“Zodiac Starforce” #1 kicks off with some anime-inspired girl power, as magical warriors punch and stab monsters in their school library — but it gets decidedly less exciting from there. Paulina Ganucheau and Kevin Panetta’s bubbly, glossy book is easy to jump into and charming to look at, but its “get the team back together” plot didn’t help to sell me on the series. Luckily, the candy-colored artwork and closing scenes will keep me coming back and, despite my issues with the plot, I was totally won over enough to pick up “Zodiac Starforce” #2.
When the story opens, the Zodiac Starforce has been disbanded for a while and, as a result, a good chunk of the issue is spent on exposition. That sort of information doesn’t mean much emotionally to a new reader, and it doesn’t necessarily help the creative team set up for any exciting action to come. As a result, the issue feels slower and exposition-heavy in the middle. Plenty of the details that are revealed in issue #1 would have landed with more impact in a later issue; since I don’t know any of the characters yet, their backstories felt more like data than part of an arc. The girls also spend most of the issue at a relatively uneventful party — a device meant to introduce the team in a casual setting, but one that also adds to the feeling that the reader is being told rather than shown.
However, both the beginning and ending of the issue are strong. When the girls act as a team, it’s easier to see their distinct personalities come out, and both of these scenes focus on the present and future. In lieu of describing a past or present problem, they offer up new challenges the team has to face.
For me, though, the strongest part of “Zodiac Starforce” #1 is the artwork. Paulina and Savanna Ganucheau have created a lively, welcoming world painted in a confectioner’s palette, and their colorful pages are a real treat (no pun intended). The characters’ expressive, cartoony faces definitely draw some inspiration from manga, while the cotton candy pinks and blues look like something out of “Steven Universe” or “Bee and Puppycat.” As with many of my favorite all-ages comics, “Zodiac Starforce” isn’t afraid to draw its characters being emotional or uber enthused, and it gives the whole book an inviting, joyous energy. The panels are packed with activity and dozens of different colors, so that even the library feels bustling.
That said, the pages can feel busy at times and, while Ganucheau can definitely draw motion, the punches and falls didn’t look forceful. When the girls leap or run, I can feel the momentum on the page; when they land or crash-land, I don’t get that same sense of energy.
“Zodiac Starforce” #1 doesn’t so much embrace its premise as give it a wholehearted hug. Though I didn’t love Ganuchea and Panetta’s first-issue structure, they’ve created a world and a premise that I want to revisit again. I can see plenty of other readers feeling the same way.