August 12, 2015

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Advance Review: Zodiac Starforce #1

Script by Kevin Panetta
Art and Lettering by Paulina Ganucheau
Colour assists by Savanna Ganucheau
One of the first things to hit you when seeing this issue is the strikingly bright colour scheme. Don't let the pallet fool you; Zodiac Starforce are not messing around.
Even though this is only the first issue, the creative team imbue such a strong sense of shared history in each character interaction that you can tell these people have forged strong interpersonal relationships as a matter of necessity. Panetta deftly lands the execution to ensure that you don't feel like you've jumped into the middle of an existing series and instead whets your appetite for more.
The tone of the series is clear from the first page as team leader, Emma, wakes up from a nap on her high school desk to a text inviting her to a party later that night. Her social life quickly gets put on the back burner when she finds herself under attack from a gargantuan monster. The wholesome, whimsical and yet self-referential nature of this series intertwines with the four female leads to create a comic that feels modern, but doesn't take itself too seriously. Despite being advertised as an all-ages book, the characters aren't afraid to drop a c-word or two (not THAT c-word) which removes the need for the well-intentioned but ultimately alienating “Gosh darn” and “Dangnabit”.

The artistic duties are primarily performed by series co-creator Paulina Ganucheau. Her characters are so playful and unique that it comes as no surprise to learn that people are already cosplaying as these characters. Each member of Starforce comes with their own personal style with varied hairstyles, clothes, body-types and even facial expressions. Additionally, the magical manifestation of their powers has its colour tailored to the personality of the character wielding it so you can instantly tell who it belongs to. Thanks to this creative art, every secondary character or bystander that we meet in this world feels like an independent person with personality traits that are manifested through their physical appearance.
Ganucheau's passion for the series is evident and she pours her love for these characters into every single panel on every single page. The result is expressive line-work and a style that feels unabridged and unbounded. Reading this comic feels like watching a weekend morning cartoon with so much emotion crammed into each panel. The use of diagonal panels during dramatic scenes turn the panel transitions into wipe cuts, adding another level of dynamism to the scene.

Panetta undoubtedly has a well-defined overall arc planned for each of the four members of Zodiac Starforce. The distinct aesthetic of each character from Ganucheau is coupled with a distinct personality and speech pattern from Panetta. After only a few lines of seeing a character speak, you can hear their voice resonate in your head. The speech patterns feel so comprehensive that I wouldn't be surprised if every reader comes away with the exact same voice.
For characters so young, a surprising amount of dark backstory is unloaded and revealed. This tragic history helps older readers find something to sympathise with and pre-empts the introduction of too much high-school drama. The final pages tease a further increase in complexity and despondency that will hook any readers still doubtful about the depth of this series. The melancholic plot is prevented from becoming too intense with the extremely tame approach to fighting. The comic utilises the classic style where the violence never goes beyond the surface and it's unlikely that anything will ever break the skin.

It’s great to see a cast of purely female characters come together in the same way as other casts without any driving force required from male characters. The resulting mix of the various types of femininity is extremely refreshing and invigorating to read. There has been a massive push in recent years for female-lead books, but there really aren't many other books out there as (rightfully) unashamedly feminine. However, do not read this as an implication that this book is only suitable for women. While I am definitely not the intended audience for this book, I'm not embarrassed to say that this book is a pure delight to read and I was gripped at each page turn.
Coming in at only 22 pages, it’s surprising how dense this first issue feels; the book is packed full of information giving it the feeling of a bumper-sized issue. While the art style may initially turn off some readers, the depth and amount of potential already demonstrated here will pull them right back in. I'm really looking forward to watching these insanely talented creators continue on this path and, with such a community already building around it, this series is going to explode. Get in on the ground floor now while you still have the chance.