Zodiac Starforce follows four teenage girls who defend the world using magical powers given to them by gems that correspond with star signs. Sailor Moon fans will probably think that concept sounds a bit familiar and the Dark Horse series (which feels a little off-brand for the imprint) certainly shows the influence of that popular manga/cartoon.
That’s especially apparent in Paulina Ganucheau’s artwork. Though Savanna Ganucheau is credited for the book’s bright, bubbly colors, she recently explained on Twitter that she only does the flats (basically digitally prepares the page for coloring later by filling in objects with solid colors) and Paulina is truly responsible. Regardless, with its pinks, blues and oranges, the look certainly recalls Moon, but the book is still different enough to feel original—especially with the water color feel of the monsters and dark forces the girls battle.
The story itself is similarly familiar but distinct. Unlike Usagi Tsukino, Emma, Kim, Savannah and Molly are in high school rather than middle school and while they don’t quite feel as entrenched in a stereotypical teenage world, references to Tumblr and mean girls subtly create that feel without overdoing it. The first issue also doesn’t go too far toward explaining either the nature or origins of the girls’ powers, though we do get to watch Emma and Kim transform into their Zodiac selves and take down a monster. In fact, we don’t even get to know which signs the girls represent except for Emma, who their supposed deity Astra calls “Gemini.” And while an audience doesn’t necessarily need to know everything about a story right off the bat, it’s indicative of the reasons the issue doesn’t quite work.
The comic’s ultimate problem is that we’re jumping into this story too late. The girls refer repeatedly to when they were a team during their freshman year (now, at 16, they’re probably juniors). As oversaturated as culture already is with origin stories, in this case, the original adventure sounds more interesting than the sequel. It’s very likely writer Kevin Panetta will flash back to that story or at least flesh out some of the events, but as a first issue, meeting the girls when so much history has already passed makes it a little difficult to fully engage in the world. It just feels like there’s too much going on at once with monsters and high school drama and possible death. However, for those willing to commit to understanding what Panetta’s set up, there’s a lot of places Zodiac Starforce can go. It’s a dense world and one that’s beautifully rendered by Paulina Ganucheau. Hopefully more than just Sailor Moon fans will be willing to put in the effort.