After Sailor Moon Crystal failed to reignite the magical girl genre this year, the idea of a western deconstruction of it in a comic like Zodiac Starforce, which began this week, is enough of a hook to pull you in. And although the comic sets up an interesting new world, its not without a few faults.
Minor spoilers ahead for Zodiac Starforce #1.
From the get go, Zodiac Starforce, penned by Kevin Panetta with art from the sister team of Paulina and Savanna Ganucheau, quickly establishes itself as a comic about magical girls rather than one merely with them. Although the first issue opens with a young girl, Emma, transforming into her superpowered alter-ego and fighting a monster, it does not begin with her like that: she’s just a normal teenager, texting her friends about house parties and trying to revise for a biology exam. Zodiac Starforce isn’t about the origin of a Magical Girl Team, but what happens after said team saves the world: How they move on from a life of hilariously overlong transformation sequences and shouting the names of their attacks repeatedly, and try to be ordinary young girls again.
It’s not a wholly unique concept—we’ve had oodles of superhero stories about powered people putting down their capes and living a new life—but it’s an interesting one to explore in a genre where we usually don’t get to see much of the protagonists’ normal lives. After all, magical girls exist so we can see badass women kick monster butt and save the day. Zodiac Starforce isn’t entirely about that yet, and perhaps most interestingly, is actually about a group of former heroes who decidedly don’t want to go back to that life... except one of them who is desperate to get the band back together. Or superhero squad. Same difference!
In the opening pages of the first issue, we’re quickly introduced to said character, Kim, the bullheaded bruiser of the former group. It’s a masterful opening sequence that, even with just Kim and Emma, sets up the whole team, what they’ve done in the past as the Zodiac Starforce, and why most of them want to just live their lives as teens rather than superpowered representations of the zodiac—and why Kim misses punching the crap out of monsters. The fact that it also features a fun little fight sequence as well as the setting up of a major plot point for later (Emma is inflicted with something by the monster as she defeats it) is just a nice extra.
But it’s immediately after this that the issue bogs itself down, as Kim and Emma go to the aformentioned house party to tell the former Starforce members about the monster. The vast majority of the rest of the issue is taken up at this party, and very little new information is actually given to the reader. It’s more of a rehash of what we’d already gleaned about the group in the opening pages, but now with faces to put to the names of the other Starforce girls, Savannah and Molly. After such a brilliantly done opening, the issue put the breaks on and feels like it’s bogged down in treacle. So you’re left wondering what the hell happened to the slick pacing and worldbuilding of the first few pages.
It’s very much helped though by some amazing artwork. Paulina Ganucheau’s soft, cartoony art style has just the right amount of cutesy stylisation that feels right for a loving homage to the world of magical girls—but it’s made perfect by the almost saccharine color palette uses by colorist Savanna Ganucheau. It’s full of such bright colors, even in its night scenes, and an excellent, hazy use of lightflares. Zodiac Starforce’s color looks like something taken out of a jar at a traditional candy store and served in a white paper bag, almost like you could get a toothache if you stared at it for too long. It works so well, and gives the book such a vivid aesthetic, that you almost forget the drudgery that unfortunately takes up much of the first issue of this four-part series.
However, if you make it up to the end, you’re treated to an interesting enough hook (that I won’t spoil here) that makes you want to see more of Panetta’s world—and not just because of the chance to see more of the Ganucheau sisters’ beautiful art. There’s a lot more Zodiac Starforce can do and say as it plays about with the magical girl genre, and explores the non-heroic sides of these girls’ lives. I just hope it does it at a snappier pace than this first issue did.