There’s a new super-genius on Marvel’s Earth

Lunella Lafayette is the smartest being on Earth, but now what?

Buzzfeed released an article from editor Mark Paniccia and the writing/art team of Amy Reeder, Natacha Bustos, Brandon Montclare, and Tamra Bonvillain, a new comic series, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, indicating their new character, 9-year-old Inhuman Lunella Lafayette will be considered as Marvel’s smartest super-genius.

She will be officially considered in Marvel canon as more intellectually capable than than all of the super-geniuses that have existed before her in the Marvel Universe. We are going to assume this is limited to geniuses found on Earth…

Why is this is a big deal? She is visually-portrayed as a person of dark skin color. Something rarely seen coming from Marvel’s House of Ideas until just recently. See: Riri Williams…

Riri Williams — the next Iron Man?

Mark Paniccia says:

“In the third arc of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Lunella faces an impossible half-dozen science-challenges that might not only prove her smarts, but also save the world. It’s also going to guest star some of Marvel’s biggest names, too. Hulk, Dr. Strange, the X-Men, The Thing and more.”

My take on Lunella Lafayette’s role in the MU:

While I am certain it is a great honor to be working on a character who is deemed the certified best at a particular thing, in the Marvel Universe super-intellect is everywhere and unlike super-strength, super-intellect is a challenge for writers to portray effectively and consistently over time.

Particularly since writers don’t usually possess superhuman intellect themselves, making the task of creating and keeping a character whose intellect is supposedly superior to their own, interesting and able to be related to, by readers.

You can’t throw a rock without hitting a genius at some degree in the Marvel Universe. Sadly, being the most intelligent Human/Inhuman in the Marvel Universe is not necessarily a useful metric. Raw intellectual capacity does not necessarily equal or exceed scientific or technological expertise garnered over time.

Thus while she may be, as defined by Marvel’s writers, the most intelligent Human in the Marvel Universe, it will be what she does with that intellect which defines just how smart we see her as.

The list of people she is eclipsing is long and unfortunately mostly White and male: This would include the accepted intellectual giants such as:

  • Reed Richards: super-scientist, inventor and explorer, with degrees in almost every science imaginable, he is the scientist other scientists go to for help. Discoverer of the Negative Zone (independently of Adam Brashear), creator of unstable molecules, holder of thousands of patents, traveler to other dimensions, leader of the Fantastic Four and the Future Foundation as well as parent to the most powerful mutant on Earth, Franklin Richards.
The First Family — The Fantastic Four
  • Adam Brashear: The world’s leading authorities on matter-antimatter scholarship, dimensional travel, discoverer of the Negative Zone (independent of Reed Richards) and discoverer of a fundamental material aspect of reality, ISO-8. He is quite the explorer as well, having traveled outside of reality itself and participate in converting Galactus from World-eater to Life-giver mode.
  • Tony Stark: A scientific, engineering technological genius, Stark has single-handedly created a device with hundreds of unique patents that when put together create arguably the most sophisticated exploration, environmentally sealed combat weapon platforms to have ever existed on Earth, his Iron Man armor. Until recently, few designers of technological armors could equal his designs, though many emulated them with varying degrees of success.
  • Bruce Banner: One of the world’s foremost authorities on gamma radiation, including how to weaponize it. He is also one of the authorities on gamma-induced mutation, the biology of as well as its presentation in various lifeforms. Recently he has perfected gamma-induced negation technologies helping to revert the gamma-afflicted to normal lives (in his Doc Green persona). Unfortunately, his history as the Hulk prevented him from maintaining his peak scholarly pursuits for many years.
  • Hank Pym: A creative genius whose scientific fields of endeavor span the map, including cybernetics, robotics, development of artificial intelligence, metahuman power generation, and his greatest creation, the development of the Pym Particle principles, allowing his work to be adapted for the development of metahuman abilities such as size or density manipulation, increasing of superhuman strength, mass manipulation or phasing. Unfortunately his genius was coupled with bi-polar disorder which lead to short periods of irrationality and may have attributed to his ultimate demise at the hands of his greatest creation, Ultron.
Dr. Henry Pym in his various identities as Ant-Man, Giant Man, and Yellowjacket.
  • Stephen Strange: Master of the Mystic Arts — his is a science without science, he is the keeper of secrets about the mystical nature of the world, a skill set much harder to maintain and upgrade as the nature of magic is always evolving and in some cases may even be sentient and self-aware.
  • Black Panther: A curious mix of mind and body, the Black Panther fuses the perfect intellect in the perfect body. A master of dozens of scientific disciplines, he is responsible for leading Wakanda, a reclusive African nation whose scientific and cultural developments exceed every Human nation on Earth. Knowledgeable in realms scientific and magical through his spiritual connection to his ancestors and the Panther God, he is also the co-leader of the problem-solving team of Avengers called the Ultimates.
  • Amadeus Cho: A recent addition to the geniuses of the Marvel Universe, his mind is predisposed to see the Universe as a set of equations to be manipulated through his vast hyper-computing capacity. Cho is capable of rapidly and without mechanical aid perform an infinite number of unimaginable complex and simultaneous calculations, in his mind with minimal stimuli. He can alter those streams of information making it possible for him to affect the outcome in real time. He also possesses limitless information storage and retrieval, enhanced pattern solving/recognition, extremely high perception and observational skills, perfect deductive/reasoning skills and investigative skills, superhuman strategic/tactical analytical skills, and an eidetic memory. Currently he has absorbed Banner’s gamma-mutation, controlled it and is now capable of becoming the Hulk at will.
Amadeus Cho and his mental hypercomputing display.
  • Dr. Leonard Samson: A long-time gamma-irradiated being, Doc Sampson has had the rare distinction of being able to study gamma-irradiation and its effects on biology for decades, with funding and resources almost always at his disposal. He is likely the one of the most accessible authorities on Gamma mutation on Marvel Earth.
  • Professor Charles Xavier: A genius and a telepath, Charles Xavier is one of the worlds foremost authority on the mutant gene, its effects on the Human species and working with those who have mutant abilities. Multiple doctorates in genetics, biophysics, psychology, and anthropology, and holding an M.D. in psychiatry, Charles spent his life trying to find ways for mutants and humans to co-exist. He was one of the few scientists on this list who had communication skills as well-developed as his mind.
  • Dr. Henry McCoy: Despite his brutish appearance, Henry is a genius whose expertise is as both a theoretical and practical scientist who has experimented with the mutant genome extensively. He has worked with both the Avengers and the X-men as the resident technological and medical genius, working on everything from advanced alien technology to the deadly mutant-killing Legacy Virus.
  • Arim Zola: a practical scientist, this villainous genius is a master of biological, genetic engineering and cloning technologies. His expertise has no equal; he is capable of cloning bodies and transferring his client’s consciousness between them. He has given himself a form of immortality as well, making it possible to move his own consciousness between bodies automatically should he be killed.
  • The Wizard: Dr. Bentley Wittman grew up possessing near-superhuman levels of genius and, as an adult, became an inventor of great renown, selling his futuristic inventions to the wealthy and becoming quite rich. First using his technology as a stage magician, he would dabble in genetic engineering in order to successfully create a child with superhuman abilities. A technological specialist, the Wizard has created numerous scientific tools for his life of crime. He has also lead a number of villain teams, imitating his perceived rival Reed Richards. The Wizard discovered a low-power form of anti-gravity technology, unrealized by almost any other technologist on Marvel Earth. A master of numerous sciences and hundreds of dangerous inventions, he is the villain equivalent of Reed Richards, with his overwhelming ego his only weakness.
The Frightful Four (Thundra, Sandman, Paste-Pot Pete) gloating over their victory, lead by the Wizard.
  • The Leader: The Leader has superhuman mental acumen, as a result of his exposure to an explosion of gamma-irradiated waste. He possesses enhanced intuition, pattern solving, information storage and retrieval, and logical and philosophical structuring. His ability to predict probable outcomes of tactical and strategic scenarios is so advanced that it borders on clairvoyance. The Leader has a perfect memory with the ability to recall every moment since the accident that gave him his powers. In addition to his superhuman intelligence, the Leader has limited but potent telekinetic and telepathic powers. The Leader possesses knowledge of genetics, physics, and robotics, and has designed a large number of sophisticated weapons, vehicles, computers, androids, and synthetic humanoids. He is particularly adept at genetic engineering and manipulating radiation for various nefarious purposes.
  • Victor Von Doom: A man whose intellectual capacity and personal drive eclipses almost everyone on this list. He is both a master of science and magic, revealing himself recently to be quite capable of doing both quite easily. He has created hundreds of patents, lead an entire nation, created suit of powered armor rivaling Iron Man’s, created a functioning time machine and on more than one occasion ruled the entire Universe.

This is by no means an all-inclusive list either, just the ones I could name off the top of my head. Given these scientific, technological, inventive or creative luminaries have ruled the Marvel Universe for decades, Lunella’s raw intellectual capacity is no substitute for applied ability and life-times of scientific experience neither of which she should have at nine years of age.

What she is now is a template for greater scientific, creative or intellectual capacity to be brought forth through her experiences, her experimentation and her choices as she develops over time. This can only be accomplished with writers willing to accept her defined position as the smartest person on Earth and writing for that role.

Her existence will not supplant any of the previously named individuals as masters of their fields of endeavor, nor will it make her suddenly more useful to the Marvel Universe than any of these previously named individuals.

As we have seen so often in the real world, intellect without resources, support or guidance often goes to waste or is corrupted by people able to recognize it and use it for their own purposes.

Currently: If I want scientific exploration, an understanding of parallel dimensional theories, or support in any science at all, I will still likely seek out Reed Richards.

If I need that scientific help to include some magical support and expertise, I will seek out Victor Von Doom as an authority both in science and magic coupled with his experience as a supreme being for a time, making him extremely knowledgeable about the underlying structure of the Universe at large.

If I want information on mutation, how it works, the underlying science of it, I will still seek out the work of Hank McCoy, Charles Xavier or Moira McTaggart as the premiere scientists of such work.

As an Inhuman, she may have technological resources among their people which could equal or surpass these luminaries but it would not make her superior to them in their already existing expertise.

Nor would it supplant the centuries of expertise from being such as Apocalypse, Immortus/Kang, or Mr. Sinister who have studied mutation in some instances for millennia using alien technologies as well.

Yes, it is a good thing we are seeing a woman of color being recognized as a scientific prodigy (two in fact since the famed Riri Williams is also super-intelligent, so much so she created her own suit of Iron Man-like armor from scratch) so this is adding much to the palette of both color and gender that Marvel has overlooked for generations of readers.

What this will mean to the Marvel Universe remains to be seen, since under-realized genius is par for the course as far as characters of color are concerned. Amadeus Cho, one of Marvel’s more recent additions as a person of color is still finding his feet in the Marvel Universe.

Lunella Lafayette may indeed save the world with her abilities, but can she make lasting changes in the Marvel Universe with said super-genius should be the actual question. Will she be shown to make lasting creations, will she be known for some permanent story element which helps to define the boundaries of the Marvel Universe as many of these geniuses listed above.

Unrealized genius and intellectual potential is the greatest failure of the Marvel Universe. It was almost 50 years before Peter Parker got up off his butt and created Parker Industries.

This was the same man, who as a teenager, discovered how to create his web-shooting wrist projectors capable of creating a webbing that entangles, restrains, binds and holds perfectly for an hour and yet disappears without a trace. If writers had seriously considered its potential, most of the police forces in the Marvel Universe would start their interactions with super-villains with this technology, patented, of course, by Parker Industries.

Yes, we recognize the primary issue with such patents; they make the world less like the one we live in, so superheroes rarely get rich off of the patents which their singular developments make real. This means Iron Man doesn’t sell his armor designs, Spider-Man doesn’t sell his web-spinning tech, and Doctor Doom doesn’t build micro-reactors in Latveria making it an energy-independent nation.

As far as her intellectual ranking in the Marvel Universe, talk to me in a few years when she gets a few documented feats and lasting examples of her awesomeness. Have her build something important, have her create something the rest of the Marvel Universe hasn’t been able to perfect. Have her envision and create something which makes the Marvel Universe a significantly better place.

Then we can talk about how amazing she is. Right now, it is all potential — what she might be in the future and the Marvel Universe, its writers and editors have a long way to go before I get excited about her being the smartest girl in the Marvel Universe, wearing glasses or not.

The Answer-Man’s Archives are a collection of my articles discussing superheroes and their powers in relationship to their respective universes. We deconstruct characters, memes, profiles and how superheroes relate to real world culture. You can find other Archives on Quora and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Stack Exchange or at The World According to Superheroes.

In my role as a comic historian, I review the histories of comic characters and analyze how they relate to their Universe and how their relationships are often mirrored in our own world’s views, politics and cultures.

Thaddeus Howze is a writer, essayist, author and professional storyteller for mysterious beings who exist in non-Euclidean realms beyond our understanding. You can follow him on Twitter or support his writings on Patreon.