Recent years have seen an influx of comics starring young women characters – Ms. Marvel, Lumberjanes, Gotham Academy, to name only a few. The comics community as a whole has grown more welcoming and comics like these reflect that, offering tales that explore friendship, romance, and butt-kicking from a fresh perspective. And not only are women getting more page-time as the heroes of their own stories, but there’s greater representation for POC and queer characters. All in all, comics today offer a diverse bunch of characters to follow and adore (and cosplay!) and that, simply put, is fantastic.
From this new age of awesome comics for everyone comes Zodiac Starforce – a love letter to the magical girl genre commonly found in Japanese manga and anime, but also a celebration of the American high school experience and the friendships forged there. Basically, were you a fan of properties like Sailor Moon and Magical Knight Rayearth but wished they better reflected a Westerner’s teenage years – Zodiac Starforce is it!
This issue marks the end of Zodiac Starforce‘s first arc, in where the team rallies around their leader, Emma, banishes Cimmeria back to the dark dimension, and defeats her agent of evil and former ZS member, Diana. Zodiac Starforce #4 is an action-packed finale, to say the least, culminating in a satisfying conclusion as only the magical girl genre can deliver.
In the moments between ZS’ battle with Diana’s brainwashed minions, Kevin Panetta still manages to tug a few heartstrings. There’s Emma’s struggle against Cimmeria’s all too tempting offer to resurrect her dead mother – a tough proposition to refuse for anyone, let alone a teenage girl desperate for her mother. And Emma’s longing for her mother is palpable, something which Panetta gets across by having her actually contemplate Cimmeria’s offer. Ultimately she refuses, of course, never being able to serve Cimmeria and destroy Earth, no matter the reward, and it’s a testament to Emma’s strength as ZS’s leader, Gemini.
Along with Emma’s struggle against Cimmeria, Zodiac Starforce #4’s other emotional through-line is the budding relationship of Savi and Lily. Issue #3 ended with Lily forced to join the ranks of Diana’s brainwashed minions and the fallout is explored here. The resolution is a beautiful moment (which I won’t fully spoil), packed with joy and relief and the not entirely unexpected reveal that Lily, too, is a member of ZS – Libra.
For as enjoyable as Zodiac Starforce‘s first arc is, what really sets this book apart is the artwork. Panetta has written compelling characters and their adventure is thrilling, but without Paulina Ganucheu’s great designs, layouts and those vibrant colors, Zodiac Starforce wouldn’t evoke the magical girl genre as perfectly as it does. Not only are Ganucheau’s looks for the ZS team spot on, pulling ideas from both uniforms and more casual attire, but her design for Diana’s evil attire and the previous incarnations of ZS are equally as interesting. At this point, I’d love a miniseries exploring ZS teams throughout the years if only to see more of Victorian ladies and flappers transforming into magical girls.
The action in this finale is practically nonstop and Ganucheau paces it all well, giving way to some truly exciting battles. In particular, Zodiac Starforce makes great use of its magical girls’ incantations. While weapons definitely play a role, whenever things getting really dicey the girls use special abilities like Taurus’ Heavenly Bull Armor or Pisces’ Celestial Tidal Wave. These certainly aid in capturing the magical side of the series, but they also allow Ganucheau to play with a staple of the genre and she makes these moments feel more energized than most anime.
For fans of the magical girl genre, Zodiac Starforce is a must read. Panetta and Ganucheau have married the tropes of the genre with the high school experience in way that is both refreshing and familiar; equally nostalgic and forward-thinking. Undoubtedly, my opinion is swayed by my deep love for stories where friends band together to face unimaginable threats (and especially when they have cool magical powers), but Zodiac Starforce #4 promises there’s so much more this series can deliver – they only need the issues.
Zodiac Starforce #1-4 will all be collected in Zodiac Starforce: By the Power of Astra and goes on sale May 4th. Consider pre-ordering now, however, to show your support for Zodiac Starforce and help ensure Kevin and Paulina get to make more!