Hope, Love, Bikinis and 'Starfire #12'

by Jack Fisher

17 May 2016

When a female character can be both lovable and sexy, everybody wins.
 
cover art

Uncanny X-men

Elsa Charretier

(DC Comics)
US: 11 May 2016

There are some characters who are simply beyond redemption and not all of them are clones, robots, or Nazis. Sometimes, a character goes in a direction that takes them past the point of no return, rendering them a punchline and a cautionary tale. That’s not to say Starfire got close to that point, but she came closer than most after DC’s New 52 reboot.

It’s hard to forget the bland yet buxom persona that Starfire wielded in the early days of Red Hood and the Outlaws. That version of the character had the presence of groupie for an ‘80s hair metal band and only a fraction of the personality. She carried herself in a way that makes a Kardashian seem reserved. It marked a complete departure of the lovable yet immodest character that is supposed to embody the heart and soul of Teen Titans. That makes the journey that ends in Starfire #12 all the more satisfying.

Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti take on the daunting challenge of making Starfire lovable and interesting in a way that doesn’t involve presenting her as a walking Playboy centerfold. It’s challenging, because it’s easy to make a beautiful woman appealing, even if she’s an alien with orange skin and and nefarious intentions. It’s like a cheat code on a difficult video game, tempting writers to enter it every time they get stuck.

Beautiful female characters will always have a certain level. The forces of evolution hardwire most human brains into being drawn to them. The real challenge is building on top of that appeal so that it doesn’t completely define the character. Conner and Palmiotti succeed in that challenge any number of ways throughout this series, giving Starfire new friends, new roles, and new opportunities to do more than just look good in a bikini. Starfire #12 takes those successes and celebrates them, literally at one point.

This isn’t a sad, solemn goodbye. This isn’t a tragic, depressing memory in the making that will require therapy at some point. Starfire is leaving the home she built in this series, but she’s leaving it with a smile and a sense of hope. At a time when DC Comics can’t resist the urge to kill Superman in every possible medium, it’s a breath of fresh air that brings out the best of character who badly needs it.

The friends that Starfire made in this series are the main ingredient that make this series work. Stella, Sol, and Terra aren’t just supporting characters who manage to move Starfire’s story forward without dying. They each have their own story to tell. Those stories make up vital moments throughout this series and Starfire #12 acts as a culmination of those stories.

Stella, a wonderfully balanced female character with a crass sense of humor, acts as an anchor of sorts for Starfire. She helps reveal both the harsh and not-so-harsh truths of living in a world populated by humans who don’t share Starfire’s strength, powers, or attitudes towards nudity. She’s crass at times, but in a loving sort of way. She’s a perfect complement to Starfire, being all too human at times and having a good sense of humor about it. When there are so many jokes to be made about Starfire’s sexualized persona, this kind of attitude is practically necessary.

In addition to Stella’s friendship, Starfire enjoys a more intimate connection with her brother Sol, but not in the typical Baywatch tradition. There is chemistry. There is sincerity. It’s not on par with Superman and Lois Lane, but it’s more meaningful than 95 percent of the relationships Tony Stark has ever had.

Sol isn’t some nerdy, Big Bang Theory stereotype, either. He does rescue work for the Coast Guard and recently lost someone dear to him. He’s as well-rounded and sympathetic a character as anyone can be without being too much like Batman. The culmination of his story actually helps bring out another important component of Starfire’s character that sets her apart and makes her appealing, regardless of whether or not she’s wearing a bikini.

As Starfire is making the hard decision to leave Key West, she finds out that Sol is now romantically involved with a co-worker. This isn’t a love triangle, though. There isn’t another Wolverine/Jean Grey/Cyclops scenario where someone gets heartbroken or goes on a cosmic-powered rampage. Starfire, once again showing some very alien attitudes, is genuinely happy for Sol. She loves that someone she loves has found love. It might sound like the kind of hippie philosophy that only works in communes and dirty movies, but it actually highlights an important part of Starfire’s character.

Because of how she looks, what she does, and how she does it, it’s easy to forget sometimes that Starfire is an alien. She comes from a very alien culture. She’s even explored that culture at various points in this series, making it clear that her people are loving and empathic. To them, the idea of being upset that someone else has found love seems irrational and cruel. It creates an important context for Starfire’s character that’s easy to overlook when she’s wearing a bikini, but it gives her a level of depth and sincerity that makes her easy to love.

Pretty much everything Starfire does in Starfire #12 helps make her a lovable character again. She surrounds herself with her new friends, gives them a sincere goodbye, and then leaves. It might not sound exciting, but it conveys the necessary drama, making the narrative of the overall series feel complete.

For those who didn’t follow the series from its inception, it might be difficult to appreciate the story as a whole. It lacks action and excitement compared to previous issues, but Starfire #12 doesn’t need a final showdown or an elaborate boss battle. It just needs to complete this portion of Starfire’s journey as a character and it’s a journey she needs to take, even if she doesn’t do some parts of it fully clothed.

After Starfire #12, Conner and Palmiotti can now boldly claim that they rebuilt Starfire’s character. They made her lovable beyond her innate sex appeal. It’s a remarkable accomplishment in the grand scheme of superhero characters. When a female character can be both lovable and sexy, everybody wins.

Uncanny X-men

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