I Am Not Starfire – Mariko Tamaki, Writer; Yoshi Yoshitani, Artist
Ray – 8/10
Ray: So this book has gotten a lot of attention before release from some of the worst elements on the internet, and when that’s the case I usually want to support the project. Add in Mariko Tamaki, one of the hottest writers in the industry, and Yoshi Yoshitani, the artist of the popular all-ages Zatanna graphic novel released recently, and you’ve got a very intriguing comic—with one of the oddest concepts to come out of DC’s OGN line.
This book will definitely be divisive, because it grounds its story not just in one character, but in an original character—Mandy Koriand’r, the almost-seventeen-year-old daughter of Starfire, who has none of her mom’s powers, none of her looks, and none of her bubbly attitude. She’s a sullen, sarcastic goth who is muddling her way through high school and constantly fending off people who just want to know about her mother—who is still an active Titan.
This is essentially a two-person drama in a lot of ways, with Starfire getting a more thorough focus than she has in a while. This version feels like a hybrid between the comic book version and the cartoon version, maybe more towards the latter with her distinctive speech patterns. She seems to be a loving mother, albeit one who never can really connect with her daughter and winds up missing a lot of clues that Mandy is struggling with… well, everything.
About two-thirds of the graphic novel—which is a faster read than most in the YA line—is really just devoted to Mandy’s personal dramas. We see how she struggles socially, really only having one friend in chaotic Vietnamese-American anarchist Lincoln. Flashbacks to how her youth was dominated by her connection to the Titans help to connect us to her, and it’s nice to see a plus-sized heroine whose size isn’t constantly commented on. But her deadpan sarcasm and sullen attitude can get to be a bit overwhelming at points—she’s almost like a superhero adjacent Daria.
I should mention that this is essentially a romance book, with an LGBT romance at its core. Mandy’s love interest Claire, a popular girl who she’s been crushing on for years, is a good example of how to write a character who is likable and still prone to mistakes and falling back on bad old habits. The dynamic between them reminds me a bit of Luz and Amity from The Owl House, one of the best representations of young queer love in animation. But this definitely isn’t a kids’ graphic novel—the language gets surprisingly salty at points.
This was a low-key but fun coming-of-age graphic novel, but in the last third it takes a major turn that introduces a new conflict and sets off the main plot. Unfortunately, while it made sense in-context, it didn’t really have time to flesh out the villain (giving her a sympathetic backstory but making her act like a monster) and mostly felt like a way to speedrun Mandy’s development and sort things out with her mother.
Overall, I Am Not Starfire is a fun story that I imagine a lot of girls will see themselves in. It’s not among the best of the OGNs (or even among Tamaki’s OGNs) simply because it makes no apology for its often abrasive lead character. If you like her and want to take this ride with her, this is a book you’ll love. I’m not entirely sure it was for me, but I’m not the target audience and I could tell, and I hope it finds its audience.
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GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.