4 Takes on Zodiac Starforce #1

Zodiac Starforce #1 Variant cover, writer Kevin Panetta, artist Paulina Ganucheau, cover artist Marguerite Savage, Dark Horse Comics 2015

Zodiac Starforce, Kevin Panetta (script) and Paulina Ganucheau (art)Zodiac Starforce #1

Kevin Panetta (script), Paulina Ganucheau (art & letters), Savanna Ganucheau (color assists)
Dark Horse
August 26, 2015
Review copy provided by Dark Horse comics
Disclaimer: This review may contain spoilers and is based on an advanced review copy of Zodiac Starforce #1 from Dark Horse.

Ever since we heard about Zodiac Starforce—a magical girl comic team in the style of “Sailor Moon meets Buffy“—our fangurl senses have been tingling in anticipation! Finally, Zodiac Starforce dropped this week, and we quickly got our grubby hands on it. In the first issue, the retired Zodiac Starforce deals with the fact that what they thought was over may not actually be over.

Starting off easy, what were your first impressions when you read the synopsis for Zodiac Starforce and saw the cover/preview pages?

Desiree Rodriguez: I thought the art was very cute. The girls were diverse in body type and facial structure, and I loved all the hair. I got a very strong anime inspired vibe from the artwork, which considering the influence Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura had on the story, it makes sense. The synopsis intrigued me. I’m used to superheroes in Western comics, or something fantasy veined, but I haven’t read much in the way of magical girls from Western creators. So I was curious as to what this creative team’s take on the genre would be.

Ginnis Tonik: I was pretty stoked, because it was promoted as “Sailor Moon meets Buffy.” I mean that’s pretty much guaranteed to rope a gal like me in.

Angel Cruz: I didn’t know anything about Zodiac Starforce, but I was absolutely delighted by the cover. It looked like it could be fun and engaging, and as much as I appreciate dark and heavy stories, I love being able to find lighter fare in comics.

Christa Seeley: Colour! Like Angel I knew very little about Zodiac Starforce before reading except that it was a new “magical girl” story. But I instantly knew I wanted to read it when I saw the cover and preview pages. It was just so bright, and it had so much energy. So many comics I’ve read lately have been dark and gloomy, which is fine sometimes, but other times I want to kick back with a story that’s fun to read.

Marguerite Sauvage (of Bombshells and Thor fame) did the cover for Zodiac Starforce, but what did you think of Paulina Ganucheau’s art and the assisted colors by Savanna Ganucheau?

Zodiac Starforce 1, Dark Horse 2015
The Goddess Astra, illustration by Paulina Ganucheau and colors by Savanna Ganucheau

Desiree: I loved the colors. Everything was very vibrant, but not overly so. I liked the combined usage of backgrounds and gradient colored backgrounds. I love Jem and the Holograms, and one of the things the series does well is apply an absence of backgrounds or full colored backgrounds to enhance a scene. The colors for Zodiac aren’t as in your face as with Jem, but they still emphasized the story very well. I liked that each character had a specific color palette—as do most magical girl teams—but their colors also changed with their magical transformations. I really enjoyed the facial expressions Ganucheau gave the characters. It seems like such a small thing, but facial structure and expression—especially with female characters—can be so one note. 

Gin: Definitely with Desiree on the colors, and the Goddess Astra’s coloring was lovely and striking. And the illustration was dynamic and the facial expressions perfect, but I dunno it fell a little flat for me, and I am not sure why yet. However, the attention to costuming and outfits was on point.

Angel: Desiree made some great points regarding the background colors, and I’ll add that I loved their vibrancy—there’s a palpable energy to the pages that doesn’t depend on the characters. The mix of pastel and neon hues kept my eyes on the panels and actually caught my attention enough that even in my first read, I was noting the shifts in colors.

Christa: Like I mentioned above, I fell in love with this comic because of the colours. To me they set the tone for the whole story. Ganucheau’s art was great. The girls are all so distinct and have great energy and emotion. Though the story is good, I don’t think I would have enjoyed this comic nearly as much if it had different art.

After reading the first issue, what are initial thoughts on Zodiac Starforce?

Desiree: It’s a cute story with lots of promise. There are some issues regarding the pacing and artwork, but they’re not so irreparable that time and more experience can’t iron them out. I like the idea of the story a lot, and the concept is simple, but isn’t hindered by its simplicity. What I especially loved was the lack of an origin story. These girls have already fought, done their time as magical girls, and the experience has marked them all in different ways. This setup makes Zodiac Starforce standout against similar stories within the genre. The series isn’t telling an origin, but a new step in their adventure and how these specific group of young women are dealing with their previous stint as magical girls. That was a great way to start the story. They’re not a group of rookies; they did their hero saving-the-world thing, and now we’re reading about their experiences in the aftermath. I loved that.

Gin: I do like the concept, but I mainly just walked away from the story with “that was cute” and that is really about it. I think maybe “Sailor Moon meets Buffy” set me up for some unrealistic expectations. But either way, I am looking forward to a magical girl story from Dark Horse and will definitely read the next issue to see where the story is headed.

Angel: I think the fact that I went into it with few to zero expectations made a difference in my reading experience. I’m pretty tired of origin stories, so the fact that we just jump right into the aftermath of what was a very climactic time in the girls’ lives was something I appreciated. I wanted the story to pull me in quickly and let me figure things out on my own, and it did both of those things within the first ten pages.

Christa: I liked it enough to keep going. Not starting with an origin story was a great idea—we can really get into the character’s personalities and conflicts right away without all the backstory and set up. And those characters are really going to make or break this series. That being said, certain characters were definitely more interesting than others. Kim and Savannah intrigued me right from the start, but Emma and Molly? I wasn’t invested at all. Hopefully that will change.

The series has been said to be influenced by Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sailor Moon, and other magical girl shows. How do you think Zodiac Starforce fits into those genres?

Desiree: I don’t get Buffy at all. Zodiac Starforce seems to fit a similar mold as Sailor Moon or Cardcaptor Sakura, but Buffy? I don’t get any Buffy vibes from it. While no origin story is being told, I think this fits in nicely with some of the magical girl genre’s key points. Namely, its about a group of young women, all different—Kevin Panetta did a great job differentiating all the girls personalities—with a specific niche, fighting to save the world. It’s a timeless story for young and older women that is unashamedly feminine. I think parts of Zodiac Starfore exceed some of the best traits of the genre, but I worry about the potential portrayal of Diana and her posse of “mean girls.”

Gin: I totally get Buffy, because of the monsters and the toughness of the girls, and I am stoked about Diana. I love a good mean girl, and frankly, I am currently more interested in her than any of the Zodiac Starforce at this point.

Angel: I guess if I’m going with the Sailor Moon comparison, then it does make me think of the Sailor Stars season, when all the girls think that they can finally relax but surprise, surprise—there’s a new enemy to be defeated. Stars is my least favourite season, so I’m hoping Starforce can keep me around longer.

Christa: I think they should drop the “Sailor Moon meets Buffy” pitch. It’s not doing them any favours. Other than the fact that there are monsters, this doesn’t remind me of Buffy at all. And though there are some strong Sailor Moon elements, I get the impression that this story is going to feel completely different the more we read it.

Zodiac Starforce 1, Dark Horse 2015
The battle in the first third of the comic with Emma and Kim.

The series is being marketed as one that showcases a diverse cast of characters. Did you feel it lived up to this?

Gin: It still felt largely white to me with some gradation. Like I heard all this hype, but I saw the cover and was like looks pretty damn white. And the first third of the comic follows Kim and Emma who appear to be white.

Angel: Okay, so it’s not just me then! I thought Molly was at least a biracial Asian from the cover page, but the way she’s drawn in the comic makes her look white. I’d like to have a little more confirmation on this in later issues—biracial characters are so few and far between that it would be nice to have that out there as a fact.

Christa: I think it’s a little strange that they’re marketing it as a “diverse cast” because other than Molly—who we spend the least amount of on-page time with—the rest of the cast is very white. No mention of any LGBTQ team members either—although that could still come. The different body types is nice, but hopefully that’s not all we’re going to get.

Desiree: I’m glad I wasn’t the only one to notice this. I was initially really excited because of how the book was being marketed, but found myself pretty unimpressed by what was actually shown. I thought Emma might be latina, but honestly, I’m not sure. Same with Molly, who I also thought was Asian or at least bi-racial. I hope they make that a bit clearer in future issues. There’s still time to bring in some diversity – are any of the girls queer? – which hopefully we’ll see.

Young girls are slowly becoming a more acknowledged audience within the comic industry, and Zodiac Starforce is targeting that audience. How do you think the series measures up so far?

Gin: They are, and I love it! I do think this is a great comic for that group, and while I think the whole “diverse cast” thing is a little over-hyped, I love the idea of a magical girls comic for young female readers. Combine that with Lumberjanes and Jem & the Holograms, and I think the industry is headed in a great direction for creating comics that target this group.

Angel: I’m happy about the fact that Zodiac Starforce exists, that audiences beyond straight white cisgender males are being marketed to in comics now. While not everything will be what I’m looking for or what young girls are looking for, I’m hopeful that we’ll keep going in this direction.

Were they any particulars that bothered you or you felt could have been improved upon in the art or writing aspects of the first issue?

Gin: Like I said the “diverse cast” thing seemed over-hyped compared to what I saw in the first issue. Once it got going, we got some more skin variation, but it still felt a little safe, like we have two fair-skinned characters on the cover and the first third has to be about two white girls. I want comics for this audience now to be right away showing me racial diversity.

Christa: Emma. She came across as your stereotypical everygirl, and she is just such a drag. I understand that she has some baggage we still need to learn about, but I feel like this issue did very little to get me interested in her, especially since she’s the leader of the team.

What did you enjoy most about the first issue of Zodiac Starforce? What do you want to see more of in the future issues?

Gin: I liked the media res approach, and I love a group of girls who have already saved the world having to do it all over again (very Buffy), and I do look forward to seeing where the comic goes from here, but my emotional experience walking away from this comic was “meh.” I don’t know if that has anything to do with the quality of the comic or was my high expectations of the “Sailor Moon meets Buffy” promise and the fact that it did start off very differently from a lot of magical girl comics (as in no origin stuff). Right now, I am not sure, but the interview in the back showed promise, so I will definitely be reading the second issue.

Angel: I liked being thrown into a new story, and I liked the sense of discovery as I moved in it. I’d love to see more backstory in later issues, but I’m good with following the girls on adventures.

Christa: I definitely want them to expand on the magic elements. I want to know about how the Zodiac part comes into things and also about the girls’ own history and struggles. A lot of that was hinted at, but I’m eager to learn more about it.

Desiree: Despite some issues with the art, and story, there’s a lot of potential to be found in Zodiac Starforce. The art is, overall, very enjoyable. I love the colors and vibrancy that matches the feel and tone of the magical girl genre. I love that the story of Zodiac Starforce starts in an aftermath stage skipping over the tired origin stories of past incarnations in the genre.

Ginnis Tonik

Ginnis Tonik

Smashing the patriarchy with glitter, pink lipstick, and cowboy boots. You can follow her on Instagram @ginnistonik

3 thoughts on “4 Takes on Zodiac Starforce #1

  1. Thanks for the piece on this, helped me decide to check it out. Nothing’s perfect but it sounds like it’s worth supporting.

    1. Yay, glad you are checking it out, Skye! It is definitely worth checking out, and I think it will only improve.

  2. Just read it: omg I loved it so much.
    From what I understand: Molly is asian, Emma is at least biracial, and at least one of the characters is queer.
    But yes: it all looooks white, which is a problem.

    I’m looking forward to the possibilities, though they only have three more floppies to do whatever ~it~ is.

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