All The Best Comics are Self-Referential

I am slowly making my way through the entire Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur series. I mentioned earlier, with a respectful nod of the head to another comic book blogger based in Scotland, Moon Girl is My Elvis. I have her picture as my home screen on my phone and I have been sending her collected works to my niece. I mostly adore her because she is a good role model for children, unlike Enid Blyton who is apparently still being read in schools despite being a nasty racist, and the comic book throws in a bit of science every so often (the explanation of evolution was superb) and its initial exploration of friendship made me do a cry, and wander about the house moaning that I didn’t like it when they put Devil Dinosaur in a cage.

Although I do read DC and other comic books (I even read those special comic books that are for brainy people and are called graphic novels), I am pretty much a Marvel Zombie. I am invested in the Marvel Universe and the Marvel approach (it is a kind of melodramatic naturalism, a concept that needs a PhD to be properly explained), and I have even read Marvel: The Untold Story which is a sad catalogue of copyright battles and corporate conflict. And the best Marvel stories use their universe to enhance the individual titles, whether that is the old team-up trick or the thrill of recognition when a familiar trope turns up (I always love it when Hulk and The Thing are in the same issue. It’s a matter of time before they have an inconclusive fight to decide who is the strongest).

However, as readers of X-statix or Watchmen already know, a great comic has to include either a self-conscious deconstruction of the medium or a commentary on the relationship between the fans and the artwork. In Moon Girl #24, she finally enters the pantheon.

During the 1980s, Chris Claremont introduced a group of characters known as The X-Babies. Having read about the conflicts in the Marvel Bullpen at the time, I reckon that he was parodying the company’s insistence on generating more X-Men comics to cash in on their commercial success (which he felt detracted from the high seriousness of his run on the comic, but he would still insist on writing as many of the spin-offs as he could manage). The X-Babies featured in Mojo World, a planet that was run by TV networks. The whole caper was hugely self-referential and, although I didn’t think much of the story (like Claremont, I took the X-Men pretty seriously and superhero humour rarely hits the mark for me), I’m sure I’ll get around to looking at it in detail because it proves my point about self-referentiality.

Moon Girl takes a shortcut by using a ready parody, but #24 has her turn up in Mojo World. Here is the scene where Mojo, the top executive, explains it to Moon Girl.

mojo

There have been quite a few sardonic references in the previous issues (especially just as Amy Reader was about to live to concentrate on her creator-owned characters) that Moon Girl represents a ‘new Marvel’, but this is getting bold. They even go so far as to mock the previous market dominance of the X-Men titles.

x-menmojo

It is not just a commentary on the ascendance of MG: it is subverting the trope of ‘finding a new partner’. Then we get a bit where the fans ask about the details of a plot and the science behind her gizmos. Yes, very good, MG has fans who are half-geek, half-paparazzi.

Actually, the tone feels really off. Looking at the letter pages, the MG team has worked hard to make the fans feel included (because MG is so consciously a ‘role model’ and an attempt to woo new readers to the comic book superhero, they publish fan-art and pictures of cosplayers. There is a lot of warmth there. It’s not X-Statix, which had a load of friction with the fans who were pissed that Pete Milligan had replaced the 1990s’ macho posturing of X-Force with a postmodern pastiche that was more interested in satirising celebrity that serious sub-plots about secret societies or vapid allegories of racism).

Then there is a bit that turns Ghost-Rider into a comedy guest. It’s odd. Ghost-Rider is so very 1970s, all flaming skull and ‘look the Comics Code lets us talk about Satan now’ bravado. But a joke about him having bones instead of feet doesn’t land.

And the joke about Daredevil being blind?

Oh right, I see, they are going for characters who have a conceptual relationship to Devil Dinosaur. And they have different artists doing each episode. It’s a fill-in issue.

Back to self-referentiality. It is at the heart of the comic book, to such an extent that when Moon Girl finally offers a weak issue that seems to be bridging the gap between two longer stories, it is an easy way to maintain some kind of continuity and apparent importance.

Although I doubt that anything apart from the appearance on the last page of The Thing and The Human Torch will ever be referenced again.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s