Was Moon Knight worth the publishing effort? Review of #9-12

cover from Moon Knight #10

Language: English
Authors: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Alex Maleev (artist)
Publisher: Marvel
Pages: 20
Price: $3.99
Website: http://marvel.com/comic_books/series/10639/moon_knight_2010_-_present

Shortly after my previous review of Moon Knight, I learned that the series was going to be cancelled with issue #12. Which wasn’t much of a surprise, given the low sales figures: the first eight issues are estimated to have sold little more than 30.000 copies on average. This review will cover the last four issues.

Previously in Moon Knight: Issue #8 ended with a cliffhanger suggesting that Count Nefaria, the villain of this series, was going to attack Moon Knight and his sidekick/love interest Echo.

Issue #9 indeed delivers this fight, and not much else. But contrary to what might be expected, this is a really good issue – easily the strongest of the series, and even generally speaking a fine comic book. This is due to a simple but striking concept: in flashbacks, we see his employee Buck Lime equipping Moon Knight with new weapons that imitate the fighting techniques of his multiple personalities (Spider-Man, Captain America and Wolverine). Following each of these flashbacks, Moon Knight puts his new tools to use against Nefaria. In the end, Nefaria kills Echo (talk about women in refrigerators), but is himself defeated by Moon Knight. What makes this comic book stand out from most others is that it is almost self-contained, and could probably be enjoyed without any knowledge of past (or future) issues of the series.

However, issue #10 isn’t half as compelling. The villain Nefaria is replaced by his daughter, “Madame Masque”. A lame introduction of a lame character (apparently also created in the 60s by Stan Lee).

Issue #11 basically consists of the fight between Moon Knight and said Madame Masque, giving Alex Maleev ample opportunity to display his knowledge of female anatomy. One of the low points of this series.

In the final issue, Nefaria is back to fight Moon Knight, but finally, the Avengers come to the rescue. In an unassuming and somewhat awkward scene, Nefaria is knocked out by Thor. In the end, we get three more pages of Moon Knight as his alter ego Marc Spector, the TV producer, saying “I’d rather die in a robot holocaust than spend another second in Hollywood.” This is the kind of media satire I would have liked to see more of. The series ends with the announcement, “Moon Knight will return in… The Age of Ultron”, which sounds like another “event” that I can’t say I’m excited about.

So what to make of this short-lived series? Was it something worth reading, and thinking and blogging about, or will it go down as merely a footnote in Marvel publishing history? Within the oeuvre of Brian Michael Bendis, who is currently shaping the Marvel universe in the current Avengers VS X-Men crossover, it surely isn’t more than that. For Alex Maleev, who doesn’t seem to have been doing much else apart from Moon Knight lately, this commercial (and, let’s face it, artistic) failure could be more severe. Some of his panels and pages in this series betray an unacceptable sloppiness, though others show a great deal of talent. I guess we haven’t seen the last of this artist yet.

Still, this series has something going for it: it is very much self-contained and will be collected in two trade paperbacks, and the creative team of Bendis and Maleev stayed the same throughout the entire twelve issues. That makes this series a compact, homogeneous work – an almost closed system still rooted in the Marvel universe that could thus lend itself to scholarly analysis. I even believe that these two Moon Knight volumes might be a suitable introduction to the world of superhero comics for someone who has seen a recent Marvel film and now wants to give a Marvel comic a try. However, fans of the Moon Knight character will probably find it hard to see this series as anything other than a step backwards from the previous Moon Knight series.

Rating: ● ● ○ ○ ○

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Review: Moon Knight #6-8

Language: English
Authors: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Alex Maleev (artist)
Publisher: Marvel
Pages: 20
Price: $3.99
Website: http://marvel.com/comic_books/series/10639/moon_knight_2010_-_present

Issue #9 came out this week, but I won’t get it until the end of the month, so here’s a review of issues #6, #7 and #8.

Previously in Moon Knight: Marc Spector is the incarnation of the Egyptian deity Khonshu… No, wait, that doesn’t play any role in this series. Clearly, Brian Michael Bendis isn’t interested in the mystical aspects of his character. So let’s just say Marc Spector is just like Bruce Wayne: a rich playboy who dresses in a cloak at night to beat up people, equipped with some technological gadgets, close combat skills and a mild psychosis.

It’s not a new idea to have the mentally unstable Marc Spector imagine people that are not there, but in comparison to the Huston/Finch run of Moon Knight (a.k.a. the 2006 series), these hallucinations are used in a lighter and sometimes even humorous manner here, and allow Bendis to constantly feature the high-profile superheroes Captain America, Spider-Man and Wolverine.

In issue #6, however, the real Avengers pay Spector a visit. This could have been a really funny scene, but Spector isn’t all that much confused about it. In the same issue, we finally get to see the villain  – a caped figure who has to wear a monocle to make clear he’s evil. He’s powerful enough to effortlessly burn the entire underling villain team Night Shift to ashes, which raises the question why he needed to employ them – or his sub-boss Snapdragon, or anyone – in the first place.

This villain is revealed to be Count Luchino Nefaria in #7, a somewhat ridiculous character that apparently was created by Stan Lee in the 60s, which explains why he seems so old-fashioned and out of place in this book. The colorist (previously Matthew Wilson) is Matt Hollingsworth now, but apart from that, the transition between #6 and #7 is seamless, so Bendis doesn’t “write for the trade” here.

By issue #8, Nefaria’s first name has changed from “Luchino” to “Lucino”. Maybe both Spector and Detective Hall, who say “Lucino” throughout this issue, got his name wrong. Either that, or it’s just sloppy scripting and/or lettering. In terms of the story, Bendis picks up two motifs here that probably both the readers and Bendis himself had almost forgotten about: Spector’s day job as a TV producer, and police corruption. However, the last page suggests there will be more fisticuffs again in the next issue.

So what else is wrong with Moon Knight? A lot. For instance, I’m tired at this point of Bendis’s dialogues, this blend of verbosity and shorthand, these confusing and annoying repetitions, e.g.: Echo: “Who’s this?” – Spector: “This is Buck.” – Buck: “I’m Buck.” (#8); or: Spector: “You have the whole damn Quinjet out there!” – Captain America: “It’s cloaked.” – Spider-Man: “We got our cloak on.” (#6) Then there are all those flat and dull characters, like Echo, whose superpower is to be a stripper and Spector’s love interest. Oh, and she’s deaf. But deaf in pretty much the same way as Daredevil is blind, i.e. her senses work just fine except when the writer wants to use their failure as a plot device. The following dialogue says a lot about the book’s attitude towards Echo’s deafness: Echo: “Take off your Mask when you talk to me, genius.” – Spector: “Deaf, right. Sorry. You just don’t act deaf.” – Echo: “Now what the hell does that mean?” – Spector: “It means either you can’t take a compliment or I can’t give one.” (#8) I can imagine Echo must be an insult for deaf readers, just as Spector must be an insult for readers suffering from real schizophrenia. As for the art: I do like Alex Maleev’s style, but he must be the laziest artist in the industry. I find myself looking for instances of copy-and-pasted panels in every issue, but Maleev doesn’t really try to hide it. In issue #8, there’s even a sequence of five photocopied panels, in which only the foreground and background are changed. I don’t know why, but somehow I feel cheated if not every single panel in a comic book is drawn individually.

On the plus side, Moon Knight is not only a typical (almost archetypical) superhero comic, it’s also often self-referential, both about Moon Knight’s place in the Marvel Universe (Snapdragon: “one C-list crazy super hero”, #6) and the genre in general (Spector: “Did you really think I was normal? Do you think that any of us… any of the costumes are normal? We’re all crazy.”, #7). I also like the fact that the series is self-contained. There are hardly any references to the crossover events going on in other Marvel books, so it’s easy to follow if, like me, you don’t read any other current Marvel titles. Is Moon Knight the best series to read if you want to know what a Marvel comic looks like in 2011/12? I almost hope I’m missing something.

Rating: ● ● ○ ○ ○