“I Am Not Starfire”… Is Not That Bad

I don’t know where to start with this… other than, “it’s not that bad”.

Actually, I think it’s rather good. I thought that I was going to have a lot more things to pick apart; things that I wouldn’t agree with as far as the mother/daughter dynamic, the story, or the art. I only had minimal issues with the art.

I have been hearing a lot of commentary about this book for quite some time, long before it was released. There were concerns about the beautiful and popular superhero Starfire and her having an unpretty lesbian daughter. There were jokes about who the dad was (the Penguin?) and how would this story follow the history that has been set before it. Now, I do want to note that my DC Comics knowledge is pretty limited. What I know about Starfire comes from watching the Teen Titans Go! on Cartoon Network with my young daughter and ex’s son. The show was funny and entertaining, but most of the time, I half watched. 

The story of I am Not Starfire follows Mandy, the teen daughter of Starfire, and her challenges with having a glamorous alien superhero mother and her battle with own sense of self (her unpretty, powerless, mundane self). Mandy grew up on Earth as what appears to be a ‘normal’ childhood. At least as normal as a daughter of a rare superhero can be. She faced criticism and expectations from her peers and others growing up, and rather than disappointing others (or even disappointing herself), she changed so that she would be ‘failing’ from the get-go.

Mandy is secretive, rebellious and moody. She has low self esteem and is highly self-deprecating despite her mother trying to be supportive and understanding. While this relationship may be depicting a particularly extreme case, conflict between a mother and their daughter is nothing new. At the time that girls are going through physical, emotional and intellectual changes they are working to figure themselves out as a person and show their independence. They don’t look at the bigger picture nor do they take into account how their actions will affect others.

And while mom is still their safe haven, moms are also the ones who experience this disrespectful and defiant behavior the most. Some would say that Starfire would squash this behavior, and that is great in theory, but Starfire is social and wishes to be friends with everyone. She gave second chances to her sister who has done her wrong on several occasions (according to past storylines). Why wouldn’t she avoid conflict with her daughter and give her a certain amount of space to be herself? Parenting is tough. Being a single mother is tough. I don’t see where this would change, especially with an alien mother who is now trying to raise a daughter who is a regular kid… among other earthlings with Earth customs that she is unfamiliar with.

Mandy’s dynamics with her friends are believable, or the lack thereof. Besides her best friend, Lincoln, she doesn’t have any notable friends. The rest of her peers that pay attention to her only seem to pick on her to or want to use her to get information on her mom. During the story she does admit to having a crush on the popular girl, Claire, in her class. A friendship, distrust and eventual relationship does blossom, but I don’t feel as though this is the main thrust of story, just supporting information. Yes she is a lesbian, but it presented in a way that emphasizes a typical teenage challenge of ‘first love’. There was nothing overtly sexual; there would be no difference if there was a male in her crush’s place. 

The story doesn’t dive too deep into past history, which is good to avoid conflicting plot lines. It never mentions who Mandy’s dad is, and in fact, it mentions that it is one of the conversations that Starfire and Mandy avoid. The Titans do make a quick appearance in the story (as well as Nightwing), but nothing to suggest that they are anything other than Starfire’s crime fighting partners. Starfire’s sister, Blackfire, does show up (and this is where some of the history gets lost) challenging Mandy to the throne of Tamaran. It is to be a challenge to the death and, of course, Starfire feels as though she needs to step up and take care of her sister once and for all. This battle is where Mandy finds herself, and it was during this moment that I truly appreciated writer Mariko Tamaki’s storytelling. The climax and ultimate finale were well done. 

Now, I did say that I had some issues with the artwork, which was done in a simplistic cartoon style; different from what I have been reading in comics lately. This may be to be more in line with popular Scholastic novels or manga-inspired books that are currently being catered to the younger demographic (this book is marketed for 13-17 year-olds). I generally don’t mind that style of art, but when it gets TOO simplistic, that you are missing people’s faces and feet in multiple panels, it’s plain weird and lazy. There are some facial expressions that just seem off. On a couple of occasions, a character in a panel looks like they are crying, but only from ONE eye and when they are saying something of disbelief.

Some of the panel layouts seemed odd too; like a swirling pencil from the top of the page to the bottom? There is a page (later in the book) that executes this better as it is representing a dropped pencil from about 3/4 of the page. The first one is just a random pencil. I didn’t mind Mandy’s appearance, but she truly is the furthest looking thing from Starfire (maybe she is adopted?). I know that a lot of her “look” is partly what she chooses to adopt, but my issue is with the dots that are on her arms and legs; are they freckles, measles, hair? Whatever they are, I don’t think they were a good design choice. 

There are others that disagree with me in regards to I Am Not Starfire, and that is okay, but I do question those that haven’t read it and still have a vehement reaction to it. I did read another review which said, “It’s not a superhero comic, it’s a comic with superheroes,” and I agree; the focus for I Am Not Starfire is on something different. Me, being a 42 year old mother, really liked the story. Mandy isn’t quite the despicable monster that some recent commentary would lead you to believe.

I would allow my younger than 13 year old to read it if she would choose to. The book is not full of vulgarities (other than one muttering of f*ck and some middle fingers) or overtly sexual scenes (just a kiss and hand holding). Mostly, it is about misplaced anger from a young girl trying to grow up in the shadow of her mother (my daughter and I are going through that now, too). There is nothing in this book that my daughter would not see in her everyday life (minus the superheroes and super powers, and oh, and the battle for the throne of an alien planet…).

So, like I said at the outset… not that bad. Not that bad at all.

Thanks for reading!

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