Michelle Phan’s Helios:Femina Chapter 10 Review

Rhea in Michelle Phan's Helios:Femina Chapter 10: The Red Scarf

After the game-changing events of the last two chapters, many would expect Helios:Femina to slow down again but that’s not what happens here. Chapter 10: The Red Scarf powers ahead with another strong entry that further establishes the series’ status quo and ups the action quota even further.

Rhea singing in Michelle Phan's Helios:Femina Chapter 10: The Red Scarf
Rhea singing in Michelle Phan’s Helios:Femina Chapter 10: The Red Scarf

This isn’t to say The Red Scarf lacks pacing though. There are some great smaller moments within the first half that provide the reader with a name for the mysterious stranger, Kazu, who was introduced in A Knight of Darkness, and hint at the existence of a larger group of survivors based within the church Rhea now finds herself in.

The brief reveal of Rhea regaining her eyesight, only to discover she now lacks the ability to see colour, also proves to be both refreshing (a blind protagonist can only be so interesting for so long) and a surprisingly creative development. It will be fascinating to see how the concept of a heroine who can only see black and white is implemented in a series as reliant on colourful visuals as Helios:Femina.

As expected, Rhea’s drama with Ash Cornelius did indeed place her friends and mother in jeopardy and it isn’t long before she discovers that the mad billionaire has kidnapped her mother and burnt her home to the ground.

The visual of a young child being impaled by a metal bar is by far the most graphic image the series has presented so far but the incident serves a purpose by motivating Rhea to use her magical healing powers and also showing the reader just how powerful she can be.

Rhea’s singing also (finally) awakens Bebo who wastes no time in destroying the enemy ships who had hunted the group down. Back in Chapter 3, Bebo’s powers were kept off-panel which was very frustrating for the reader. It’s apparent now that that was a deliberate creative choice to make its awakening in this chapter all the more dramatic and it works extremely well.

The artwork in the last few chapters had been noticeably weaker than earlier entries in the series and it has been confirmed now that the creative team had been rushing a bit as the following two entries after Chapter 10 were special break specials cleverly called, Hiatus Femina.

The first Hiatus Femina was mostly about a reader competition but the second one contained profiles for several characters and revealed a surprising amount of information on them. Of particular interest is the fact that Rhea’s adoptive mother was in fact the scientist behind the eye technology that has now blinded her. It feels like a bit of a misstep to drop such a big reveal in a character profile like this as it would have made for some great storytelling later on in the main series, especially after the disappointing portrayal of the character as a rather one-dimensional mother figure in the present day.

Michelle Phan’s Helios:Femina Chapter 9 Review
A Knight of Darkness

Kazu in Michelle Phan's Helios:Femina Chapter 9: A Knight of Darkness

Having been marked for death, temporarily blinded, and on the run for a high-tech security force, Helios:Femina’s storyline became immediately more engaging as Rhea’s fate was placed in jeopardy during the conclusion of Chapter 8. After reading the final panel of the previous chapter, the reader was left with some assumptions that such a traumatic event would trigger some deus ex machina alien super powers that would save the day. Thankfully, this didn’t occur and the audience is treated to a rather intense chase sequence as Rhea manages to escape on her hoverbike, Icarus, instead.

Outgunned and outmatched, there’s a legitimate sense of urgency to the immediate escape sequence as questions are raised concerning what Rhea could even do if she did manage to shake them off. Surely, all of Axis Mundi would be after her and her friends and family within a matter of hours. There’s no going back to the way things were before. These events are a game changer.

The introduction of a new supporting character at the end of Chapter 9 is a nice touch and, even though he looks to be filling a Tuxedo Mask sort of role in the story right now (i.e. by saving the heroine when she can’t save herself), his rather dark character design suggests there’s a lot more to this man that will be explored in future entries.

It’s interesting to note that this new character’s look appears to have been inspired by Michelle Phan’s own Skeleton Makeup: Watchers of the Knight tutorial video. Many of the characters in Helios:Femina share the same design aesthetics as Phan’s other media projects but this one has definitely been influenced the most and boasts a wonderfully distinct look.

This blend of fashion and comic book super heroics styles is one of Helios:Femina’s biggest appeals and it would be great to see an even bigger design influence as the series progresses.

Something that isn’t appreciated is the return of the super deformed cartoony character designs. It’s only used once in this chapter and, like previously, it’s done to inject humour. The sudden change in style kills the sense of momentum though and it feels like the artist is trying too hard to inject a manga (Japanese comic book) influence into the series when it would be much stronger without it.

Michelle Phan’s Helios:Femina Chapter 8 Review
A World of Ash

Michelle Phan's Helios:Femina Chapter 8: A World of Ash

The new character, Ash Cornelius, may have been morally ambiguous when he was introduced in the previous entry, but in Helios:Femina Chapter 8: A World of Ash, it becomes apparent very quickly that he is being set up to be the main villain of the series.

There are some interesting moments early on in this chapter that suggest at some sort of chemistry between Rhea and Ash. It could be early signs of a romantic connection but it may also hint at some sort of extra-terrestrial origins for the billionaire as he seems drawn to Rhea’s musical ability. Whatever the significance of these moments, they’re pushed aside very quickly as the Rhea’s audition suddenly becomes a scene for attempted rape.

Ash Cornelius in Helios:Femina
Ash Cornelius in Helios:Femina

It is a bit disappointing that the villain is being depicted with such broad strokes so soon after his introduction but the sudden change in tone does inject a significant amount of much-needed energy into the series as the protagonist’s life is placed in jeopardy and there appears to be no obvious way for her to escape. If every story ever written about teenagers with super powers is any indication, it’s likely that all of this trauma will trigger the awakening of her alien powers and that these new powers will save her. Here’s hoping Michelle Phan chooses to go in a more original direction though as that would be far too predictable for a series such as this.

The drawing and colouring in A World of Ash isn’t as polished as in previous chapters with most of the artwork appearing rushed. This is understandable with the weekly publishing schedule on Webtoons but it’s still a bit of a disappointment after some of the stunning visuals in the previous chapters. There are also several instances of super-deformed character designs which detract a lot from the reading experience. The style change is obviously being used to inject some humour into the proceedings but each change is jarring and never really flows as well as intended.

Helios:Femina would be better served by sticking to the one art style and using smaller, genuine character moments for comedy.

Michelle Phan’s Helios:Femina Chapter 7 Review
Axis Mundi

Michelle Phan's Helios:Femina Chapter 7: Axis Mundi

Rhea Oribel has been a rather ambiguous character so far in Helios:Femina. She’s beautiful, kind, and has mysterious musical magical powers but beyond that, she’s yet to be thrown out of her comfort zone and truly challenged in any substantial way. That appears to be changing in Chapter 7: Axis Mundi which follows the series’ protagonist on her way to a new musical gig atop one of strange floating cities.

As Rhea flies to her target destination, the reader is given insight into the lives of the people in these floating cities. There is a strange disconnect that happens as the culture within them seems so far removed from the way Earth was before, just 16 or so years ago, but at this point in the series it’s probably best to not overthink things too much and just accept this bizarre future than Michelle Phan has created. One would hope humans wouldn’t regress to gladiatorial combat within two decades of social upheaval though.

Ash Cornelius, a potential new major character, is introduced in this chapter and, while it’s too soon to tell if he will be an ally or villain, he’s already been given enough interesting backstory to make him a compelling character to watch. His presence also gives the series a boost in forward momentum as, besides the giant cosmic monsters in the opening chapters, Helios:Femina hasn’t really had a main foil for its heroes yet.

Michelle Phan’s Helios:Femina Chapter 6 Review
Broken Eden

Michelle Phan's Helios:Femina Chapter 6 Broken Eden

Helios:Femina Chapter 6: Fallen Eden picks up where the previous chapter left off with the reveal that Rhea’s adoptive mother is still alive.

It’s a bit of a surprise to see the woman who was last seen running along the beach in her stylish active wear having transformed into a rather frumpy housewife in the span of 16 years or so. There’s a lot of potential to be had with a young modern woman having discovered a baby with magic powers but the character appears to have been, at least for now, relegated to filling the role of a cliché housewife complete with predictable deliberate attempts at embarrassing her daughter and strange metaphors on life involving food (She really likes apples). It’s an unfortunate evolution for the character and stands in stark opposition to Michelle Phan’s personal message about empowering women with the series.

Things improve dramatically when Rhea (strangely misspelt as Rey in this chapter) jumps on her cool hover-bike and travels to a major city for some trading. There’s some great bits of information dropped in this sequence such as the bike running on solar energy, several mysterious parties actively searching for books on alchemy, and a hunt for individuals who can transform objects into gold. Unlike some of the information dumps in the previous chapters, the information in Fallen Eden is placed organically within the story’s events and never overwhelms.

The best part about the breadcrumbs dropped in this chapter is that not only do they continue to build the world of Helios:Femina, but they also hint at a larger storyline to be told in future entries. This series may not be perfect but there’s enough going on at this point to encourage readers to stick with it and see where it leads them and the blend of steampunk and modern fashion aesthetics continues to impress.

Michelle Phan’s Helios:Femina Chapter 5 Review
Rhea Oribel

Michelle Phan's Helios:Femina Chapter 5: Rhea Oribel

With the Helios:Femina storyline finally settling on a main character, time, and location by the end of Chapter 4: The Fall, Chapter 5: Rhea Oribel begins the story in earnest with an entry that very well could have been used as the opening panels of the entire series.

The reader is introduced to the series’ protagonist, Rhea Oribel, a teenage girl with mystical powers that she’s trying to keep hidden from her supporting cast of young orphan friends. By this point in the series, it’s no secret to the reader that Rhea is an alien. The true mystery here though is what her arrival on Earth as a baby may have triggered (Did she cause The Fall?) and how she could possibly save humanity from itself. There’s also the fact that her mascot alien guardian, Bebo, appears to be in a coma of sorts. Advanced technology is commonplace in this future Earth but a walking and talking (and flying!) alien creature may cause a bit of disruption.

A lot of effort has been given to establish both the cosmic and post-apocalyptic Earth so far in Helios:Femina and the sheer level of information and name-dropping has admittedly been a bit overwhelming. Even more concepts are introduced in Chapter 5 as the different groups of the floating city of Axis Mundi are discussed; The Raven Core military division and White Raven entertainment division. Both are mentioned in a very expositional conversation between characters which can make it more challenging for the reader to absorb and may require re-reading to fully comprehend the meaning of it all.

Fingers crossed, once the action picks up in Helios:Femina, the series will start revealing plot points more organically instead of the history book-style narration it’s been doing so far.

Michelle Phan’s Helios:Femina Chapter 4 Review
The Fall

Flying Kingdom Axis Mundi in Michelle Phan's Helios:Femina Chapter 4: The Fall

If there’s one thing Michelle Phan can’t be criticised for, it’s for not having enough ideas for her web comic, Helios:Femina.  Four chapters into the series and readers have already been introduced to a pink-wearing celestial princess (maybe), a blue-wearing celestial warrior, a woman on Earth who finds an alien baby on the beach, and now a group of children in, what appears to be, a post-apocalyptic future Earth.

Helios:Femina throws a lot of characters and ideas at the reader and, while doing so is a great way to add depth and history to the world where the story is set, the sudden changes in characters, location, and even time period are quite jarring. With the appearance of the series main character, Rhea Oribel, in Chapter 4: The Fall’s final panel, it becomes apparent that the series is truly beginning in earnest with the next chapter and makes one wonder if these first four would have been better told through flashbacks at some point later in the storyline.

Bailey and Rhea in Michelle Phan's Helios:Femina Chapter 4: The Fall
Bailey and Rhea in Michelle Phan’s Helios:Femina Chapter 4: The Fall

What is told in The Fall is rather interesting and genuinely surprises after the assumption that the series would follow the women introduced in Purple Dawn as she raises her mysterious alien baby in modern-day Earth. The planet’s climate has changed dramatically and there has been a rather sudden introduction of (possibly) alien technology into society which instigated some parts of the human race to leave the ground and live in floating cities in the skies away from the poor and middleclass civilians. There’s an obvious Laputa: Castle in the Sky inspiration here but the political motivations also bring to mind Battle Angel Alita and the Matt Damon and Jodie Foster film, Elysium. It’s a nice touch of fantasy and Sci-Fi that many won’t expect. The Harry Potter snitch-esque droid, Icarus, has also been given a rather refreshing look for a futuristic robot.

There is a bit of an eye-roll moment when one of the children, apparently never having heard of the mass-event that changed the fate of the planet he lives on, asks for a detailed explanation of what The Fall is. It’s a cliché method of exposition that many fans of anime series (like Pokemon) will be familiar with and it never doesn’t elicit a, “How do they not know this?!” reaction from the audience. The information given is important for understanding the world but there are better ways to express it that don’t make characters appear mentally challenged.

The drawings of the children do feel overly simplistic, especially during the monologue, but the visual of a city rising to the skies (see above) is impressive, as is the colouring done on Icarus’ wings, and the sequence on the church’s staircase which takes full advantage of the continuous vertical scrolling Webtoons comic format.

Of special note is the inclusion of credits at the end of the chapter. Michelle Phan is still credited with story, art, and colouring but Avery Ota is also listed as artist and Komikaki Studio for colouring. Are Ota and Komikaki Studio simply assistants or are their roles more substantial? Michelle Phan is shown drawing and colouring Helios:Femina panels in several of her videos which suggests they’re the former. Hopefully some clarification as to who exactly does what will be given in future chapters.

Michelle Phan’s Helios:Femina Chapter 3 Review
Purple Dawn

Michelle Phan's Helios:Femina Chapter 3: Purple Dawn

With the pending destruction of the magical space kingdom, Zeru, and the introduction of a baby that must be saved in Helios:Femina Chapter 2: Two Moons, many readers would assume that Chapter 3: Purple Dawn would feature the baby being sent to Earth and her guardian sacrificing herself in the process. Those readers would be right on the money.

Bebo and the Baby Travelling to Earth in Michelle Phan's Helios:Femina Chapter 3: Purple Dawn
Bebo and the Baby Travelling to Earth in Michelle Phan’s Helios:Femina Chapter 3: Purple Dawn

It’s a plot device that has been used numerous times in both religious texts (i.e. Moses) and modern pop culture (Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, and Superman). The trope’s use here may frustrate some readers due to its predictability yet could impress others if interpreted as a homage. Either way, its presence means that there’s not a lot that surprises in Purple Dawn as Bebo is sent through the portal with the baby to Earth where the story will presumably begin in earnest.

Though predictable, there are some noteworthy moments in this entry that add to the series’ mythology as a whole such as the mystical powers used by the nameless woman in blue. Her magical singing, which she uses to calm the baby, is a refreshing change from the energy beam powers that most comic book characters seem to have nowadays. The use of telepathy is also well realised by showing a single shot of Bebo on the other end of the communication. It’s assumed that he (it?) is in the middle of a massive battle, and it would have been easy to show as such, but by keeping the focus on him and the conversation, the overall destruction of the planet and its moons is left up to the imagination of the reader and this is something that’s rarely done in modern comics. Kudos to Phan for this brilliantly creative decision.

The use of colours is once again done extremely well from the subtle fading of tone in the woman as she slowly uses up all of her power to open the portal to the dramatic shift to more natural colouring as the story transitions to Earth. It will be interesting to see how the two colouring styles are used going forward with there being some great potential for the blending of the two when magic is eventually used in a real world setting.

Michelle Phan’s Helios:Femina Chapter 2 Review
Two Moons

Michelle Phan's Helios:Femina Chapter 2: 2 Moons

After the rather relaxing, magical Prologue and Chapter 1, the second entry in Michelle Phan’s Helios:Femina web comic takes a faster, more action-oriented approach to its storytelling by diving right into the action as the attack on Zeru’s moons continues.

Michelle Phan's Helios:Femina Prologue and Chapter 2: Two Moons
Michelle Phan’s Helios:Femina Prologue and Chapter 2: Two Moons

The change in pace is a little jarring though. The action in Chapter 2 appears to be happening immediately after the last panel of the previous chapter, yet the setting and all of the characters, with the exception of Bebo, appear to have been replaced completely. The open field full of partygoers has been changed to a crystal-filled park, and the mystical woman in the pink dress has been swapped out for another woman wearing a blue cloak.

There’s a great sense of disconnect with this lapse in continuity between chapters and it’s hard to tell if the introduction of a new location and character is a plot point or something that was simply overlooked by the creator.

Despite the odd pacing issues, Helios:Femina Chapter 2: Two Moons, continues with the glorious colouring seen in the opening chapter and manages to maintain the feel-good fairy tale vibe already established. The action and flow of movement also continues to work extremely well for the vertical format and there are several moments where the top-to-bottom scrolling manages to achieve a good sense of anticipation in the reader during the attack sequence. The dramatic reveal of the new blue-clad female character in her battle gear also works extremely well and her blue halo hairstyle is a wonderfully original design choice that leaves an impact.

The discovery of the baby at the end of this chapter unfortunately feels a little cliché for the fantasy genre but it’s still early on and it will be interesting to see what Phan does with this popular plot device going forward.

Michelle Phan’s Helios:Femina Chapter 1 Review
The Last Star Cycle

Michelle Phan's Helios:Femina Prologue and Chapter 1: The Last Star Cycle

Helios:Femina is a free weekly digital comic series created by digital entrepreneur, Michelle Phan. While most people will know Michelle for her incredibly popular and well-produced make-up and fashion YouTube videos, longtime fans of hers are well-aware that as much as she’s all about being on trend and fashion forward, this professional make-up artist is also a bit of a geek with a passionate appreciation for her Nintendo 3DS and anime series such as Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon.

It’s her love of this latter anime series, Sailor Moon, that appears to have been the biggest inspiration for her debut comic series as evident by the title, Helios:Femina, which roughly translates to Sun Woman, and its emphasis on cute animal mascots and celestial magical princesses. Helios:Femina isn’t a cheap rip-off however and establishes itself well in its first chapter as its own creation with suggestions of a larger lore to be explored in future entries in the series and its own unique vibe which feels like a blend of Japanese series such as Sailor Moon and Card Captor Sakura and Western cartoon hits like My Little Pony and She-Ra.

Michelle’s art style is very much a fusion of genres. The series’ mascot, Bebo, would feel right at home in most Japanese anime or manga series yet, while the human characters’ facial features have elements of anime proportions, their bodies exhibit more of a Western superhero sensibility with more muscle tone and nuanced anatomy. The facial expressions can feel a little stiff at times but the presentation of the characters is consistent throughout and overall impresses, especially for a first chapter.

Bebo in Michelle Phan's Helios:Femina Chapter 1: The Last Star Cycle
Bebo in Michelle Phan’s Helios:Femina Chapter 1: The Last Star Cycle

The real star of Helios:Femina though is the digital colouring which is used to its fullest to create an impressive watercolour look throughout. The style does make the action scenes slightly less scary than they would be with another, more realistic, colouring choice but the magical glittery look presented in the end product is well worth that small sacrifice.

Created for distribution on Line’s free Webtoon comic service, Helios:Femina differs from the traditional panel format of regular comic books and is instead designed for consumption on mobile devices. Each chapter of Helios:Femina is essentially one continuous vertical image meant to be scrolled with a swipe of a finger and it works remarkably well. It’s obvious that a lot of thought has been given into how to make each drawing flow into the next and in this first chapter alone, there are several instances of, “Wow. This works really well!”

While Helios:Femina and other Webtoon comics can be read via the official website on a PC or tablet, this series really is at its best when consumed on a smartphone either in a web browser or via the official Webtoons app on iOS and Android. It’s kind of the opposite of how regular comic books are best read on a tablet instead of phone. Unfortunately, there isn’t an official app yet for Windows phone users but the mobile website works perfectly fine and doesn’t detract from the experience at all.

Overall Thoughts on Helios:Femina

Helios:Femina is a fresh new comic series presented in an exciting new digital format that has the potential to be huge. The glittery magical design aesthetic and cute mascot may not appeal to everyone, but those who fall into the teenage girl demographic (or have an inner-teenage girl longing for a new Princess of Power or Champion of Justice) will find a lot to obsess over here.

Where to read Helios:Femina: Webtoons website | iOS app | Android app

Are you reading Michelle Phan’s Helios:Femina? Let me know your thoughts on it in the comments below.

































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