It’s a testament to their skill as writers, that even in the second issue of Moon Girl, Johnny Zito and Tony Trov create a ‘plug-&-play’ environment. There’s no pre-reading necessary here. No catching up on decades of backstory. Just pick up the issue and read.
But of course, just below the surface, there really is decades (albeit interrupted) of history to Moon Girl. Created in the 1940s by industry legend Gardner Fox, Moon Girl was first published by EC Comics. But in vying with DC’s continuing monopolistic practices of buying smaller companies, EC shifted focus to publishing genre books, specifically crime and horror. Moon Girl became one of the casualties of what should arguably have been an anti-trust suit in the early part of the 20th century.
A decade later EC would appear in the popular imagination again. This time it would be publisher Bill Gaines testifying before a McCarthy-style Senate committee on the legitimacy of publishing horror comics. These hearings had been fueled by Fred Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, a book that argued comics, their characters and their subject material represented a breach of public trust and irrevocably damaged the youth.
It was Gaines’ passionate testimony (perhaps more so than others’) that allowed the industry to remain relatively intact, but self-regulate through an independent body, the Comics Code Authority. Moon Girl then is the cipher for a vast and untold history of missed opportunity. What could Moon Girl have been had EC kept on publishing superhero comics? What could the comics industry have been had it not needed to self-regulate for nearly four decades?
And the secret joy in reading Zito and Trov’s Moon Girl is that none of this history matters. Knowing it simply lends depth and detail to understanding the specific dynamics of the story. But that’s just the secret joy. There are very obvious joys to be had with Moon Girl. Not the least of which is Zito and Trov’s flair for deploying a high-scale social drama. Moon Girl is the story of how superhero culture becomes a bona fide cultural revolution.
Clare Lune, the titular Moon Girl and wielder of the Moon Rock finds her former royal life shattered during Communist expansionism of the Russian Empire during the early 20th century. Along with her some of her former subjects she escapes to New York, leading the life of an immigrant.
What Zito and Trov show readers is a world in flux. The old empires are being smashed, but along with that, so is the idea of empire. As is crucial to any good work of pop culture, Moon Girl’s early postwar New York has very little to do with the crumbling of the 19th century geopolitical model. Rather, it is a sincere meditation on our own time, a way of speaking about the early 21st century, by way of a fictive 1950s bepopulate with superheroes that form the vanguard of a cultural metamorphosis.
Moon Girl and Satana or (in this issue) Moon Girl and the Sugar Plum Fairy don’t simply exchange witticism by some ages old genre-driven patois (a technique exploited with aplomb by such postmodern superhero scribes as Mark Millar). It’s impossible to read the Sugar Plum Fairy’s monologue without being drawn into the remarkable energy of Bob Dylan at his height or Satana, and not read traces of the Doors.
Zito and Trov’s Moon Girl contain layers. Social criticism and political commentary become imbricated with art. As I’m writing this, the streets of Greece are on fire. Economic austerity has fueled an antagonistic stance towards the Greek government. This uprising follows quickly on the heels of the Arab Spring, where led by the youth, the ordinary people of Arab nations have positioned themselves to demand democracy of their leaders.
If ever there’s a time to read Moon Girl, it’s now. So the real question that’s been haunting this review and that I’ve dreaded to answer: is there any worth in buying a hard copy of essentially the same story as last year’s digital release? The answer has to be a resounding yes.
For visionaries, and there’s no doubt Zito and Trov both fall into that category, it’s often a hard task to be relevant. At their most incisive, visionaries are often so far ahead of the curve it’s difficult for us to understand their immediate relevance. This is what’s happened last year with the digital release of Moon Girl. Now, in the early summer of 2011, with the print version just released, the rest of us have a chance to catch up.