Review: Moon Knight (2014) #1-3

I’ve already reviewed the previous Moon Knight series from 2011-2012 on this weblog (in two posts, covering #6-8 and #9-12), so I thought I’d say something about the current one too.

Moon Knight (2014) #3Language: English
Authors: Warren Ellis (writer), Declan Shalvey (artist), Jordie Bellaire (colourist)
Publisher: Marvel
Pages: 20
Price: $3.99

Previously in Moon Knight: In the series written by Brian Michael Bendis, Marc Spector was working on a TV show in Hollywood, although on the last page Spector already announced he’d leave Los Angeles. He also was the masked vigilante Moon Knight, plus he had a split personality disorder.

In the new series, very little of that remains. All these things are briefly referenced, but why exactly Marc Spector has moved to New York, and why he isn’t imagining talking to Spider-Man, Captain America and Wolverine anymore, isn’t really explained. Rather than one continuous story, the new narrative structure is more like a series of one-shots: in each of the almost self-contained issues, Moon Knight fights a different villain.

Moon Knight is now more than ever a kind of Batman – a detective with high-tech gadgets and impressive martial arts skills, and not much more. It’s a pity that his mental illness isn’t as much the focus of this book as it was before. On the other hand, Warren Ellis introduces (in #3) something the previous series was lacking: the mystic aspect of Moon Knight being the incarnation of the Egyptian god Khonshu.

The larger story aside, both the writing and the artwork are a huge improvement over the Bendis/Maleev run. The dialogues are now smart and almost funny, and the drawings by Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire, particularly the smart layouts in the second issue, are stunningly slick. Still, my overall impression is that Ellis is trying too hard to make a fresh start with this character and sever all ties to the 2011 series. If there’s one justification for the continued existence of monthly comic book series in the universes of Marvel and DC, it’s the continuity – readers want to follow one big story that goes on and on. By largely ignoring the old Moon Knight comics, Marvel sabotage their own format.

By the way, the series ends this month after only six issues. Warren Ellis writing an ongoing Marvel book? That would have been too good to be true.

Rating: ● ● ● ○ ○

Other people seem to be quite fond of the new Moon Knight, though; see e.g. this review by Joshua Rivera at The Beat:

X-Men: Days of Continuity are Past

Who's that girl?

Who’s that girl?

X-Men: Days of Future Past is still being shown in German cinemas, and by now, probably more than a million people have seen it here. While I found it enjoyable enough, I’m still wondering who these Marvel films are made for. Or, to put it differently: are film makers still concerned about continuity at all, or is it considered nitpicking and party-pooping to point out continuity errors in this postmodern day and age?

Basically, I can think of four ways in which films deal with continuity:

a) the film is a stand-alone story and doesn’t need to adhere to any extra-textual continuity;

b) the film is part of a series of films and conforms to the continuity established by the earlier films;

c) the setting of the film (“world”/”universe”) is adapted from another medium and is consistent with the continuity established there;

d) the entire story of the film is adapted from another medium, and continuity is not an issue as long as the adaptation is faithful.

The problem with films like X-Men: Days of Future Past is that their category would be “e) all of the above”. There’s the continuity of the previous X-Men films and the continuity of countless X-Men comics, and X-Men: DoFP makes references to both and can’t be fully comprehended without ample knowledge of both. However, the two continuities are not quite compatible with each other, and each of them has its own issues, so it comes as no surprise that X-Men: DoFP isn’t free of continuity errors either. A month ago, Rob Bricken published this helpful overview on io9:

Not mentioned there is the conundrum of Pietro/Peter Maximoff and his sister(s), which is explained in Empire magazine (see e.g. here).

All this makes me wonder: if everything we see in a film is potentially subject to later revisions, and ultimately nothing is authoritative, why do filmgoers still care about these stories at all? Many comic book readers, tired of convoluted continuities and endless retconning, have turned their backs on this kind of storytelling years ago. How long will it take cinema audiences to realise that all these superhero “cinematic universes” make little sense?

Before Watchmen roundup, part 3: Silk Spectre

silk_spectre_3Review of Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #1-4 (of 4)

Language: English
Authors: Darwyn Cooke & Amanda Conner (writers), Amanda Conner (artist), Paul Mounts (colourist)
Publisher: DC
Pages: 22-24 (+2 pages of backup story)
Price: $3.99

Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre tells exactly the story you would expect from a prequel: an origin story. In the case of Laurie, the second Silk Spectre, a suitable ending of her story is obviously the Crimebusters meeting in 1966 (Watchmen #2, p. 9, and Watchmen #4, p. 17), and indeed this is the final scene in Silk Spectre #4. But where to begin, when the protagonist has been trained from earliest childhood to become a superhero? Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner have invented an episode in Laurie’s life that fulfils that purpose of an origin story: she runs away from home, goes out crime-fighting at night on her own, and defeats her first villain (a drug dealer).

This narrative outline is the most successful of all the Before Watchmen books, because it is the most self-enclosed story while still serving as a prequel to Watchmen. Minutemen and Ozymandias suffer from being too intricately interwoven with the original story, whereas the story of Rorschach seems too detached from the events in Watchmen to appear meaningful (at least so far). However, the connection between Silk Spectre and Watchmen isn’t one of simple succession either. On the one hand, there are a lot of allusions, both visual and verbal, to events in the past (i.e. before Silk Spectre) involving Sally Jupiter and the Minutemen. On the other hand, there is a lot of foreshadowing, my favourite instance being in issue #3 where one character says to Laurie, “I want you to live like the world’s gonna end… I dunno. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe in six months. Maybe in nineteen years.” – 19 years from 1966, that’s 1985, when the world almost comes to an end in Watchmen.

That being said, the connection to Watchmen isn’t entirely unproblematic: for example, I find it hard to believe that the whole story of Silk Spectre takes place in only a few months. And yet it must be so, because it starts on an unspecified day in 1966, and in May 1966, Laurie is already on patrol with Dr. Manhattan (Watchmen #4, p. 18).

Visually, Silk Spectre comes closer to the rigid nine panel grid of Watchmen than the other Before Watchmen books, but apart from that, the styles of Amanda Conner and Paul Mounts are a far cry from those of the original artists, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins. Both the art and the writing have a certain lightness to them, which creates an atmosphere far more cheerful than that of Watchmen. But wasn’t precisely that grim and gloomy tone one of the greatest achievements of the original series?

Rating: ● ● ● ○ ○

Before Watchmen roundup, part 2: Minutemen and Rorschach

Last month I looked at Before Watchmen: Ozymandias, the storytelling of which I found disappointing. This month I’m going to look at two Before Watchmen titles which refer to the original Watchmen series in somewhat different ways.

from Minutemen #1 by Darwyn Cooke / DC ComicsReview of Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1-3 (of 6)

Language: English
Authors: Darwyn Cooke (writer/artist), Phil Noto (colourist)
Publisher: DC
Pages: 26 (#1) / 22 (#2-3) (+2 pages of backup story)
Price: $3.99

The fourth issue is already available (see e.g. this review at Major Spoilers), but as always I have to wait for the next mail order shipment to get it, so this review covers only the first three issues.

I imagine writing Minutemen must have been both easier and harder than the other Before Watchmen books: easier because not as much is said about them in Watchmen, which gives the writer more freedom, and harder for the same reason, because all the bits of information on the Minutemen scattered throughout the original comic need to be put together and integrated into a coherent story.

The framing narrative is Hollis Mason writing his book “Under the Hood” shortly after his retirement as the first Nite Owl in 1962, reflecting on his Minutemen days, and re-telling their story once again. This time, his story goes into more detail than what we have read in the “Under the hood” excerpts in Watchmen, and his words (caption text) are accompanied by pictures. As a result, we’re getting a much more fleshed out account of the formation of the Minutemen.

However, it’s more complicated than that. While Mason’s words refer to the pictures they’re placed in, it becomes clear that the art doesn’t merely illustrate the captions. We’re seeing things (and reading things in word balloons) that Mason cannot have seen (and heard), because e.g. in the episode on Hooded Justice in issue #1, he was standing in front of a building, but we get to see what happens inside it.

In issue #2, this narrative mode stops after the first ten pages, and from then on the text is only in straight dialogue (apart from a quoted poem interwoven with the main narrative). Mason’s 1962 voice returns in issue #3 for three pages, and then it’s word balloon text again, this time with the ironic addition of inserted panels from a fictitious 1940s “Minutemen #1” comic book. This more straightforward storytelling approach lends itself better to the episodes Darwyn Cooke tells: the ones that are not covered in Watchmen, e.g. the first Minutemen mission, or the expulsion of the Comedian after he had raped Silk Spectre. Other episodes contain scenes that explicitly show the homosexuality of Captain Metropolis, Hooded Justice and the Silhouette. Although Alan Moore/Hollis Mason strongly suggests this in Watchmen, showing it unambiguously takes away some of the mystery surrounding the Minutemen, so I’m not happy with Cooke’s choice to do so.

In general, though, I’m more comfortable with the storytelling approach in Minutemen than the one in Ozymandias. Add Cooke’s impressive reduced layouts and drawing style, and you end up with a solid comic book.

By the way, did anyone recognise what is depicted on the first panel of the second page in issue #1? All I can see is a manhole cover and rain, but what are the yellow and brown areas, and where exactly is that place supposed to be?

Rating: ● ● ● ○ ○


from Before Watchmen: Rorschach #2 by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo / DC Comics

Review of Before Watchmen: Rorschach #1-2 (of 4)

Language: English
Authors: Brian Azzarello (writer), Lee Bermejo (artist), Barbara Ciardo (colourist)
Publisher: DC
Pages: 24 (#1), 22 (#2) (+2 pages of backup story)
Price: $3.99

The outline of Rorschach is quite different: instead of fleshing out Rorschach’s origin story (which he himself tells in Watchmen), we’re following him on what could be an average day in his life as a masked vigilante, as he is going after a drug dealer ring. The story is set in 1977, 13 years after Walter Kovacs first donned the mask of Rorschach and 8 years before the beginning of Watchmen. Is this version of Rorschach any different from the one we’re familiar with from the original series? Maybe. I found both his caption text monologue (his journal) and his speech bubbles too verbose, his way with the Gunga Diner waitress too friendly. Either Brian Azzarello is going to put Rorschach through a change that will make him more like he is in 1985, or his Rorschach is just slightly different from Alan Moore’s.

Despite this possible inaccuracy in the writing and the so far unassuming nature of the story, this series is still a good read, mainly due to Lee Bermejo’s striking, timely (i.e. for the 21st century) artwork, and the brilliance that Barbara Ciardo’s colouring adds to it.

Rating: ● ● ● ○ ○

Before Watchmen roundup, part 1

From "Before Watchmen: Ozymandias #1"I confess: I have read and purchased copies of several Before Watchmen issues, and plan to continue to do so. For some people, this is an immoral act, equivalent to slapping Alan Moore in the face. Other people say Moore made a mistake when he signed his contract with DC, and now he has to pay for it. In any case, I was curious to see how the Before Watchmen books would handle the unavoidable intertextual challenges that come with such a task.

In preparation, I re-read Watchmen, to be better able to get all the references in Before Watchmen. Maybe that was a mistake, because it raised my expectations towards Before Watchmen even more. Consequently, I decided to read all seven #1 issues and then select which series I’m going to follow.

The books that I dropped after the first issue were Nite Owl, Comedian, and Dr. Manhattan. With Nite Owl and Dr. Manhattan, I found the stories were too close to the original series and didn’t add much to it, whereas the storytelling in Comedian was too slow-paced to convince me that the plot was going anywhere soon. That leaves me with Minutemen, Silk Spectre, Ozymandias, and Rorschach. Ozymandias is the only book so far of which I have read two issues, which I consider the minimum for a meaningful review. (Minutemen #2 came out earlier, but due to a mail order fail I didn’t get it yet.)

Review of Before Watchmen: Ozymandias #1-2

Language: English
Authors: Len Wein (writer), Jae Lee (artist), June Chung (colourist)
Publisher: DC
Pages: 23 (+2 pages of backup story)
Price: $3.99

The framing narrative here is that Adrian Veidt tells his life story on October 11, 1985. I instantly recognized some of Veidt’s words as Moore’s, and thought that Len Wein just wanted to flesh out Veidt’s autobiography as told in Watchmen chapter XI (“Look On My Works, Ye Mighty…”). However, reading both sequences side by side reveals vast differences: in Watchmen, Veidt’s monologue takes place much later than October 11. The wording is different – sometimes considerably, sometimes only slightly, e.g.: “Strangely, before subduing Phoenicia, he had struck north toward Gordium” (Wein) vs. “Strangely, before subduing Phoenicia, he struck north towards Gordium” (Moore). And there are inexplicable visual differences too: in Watchmen, the gravestone of Veidt’s parents is rectangular with a rounded top, whereas in Before Watchmen he is standing at two gravestones in the shape of celtic crosses. So unless Veidt is randomly dropping roses at strangers’ graves, Jae Lee or Len Wein altered the appearance of the grave, presumably to make it look cooler.

The completely new things that Wein adds to Veidt’s origin story aren’t convincing either. As Jennifer Cheng already said in her review of Ozymandias #1 at CBR, it is hard to believe that the reason why Veidt would become the masked vigilante Ozymandias is to avenge his lover Miranda. Furthermore, given the importance attributed to this relationship, what are the readers supposed to make of Veidt’s homosexuality that is clearly hinted at some pages earlier?

Then again, the selling point of the book isn’t its plot, or its unlikeable protagonist. It’s Jae Lee’s spectacular art, as several other reviewers have pointed out. The success of Lee’s contrast-heavy style depends on good colourists, and luckily, June Chung is more than up to this job. Thus, Before Watchmen: Ozymandias is a series that makes me want to read more by Jae Lee and less by Len Wein.

Rating: ● ● ○ ○ ○

As for “The Curse of the Crimson Corsair”, the backup story by Len Wein and John Higgins: while “Tales of the Black Freighter” was smartly interwoven with the main story in Watchmen, an independent pirate/horror story spread across all Before Watchmen series doesn’t make sense to me. I wouldn’t mind reading a well-written and well-drawn standalone comic book in this genre, though (and the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean films shows that this genre has market potential).

Film review: The unsurprisingly unamazing Spider-Man

Are we drowning in a torrent of sequels and remakes?

Unfortunately, Andrew Garfield isn’t Tobey Maguire. Sadly, Emma Stone isn’t Kirsten Dunst. Regrettably, the Lizard isn’t the Green Goblin. And it’s a pity that James Horner isn’t Danny Elfman.

It was daring, to put it mildly, to release The Amazing Spider-Man only five years after Spider-Man 3. Many filmgoers still remember the Sam Raimi trilogy well, and are well able to compare it to Marc Webb’s reboot. There was no way that The Amazing Spider-Man could come off well in this comparison, and indeed it turned out to be inferior to the 2002 Spider-Man in every aspect. (However, I’m aware that some other reviewers apparently like the new film better, so this might be a matter of taste.)

That being said, ASM raises the question whether it makes sense to reboot a film franchise shortly after three previous films of that same franchise in the first place, or, generally, what to make of the endless torrent of sequels and remakes that Hollywood pours out. That topic has been extensively discussed for years, but at the cinema, the bleakness of the situation dawned on me with full force, when I got to watch not only Spider-Man 4 but also trailers for Madagascar 3, the Total Recall remake, Bourne 4, Prometheus a.k.a. “Alien 5“, Twilight 4.2, and Christopher Nolan’s third Batman film. The only original advertised film (yes, there were a lot of trailers) was, if I remember correctly, Brave.

And yet, people don’t seem to mind to spend their money on films they’ve basically already seen before time and again. Box Office Mojo reports ASM‘s worldwide gross at 521 million dollars, which is more than twice the production cost. So while economically this self-plagiarism makes sense, it strikes me as a sign of a creative bankruptcy of the US film industry. The immediate effect of the apparent popular demand for such films is that they run in the theatres for months, thus blocking the screens for more original but less commercially promising films that are dropped after a week (if they make it to your town at all).

To end this review on a more positive note, not everything was bad about ASM: Webb’s film reminds us that, with Gwen Stacy and the Lizard, there are two classic characters in the Spider-Man comics that were neglected in the Sam Raimi films but whose stories might be worth to be told, possibly in a film. But they deserve to be told well. Maybe another time.

Rating: ● ● ○ ○ ○