Review - Zodiac Starforce #1 (@DarkHorseComics)

"I thought I was done with monsters."

There's a lot to like in Sailor Moon as a series, once you get past the relatively skimpy clothing of the title heroine and her compatriots. There were deep messages surrounding friendship pervasive throughout and the main characters learned they could get farther by relying on one another as opposed to going it alone. There are similar themes on display in Zodiac Starforce #1 from Dark Horse Comics. The issue is written by Kevin Panetta, illustrated by Paulina Ganucheau and color assists by Savanna Ganucheau.

An elite group of teenage girls with magical powers have sworn to protect our planet against dark long as they can get out of class! These high-school girls aren’t just combating math tests. They’re also battling monsters. But when an evil force infects leader Emma, she must work with her team to save herself—and the world—from the evil Diana and her mean-girl minions.

Panetta drops the reader right into the thick of retirement for the Zodiac Starforce, when all the girls are fighting with being a teenager. The idyllic retirement doesn't last long, as Panetta just as quickly thrusts an alien into their midsts that forces them out of retirement. From there, the dialogue gets a little expository, with Panetta offering confusing glimpses at the girls as high schoolers first and intergalactic superheroes second. The problem is that Panetta seems to waffle back and forth between which role gets top billing, as the bulk of the issue is spent with the girls at a party as they struggle to reconcile with an event in the past that tore them apart. The details are a little light and by the end of the issue the only thing that's really salient is that one of the girls might be in more trouble than she realizes, yet the reader doesn't really know much about them and the team dynamics.

Blending together high school girls with monsters certainly isn't new, but Ganucheau does it with panache. The girls themselves are something of a mix between Sailor Moon and Lumberjanes, with Ganucheau giving each characteristic features that make them easily distinguishable from one another. The empty gutters give the panels more attention and Ganucheau does a great job of cramming each one with tons of action, whether it be a fight with the aforementioned monster or an awkward conversation at the party. There's a particularly trippy page towards the end that allows Ganucheau the opportunity to offer up a somewhat more refined illustrative style that underscores the cosmic nature of the Zodiac Starforce. The colors dabble in bright and vivid, with both Ganucheaus seemingly relying on pink hues and tones first, while peppering in other bright colors to complement them.

Zodiac Starforce #1 wants to be an homage to properties like Sailor Moon, but it doesn't quite hit the mark. Emma and the gang are clearly talented at being the Zodiac Starforce, yet their reasons for breaking up the band so to speak are pretty scant. Panetta has a lot of ideas running through the book, even if none of them really bubble up as completely clear. Ganucheau's artwork is surprisingly appropriate for setting the tone of the book, although there are some instances where the sheer number of characters in a panel make the panel feel a little crowded. Zodiac Starforce #1 is an interesting first issue that evokes Buffy: The Vampire Slayer in some regards--if Buffy were part of an intergalactic superhero squad who's since retired.

Zodiac Starforce #1 is in stores August 26.