It’s been two years since now-sixteen-year-old Emma, Savanna, Molly, and Kim had to fight monsters. Two years since they beat the evil goddess Cimmeria and left her stranded in another dimension. Two years since they stopped using their Zodiac Starforce powers and went back to being normal teenagers—going to school, partying, and dating.
Except now, monsters are appearing again, stronger than before. One of them attacks Emma, leaving her with a magical wound that keeps getting worse even after the monster is defeated. Meanwhile, it seems their high school’s resident mean girl queen bee is dabbling in mind control, and maybe even something more dangerous.Will Astra, the goddess who granted the Starforce girls their powers, help them now? And if she doesn’t, will they be able to save themselves?
Zodiac Starforce: By the Power of Astra is a bright, bubbly action story that defies stereotypes. Stemming from a webcomic that the creators made for fun, the series got picked up by Dark Horse after its enthusiastic reception online. The comic’s creators compare a previous iteration of the Starforce concept to “Jem [and the Holograms] meets Scooby Doo” and allude to Sailor Moon as an inspiration, all of which tell you something about this comic’s plot, humor, and visual aesthetics. A true magical girl story, it combines saving-the-world action with hearts, sparkles, and an emphasis on friendship.
Our heroines are a diverse bunch. Emma and Molly appear to be people of color, as is Savanna’s girlfriend, and Savanna has a cute and very positively-portrayed romantic relationship with said girlfriend. Kim does a little stereotype-busting, too: she’s tough and brash and loud, her style more punkish than traditionally feminine, yet she has a sweet, stable, supportive relationship with her boyfriend from the beginning of the volume.
This lively story emphasizes friendship, loyalty, and courage, but it’s not without a serious side. Emma is still mourning the relatively recent death of her mother, and the story juxtaposes this against another character whose grief for lost loved ones has been channeled into rage and destruction.
The art combines brilliant color with a retro cartoon style. The hair is big enough fit in with the Jem and the Holograms crowd, while the way some facial features are drawn would be at home in an issue of Betty and Veronica. At the same time, the soft outlines (done in colors that coordinate with the filler colors rather than in black), the skillful use of shading and highlights, and the bold, saturated palette give the comic a modern look. The poses and facial expressions can occasionally be a little stiff or unnatural, but at other times they look dynamic and natural, and they’re always easy to read.
This volume packs a lot of battling, but no gore. There’s no nudity and no sexual content more suggestive than a kiss or a crush. The Starforce uniforms are cute and refreshingly practical for magical girl outfits. The characters’ other outfits are colorful and varied, but stay consistent enough to give a sense of each girl’s style.
The main story takes up just over two thirds of the volume, with the rest full of creators’ notes and sketches, silly side comics, drawings of the characters by other artists, and more.
Zodiac Starforce is a fresh new take on the magical girl genre. It has the potential to appeal to that audience as well as readers who are drawn in by its color-popping artwork or interested in its diverse cast. Despite the publisher’s 14+ age rating, the creators have said in interviews that Zodiac Starforce is intended for all ages. The story is gentle enough for older kids, but brings enough action and fun to interest tweens and teen readers, too.
Zodiac Starforce vol. 1: By the Power of Astra
by Kevin Panetta
Art by Paulina Ganucheau
Dark Horse, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 14+