Marvel Comics' newest superhero is actually based on a very old idea

In 1978, Marvel legend Jack Kirby (co-creator of the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and countless other series) authored a short-lived series called Devil Dinosaur. The protagonists of the series were a red Tyrannosaurus Rex and his friend, Moon-Boy, a young caveman.

Just this week, Marvel announced Devil Dinosaur is going to make a comeback--with a new companion. This time around, the T-Rex will have a precocious pre-teen girl named Lunella Lafayette--nickname: Moon Girl--as a sidekick. Marvel assistant editor Emily Shaw told Entertainment Weekly that the idea for Moon Girl came from a conversation among the creative team. 

Referring to Marvel editor Mark Paniccia, she told EW, "Mark and I were talking about how whenever people come in with young kids, or even just for Mark's own kids, we don't have that many publications that we can give to people that have that broad reach." They wondered if Marvel could create something that both adults and kids would enjoy, something with a "Pixar feel." Slated for a November debut, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur takes place in contemporary Manhattan, as opposed to the original, which was set in an alternate universe where dinosaurs and cavemen co-existed.

Marvel's "new" series is proof that you can sometimes find gems when you revisit old ideas. The annals of design and innovation are filled with other examples of ideas that found a creative outlet years or decades after they were first suggested. 

As Inc.com columnist Stephen Key points out, one advantage is that a customer base for the idea already exists. In Marvel's case, Kirby's work is so venerated by comic fans that any new twist on his oeuvre receives a hearty welcome. Diehards had not forgotten about the original Devil Dinosaur. Just as the announcement of any new Star Wars movie will always draw the attention of longtime devotees, so it is with Kirby's work. That's an advantage Marvel has, by tweaking an older comic series to create a new one. 

Moreover, sometimes an idea is simply ahead of its time. One thing that has changed in the world of pop culture and entertainment since 1978 is Pixar. In addition to Pixar, the creative colossus known as Harry Potter has come along, establishing the "young adult" or YA category as a pivotal one in the realm of storytelling entertainments. YA titles like "The Fault in our Stars" have made a fashion of once-private teen and pre-teen idiosyncrasies. In this context, you can see why the timing is ideal for the launch of a character like Moon Girl. 

Nor are the examples confined to the realm of creative commerce (i.e. Marvel and the book industry). In her essay from 2009, "The Power of Old Ideas," Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter notes that many of Ford's green technologies date back to the 1940s. "Evidently Ford has known for a long time how to build lighter-weight steel bodies and direct injection engines. Some of these fuel-efficient, energy-saving ideas had already proven themselves in European cars," she writes in the Harvard Business Review

This observation prompts her to explore the question: If the solutions have been there all along, why weren't they used earlier? To be sure, sometimes the answer is simply a lack of leadership, or a weak culture around innovation, wherein the holders of the ideas--often rank-and-file employees--are hesitant to share it with those at the top.  

But in other cases, the answer is simply that the market was not ready. Green vehicles matter more to consumers today than they did in 2009. And they matter more in 2009 than they did in 1949. Likewise, the problems solved by sharing-economy companies like Uber and Airbnb have been problems for decades. What changed, enabling those companies to thrive, was consumer comfort with the mobile technology enabling scalable solutions to those problems. 

In a similar light, Marvel has recognized that the climate is ideal for mixing the timeless appeal of Devil Dinosaur with the 2015 demand for a YA character like Moon Girl. The lesson here is a basic reminder about the way ideas can evolve and come to light. Creativity is not always spontaneous or epiphanic. Sometimes it requires the combination of classical concepts with contemporary circumstances.

Published on: Aug 14, 2015