On September 14, 2016, Black Girl Nerd published a blog post entitled An Open Letter to Marvel. Black Girl Nerds is a great group of mostly female geeks of color and creators of an awesome podcast, a YouTube channel, website and blogs I found a few month into 2016. Black Girl Nerd’s article is mainly about the current state of Misty Knight’s costume and the broader issue at how comics continue to be target towards one demographic and ignores others that have always existed. I happen to agree with 99% of what they said. Where I disagree is on the subject of new Marvel character, Lunella Lafayette aka Moon Girl in one of the best titles to come out of the whole Secret War thing, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur.
The Moon Girl Argument
Let me start off by saying I come to this with an implicit bias. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur is one of my current favorite books and, as I’m to understand how these things work, it’s in danger of cancellation. Issue #10 did not crack the top 100 in sales in August 2016 selling just shy of 12,00 copies. In my head that does not sound like a reason to have a book canceled considering selling for $3.99 an issue 12,000 would at least be making it nearly $48,000 monthly. Unfortunately I don’t get to decide these things. Within this context that I wanted to reply to the following from their article:
“Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur brought me tears of joy when I first learned about the title. I could not contain my excitement when the first issue was placed lovingly into my waiting hands. I devoured the first two issues just so happy to have this little girl in my life, but there was something nagging at me the entire time. It wasn’t until Issue #4 when I realized what it was: Lunella’s relationship with her parents. I was Lunella as a child: independent; opinionated; coke bottle glasses; “nerd” carrying heavy books to and from school; advanced placement and gifted programs; and often the only melanin-infused person in my classes. But the difference stopped there because Lunella’s interaction with her parents shows a lack of cultural awareness and understanding on the part of the two Caucasian writers.“
“. . .Reading how Lunella would be gone all times of the day and out all night only to return home and have her parents look a little worried but mainly just go about their day was a slap in my face. Never would this behavior been tolerated in my home because of fear of what could happen to me in a world where I am seen as “less than” anyway. There would be a lot more worry from the adults and more questions about where I’d been. Being gifted and a genius did not allow me to disrespect my family and disregard their well-being. I allowed a Caucasian co-worker to read each issue of this series so I could test a theory. After reading each issue, she would say to me “…it seems like Lunella is a Black child adopted into a white home, but this comic shows her as having two Black parents…. where is the parents’ outrage and concern?” These were the exact questions I’d asked myself, so it was interesting having them placed back at me proving my theory: it is not possible for two Caucasian writers to understand what it is like to be a female child of African ancestry growing up in America and almost impossible to know what it’s like being that child and being gifted. . .“
To be fair this is not the only place I’ve heard the parent argument, and it’s here where I disagree. It is true that there are major differences between white families and people of color, and I don’t happen to think that white writers are qualified to always write black characters, but that’s another bag of worms entirely. But it is a fact that Luke Cages status was elevated by a white writer. Misty Knight was created by a white writer and her 1970’s dialogue tended to show that. As a kid in the 1970’s I wanted to meet white writers and tell them no one in any black neighborhood said the words “jive turkey.” As a person of color I am concerned with how black characters are portrayed and I’m old enough to have lived through the era when black spin-offs of white heroes had to have the “black” qualifier in their super hero names. (Black Canary used to confuse me a bit when I was a kid because of this.) I know the joke about the black being one of the first to die in almost any movies was not a joke, and even a conservative black adopted by liberal white parents knew immediately when black dialogue is being written by a white writer.
I actually found Lunella Lafayette to be a refreshing character and her book a lot of fun. It’s obvious that she’s Reed Richards smart in the Marvel world andut that genius is translated to a girl her age. I’m against the whole Inhumans thing because I believe Marvel is making a huge misstep in trying to make them the new X-Men. (See: Dear Marvel; Inhumans Will Never be a Thing.)
Do You Know Where you Child Heroes Are?
The problem I have is I think a there a level of expectation put on Moon Girl that is not put other character. Because when it comes to kid super heroes or main characters one of the tropes is they are able to always do what ever they do despite parents.
Take Pokemon. Ash is a 10 year old boy who is sent to find and catch extremely dangerous animals for the purpose of having those animals fight each other so he can be declared a champion. He’s followed by two other Tweener children who encounter people of various ages and no one says a thing about the 10 year old and his slightly old partners walking about with a yellow mouse with the power to shoot lightening bolts up your ass. Who in this day and age would let their children wonder the land meeting all kinds of people? Not to mention they are constantly being attacked by two teenagers that are a bit too Cersi and Jamie for my tastes with a talking cat who also happens to be one of those extremely dangerous animals.
How about Johnny Quest whose constantly going off with his slav. . .I mean “sidekick” Hadji. They get into danger, have adventure and when you think about it are the cause of 80% of the problems Johnny’s father problems. Considering Dr. Quest also goes into a job or adventure that constantly puts his life in danger you’d think he’d leave Johnny home more.
Or even Scooby Doo. Where are these kids parents? These guys are always on the news hunting down creepy men in creepy places. They drive around in a weed van and think that their dog can talk. No one is signing the orders of commitment on these guys?
Okay, let’s look at your average comic
Power Pack & Shazam
Billy Batson is either a very young boy or a teenager, depending on his depiction. He’s an orphan that was once a paper boy. In the 1940’s I guess that was fine since paper boy was a thing, but in today’s world a kid in the system who constantly vanished for days while his alter ego took down one mega-threat after the other would raise some eyebrows. At least have the occasional amber alert issued. The Justice League often knows he’s a kid but allows him on their adventures anyway because. . .reasons.
Power Pack were children ages 5 thru 12 who were given powers by an alien named “Whitey” (I know. . .I know) in order to protect their father from being hurt by another group of aliens called “Snarks” but also to stop his experiment from blowing up the planet. They had adventures that took them around the world and into outer space, often sneaking out to do super hero stuff. There was a point in their series, that ran for 62 issues, where they came across drug addiction and prejudice, and some of the adventures were far more adult for a book about little kid super heroes. The main thing is despite all of that to this day the Powers parents never got a clue that their little darlings were off fighting Dr. Doom with Captain America. They even grew them up at a point and had them joining adventures with the X-Men, New Mutants, New Warriors and even the Runaways.
Really Real Realism. . . Wait, What?
It seems to me that what Black Girl Nerds are asking for is something I find coming from a lot of comic and sci-fi geeks, especially after the Noland era of Batman movies. Realism. I get that. Unlike Peter Parker, Miles Morales’ family is concerned about his constant absences and when his grades suffered they put their foot down. His father knows he’s a Spider-Man and in concerned about it but since he was an Agent of Shield doesn’t do much but advice him. His mother knows something is wrong but cannot put her finger on it. You’d think in a world where people become heroes by falling into vats of goo or being struck by alien lightening, or being exposed to a rolling mist of stuff that puts you into a weird cocoon and giving you crazy powers “might be super hero” would be on the list next to “might be taking drugs” or “running with the wrong crowd.” I know if I lived in the Marvel Universe I’d be search my teenager’s room for a bong or a super suit, just in case.
Because these are super hero stories and when you stop to think about it realism is not the first rule. If that were so wouldn’t most of these super people burn their eyes to ash when they shot that first laser from them? Shouldn’t Peter Parker have been in the hospital for the allergies and radiation sickness the spider bite caused? Gamma Rays are produced from nuclear explosions and above and would not turn anyone into a big strong green guy. In fact the proximity of Bruce Banner to that bomb should have turned him into an apocalypse shadow and killed Rick Jones within hours. The first two Nolan Batman movies were excellent, but there are no billionaires putting on bat suits and jumping off of skyscrapers. That shit would totally be on the news. We are not surrounded by space police with power rings, and dropping into a vat of chemicals kills you before it makes you fly or given you ghost white skin and a violent sense of humor.
These things are simply not real. You cannot expect but so much realism in super hero stories. That’s the point of them.
The trope of kid heroes, especially super heroes, is they get about despite their parents. With teenager there more of a slant on how their hero activities affect their lives. Mostly because missing homework or falling asleep in class is considered relatable within the context of teenage stories. However for the most part this is rarely addressed when it comes to kid heroes. The writers either have to bend over backwards in create situation where the kids can leave the house, fight a dragon then get home in time for dinner. With the Runaways the parents were the big bads for two volumes before the kids took them down, then it became a whole alien, mutants, road trip thing.
If we got real about it there would be no kid adventures. Dr. Quest would have left Johnny home after the second time he almost got killed. (We’d hope the first time, but Dr. Quest wasn’t always all there.) Power Pack would have had police looking for them after the first time they went to another dimension to fight another bad guy. How long would it take the UN and Amnesty Internation to start pointing at Japan’s practice of letting children hunt and throw balls at creatures that could tear them to shreds with a thought? Let alone allow them to have literal dog first on TV for the entertainment of the masses.
I think it’s asking the complete opposite of treating characters of color with some kind of respect if they are made to be any different than every other traditional kid lead since ever. In the real world even a teenager going off to fight crime would raise some suspicions but who wants a “Spider-Man get grounded” three part storyline? Why can’t Moon Girl be just like every other kid hero ever invented and get around doing super stuff despite her parents, who seem to be somewhat aware that she’s doing super stuff. It’s a kid super hero story, the parents being kinda-sorta oblivious goes with the territory. Otherwise there would be no adventures. Then you’d have to have the “Scooby Gang sues for emancipation” episode (or at least getting arrested for being detectives without a license), or Power Packs gets grounded and home schooled until they’re 30 comic series. Batman would be hunted down for endangering young boys (and getting a young girl killed at one point) and the Wizard in Shazaam would be arrested for. . .God knows.
There’s no fun in any of that. The first thing your kid super hero book has to be is fun.
Moon Girl is a genius, she’s adorable, she protects her area and has a big ass red dinosaur who she can put her mind into. I’d too would like to see a more diverse class and more diverse friends. The whole “needs white people to be relevant” gets a little tiring too when it comes to black characters. On the flip side Moon Girl is strong willed and independent. She obviously the smartest kid in the class. That’s fun and very refreshing. Of course the parents have to be somewhat excepting or extremely oblivious. If we told the truth a lot of parents of child super heroes would be facing lots of visits from child services, but that wouldn’t be any fun at all. (They did it in Fantastic Four, and look at where that book is now.) I say it’s about time we have a black child character who can stand on her own and have the exact same kind of unrealistic super adventures as everyone else. As I said before, these are super hero stories. As soon as they start flying realism has gone out the window.