What an enduring victory Superman would prove to be. This profound thing that stretches three, four, five generations into the future. That births an entirely new way of articulating human hopes and ideals in the face of the large-scale crushing of the human spirit. This thing that comes out of the Depression, like a phoenix, or like Harry Houdini. What a way to overcome the centuries of anti-Semitism that was already beginning to read like a genre in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. What an absolute victory. But after passing the third quarter of a century, it is time to measure what has happened.
Writers Johnny Zito and Tony Trov are simply peerless.
The creation of Moon Girl, reads like a State of the Union address. And the state is not good, superheroes have opened a cultural Pandora’s Box. Moon Girl Fights Crime is perhaps the most necessary superhero book (although I use the term ‘book’ loosely to describe perhaps the premier digital comic of the moment) of the last 30 years. The two volumes produced thus far are a profound meditation on the origins of incredible wealth, on enduring individualism and the rise of the notion of civic (as the Third Place, distinct from both the Public and the Private). What Zito and Trov fashion is a reflection of society derailing itself, and a meditation on the same by a return to its origins, and the superhero genre as a conceptual tool for understanding the script.
How much of the world that is slowly coming apart today, post the global economic meltdown of the last few years, was its roots in the earlier one, the social contract that emerges from the Depression? Reading Moon Girl Fights Crime feels like the past is happening now and will continue to happen forever. Feels like Reaganomics and “Dancing in the Dark”, feels like that unexpected jump-cut your mind makes to Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction while you watched Friends, feels like Simon Cowell’s derisive dismissal of nine in every 10 contestants on American Idol. Reading Moon Girl, and it feels like already all cultural models have been used up.
Moon Girl Fights Crime appears at exactly the right cultural moment. It is what Watchmen should have been, the superhero disinterring of human sociology that we deserved decades ago. The story itself is engagingly and elegantly simple. It is the kind of story that once could only be told in newspaper dailies, but now requires an iPhone or iPad. That immediacy, that continuism of the comicbook and the superhero being a part of the daily human drama has been resurrected in a new medium.
Clare Luna, the Moon Girl herself, now dethroned royalty of secret Russian Empire, arrives in New York to begin her new life after the destruction of her homeland, the dissolution of her role and the diaspora of her people. But she is still empowered by her Moon Rock, still remembers the lessons of her tutor, Satana. Over the two volumes, Moon Girl battles her own awakening to her former role as cultural leader (bucking the trend of royalty and instead choosing the role of superhero) at the hands of her former tutor now turned supervillain. And perhaps more perniciously, at battle with the Sugar Plum Fairy for the heart of what a cultural shift the superhero has effected.
Unlike the long, ponderous Watchmen which situates itself and comics as High Culture (Watchmen’s idea of comics as Rembrandt to The Dark Knight Returns’ idea of comics as Picasso), Moon Girl Fights Crime is easy an immediate. The act of reviewing Zito and Trov’s profound and necessary work is almost de facto the act of undoing it. Much, much more can be gleaned from the work itself, than can be written about it. Moon Girl Fights Crime is a racetrack of human culture, one that your own life will circuit again and again. Something you will recognize in the strangest of places. One morning at an airport terminal, flying to LA. Watching the floodwaters irrigate the streets of Mumbai during Monsoon.
But the real engagement that Zito and Trov offer is the meditation on the notion of the superhero itself. What does the rise of the superlative in human society mean? And the entrenching of individuation as a cultural paradigm? Are we all living in an age where each one of us is a Houdini escaping their bonds, or has the Post-New Deal human capital depleted the resources of industrialization as Seth Godin so convincingly argues in his recent Linchpin?
Zito and Trov’s genius lie in the fact that no easy answers are forthcoming. But what endures is the condition of the superhero, one that provides for something seemingly impossible in society just a century ago: ongoing novelty.