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I knew very little about Moon Girl going into this book. I was aware she was EC Comics’ only superhero created by none other than Max Gaines, the “father of the modern comic book,” in the late 1940s. He’d left All-American Comics, where he published the (not coincidentally) very similar Wonder Woman and started his own line—Educational Comics, specializing in wholesome genre tales. After Gaines’s tragic death, the company was inherited by his son Bill, who would take their magazines in a drastically different direction and cement EC Comics’ place in history as the home of Tales from the Crypt and Crime SuspenStories.
It’s easy to tell from the stories and from the notorious name changes of Moon Girl’s magazine that the younger Gaines had no idea what to do with the character. The first issue went out under the name Moon Girl and the Prince, referring to Prince Mengu, who definitely belongs high on any list of useless superhero sidekicks. For a few more issues it was simply Moon Girl, then when it became clear that the superhero fad was on a downturn and crime stories were on the rise, it became Moon Girl Fights Crime. Finally, Gaines retired the Moon Girl character quietly and revived the rag as a romance magazine. The hero’s name, however, lived on somewhat in the title: A Moon, a Girl…Romance. A few issues later, it became Weird Fantasy, one of the flagship anthology titles of the new EC, and the rest is history.
The original Moon Girl has never been reprinted, but some scans are available online (see below). The stories are fun and pulpy, but fairly mediocre, and they definitely don’t rank among the best work of their excellent creative team—writer Gardner F. Fox and penciller Sheldon Moldoff. There are a few clever send-ups to the old stories in this reboot miniseries from Red 5 Comics, but they aren’t indulgent and they don’t hinder the storytelling.
I’ll be honest: with Moon Girl, I expected just another drop in the bucket of superhero “revisionist” books with nothing more interesting to say than “Look! Superheroes can be screwed up too! Blood! Gore! Sex! Is this literature now?” This book could have easily been sunk by taking itself too seriously. Instead, it’s mercifully self-aware of the inherent absurdity of its genre. This comic is very dark and very violent, but it also has a brain.
Is it a masterpiece? Well, no, but it has a lot going for it. Rahzzah’s lush art is a feast for the eyes. He draws women a bit more buxom than is perhaps necessary, but they aren’t contorting themselves into the absurd Liefeld-esque positions that have become prevalent in far too many books nowadays. The action scenes are bizarre and sometimes hard to follow, but the internal logic keeps it on the rails. By the same token, Zito and Trov’s writing is hardly revolutionary, but they’ve conceptualized their world well. The scenes rarely drag, and while the occasional line of dialogue rings sour, I was only taken out of the story a few times, when the book’s villains would monologue about their political motivations. Which brings me neatly to the book’s events and themes.
Zito and Trov chose to tell their story nonlinearly. I’m not sure why. We’re thrown right into the thick of the action—the first panel is a splash page of Moon Girl punching her nemesis Satana through a window. This was not a particularly good first impression and I expected the rest of the book to be just another dull beat-em-up. Thankfully, I was proven wrong. As the action progressed and the world came into focus I found myself enthralled just trying to piece the puzzle together of these characters’ motivations and why all this was happening. Backstories are told through flashbacks, but I think with maybe a few issues more of breathing room the story would have been more effective if told from beginning to end.
Identity is a prominent theme in the story, with Moon Girl torn between her civilian guise of Clare Lune, her superhero career (which spawned a major counterculture movement), and her supposed past as Russian princess Klara Luna. By the end of the book, I wasn’t sure if the Russian backstory was true at all or just another false memory created by Satana, Sugar Plum Fairy, and Tiki Bob—three admittedly awesome and menacing “villains.” One thing this book makes clear in the generous bonus material that comes after the story—which includes an underground zine featuring pieces attributed to Sartre and Ginsberg—is that the counterculture movement which Moon Girl spawned is split into many factions with many motivations. The hero and villain distinction is arbitrary and media-driven. That’s a cool idea. But I wish that facet of the world was explored more in the actual narrative rather than in the bonus section. What were all those other heroes up to?
With my first read, I found the ending to be rather sloppily mounted. Something happens to Moon Girl’s brain, then stuff blows up and Sugar Plum talks in circles about what being a superhero means. The last page felt like it should be uplifting with Clare and her friend Star driving off into a new life but I was still trying to parse what exactly just happened a few pages ago—I was no longer as connected to the work as before.
However, on my second read, a lot of subtleties became clear, and what I thought was a half-baked ending turned out to be rather poignant. This is a classic pitfall in superhero books as well as disaster films. All the action feels important, but if the story doesn’t give us an anchor to hold onto—usually a specific character’s perspective—it feels empty. Books like this that come to mind include Black Summer, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, and any of the big event books from DC or Marvel. On the flip side, when Grant Morrison was writing JLA there’d be an earth-threatening crisis every few issues. And Watchmen’s climax has become somewhat notorious for confusing readers. But those books both feature a well-rounded cast and themes that are made clear not through pedantic monologues but through character interactions and world development. Something I noticed while writing this is that I’ve read all of those aforementioned books twice, and the second readings were necessary to pull all the disparate pieces together. The same was true of Moon Girl.
As a revisionist superhero tale, Moon Girl is thought-provoking and sometimes devastatingly clever, particularly when taking into account the bonus material in the back. In fact, I actually recommend reading the bonus section first. As a work of art, the book has its faults but I don’t regret reading it at all and definitely think it’s worth your time. I just wanted more. I know brevity is the soul of wit, but in this case, even after I’d finished it and let the chapters coalesce into what turns out to be quite a complex and intelligent whole, I still felt like there was more story to be told. I give it a 3.6 out of 5.
As a self-contained work it is the only relevant continuity to itself, so yes.
Again, I recommend reading the expansive bonus section in the back of the book to get acquainted with this world before starting the story.
Also, here are some links to articles about the original Moon Girl with some story scans. The modern series does not take place in these old stories’ continuity or anything like that, but these articles are still helpful for contextualizing the work. And Sheldon Moldoff art is always worth a look.
If you want to read more from Johnny Zito and Tony Trov, they have also collaborated on a book called D.O.G.S. of Mars.