Saturday, May 03, 2014

Favorite DC Characters #10 - Starfire

I may change the format later, we'll see how it goes.

Character: Starfire (Koriand'r)

Creators: George Perez, Marv Wolfman

First appearance: DC Comics Presents #26

First appearance in a comic I read: Tales of the Teen Titans #61

Definitive writer: Marv Wolfman

Definitive artist: George Perez/Glen Murakami

Favorite moment or story: "How Long is Forever?" Teen Titans Season 2, Episode 1. On the one hand, it points out you can't expect friendship to last just because, you have to work at it. But on the other hand, if you do work at it, to settle your differences as they arise, then anything is possible. Also, I was impressed both by her willingness to charge into the unknown rather than let Warp escape, and how she continued to fight against him even having seen the future and having all her friends be unwilling to help.

What I like about her: As a starting point, and this will come up repeatedly in this series, a strong visual counts for a lot. Picture's worth a thousand words and all, especially if I was reading the comic when I was a kid. A writer might need time to really get the character's personality across, but if they look cool, well, that's what keeps me interested long enough to give the writer the chance. So, keeping in mind I read Tales of the Teen Titans #61 probably a decade after its original release, when I was in my teenage years, yeah, I wonder why Early Adolescent Calvin liked Starfire. Hmm, how did Bedard put it in his R.E.B.E.L.S. run? 'I guess he figured out the six-foot alien supermodel is. . . a six-foot alien supermodel.'

But it would crappy to say I like her simply because George Perez draws her to be extremely attractive, though he does that. Also, it wouldn't be a great start for this series, because I know I can do better than "She's hawt!". Yeah, that was some of the thinking behind her creation, and it's one of the things people find troubling or off-putting about her, and I wouldn't disagree. But I like that's she's very distinct. The combination of orange and, lavender or purple for a color scheme is a little unusual. The long hair, and the energy contrail that comes from it when she flies is fairly unique. It's maybe odd, but it's a nice piece of visual flair. The hair can almost function like a cape. At the best of times, artists remember she is a tall, physically imposing figure. Like how people enjoyed Superman having to look up to Wonder Woman in New Frontier. Well, Starfire is basically a Space Amazon, so she ought to tower over people, too. Claude St. Aubin did a good job of consistently drawing her as being almost a head taller than Captain Comet throughout that R.E.B.E.L.S. run.

Some of it is I like it when girl characters get to be the powerhouse. And when I say "powerhouse", I mean straight punching people's lights out. It's not unheard of for a woman to be the strongest member of a superhero team. The Scarlet Witch held that distinction on at least one Avengers squad (the Kooky Quartet). The Invisible Woman's been called the strongest member of the FF since at least, what John Byrne's run on the book? Storm and Jean Grey could say the same thing, but those are typically those more passive powers, when they stand back and wave their hands or something. In story, it shouldn't matter, because whatever gets the job done and saves the day, right? But I just dig it when they can be up there flattening baddies with their fists, if need be (that's another thing that'll come up again on these lists). Starfire spends a lot of time blasting people with energy, but it feels a little more direct, and she's not adverse to fighting hand-to-hand.

But, to be honest, I don't have a lot of comic book experience with Starfire. Maybe a dozen issues of the Wolfman/Perez run, and half of that is The Judas Contract. She was on the team when I started buying Geoff Johns' run, but left within 6-8 to join the Outsiders, even though I'm pretty sure joining the Outsiders has never been a sound career move. But Nightwing was drifting into an ugly head space and she was worried about him. Which is another of those things I like about her, the importance she places on friendship. Why she'll even join the Outsiders, just to look after someone she cares for! You can't put a price on that kind of bond! Beyond that, there was the year or so she was part of Bedard's R.E.B.E.L.S. book, and that's about it. So the Starfire I've seen the most, is the one in the cartoon. Which is why I listed Glen Murakami as a definitive artist, and an episode of the cartoon for a favorite moment. But heck, Cartoon Starfire is still a DC character, even one that has appeared in comics. Still totally counts.

And cartoon Starfire has a lot of the traits I like best. She's open about how she feels, friends are extremely important to her (I still think it's weird they said Tamaraneans have no word for "Friend", given the strong bonds they form), she can totally kick someone's face off when necessary. And as an added bonus, because it was a cartoon, said face-kicking will be rendered in a comically amusing way, with a missing tooth, maybe some exaggerated expression of pain, an X'ed out eye, rather than bloodily horrific with bones jutting out or something.

Most importantly, she's an optimistic character. Practically every description I've read of her in the last couple of days uses the phrase "naive", and there's a certain validity to it, because the cartoon really played up the idea Starfire wasn't from Earth, and there are a lot of customs she wasn't familiar with. Hey, I'm from Earth and there are all sorts of customs here I don't know or understand. But I think a lot of it is her giving people the benefit of the doubt, believing they're on the up-and-up or whatever. She can get angry, when the situation calls for it, and she's good at fighting, but she isn't angry all the time. This is the Jerk Batman phenomena, where she can't turn off the fury when she isn't fighting evil and treats her friends badly. Which strikes me as impressive when you consider her history.

In the cartoon, it's mostly her sister causing her trouble, but it's a lot of trouble. She's sold into slavery to save her planet. When she escapes that, her sister shows up on Earth and tries to pin a theft of a rare jewel on her and get her hauled off to space jail. When that falls apart, sis helps stage a fake invasion of her own planet to force Starfire to save them by marrying a giant ball of snot, basically. What I'm saying is, Blackfire is a real asshole, and Starfire's history is even worse in the comics, when you add in a homeworld being destroyed, two different husbands dying, Dick Grayson not being able to make up his damn mind, friends going crazy or evil, torture and experimentation at the hands of the Psions. Which is maybe why she's not as cheerful in the comics. A little more wary from experience, perhaps. Bedard wrote her a bit melancholy, disconnected from all the things she'd cared about.

In the cartoon, though, she hasn't been hit quite as hard, so that optimism hasn't been blunted. She's certain nothing is set in stone, and that bad outcomes can be averted if you just make the effort. In spite of regularly battling villains, she hasn't lost her willingness to trust others, the ability to extend a helping hand, or show her feelings, which is more relevant than you might think on that team. Cyborg and Beast Boy mostly stick to juvenile reactions, pranking and smack talk as a way of showing friendship (when they aren't yelling at each other). Raven keeps her emotions under wraps as a matter of necessity, and Robin was raised by Batman, so you know "emotions" are not something he mastered when he was learning the art of detection. Being the one willing to freely show joy, anger, sorrow around a bunch of people who mostly deny their emotions or hide them behind snappy comments (I wouldn't know anything about that, no sir) can't always be easy, but it hasn't stopped her.

So, looks cool visually, is an awesome fighter who actually draws strength from being open with her emotions, but is able to turn that off when it isn't needed, and be an open and friendly person the rest of the time.

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