“The Stars We Were Always Meant to Be” – Galaxy: The Prettiest Star Review
Writer: Jadzia Axelrod
Artist: Jess Taylor with Cris Peter
Letters: Ariana Maher
Editor: Sara Miller
What You Need to Know: “Galaxy: The Prettiest Star” is a Young Adult Original Graphic Novel that focuses on Taylor Barzelay who—to all those around her—seems to be just another average teenage boy. Taylor goes to school, Taylor plays basketball, but Taylor is so much more than that. Taylor is actually celestial royalty, sent to Earth from man alien world with a foster family of protectors, forced to disguise themselves as humans to keep themselves safe from a vicious alien force known only as “the Vane”. Not to mention the fact that although Taylor might look it from the outside…Taylor is not a boy. Taylor is a princess, and she can’t keep living like this any longer.
“Get ready, this is going to ruin all popular media for you.”
No, that’s not me giving you the cover quote for this book (not yet, anyways), that was actually something that my partner at the time told me shortly after I came out to them in the early fall of 2019.
Why? What did that mean?
Well, in the conversation prior, I had just finished confiding to my partner my utter bafflement at my newly accepted situation.
See, coming out for me wasn’t a very confusing time for me, at least not in the way that I was never left confused for what I wanted. I knew exactly who I wanted to be, what I wanted to be, and I always heard—very, very clearly—what my heart was telling me. I was a woman, I knew I’d be happier if I presented as a woman and if my body could come into alignment with that, and that I’d known this for a very, very long time. It couldn’t have been clearer, and it only took a few months to build up the courage to admit that. But once I did, it was like the world had come off my shoulders.
Yet, I was still—frustrated, surprised, and a whole lot bewildered by the whole revelation! Again, not because I hadn’t seen it coming, but because, somehow, I had gone 23 years on this earth without EVER realizing that there were OTHER people out there…just like me.
It was such a surprise that I wasn’t alone.
Naturally the conversation turned to media because—shocker—I LOVE media! I consumed movies, TV shows, and comics like it was nobody’s business, and yet I had never seen any character that expressed the same feelings and experiences that I had. I knew there were certain characters that made me feel certain ways, like I remember very specifically the early envy I held towards the shapeshifting skrull Xavin from Runaways, but envy of a character is one thing…feeling like a character is you on the page is another.
That’s why my partner jokingly said what they said, that this would ruin media for me, because once I’d found that sense of belonging, once I’d found that sense of identity, they knew that it would get a lot harder for me to enjoy the stories I used to without seeing the cracks around the edges. I’d start seeing what was missing.
And transgender representation is definitely very few and far between.
What was worse, I found that once I DID start finding representation…I’d had to make concessions in nearly every situation while reading, and especially in comics. Sure, Neil Gaiman’s Wanda Mann was written in The Sandman with some really uncomfortable subtext insinuating that she was holding herself back from being a “real woman” because she wouldn’t have gender reassignment surgery, but it was such good storytelling for the time and at least it acknowledged that her soul was female. And yeah, most of Dr. Charlene McGowan’s appearances in Immortal Hulk were drawn by someone notorious for posting antisemitic and transphobic posts on social media, but Jo Fixit said “Trans Rights” and that’s wonderful. And ok, so maybe Y: The Last Man treats gender with all the combined nuance of a disinterested 5th grade biology class and it’s references to transgender individuals is, frankly, horrifying and abysmal…but Petrichor was really kind of fun in Saga so at least we had some BKV character growth!
More often than not, as a transgender reader of comics, looking for transgender characters, you have to accept what you get. Because so often we don’t get to be the main characters. We don’t get to be the heroes, and when we do our experiences and unique struggles are either left as subtext or in the often-times unprepared hands of someone who has never lived our experiences. The best we can hope for is a bit of good intentions, and for a character that is still breathing by the end of the story.
I’d come to a place where I understood that there is no such thing as perfect transgender representation in comics, and it would probably be a long, long time before that would change.
That’s why when Galaxy: The Prettiest Star was announced I held my breath, and I didn’t stop holding it for MONTHS. It’s why I screamed about this book to anyone and everyone who would listen without having read so much as a page. It’s why in a year of Devil Reigns and Dark Crises and returning Sagas…this stayed firmly at the top of my “Most Anticipated” tier list. It is so hard to describe what the mere existence of this book, the mere notion of it, meant to me. I staked my reputation and my soul on this book because it meant so much, it had to, even if every instinct, every previous experience, and every pessimistic fiber in my DNA told me that I needed to curb my expectations. DC’s first trans-led story…and for Young Adults, the people who definitely need these stories the most?
There was just this glimmer of optimism about this book that refused to die. A single, shining star…
I got my review copy about a week ago, and I breezed through it in a single session. Each page turn was an event; I felt like I didn’t finally start breathing again until I turned that final page.
I said earlier that I’d learned to expect inadequacies, that I learned to make concessions…
I had to make NONE for this book. Pardon the word play, but it was nothing less than stellar!
There’s this really great Stephen King quote that came to mind while I was reading this book wherein he referred to writing as a form of telepathy. It’s the act of taking an image from one’s head, placing it on a page with only words, and supplanting that perfectly within the mind of another human being without the author ever having to speak. I always thought that was a wonderful analogy, and it came to mind here but in reverse. This is the first time I’d ever read a book…where I felt like a character’s entire life, their entire inner struggle, had been pulled directly from the depths of my own memories.
There are lines, thoughts, moments in this story that are as hauntingly familiar to me as I KNOW they’ll be to so many transgender individuals who pick this book up. Out of everything I’ve read, certainly at Marvel and DC, this book is by far and away the best to describe so perfectly what both gender dysphoria and (even more importantly, in my mind) gender euphoria feel like. And that’s AMAZING!
Like, for example, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken a long look in a mirror—for both good and bad reasons—and I’ve never seen the raw emotions of both so perfectly laid out on a page. And there was this scene in particular, where Galaxy tries on make-up for the first time…and I remember making the exact face that she is in the panel below. Actually uncanny…
And I can’t tell you how many heartbroken moments I’ve had feeling like happiness is so far away that I can do nothing by just hold my chest and cry, wishing more than anything else that the happy feelings wouldn’t go away, wouldn’t ostracize me, wouldn’t cost so much time and pain. Tears flowed reading this book. It’s all still so fresh in my mind.
The highs and lows are both here. Nothing is left out and that’s so important. Trans pain is something so common in stories about us, and I understand why. Our dysphoria, our discomfort, is what pushes a lot of us to transition and it’s not something we can help. It lends very much so to being easy tragic writer-bait. “Oh, woe is us,” type deal, which isn’t always unhelpful, but getting to see the beauty in being transgender is something that’s almost NEVER shown. And no, I don’t mean beauty in just the “Galaxy is such a beautiful and passable girl” way, but in the, “Oh my god, she is stunned seeing herself in make-up and a dress for the first time, that’s so cute” and the “oh my gosh she’s so much stronger when she gets to be who she’s supposed to be, oh wow she’s in a healthy relationship with someone who values her and sees her as ‘real’ a woman as anyone else” kind of way.
There is so much here that rings true to me, that will ring true for others, but I don’t even think that’s this book’s true strength. I think this book’s true strength is taking all these very, very real and palpable emotions and packaging them up in perfectly digestible bits for both cisgender and transgender readers alike.
I’ve always taken issue with a very long and ongoing trope in comics that is “othering” the trans-character. It is not uncommon for a transgender or genderqueer character to be something monstrous or mystical or otherworldly. I’ve seen living effigies, shapeshifting gods, and, of course, my fair share of alien visitors, and so when I first heard about this story there was always a little bit of apprehension there. And yeah, there is no two ways about it, this is a story that uses an alien individual as a fill-in for transgender individuals. We’ve been here before, and it always concerns me when stories do this because regardless of what anyone says being transgender is a very human experience. It is about as natural as anything else that can happen to any person in the real world, and I worry that by using celestial stand-ins stories run the risk of further separating us and our struggles from people who are cisgender.
Yet, despite these fears, I think this story approaches the premise in such an intelligent and careful way that I think it succeeds in bringing Taylor’s transgender experience to a grounded and human level.
Jadzia Axelrod’s ability to craft the perfect sci-fi metaphor for the transgender experience down to the smallest little details, and incorporating so much of the daily stresses and challenges of our life into every aspect of the story (for instance the fact that gem that Galaxy’s parents gave her hurts her heart but ONLY when she’s in “boy mode” is a perfect allegory for the ever present discomfort that a lot of transgender people experience) is impeccable. So much is addressed so flawlessly here. From the way that Galaxy’s “family” reacts, to her friends, to the school and the community. Commentary presented here addresses and takes unapologetic shots at TERF ideology and gender essentialism in ways that don’t break the flow of the narrative and are actually so subtly placed that unless you’re actively looking for them in the story you probably won’t even notice. All the important beats are hit.
Jess Taylor does such an absolutely phenomenal job on art, it is absolutely unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I think the emotions remain just as crisp as the very angular linework throughout the story, but nothing compares to the colors. The colors are—appropriately—out of this world, I especially appreciate the clever ways that a lot of very sapphic tones are worked into a lot of every day moments, and the not-so-subtle moments when the trans pride colors come bursting through are always glorious. Every spread in this book is as breathtaking as the last.
The design of every character in this story is thoroughly unique, but none more so than Galaxy who is—at all times—the center of attention when she is allowed to be herself. Rarely have I seen a more striking design in all of comics. Finally, DC has an alien race elegant enough to put the tamaraneans to absolute shame.
But even before she’s Galaxy, I really love how although there are moments when the uncertainty and unease are all over boy-Taylor’s face, there are moments where she looks as happy and as comfortable as any other boy. A common thing that trans people hear when they come out is “I never saw any signs!” and it’s because you won’t always. A lot of times trans people do a great job keeping up appearances on the outside even if the mind isn’t at ease. It’s a small detail but a rather neat one that this book pulled off.
Also, shout-out to Argus, the universe’s absolute BESTEST boy!
If there is one thing I will say going in to keep in mind, I do feel like this is a story that could have benefitted from maybe another fifty pages. Not because it doesn’t work as is, no. As is it’s a wonderful coming of age story and A+ metaphor for the trans experience, but as a superhero comic there is little to no actual use of Galaxy’s powers in this book. The Vane, although a lingering presence throughout the story, are not as major a factor in this book as I thought they were going to be. Anyone coming to this book expecting superhero action and battles and a really explosive third act are going to potentially leave very disappointed.
Yet, I think that if the book is read without that expectation it works full-heartedly as a teen drama, and really that’s all it needs to be. Making the trans experience something not only relatable, but also beautiful and positive, with as much love and care as this story does is something that is worthy and deserving of all the page time as we can give it.
If I want to see trans-heroes kicking butt, I’d turn to Dreamer in Superman this summer. Never ever has a publisher allowed a trans story this personal and real to go to print, and that is something well worth savoring for every page we can get.
(BUT! I wouldn’t have said no to some more righteous butt-kicking…just sayin…she’d get it done…)
The Bottom Line:
It is difficult, because there are so many lines I could quote from this book to wrap this review up beautifully, poetically, and yet so few I’d be willing to spoil ahead of time for the sake of a review. And also, full disclosure, I feel like there is a lot of admitted bias in my reading. I can give you as objective a review as I possibly can, but I’m just so over-the-moon that this book even exists I do think it’s worth mentioning that my experience and love for it will probably not be universal, but that’s ok! Stories are subjective, they will always hit us differently, but this one did hit me like a nuclear bomb of pure wholesomeness so take that as you will.
And also, worth noting that since this is a whole graphic novel there’s a lot of points that I just simply won’t be able to cover in depth here. There are complexities between Taylor and her “family”, her best friend, and her girlfriend, Kat, that I just can’t get into here without adding another 1,000 words to this review and NONE of us want that…
So, with all that said, I think that even though it’s targeted at younger readers, there’s no way I could imagine no one getting something out of this book, and in a day and age where our entire community is under such active assault from lies and ignorance this book is needed now more than ever. This is a book that will anger all the right people for all the right reasons, but more than that the true beauty of this book lies in its dedication page.
It’s just one sentence that brought tears to my eyes.
“For the girl who needed this book ages ago, and couldn’t find it.”
I long for the days when people like me won’t be caught off-guard. I long for the days when our identities, our lives aren’t the objects of scorn, ridicule, and debate. This book won’t end transphobia, it won’t end ignorance or hatred or bigotry. No one book can do that.
But this book will end up in the hands of someone who needs it. This book will let someone know, “No, you are not alone.” This book will give someone a reason to hang on until tomorrow, again and again. This book will make someone say, “I didn’t even realize…”
There will be a very selfish part of me that wishes that this book could have come out ten years ago. There will be a very selfish part of me that will spend far too long thinking about how much more time I could have had, how my life could have been different.
Then I remember that the important thing is that it’s here now.
This book will find those girls and boys and whoever else needs it, and it will mean the world to them.
They won’t have to be alone, they won’t have to be caught off-guard, they won’t have to spend nights unable to sleep, swimming in fantasies of a life they want but can’t explain. And, most importantly, they won’t have to ever sit and wonder if their stories, their lives, are beautiful stories worth telling. Stories worth keeping safe. Galaxy might not have done a lot of caped crusading in this book, but make no mistake she will be somebody’s favorite hero by the end of the week.
And that is enough to give anyone hope, I would think.
That is more than enough.
(And hey, if you’re still not sold, why not check out the free preview available for download from comixology RIGHT NOW? Go! Go do it! Thank me later!)
Summary Galaxy: The Prettiest Star is the first time a comic book has truly made me feel seen in such a raw and personal way. It puts to words so many feelings that I had always wished I could share. The bar has officially been set, and there is now no excuse for a dropped ball. No more need for concessions, because the standard for representation is now here.