The Blue Dragon has left the night sky. To illustrate, Corin Howell lines up three panels vertically. The top, a corporeal dragon in the sky. The middle, an outline of the constellation. No dragon is available to “immediately take his place.” It’s the sticker book equivalent of showing you where to put the dragon sticker and it’s the image we have of constellations as connect the dots. The bottom panel is the truth, six stars, unconnected, that don’t look like a dragon when they fall “out of the heavens.” The Mighty Zodiac: Starfall has made science tell a story of loss, invisibility and mourning. That’s page one.
Words and images belong together in The Mighty Zodiac: Starfall because J. Torres writes for a visual medium. Pages pass with minimal dialogue and there are never any dense bubbles of conversation. Dialogue charms. More words can read beautifully but being able to minimize their use, and not show favor, reaps reward. Mighty Zodiac gets the most out of being a comic, versus a short story or series of paintings, because it’s collaborative.
That’s while laying out a rich mythology. Master Long is set to take the Blue Dragon’s place but in order to evolve his pupils, the Mighty Zodiac, must find the stars that fell from the sky. The Moon Rabbit Army want the stars, too, but to destroy them. The rabbits are ninjas aligned with darkness, appearing as shadows. The light must be doused, not used, and what better way to visualize that than having the dead stars look like starfish.
When so many animals could’ve been chosen to play the villains one wonders why Torres cast bunnies. The other Chinese zodiac animals are our heroes. Ko, a cat, takes the rabbit’s place, in compliance with Vietnamese and Gurung zodiacs. What Torres does do is use what’s known about rabbits to make the antagonists specific. The Moon Rabbit army multiplies because rabbits have a lot of babies and their home is the moon because moon cycles are tracked by shadows.
Warren Wucinich’s curvy lettering softens combat for an all-ages audience and Maarta Laiho’s withholding of colors, during flashbacks, makes the present day brighter, irrespective of danger. There are also references to fables in Howell’s art that can be noticed or not, at reader’s convenience, but make great comic book Easter eggs. The Mighty Zodiac is the product of much research and symbolism and Torres gives the characters lives outside of the group that are asking for further exploration, from Mar, the ram wearing horns to mask her gender, to Buta, the pig, being a performer on the side. The next volume couldn’t come out fast enough.