At first, you think you know what you're getting in the first issue of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #1: adorable girl genius befriends crimson T-Rex for eventual hijinx. Then you get to page 8 and a very bleak moment adds a grim undercurrent to everything.
The main character of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur — out last week by the creative team of Brandon Montclare, Amy Reeder, Natacha Bustos, Tamara Bonvillain and Travis Lanham — is elementary student Lunella Lafayette. She's cut from the same mould as a lot of classic Marvel characters: she's preternaturally gifted with an above-average intelligence, gets teased at school for being different and has parents that love her but don't quite get her.
Some of the set dressing and dialogue tells readers about her burning aspiration to get into a better school, like the Future Foundation run by the Fantastic Four.
But, the pressing reason that Lunella wants in on a superhero learning environment gets revealed in the first third of the book.
Lunella's been going on nighttime excursions to find alien technology. The newspaper text references the Terrigen Mists currently wafting over the earth in Marvel continuity. The mists are an airborne mutagen that changes normal people with genetically manipulated DNA in Inhumans, a race of beings with superpowers and freakish appearances. (There was a time when new heroes were mostly classified as mutants. But Marvel's new psuedo-science explanation for their super-characters is a response to the lack of control over media rights to their mutant characters like the X-Men.) Lunella's first-person narration — 'If I don't stop what's inside me pretty soon here, I won't be a real human' — seems to tease that she knows that she has Inhuman DNA that would be activated by Terrigen exposure. Her fear of an eventual eruption into a weird new form appears to be what drives her.
It's a chilling beat in what's otherwise a peppy, young-adult-friendly comic: the main character dreads the possibility that may never become a real adult. It's the opposite of the power-fantasy wish fulfillment in series like Ms. Marvel, where a young woman getting Inhuman superpowers is living a dream come true. By the end of the issue, Lunella collides with the thunder lizard that will be her titular partner — who's an old character created by the legendary Jack Kirby — and the plot gets back to the comedic tones that are dominant throughout. It will be interesting to see how the book's creators will balance an odd-couple cross-species action/comedy with Lunella's pre-pubescent existential angst.