In I Am Not Starfire, Mandy Anders, the teenage daughter of superhero single mom Starfire, is pretty damn relatable. Not the “daughter of a superhero” part, but everything else.
I Am Not Starfire
Aditya Bidikar (letters), Mariko Tamaki (writing), Yoshi Yoshitani (art)
July 27, 2021
Mandy has grown up in the shadow of her luminescent mom, Starfire. Starfire is a beautiful and kind hero, strong and compassionate, enormous and famous. She and her fellow Titans save the Earth, like, a lot. Mandy, on the other hand, is a chubby goth underachiever with no superpowers and not much social clout. Mandy assumes they have nothing in common and that her mom could never understand her.
Mandy’s childhood was shaped by her mom’s fame as much as her mom’s personality. Starfire is constantly sought by fans who frankly discuss her looks and her fashion choices (bikinis) as well as her activities with the Titans. Mandy also remembers from her childhood how much her mom seemed to be looking out for her powers to manifest. They haven’t. Mandy is therefore convinced that anyone who seems interested in her is only interested in her mom and that her mom is disappointed in her. The extreme lengths required to show Mandy that neither is true shape the plot of I Am Not Starfire, in a somewhat predictable but also entirely satisfying way.
Mariko Tamaki is treating a more well-worn story here than she was in Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass, my reigning favorite DC title by Tamaki. Mandy is a teenager who learns to value herself and realizes she is loved by her hard working immigrant mom. That’s a character arc I’ve certainly seen in YA before, but new iterations are always welcome, and I Am Not Starfire feels fresh and fun.
Yoshi Yoshitani’s beautiful art is a joy, and certainly part of what makes the book succeed. The character designs are distinct and iconic, while still offering an excellent range of facial and physical expressions. The settings are nuanced enough to feel real without being distracting. Any page from this book could be blown up and framed as pop art.
With the range of physical depictions of characters, I appreciated that Starfire and Mandy both have friends and family. We see Mandy texting her BFF constantly, crushing on a beautiful classmate, and avoiding the snide snobs unfortunately present at every high school. Less expectedly, perhaps, we also see glimpses of Starfire interacting with the other Titans in ways that convey how much they rely on each other. Seeing an adult’s functional support system is refreshing in a YA graphic novel.
Unlike many parents in YA, Starfire feels like a fully realized character. To Mandy, she can seem larger than life, relentlessly positive and unavoidably alien, but she has her own issues she’s dealing with, depicted deftly by Tamaki and Yoshitani. I’m sure it is partly because I yearn for more mom superhero narratives, but I finished I Am Not Starfire wanting a companion book that shows this same plot from Starfire’s point of view.
Highlighting functional teen friendships has been a strength of DC’s YA offerings in the past few years, such as in the Beast Boy and Raven graphic novels, and I hope it stays a focus for the imprint. In I Am Not Starfire, Mandy absolutely lives up to our expectations.