Comic book fans are known for a lot of things, including elaborately detailed costumes and a love of writers with thick English accents. There are also a number of unspoken commandments such as thoust shalt not retcon needlessly or thoust shalt not tolerate delays of the Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch variety. However, as unreasonable as many fans can be, they can also be pretty forgiving.
It wasn’t that long ago that Starfire became the buxom symbol of everything DC Comics did wrong with the New 52 reboot. She went from this overly immodest yet inherently likable alien girl to a walking sexbot with the personality of Jessica Rabbit. Her role in Red Hood and the Outlaws was so crude that even the most ardent non-feminist would roll their eyes. More than any other DC character, she needed a fresh start. That’s exactly what Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti gave her in the new Starfire series.
As a concept, a Starfire series sounds antithetical to the recent surge in female-friendly comics that are trying to do more than just pander to every male fantasy imaginable. However, Starfire at her core still embodies many powerful feminine traits. Those traits have often been lost because of her overt sexuality. And what has made this series work is that it doesn’t try to circumvent that sexuality. It tries to build a personality around it. And in Starfire #4, the formation of that personality feels complete.
A big part of rebuilding Starfire in a more likable, less pornographic context has been dedicated to establishing a new life in Key West. Given Florida’s capacity for tolerating both diverse personalities and the Bush family, it has proven to be a fitting home. She’s teamed up with a local sheriff named Stella to establish herself in this unique environment. It’s not Gotham. It’s not Metropolis. It’s not Disney World either. It’s a sunny, tropical environment for an alien girl with orange skin and few qualms about nudity. It’s perfect for her.
With that life established, completes Starfire #4 the process by getting Starfire back to basics. That includes fighting off killer monsters, which tend to pop up in every part of the DC Universe at some point. It sounds pretty standard. A beautiful alien female beating up a monster is nothing new. Wonder Woman has been doing it since 1941. However, Connor and Palmiotti find an interesting way to make it engaging while keeping Starfire fully clothed.
They do this by getting Terra, another Teen Titans veteran, involved in the story. She’s actually the one the monster is targeting in this conflict. That alone is pretty novel because whenever a superhero sets up shop in a new town, their enemies follow them like vindictive IRS agents. The fact that Starfire didn’t attract this kind of danger is somewhat jarring, but it doesn’t stop her from helping Terra out. Starfire isn’t just overtly sexual. She’s still a superhero every now and then.
Terra even offers Sheriff Stella some background as to why monsters are trying to kill her. It’s a bit disorganized in that it interrupts the flow of action, but it helps build on the context. It’s also a context that evokes Starfire’s excessive compassion. That’s another trait that often got lost in her overt sexualization and it’s a trait that helps set her apart from the Supergirls and Wonder Woman’s of the world. She’ll let herself get emotional. She’ll let herself cry and hug someone whereas Wonder Woman would probably tell someone to suck it up.
It’s this trait that brings out the best in Starfire, both in this issue and throughout the series as a whole. She’s a more open and emotional character. She’ll embrace total strangers, be the Terra or some immature guys trying to buy her a drink at a bar. She doesn’t do it in a way that feels fake or insincere. At no point does she ever come off as ditzy in the Kelly Bundy tradition. She just conveys the personality of someone who is loving and affectionate to everyone around her.
It’s a trait that’s distinct to her character and distinct to feminine themes. She doesn’t try to be tough enough to fight alongside the Supermans and Batmans of the world. She doesn’t try to be too much like Supergirl or Wonder Woman either. Starfire is her own person and even when she keeps her clothes on, she’s lovable and friendly in a way that Jessica Rabbit will never match.
While Starfire #4 does a good job of conveying Starfire’s toughness and compassion, there are times the narrative gets a bit chaotic. Terra’s inclusion in the story overshadows Starfire at some point, but it’s only temporary. In addition, there are hints about other conflicts emerging that don’t involve monsters that look like they were ripped from a Resident Evil game. However, these hints are overly vague and don’t offer much insight into the complications that Starfire faces.
It still doesn’t take away from what this story has accomplished. Connor and Palmiotti have done something truly remarkable here. They took a character that once embodied everything that was wrong with female characters in comic books and turned her into someone that appeals to curious women as much as it does horny men.
Starfire is still a sexual person by nature, as shown in her love of bikinis and casual nudity. But now those sexual traits are in the context of a character who is open, emotional, and affectionate to everyone around her. She’s like a movie that is only bad if the wrong scenes are emphasized. But when the right scenes are given proper focus, it makes for an entertaining and compelling narrative. Starfire #4 is proof that a female character can be sexual, feminine, and likable while still beating up monsters on the side. She’s not going to become a feminist icon anytime soon, but she’s already proven that she doesn’t need to be in order to be special.