By Molly Jane Kremer. Ok, I’ll admit it. Post-New 52, Post-Convergence DC has me cautiously optimistic. Well, as much as one can be, despite the fact that those making the big decisions behind the scenes are the exact same ones as before. But everyone at DC seems to have finally realized that major change was in order, and listened to fans (or the possible money that can be made from them). Hence, this #DCYou campaign, and its much-needed revamp of Starfire.
Starfire’s costume redesign is certainly a step in the right direction after the atrocity that was the last one. (You know the one.) Strangely, the main improvement in her new look isn’t just her added attire: she’s smiling. This is more the happy, bubbly Kori we all know and love, not a blank-eyed, bikini-clad, sexy-time drawing.
She now wears a long-sleeved crop top, and matching boy-cut short-shorts that oddly have circular openings on either hip-like handles (no, really, we see her using said hand-holds to pull her pants on). It’s a redesign similar in essense to Harley Quinn’s recent roller-derby look, also an Amanda Conner creation that took an offensive, unfeasible, and ugly costume and made it, well, cute. Conner excels at “cute” without removing sexuality: she gives her playful and gorgeous female characters a confidence that is inherent to their attractiveness.
It’s always been part of Starfire’s personality to be sweet, naïve, overly emotional, openly affectionate: a gorgeously statuesque redhead who just happens to prefer wearing as little clothes as possible (her native planet Tamaran is just more accepting of nudity, ok?). But nowadays some of those personality traits just make her seem like an offputtingly-fabricated male-ideal of femininity, that her original creators (two middle-aged men) thought would be a good fit for their (teenage-boy) audience.
This Kori owes more to the character as interpreted on Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans and Teen Titans Go!: delightfully dotty, loyal, and powerful. This was a very smart move for DC, who perhaps didn’t realize that there’s a generation of women who grew up watching this Starfire, and would very much like to see more of her – and not the orange-skinned eye-candy from Scott Lobdell’s run on Red Hood and the Outlaws. Aspects from older incarnations remain; she still needs humans reminding her that clothes are necessary, she never uses contractions, and likes to smooch random cute boys “to learn the language.” (“You already know English, so what were you trying for?” “More English.”)
It’s hard to toe the line between a sexually-empowered female character, and one who’s only written that way to achieve titillation for straight male readers. Co-writers Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti partially succeed at the former, but there still lingers that slightly-creepy dichotomy between childlike blank-slate and having dat bod. It still smacks of male-fantasy, but the core of her character (forgive me) simply can’t help it. Kori has always had a bit of the manic pixie dream girl about her, and Conner and Palmiotti continue inoffensively in that vein, tossing in both good-natured jokes and not-so-subtle innuendo.
While it’s refreshing to see the character no longer playing second fiddle to any former-Robins, Starfire #1 is just another fish-out-of-water story, uncomplicated and unchallenging. The issue is all character setup for Kori’s new supporting cast, and happily there’s not another superhero among them. Deciding to move to Key West (her reasoning for which is explained in the eight-page Sneak Peek inexplicably not included in this issue), Princess Koriand’r (“You mean like the herb that tastes like soap?”) enlists the help of Sheriff Stella Gomez to settle in.
It all works, albeit simply: Sheriff Gomez makes for a good tell-it-like-it-is straight woman to Kori’s flighty ditziness, and the two have an entertaining back-and-forth. Starfire endearingly imagines what various spoken idioms mean mid-conversation, and they’re illustrated in tiny adorable chibi-style thought bubbles. There’s not much depth to the story itself however, and while artist Emanuela Lupacchino excels at drawing gorgeous cheesecake – giving Starfire a confident bright smile instead of the vacant-eyed porn star stare, thank goodness – if DC wanted to truly change this character for the better, a less male-gaze oriented art style might have been the wiser move.
All that aside, the art is incredibly pretty, and Lupacchino, with Ray McCarthy on inks and Hi-Fi on colors, draws a stunning Starfire. Hi-Fi’s beautiful coloring on the flamey-ends of Kori’s hair are a lovely added enhancement to nearly every one of her panels. Their art perfectly complements the bright and airy aesthetic the writers are aiming for, but only reaches slightly above DC’s typical underwhelming house-style.
On the third page, Sheriff Gomez announces, “Wow. You’re like a big, orange Supergirl” and you can see that DC is hoping for just that with this book: an appealing book for the younger-lady crowd, somewhere between the action-adventure of Stewart, Fletcher, and Tarr’s Batgirl and the madcap silliness of Conner and Palmiotti’s own Harley Quinn. A pretty, but ultimately shallow, read, Starfire #1 doesn’t certainly doesn’t reinvent any wheels, but is blandly (and inoffensively) entertaining nonetheless.
Written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti.
Pencils by Emanuela Lupacchino; inks by Ray McCarthy.
Colored by Hi-Fi.
6.5 out of 10