"It just seemed like very fertile ground to do a family superhero story about a kid who is so close to that world, but is not part of that world at all because she herself is not a superhero," author Mariko Tamaki tells EW of the new DC Comics YA graphic novel.

By Sydney Bucksbaum
December 08, 2020 at 11:00 AM EST
Credit: DC Comics

Having a superhero for a parent isn't all it's cracked up to be in the latest DC Comics young adult graphic novel I Am Not Starfire.

EW has your exclusive first look at the new comic book from author Mariko Tamaki (Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With MeHarley Quinn: Breaking Glass) and artist Yoshi Yoshitani (Zatanna and the House of Secrets) that introduces Mandy, the daughter of iconic Teen Titans hero Starfire. But where Starfire is known for her glowing personality, Mandy couldn't be more different — she's goth, jaded, and desperate to get out from under her mother's shadow.

"I really wanted to do something that was family-oriented and I've always wanted to do a mother-daughter story, and I've always wanted to do a story about a fat character, and it just kind of evolved from there," Tamaki tells EW. "It just seemed like very fertile ground to do a family superhero story about a kid who is so close to that world, but is not part of that world at all because she herself is not a superhero."

I Am Not Starfire begins soon after Mandy walked out of her SATs and decided that she wasn't going to college — a change in plans that her famous superhero mother still doesn't know about. Mandy would rather move to France and figure things out from there. But everything changes when she gets partnered with her crush Claire on a school project, and Mandy starts wondering how she's supposed to become who she's meant to be when the only thing she's sure of is what she's not — a.k.a. everything her mother is. And when someone from Starfire’s past arrives, Mandy must make a choice: give up before the battle begins, or step into the unknown and risk everything to save her mom. 

The coming-of-age story features a sweet LGBTQ romance and leans hard into the metaphor that teenagers and their parents are basically aliens to each other. "Generations evolve so quickly now and have such different experiences growing up," Tamaki says. "This is a chance to push that one step further, where you have somebody who is literally from another planet, who is looking at her kid like, 'I don't understand you.' It gets to this very human issue of being a teenager and not necessarily knowing how to ask for help and feeling like your parents don’t understand you and the deep frustration of two people wanting to connect and loving each other but not being able to figure out how to talk to each other."  

But diehard fans trying to figure out who Mandy's father is (a Teen Titans hero himself, perhaps?) shouldn't take too from this new dynamic. "To be super clear, this is a version of Starfire, not in continuity Starfire," Tamaki says. "This is obviously a Starfire story, where we are creating a separate universe world where, for one thing, she has a daughter. Starfire is such a great character who is a literal beacon of light, so it was fun to think: What if she came home and she had this kid who was blasting punk music and was like, 'I don't want to talk to you?'"

When it came to illustrating the graphic novel, Yoshitani enjoyed highlighting just how opposite Mandy and Starfire are from each other. "Starfire is these bright pinks and Mandy is these muted blacks," Yoshitani says. "Starfire just takes over everything and you can't help but look at her. Mandy is sort of like a muted roar. It's not quieter, but it's just a very different expression."

One thing they do have in common is a love for fashion, although they both have different ideas of what fashion means. "When designing the two of them, I wanted to have both women be very fashion conscious, and they both really love looking ready to kill," Yoshitani says with a laugh. "It's just their definitions of what ready-to-kill is are very different. Starfire has kind of flower child vibes, so I was really basing a lot of her looks off of what Cher wears. Whereas Mandy, her fashion sensibilities are more moderate street goth."

Yoshitani is a self-admitted Starfire fan and grew up watching the character on the 2003 animated TV show Teen Titans. "I always loved how she's a really positive go-getter, even though she's in a strange culture that she doesn't understand," the artist says. "And Mariko really captures the essence of that Starfire but now she's grown up, she's been on Earth for even longer and she still has all those same traits and is still just a real source of positivity, she just has a weird goth daughter now that she doesn't understand."

And Tamaki took great care to craft a new story for a beloved character that fans and newcomers alike could all enjoy equally. "When you're writing characters for DC Comics, I'm deeply aware that there are people who love Starfire and who are protective of the parts of the character that they feel like are misunderstood," she says. "I try my best to always have a loving and caring approach to any of these characters. It feels like playing with someone else's toys where I hope this is okay and I promise to return it the way I found it. I just wanted this to be a superhero story that's inspiring."

Check out EW's exclusive first look at the interior art from the comic below:

Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

I Am Not Starfire is available for pre-order now, and will be released August 10, 2021.

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