Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

08 July 2016

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, v. 1: BFF

Collects: Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #1-6 (2016)

Released: June 2016 (Marvel)

Format: 136 pages / color / $17.99 / ISBN: 9781302900052

What is this?: A girl with the Inhuman gene finds a Kree device coveted by time-lost cavemen, who are pursued by Devil Dinosaur, a literal dinosaur.

The culprits: Written by Amy M. Reeder and Brandon Montclare and penciled by Natacha Bustos

I can’t say I’ve ever been enchanted by the idea of Devil Dinosaur.

I mean, yes, I get the appeal: giant red T-Rex. But I’m not a big fan of high-concept ideas that go nowhere, and eventually the appeal of what amounts to a giant carnivorous (within the bounds of the Comics Code Authority) horse / dog has to wear thin after a while. It’s not like Devil Dinosaur has a huge range of emotions by himself (herself?).

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, v. 1: BFF coverBut I decided to give Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, v. 1: BFF a shot, and I’m glad I did.

Writers Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare create a sympathetic lead in Lunella Lafayette, a grade-school genius (her age is unclear) who is trying to keep her Inhuman gene from expressing. Unfortunately, she’s surrounded by those not only of lesser intellect but also of much greater obliviousness. Her parents want her to be normal, which she clearly is not; her science teacher (or maybe her only teacher, who knows) teaches the students as if they are half-wits and is not prepared to deal with a gifted child. The token jock, Coach Hrbek, picks up an alien artifact as if it is a basketball.

It’s always easy to make the smart, picked-on kid sympathetic, and Lunella is no different. She has been rejected by the Future Foundation and other gifted schools, showing that while she’s very smart, she’s not considered Marvel Universe elite yet. Those schools would be Lunella’s ticket out of the unfair world she lives in, where she has to endure her underprepared teachers and classmates’ taunts (including the convenient nickname “Moon Girl”) in class. Outside the classroom, she retreats into her own world. It’s all by the book, but damned if I didn’t fall for it.

Lunella’s antagonists, the Killing Folk, are the standouts of the book. The Killing Folk are primitive humans who are the archenemies of Devil Dinosaur’s original sidekick, Moon Boy. In the distant past, Moon Boy manages to send the Killing Folk away, saving his people — the Small Folk — as he himself dies. Moon Boy has only delayed the problem, though, as the Killing Folk appear in the present and continue their dominance displays as soon as they acclimatize to the modern world. They are ridiculous — there’s no way they should dominate the Yancy Street Gang and New York police so quickly — but Reeder and Montclare use that to their benefit. To the people of Lunella’s neighborhood, the Killing Folk are just another gang, and the Killing Folk do their best to fulfill that explanation: after all, they’re terrorizing the Small Folk again, just like they did in their own time, and if that requires wearing hoodies and flashing gang signs, they are up for it.

The Killing Folk are in pursuit of what they call “the Nightstone,” although Lunella, who found it before they arrived, surmises it’s a Kree Omni-Wave Projector. Lunella hopes she’ll be able to use the projector to somehow suppress her Inhuman genes. This quest is a tricky point, literally and figuratively, that the writers don’t engage with. Twenty or more years ago, Lunella would have been afraid her mutant gene would express. That’s an easier metaphor for the reader to parse: as mutant powers come out in adolescence, mutancy goes along with puberty, a general change from child the person was to adult they will become. But the Inhuman gene might not ever express if the bearer doesn’t come in contact with Terrigen mist. Does that make the Inhuman gene more like a gene that triggers cancer, something that should be avoided if possible? Or is it still like the X-gene, a natural part of personal evolution?

How am I supposed to feel about Lunella’s quest? I don’t know. Lunella simply doesn’t want to go through the Inhuman change, which doesn’t clarify matters, and her parents don’t seem that troubled by it. Lunella’s motivations seem reasonable — I don’t know that I would want to be radically changed — but if Inhumans are the 21st-century mutants, then she should make her peace with it. Man, I’m confused, and not in a good way.

Devil Dinosaur makes his appearance pursuing the Killing Folk from the past into the present. Unfortunately, Devil Dinosaur is the book’s weak point. The scenes with Devil are the weakest — except perhaps his fight with the Hulk in #4 — in the book. Nothing is surprising about his meeting with Lunella or their interactions after that; of course Lunella dislikes him at first, and of course they become friends. After the Hulk captures DD, of course she springs him. It’s Buddy Cop 101, and it’s a bit tiresome. DD is at best a friendly dog, but he has little character beyond that.

And despite all the good things in BFF — and they are considerable — the big red doughnut hole in the center of the book holds it back considerably. I want to like the book more, but when Clifford Rex galumphs onto the page, the book’s development grinds to a halt for an action set piece, robbing Lunella’s story of momentum.

It’s not the artist’s fault those action scenes make the book drag, though. Natacha Bustos does a great job: her art is so clear, so precise, so … perfect. Her designs for the Killer Folk are great and make them a treat every time they show up. Occasionally, I find I have questions — how old are Lunella and her classmates, exactly? How did the fire at school start? (After I puzzled out that it was the careless use of matches in the girls’ bathroom, I was left with the question of how a porcelain floor catches fire and burns a classroom some distance away, but that’s a script problem, most likely.) Colorist Tamra Bonvillain gives the book a bright, optimistic color scheme that’s perfect for a young genius.

The brief appearance of the new Hulk in #4 is a separate problem from the rest of the book. Reeder and Montclare do their best to make the Cho Hulk unsympathetic: he’s vain, too cocksure, and learns nothing, which is always a problem for an intelligent protagonist. I realize they were trying to make Cho another adult who won’t listen to or help Lunella, forcing her to rely on her own wits to survive, but I’m also assuming their characterization of the new Hulk is accurate. If so, they considerably dampened my desire to read Totally Awesome Hulk, v. 1: Cho Time. I suppose Cho’s unappealing presence could be seen as a survival strategy for Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, driving the audience away from a competing new book.

I want to like Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, but I can’t help but think the book would be better off if Lunella was cut loose from the “Moon Girl” nonsense and Devil Dinosaur and left to her own devices. I’ll probably pick up v. 2, but that’s mostly because of the cliffhanger at the end of BFF

Rating: Devil Dinosaur symbol Devil Dinosaur symbol Devil Dinosaur symbol (3 of 5)

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