The New Kings of Episodic Comics...
Johnny Zito and Tony Trov’s Moon Girl is most likely the closest thing available today to experiencing the kinds of comics of the pulp generation that ran from the late ‘20s to the early ‘40s. It is already a classic, just two issues in, or soon destined to be. It certainly deserves to be one.
There is an energy to this work, a freneticism, like the original pulp stories starring the Harry Steeger creation, the Spider. It is the ongoing gospel of action. And yet, a cold, cool, investigative distance to the stories also. Not at all unlike the Chet Gould stories that populated his police procedural newspaper strip, Dick Tracy. And in addition to all of the above, there is a sensation of the growing darkness that is just now beginning to instill fear. In this respect Zito and Trov tap the essential quality of the world as dangerous conspiracy mastered by Walter Gibson in his Shadow stories.
But of course, Zito and Trov do not simply present a rehash of long-gone pulp tropes. What makes their Moon Girl completely engaging is the quality of their looking back in time, not nostalgically, but filtered through the opinions of our own time.
The story is unfolded slowly, methodically and above all meticulously. Readers immediately get the sense that there is a broader tale to be discovered here. But this is a story that needs to be excavated through the hard and diligent and above all careful reading of the clues already strewn liberally in the story. So Moon Girl readers properly episodically, like the best parts of Milt Caniff’s Steve Canyon or Terry and the Pirates. The first issue is a prime example of this. There is an extended fight scene, sure (in fact, readers are thrust into this scene from the explosive first splash page of Moon Girl herself crashing through a window to attack her foe, Satana). But the real drama does not reside in the balletic kineticism of the fight choreography, rather in the aggression that can only be fueled by a bad history between Moon Girl and the woman who claims to be her mentor.
The in media res assault works perfectly as an opening gambit. Readers are given a sense that this is already a complete world, that already they are at the end of, or perhaps on the cusp of, a world that already has a fully-fleshed out history. And yet, this history is something they must discover for themselves. Who is Moon Girl? Does she really hold a royal title? How could things have come this far between her and Satana? With incredible skill, Zito and Trov are able to suggest a fully-developed world in the space of just six pages.
The second episode pulls no punches. The appearance of a new villain, the Sugar Plum Fairy, occurs in the wake of the power vacuum created by Moon Girl herself, specifically by incarcerating Satana. This consequentialism seems to be central to Zito and Trov’s view of the world of Moon Girl. Actions have consequence, even the best of actions executed with even the best of intentions.
With just two issues released thus far, it becomes hard to see the full scope of Zito and Trov’s work. That is a question to be answered by generations to come. The writers’ mastery of the episodic nature of the pulp medium will command a certain faith in readers. Do readers trust Zito and Trov enough to commit 99c to the weekly purchase of a Moon Girl strip? They certainly should.
Zito and Trov’s mastery of their art recalls a recent comment made by Berkshire Hathaway CEO, Warren Buffett, on Charlie Rose:
And every year of my life, I could sit down at the start of the year and write on a pad a dozen things that were looming over the economy. When people say, ‘I’m not buying stocks now because times are uncertain’, I say to them, so, I say to them, ‘well, on September 10th, 2001, were times certain?’ You thought they were certain, but you found out the next day they weren’t. On October 18th, 1987, before the—the day the Dow took that 22 percent—things are always uncertain in the short term. What really is certain is the things that worked over time will continue to work over time. So the next day is always uncertain. The next hour is always uncertain. The longer term is pretty darn certain.
In the same way, Moon Girl introduces an entirely new generation to the power of what the legendary Will Eisner referred to as ‘a literary staple that is made from our daily lives’.
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