Comics Vixen: Starfire #1 (2015)
Looking at the outside cover, I’m pretty stoked about my copy of Starfire #1. It’s a cool-looking cover: nothing fancy, but I like the colors and the artwork, and female superheroes tend to make me happy. Also, my copy is signed. I’m not sure who it’s signed by (it’s fairly illegible and I’m too lazy to research what all the creators’ signatures look like), or where I got it (no doubt in one of the stacks of great comics that have been among my birthday presents the last couple years), but hey: signed comic with a pretty cover? Awesome!
Unfortunately, the appeal of this comic pretty much stops there.
I don’t generally like to write negative reviews—dragging something is less interesting to me than celebrating something—but sometimes they’re necessary. Also, this was the first comic I picked up when I realized I was late on my Comics Vixen installment and if I chose something else, it’d be even later. So, here ya go. This book is indicative of all the problems DC Comics has right now, so maybe it’s worth talking about.
Starfire the character has been around for a little while. Technically, this one is the fourth Starfire, who goes by the name Koriand’r (yep, like the spice) and is the best-known iteration of this hero. Starfire first debuted in 1980: a redheaded intergalactic sex symbol whose big hair and skimpy clothes are indicative of the time when her character was created.
The book I’m discussing now is the first issue in her solo series that began in 2015. I don’t know much about Starfire’s history, but she’s a reasonably popular character who seems to have done some pretty cool stuff over the years. Her power is converting radiation to energy, which allows her to fly and gives her practically indestructible strength. She can blast energy at her enemies on command. She’s a great fighter and can learn languages just by touching another person (probably the superpower I would most like to have if I’m being completely honest).
Part of Starfire’s character is a bit of inherent sluttiness. She prefers to learn languages by kissing men, although a simple touch of the hand would suffice. She prefers the skimpy clothes she was originally drawn in—or nothing at all, and I think these character traits are wonderful. If all women in comics were slutty, then we would have a problem, and it’s true that too many of them are hypersexualized. But, there is also a need for representation of women who are in control of their sexuality, who own it and are still cool no matter how many men they make out with. Starfire is no prude. I can relate to her on that level (even if my makeout sessions never teach me a new language).
However, my problem with Starfire #1 is that her character falls super flat—and so does the story. To have a good comic, you don’t always need a well-rounded character and well-rounded storytelling. I do think you need at least one of those things. This book leans heavily on Starfire’s lack of knowledge about Earth for its humor but ends up with a lot of dull puns that aren’t really funny. When it’s suggested to Koriand’r that she put her money in a bank, she asks, “Do you mean bury them next to a river, or place them in in a building where finances are supervised?” A few of these jokes are entertaining, but they lose energy by being repeated so often. And although Starfire isn’t a particularly deep superhero, it kind of reduces her to a ditzy mess instead of building her character.
The story is also laid out using clunky, unnecessary headings (the section quoted above is called “Show Me Your Jewels”). The pacing is stilted and the scenes feel trite: there’s a gratuitous bar scene, a gratuitous trying-on-clothes scene, a gratuitous shower scene. If those were effective ways to move the story along, great, but the way they’re presented, I don’t really buy it. It’s gimmicky.
Given what I’ve read from DC, these issues seem indicative of the comic publisher’s bigger problems. I’m reminded of the film version of Suicide Squad, which—although I didn’t hate it—did garner a number of valid complaints about things like its use of overplayed songs and pop-art lettering to introduce characters. DC is trying to keep its established place in comics by having a distinctive vibe that sets it apart from Marvel, Image, Valiant, or any other publisher. The image they’re working to cultivate, though, is like (I’m going to personify DC Comics here) the obnoxiously intentional manic pixie dream girl who thinks all it takes to be unique and interesting is some Manic Panic hair dye. The girl who thinks liking polka dots and glitter is revolutionary. DC is the Zooey Deschanel of comic publishers. They’re being cute/quirky for the sake of being cute/quirky. It’s performative, unoriginal, and boring.
I would much rather see solid storytelling than bright colors and pop-art-style bubble letters every other page. I appreciate pulpiness and have nothing against the trashy tropes (like Starfire’s love of slutty clothes), but they need to be backed up with a strong character or a strong storyline (preferably both). As it is, DC seems to be relying on stylistic concepts to maintain readers’ attention and strive for a uniform style across multiple series, which is odd. There’s nothing stylistic that ties Image Comics’ titles together. But that’s what makes Image so successful: the variety of options, many of them incredibly well crafted.
I like a lot of what DC does. I’d even like to see their attempt at being stylistically uniform succeed, but I’m not sure it can be done. What DC needs is some fresh voices, artists, and approaches to break out of the rut, instead of continually rebranding with this “New 52” and “DC Rebirth” stuff that doesn’t actually change anything. But as DC’s films have shown, the company is quickly losing faith from its fans, which makes revamping even harder. They should start now. The longer they wait to make changes, the harder it’s going to be for them to make a comeback.