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Review: ‘Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur Vol. 1: BFF’

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur vol. 1Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur Vol. 1: BFF
Writers: Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder
Artist: Natacha Bustos
Marvel; $17.99
Rated T for Teen

Meet Lunella LaFayette, a super-genius nine-year-old fourth grader and amateur inventor who lives with her parents on Yancy Street in New York City…and only reluctantly attends a public school that can’t teach her anything she doesn’t already know.

She has no friends there–not a single one–but then, she doesn’t believe she has time for friends. She knows she’s a ticking genetic time bomb, and sooner or later she is going to mutate into some kind of super-powered, inhuman alien hybrid. So she’s focused all of her energy on finding a cure for her condition, which is tied to some Marvel Universe backstory.

She finally makes a very, very unlikely friend, or at least ally, in the form of Devil Dinosaur, a flame-red, blazing-eyed theropod dinosaur from the distant past and/or a different dimension (and the pages of a short-lived, nine-issue, 1978 Jack Kirby series). An alien artifact–from the same race that messed with human DNA millennia ago and put Lunella in her current position–brought Devil and a band of prehistoric hominids from his time to modern day NYC, where they all naturally run rather amok.

Donning the sort of homemade costume a nine-year-old might come up with, and armed to the pig-tails with home-made gadgetry, Lunella becomes Moon Girl, and she and Devil team up to recover the artifact, defeat the time-lost but quickly adapting hominids, and save one another repeatedly.

To call the comic “charming” would be a gross understatement. Co-writers Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare find a nice balance between a sort of typical manga heroine and the sort of Marvel comics genius character, here one incredibly frustrated by the fact that she’s not in one of the many special schools for girls like her in that universe. More acerbic than precocious, she’s a perfect all-ages heroine (Marvel rated the book for teens, but I can’t figure out why; my guess is they were afraid they would scare away adult readers if they went with the more appropriate “E for Everyone” rating).

And then there’s the dinosaur and the bad guy hominids, The Killer Folk, from the bad-guy tribe of Kirby’s original comic, who have taken to modern times by replacing the Yancy Street Gang as the local toughs. Artist Natacha Bustos draws all of these various characters from clashing settings so well that they all seem to fit together in the same story and, somewhat remarkably, she keeps Kirby’s idiosyncratic design work recognizable while making it her own.

Marvel comics can sometimes have difficulty finding the right balance when it comes to embedding original stories in the ever-changing shared-setting, and that’s a little obvious here. The creative team does a fine job of incorporating elements of the original iteration of Devil–whose old partner was Moon Boy, a hominid from The Small Folk tribe in their home dimension–and introducing them so that one need not know anything about the admittedly simple concept before picking the book up. An appearance from the new, “Totally Awesome” Hulk Amadeus Cho feels like a bit of intrusion, however, especially as he merely passes through the comic, appearing in one chapter and disappearing just as quickly (although Cho is a pretty good foil for Lunella, being a slightly older juvenile super-genius; perhaps he will return in the future to justify his appearance here).

The conflict that drives Lunella is a little more of a tough sell. Essentially, the Kree Empire, in a comic book riff on the ancient aliens theory, tinkered with human DNA in the prehistoric past, so that when some of them are exposed to Terrigen Mists, they get encased in these cocoons and emerge with super-powers and, in some cases, radically transformed bodies. The Kree and Inhumans, like Devil Dinosaur, are Jack Kirby creations, and thus fit here, but as with Ms. Marvel, it seems like an unnecessary aspect, a potential stumbling block to a new series that stands perfectly well on its own.

It should be said that Reeder and Montclare do just enough to introduce all of this as efficiently as possible–a young reader who picks this up as her first Marvel comic should have no trouble following it–and they even do a few interesting things with the linkage. Lunella’s fear of losing control of her body and self because of exterior biological forces is a not-subtle metaphor for puberty, and it really is a dramatic conflict, as it signals her desire to lead a normal life…when everything we know about Lunella demonstrates that she doesn’t currently have, nor does she want, anything even approaching a normal life.

And when the inevitable happens and she finds herself in an Inhumans cocoon, Devil picks up the “egg” and retreats to their clubhouse/lab/base to brood over it. I’m pretty sure I already know what her “power” is going to be when she “hatches” in the next volume–Moon Boy had a sort of psychic bond with Devil that allowed him to communicate with him–but it’s a nice, dramatic cliffhanger to the first volume.

And that first volume on the ongoing monthly comic, subtitled BFF, contains the first six issues of the new series. Marvel has published two more issues since, which means Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur is now just two issues shy of beating Kirby’s run, which it will definitely make.

That’s good news. It’s a great new series, and in terms of quality and content, maybe Marvel’s most new-reader friendly and best all-ages series.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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