In an era when being petty and politically correct isn’t mutually exclusive, there’s a right way to promote diversity and a misguided way. It’s never inherently wrong to expand the diversity of a shared narrative with the cope and breadth of the Marvel universe. However, the instances where that expansion felt right rather than misguided have historically been the norm rather than the exception.
Fostering greater diversity in comics is not like choosing a new version of Doctor Who. It’s more like trying to build on a crowded foundation for an audience with limited attention spans and patience. There’s this perception among fans and Internet message boards that promoting diversity means destroying part of that foundation. It doesn’t matter that this perception is more flawed than the North Korean legal system. It creates a seemingly insurmountable barrier between those who want to push diversity and those who go into convulsions when someone does something different in their favorite comics.
The recent success of diversity initiatives like Kamala Khan and Miles Morales have shown that Marvel is capable of doing diversity the right way and without having to rely too much on retcons, time travel, or clones. Now, Marvel seeks to build on that success with Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #1.
In many ways, Marvel is playing the game on easy mode because its using a more obscure title. There aren’t too many message boards that will be taken offline by the news that the protagonist in Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur is now a cute black girl. Chances are Fox News won’t do a special segment on it, either.
However, it still faces a unique set of challenges. This series must establish itself as part of the new wave of diversity that attempts to show that comics can appeal to more than the coveted young male demographic that marketing teams have fought over since the days of MTV. Can Moon Girl really compete with the likes of Kamala Khan? While it doesn’t succeed to that extent, it doesn’t fail, either.
The main goal of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #1 is to get the reader to fall in love with Lunella Lafayette. From the beginning, we find out that there’s a lot to love about this girl. She’s spirited, but not “too sassy”. She’s smart, but not overly arrogant. She’s cute, but not in the Jessica Rabbit sort of way. She basically goes out of her way to avoid the stereotypes and clichAvengerss that have been depicted in every John Hughes movie.
It would be easy for a smart, cute black girl to lament about her struggles and get overly melodramatic in a way that happens at least twice in a Saved By the Bell rerun. But that’s not how Luna carries herself. Sure, there are some elements that would make John Hughes smile.
Being way too smart for her age, she gets made fun of by some of her peers, many of which can only cry themselves to sleep at night over how much better her grades must be. However, her struggles and her motivations are unique. She’s not looking to go the Mean Girls route to fit in. She’s not looking to impress a cute boy, as is often required by a typical teen sitcom. She’s motivated by some of the same challenges that motivates real minorities.
Those challenges include getting into a better school, which in any world is often a stepping stone to a better life. These challenges even incorporate events from other ongoing events at Marvel, namely the spread of the Terrigen Mists. This helps give the story a sense of place within the greater Marvel landscape, which is not easy to do in a world where clones and retcons seem to appear every other week.
Luna demonstrates a responsible understanding of events that can’t be found on any message board. Where others see spectacle, she sees opportunity. Sure, pursuing that opportunity means opening a portal that dinosaurs and ape men come out of, but every opportunity carries some level of risk. It’s even somewhat appropriate that a girl who happens to be a minority has to take these kinds of risks. It paid off for Oprah. Why shouldn’t a story be built around that concept?
It’s a concept that shouldn’t be ground-breaking on the level of quantum mechanics, tying a character’s development with actual struggles that actual people deal with. For better or for worse, it still feels refreshing. Luna isn’t looking to become Moon Girl. She’s just trying to use her gifts in hopes of pursuing a better life. Those gifts don’t involve super strength, flight, or having access to Tony Stark’s credit card. It makes her one of the most relatable characters Marvel has come out with in quite some time.
While Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #1 succeeds in its main goal in establishing Lunella Lafayette’s lovability, it lacks other connecting details to make the story feel refined. There’s a minor, albeit not minimal, effort made to cover Moon Boy, but his part in the story is basically a commercial break prior to Luna’s story. His story still connects, but just barely.
Even if the story lacks refinement, it still feels complete in the end. Lunella Lafayette is established as a character. We understand who she is and what her motivations are. It also established how Devil Dinosaur ended up in Manhattan. It won’t be mistaken for a Michael Crichton book, but it does put all the necessary pieces in place in a coherent manner. When those pieces include a dinosaur and a cute black girl from the Lower East Side, that in and of itself is an accomplishment.