Heroes stand as a representation of mankind’s need to deal with the forces surrounding it. They are the proof that humans could be strong, indomitable and fierce just as those forces they held in reverence and awe (see: Campbell 2004). One could bear his lot in life more easily knowing that somewhere out there there is, or at least there was, a fellow mortal who endured even greater tragedies, someone gifted with a titan’s strength, or a trickster’s wit, someone capable of opposing the forces against which the common man was powerless. Whether the said exceptional human was the champion of the gods, or their opponent bent on correcting some mistake they had made, in every culture across the globe we can find stories, legends and sagas detailing their trials and tribulations, all of them serving as an inspiration and a kind of a mold for the modern day superheroes.
(De)constructing the Heroic Archetype: Heroes and Superheroes in Classical Mythology and Contemporary American Graphic Novel (2018)
Well, yes, they do. Umberto Eco, in the limited Myth of Superman and Adorno (Prisms) observe that the superhero and the sporting hero both provide an opportunity for the subject of capitalist oppression to recognise a human potential that is generally excluded from the mechanical operations of twentieth century labour. Yet Adorno also recognised the irony of the sport industry, which maintains capitalistic hegemony while presenting this apparent alternative: as fans of football will easily recognise, the crowd matters less than the money and the spectacle of premier league games played without a crowd during the post-lockdown period in 2020 is a sharp reminder of who really matters in promoting the most popular sport in the UK.
The thing is, this hero sounds a lot like a steam valve to me: an opportunity to vent or fantasise but one that fails to lead to action. Radosevic is also ignoring the implicit class and gender bias of the myths, the absence of meaningful role-models for the individual or the collective. I am starting to believe that the hero is a negative influence.
Moon Girl is part of the contemporary Marvel strategy to diversify their heros. She is a young African-American woman, has trouble at school because she is too smart for the system. She pals up with a big dinosaur and is waiting on a huge personal change. That is, she got caught in the Terrigen Mist, a generic mcguffin that is used to create superheroes now that it is commonly recognised that getting bit off a spider doesn’t usually work. But, of course, the transformation she expects is also a metaphor. She is on the cusp of adolescence. I think she fits in with a bunch of new heroes, including Ms Marvel and Squirrel Girl, who are gathered under Marvel Rising on Disney +.
Moon Girl was adapted from one of Jack Kirby’s lesser inventions – Moon Boy, a prehistoric lad who made pals with a T-Rex and had a few unmemorable adventures. I was expecting to find plenty of trash-talk about how somebody had had their childhood ruined by this Social Justice Warrior transformation, but even Diversity in Comics – a vlogger who loves to give comic books a hard time for their supposed left-wing agenda – loves her.
While it is pretty easy to find some of the plot points that Campbell identifies (the call to action is a big deal for most superheroes), but Moon Girl doesn’t conform to Eco’s ideal of the fantasy figure. She is super-intelligent, but this is not respected by her school. She does have a massive mate in the dinosaur (her first collection was called BFF and made the notion of friendship a major theme), but she spends most of her time getting the big guy out of trouble. She is anxious, thoughtful, oppressed but brave and optimistic. She does manifest positive traits, she is a role-model but she is far from a classical hero proving Man’s Mastery Over Nature.
So, even after matching up her adventures to Campbell’s monomyth, Moon Girl tells a different kind of story, one that is aimed, perhaps, at young women and African-American children. She does not fit as a hero, even if the structure of her adventure does.
But she is my favourite hero, because I can relate to her struggles and because she offers a positive message of empowerment without reducing her adventures to predictable victories. I enjoy going on the emotional journey with her, and I actually did a big cry when Devil Dinosaur got arrested by the Hulk.
I, like, had catharsis, right? I was really upset when they were separated, and I cheered when Moon Girl went to rescue him. I don’t think I was engaging in a fantasy about the human’s ability to triumph over the capitalist hegemony (although I do think the battle against Hulk was an allegory for the battle of the ‘Marvel Rising’ stable to overcome the established hegemony of superheroes).
Radosevic isn’t necessarily misrepresenting the place of the hero, or at least an academic tradition of interpretation, but, in line with my current attack on the need for heroes, I’d say that it doesn’t take into account the way that stories, if they lack nuance or relevance, can be narcissistic power fantasies.