When an artist carousel actually works: Review of Moon Knight (2016) #6-9

These four issues constitute a story arc of their own (titled “Incarnations”), the end of which is also marked by Greg Smallwood’s return as the sole artist from the next issue on, so it makes sense to review them now.

Language: English
Authors: Jeff Lemire (writer); Greg Smallwood, Wilfredo Torres, Francesco Francavilla & James Stokoe (artists); Jordie Bellaire & Michael Garland (colourists)
Publisher: Marvel
Pages per issue: 20
Price per issue: $3.99
Website: http://marvel.com/comics/series/20488/moon_knight_2016_-_present

Previously in Moon Knight: Moon Knight has escaped from the mental asylum but then met his patron god Khonshu, fell out with him, jumped from a pyramid, passed out and awoke in his Steven Grant persona. He is producing a film starring his girlfriend Marlene as the female lead. Everything seems fine and the last panel of issue #5 shows a smiling Steven.

And here his troubles begin. Our protagonist keeps involuntarily changing in and out of his identities, and his surroundings change with him. Everywhere he is haunted by incarnations of his tormentors at the mental asylum, nurses Bobby and Billy and psychiatrist Dr Emmet. And also by werewolves from outer space.

Neither Moon Knight nor the readers know which reality is actually the real one. The guest artists reduce the subtlety somewhat, but it is also an interesting gimmick that each of Moon Knight’s personas/realities is drawn by different artists: taxi driver Jake Lockley by Francesco Francavilla, film producer Steven Grant by Wilfredo Torres and Michael Garland, and space pilot Marc Spector by James Stokoe.

So how exactly does this brilliant device of switching back-and-forth between identities work? Jeff Lemire employs a variety of ways to do this, but let’s take a closer look at the beginning of this arc in issue #6. The first panel (art by Torres and Garland) shows Moon Knight in his old cape fighting some villain in what looks like ancient Egypt. So far, this could be a classic Moon Knight story. In the second panel though, a speech bubble is partly obscured by a boom microphone, and on the following double page we learn that this was only a Moon Knight film being shot, produced by Steven Grant. The name of the leading actor though, whose face we never get to see, is Marc Spector – the real name of the real Moon Knight!

panel from Moon Knight #6

On page 5, Steven and Marlene enter a taxi and talk about a fundraising event at a mental hospital (because their film “explores some real themes… identity, mental illness”), which of course later turns out to be the hospital where Moon Knight was detained earlier. The last panel on this page contains a caption: “Steven Grant is too soft for what comes next…”, and on the next page (from now on drawn by Francavilla) their taxi driver turns out to be Jake Lockley! After he has dropped Steven and Marlene off, he meets his friend Crawley, who remembers the events from the first arc (the escape from the mental hospital) but Jake can’t.

Crawley tells Jake on p. 9, “You’re in the hospital right now”, then disappears. Jake opens the trunk of his taxi where he keeps his Moon Knight costume. The following page is drawn by Torres and Garland again, and on the first panel we see Steven Grant looking at his dinner suit (which looks not unlike Moon Knight’s ‘Mr Knight’ costume) on his bed from the same perspective. Apparently he and Marlene are getting ready for their fundraising party at the hospital. Steven is confused and says to Marlene, “I – I was somewhere else! I was in this cab and there was this man, this old man with white hair, and he told me – he told me I was in a mental hospital.”

2 panels from Moon Knight #6

Marlene answers, “Have you been taking your meds? […] You remember last time you got off, how you got.” So (according to this version of Marlene) Steven is mentally ill, which would explain the Jake Lockley scene as Steven’s delusion. But Steven doesn’t even remember being on medication at all.

And so it goes on. It’s a joy for the reader to gradually realise on how many levels the various realities are intertwined, and how they all contradict each other. Until issue #9 when Moon Knight, in his Mr Knight outfit and drawn by Greg Smallwood and Jordie Bellaire again, confronts his other three personas, defeats or makes peace with them, and they vanish.

The “Incarnations” story arc was one wild ride, and if Lemire, Smallwood and Bellaire keep up their good work in the next arc, Moon Knight will surely be the best current Marvel comic, now that The Vision has ended.

Rating: ● ● ● ● ○

Fun with Google Scholar’s citation tracker

It’s always interesting to keep track of references to one’s publications by using Google Scholar’s “My Citations” feature. Not only does it tell you which publications have received the most citations so far, it also tells you who has referenced them in which text. This can give you a clearer picture of how people read, understand, and use your publications.

I consider myself still very much at the beginning of my scholarly career, so unsurprisingly Google Scholar lists only two citations to my publications, both for my 2010 journal article “Authorship, Collaboration, and Art Geography”. It turns out that these two citations are quite different.

The first citation is from the 2011 article “Comics and the Graphic Novel in Spain and Iberian Galicia” by Antonio J. Gil González. The sentence which contains the reference reads:

“Until the mid-twentieth century, comics were understood as a genre of popular culture, but since the 1970s they have come to be viewed more and more as an avant-garde genre (see, e.g., de la Iglesia; on sexuality in comics, see, e.g., Peters).”

However, my referenced article doesn’t make the claim that comics have become an avant-garde genre. In contrast, the comic I analyse there is Marvel’s 2006 “event” miniseries Civil War, a mainstream comic if there ever was one. The reference to Brian Mitchell Peters’s article on “sexuality in comics” seems odd, too. The most likely explanation why Gil González references these two apparently irrelevant publications is: all three articles, Gil González’s, Peters’s, and mine, have been published in the same journal. Naturally, it is disappointing to be cited in such a way, that is, for reasons other than the relevance of the content of the referenced text.

I was all the more delighted about the way in which “Authorship, Collaboration, and Art Geography” has been referenced in a dissertation titled Truth, Justice, and the American Way? The Popular Geopolitics of American Identity in Contemporary Superhero Comics (PDF) by Mervi Miettinen at the University of Tampere. In her chapter on Civil War, she repeatedly references, paraphrases and sums up my observations on this comic, which are clearly relevant to her work.

I have to end this post with a caveat, though: as informative as the Google Scholar citation listings are, they are by no means complete (and sometimes they contain erroneous citations, but that’s another story). For instance, my 2007 IJOCA article “Geographical Classification in Comics” is referenced in the book The Media: An Introduction, the full text of which is even indexed in Google Books (including the list of referenced works), but Google Scholar fails to recognise this as a citation.