Hood and the Outlaws to Starfire, however, the change is jarring. She’s vastly changed, and any mention of her time spent with the outlaws is side-stepped. I assume this is a writing decision made by Conner and Palimiotti to rejuvenate the character for new readers.
Starfire’s introduction into the Nu52 still leaves many – including myself – with a bad taste in their mouths. Even though the book got progressively better with time, and Starfire received more agency as the series progressed – it says something that out of all three characters she received a solo series – first impressions matter. Starfire #1 was a decent re-introduction into the character. It called back to a lot of what fans knew and loved of her in previous incarnations; specifically Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans, and the original New Teen Titans run.
Starfire #1 takes a softer approach to the character that’s obviously inspired by her cartoon counterpart, with her naivete towards human customs and ways of life, and inability to garner sarcasm, or untoward flirtatiousness. Starfire isn’t portrayed as stupid, however, and I feel this should be especially noted. She’s simply naive to the ways of humans, but luckily Conner and Palimiotti don’t fall into the trap of making her naiveté the butt of jokes. If anything it’s endearing because we, as readers, know Starfire is actually very smart, emphasized by the way she explains how alcohol affects the human brain down to a cellular level. The humor, at times, does feel a bit forced. This can be seen particularly in a bar fight that breaks out between two men over who gets to take Starfire home. The sexual implications go right over Starfire’s head, as does the fact the men are treating her like an object to be fought over. The fight is stopped by both Starfire and Stella, but the overall humor of the scene simply bored me. There were better moments later in the book.
What I loved most about Starfire #1 was undoubtedly the prominence of people of color. One would think it’d be common sense to include people of color in your cast, period, but we all know that it’s rare for media to include more than two characters of color in their main cast. Even in island based stories, like the recent Aloha movie, we typically don’t see many characters of color in speaking roles. I noticed right away the prominence of characters of color, not just in the background scenes, but in speaking roles. Stella is a latina woman, the Sheriff of the town, who’s well respected and beloved by its inhabitants. Her brother, Sol, is head of the local coast guard; his two crewmen Raveena and Mark are also people of color, as is the shop keeper Javi. I doubt Raveena, Mark, and Javi will be major players in Starfire as the series continues, but the fact that most of the speaking roles in issue #1 went to characters of color was something I noticed right away. I’m especially interested in Stella. I hope she continues being a prominent part of Starfire’s story and we see more of her story as well. Seeing a latina woman in a position of power, without any negative connotations attached to it, while having a non-stereotypical attitude or personality meant a lot to me personally as a reader.
For now, I like that Conner and Palmiotti are keeping the stakes narratively low in Starfire #1. One of the things I enjoy about Harley Quinn is that it’s not a BIG BOOK in the same way the Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman books are. Starfire is a slice-of-alien-life book so far. I do hope we get to see a bit of action mixed in with her everyday life adventures. She is a space princess and a warrior as well as a fun loving alien woman. While the story, currently, is rather predictable, I have high hopes for the continuation of the series. Sure, I can already tell the storm set-up in issue #1 is going to hit the island hard and Starfire will save people. No doubt this is how she’ll meet Sol, Stella’s brother. But despite being predictable I still find Starfire #1 overall enjoyable. I want to learn more about Starfire as a singular character and see her grow and change. A big problem with her narrative pre-Nu52 is that writers weren’t sure what to do with her as a singular character. As much as I loved her relationship with Dick Grayson – and trust me I love and adored it – the storyline held her back as a character for many years. While in Red Hood and the Outlaws I felt her characterization was too overly aggressive, and her personality not emotional enough, I’m hoping Conner and Palmiotti can provide a nice balance between her being a warrior princess, and an overly emotional flirty fun loving alien princess. Starfire has a lot of potential as a singular character and I’m seeing sparks of it in her first issue. Kori’s hair might be on fire, but it’s her personality that shines.