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There has been a great deal of discussion in the last few years about the role available to women in comic books, their representation and how creative teams address women’s experiences. Mainstream comics has been grappling with such issues, making great strides in some cases and falling flat on their faces in others. But beyond how scripting, artwork, and the corporate culture help to shape how women are presented on the page, there is another critical component to affects these characters: the worlds in which they operate.
My relationship with queer superheroes has always been a little complicated.
As a child growing up in the 1990s, I came into my own reading Marvel Comics and watching DC Saturday morning cartoons. Back then openly queer characters were hard to come by. There was the heavy queer implications of Mystique’s relationship with Destiny, the more-than-friends flirtation of Rictor and Shatterstar, and the thinly veiled romantic attachment shared by Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn in Batman: The Animated Series, but nothing concrete. (Both Rictor/Shatterstar and Ivy/Harley have been confirmed as canon, but when I was a kid, no such luck.) Even Northstar, Marvel’s first openly gay character, was tiptoed around, his sexuality rarely mentioned for several years after coming out in 1992. For most of my life as a comics fan, queer representation was most often found in meaningful looks and lingering touches, leaving readers to fill in the details. That left queer fans like me feeling left behind.
Zodiac Starforce #1 from Dark Horse Comics is a nostalgic romp into the Magical Girl genre. Plucking inspiration from Sailor Moon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and 1980s Saturday morning cartoons, writer Kevin Panetta and artist Paulina Ganucheau (with color assists by Savannah Ganucheau) put an interesting spin on the genre by focusing on slightly weightier subject matter. While more upbeat Magical Girl titles like Boom Studios’ Power Up focus on quirky characterizations and endearing, highly stylized designs, Zodiac Starforce is more inclined to use tried-and-true tropes to observe the ramifications of the heroic lifestyle.