Tag Archives: Brian Michael Bendis

Justice League 2022 Annual #1

Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art and cover by: Sanford Greene
Colors by: Matt Herms and Sanford Greene

I like the fact that Brian Michael Bendis still writes superhero comic books. I know you could make the argument that his writing stopped being interesting a long time ago. He’s kept to his same signature style, dialogue-heavy, decompressed scenes of character development, and he hasn’t really let up. But, I’d disagree with you. There is a particular use of the form inherent to most all of his comics that tell you they’re by Bendis. He is a writer with a certain voice and viewpoint, and his craft has been practiced and employed. And while I think in a better world, voice and viewpoint wouldn’t be such signifiers. And instead, they would act as a baseline for superheroes or other categories of popular media — That just isn’t the case. So, it’s a real positive thing when someone manages to do it. Because it’s an example of someone cutting through commercial products, like superhero teams and crossover universes, to expand their language, exposing us, the audience, to some different tone. Even something that’s actually human. And maybe that is progress? I mean, superheroes and their stories are going to hold a place in popular culture for the foreseeable future. For whatever their numerous subjective reasons are, many, many people find this kind of fiction compelling, and so corporations are happy to sell it. There’s the argument that this is rotting our brains and stupefying our culture. I can see reasons to agree with it, even. But, if this is the fiction most of us engage in, and if superheroes are a collective way for people to interact with their imaginations, then there has to be value in the efforts made to make these stories, these products, a little more malleable to creative risk, right? If make-believe is a core aspect of being a person, if it’s how we play in our minds, see things anew, and regenerate the world through different filters and shapes, then any little divergence is a worthwhile move away from the hard definitions we’ve forced on our lives, yes? I mean, I know that’s a heady concept to attach to something childish like Superman, but it’s also true that we forget things as we age, and adults can end up lost to expectations. We all know, on some level, that stories and fictions are powerful to human beings, and while it would be arguably preferable for our stories to not be dominated by one, corporate concept — for the superhero genre to take a backseat or even be destroyed — it’s just not in the cards right now. And either way, a writer named Alan Moore already tried and failed to move us along from superhero stories 36 years ago. He tried to give the genre a bookend with his and Dave Gibbons’ series, Watchmen, and he tried to show us how the superhero concept is arguably broken. But we didn’t want anything like that. Instead, we read Watchmen in 1986 and demanded more things like it, and we kept reading and watching and gaming for 36 years after that. And maybe that’s just our mistake and ignorance? Maybe Alan Moore was right? Maybe superheroes overstay their welcome beyond their youth-inspired gleam and become a nostalgic, commercial poison that stunts us? But here we are, they’re everywhere. So, what do we do with them, now?      

I think many comic book writers who started in the 90s and 00s have tried to answer this question. Names like Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison, Ed Brubaker, Joe Casey, Matt Fraction, Jonathan Hickman, and Brian Michael Bendis come to mind. I think there are a few ways you can view their efforts. They either made career moves, chasing elevation, or they wrote the stories they wanted to read. Or it’s both, and so much more. Their efforts in this genre may involve everything that’s inherent to their particular person. All of their characteristics and moral qualities could be intermingling in a push-and-pull, that’s held together by tension and conflicting human wants. And maybe it’s this dance that created things like The Authority, Punisher MAX, and Godland? But beyond all that, I do believe each of these people has tried to answer the question: What do we do with superheroes now, as a fictitious device? Each of their bibliographies contains work that’s idiosyncratic, and even innovative in its approach to narrative. And each of their names can be identified by specific stylistic choices or aesthetics that are consistently presented across their bodies of fiction. Not to mention, many of the high-concepts driving their superhero plots tried to reimagine the genre for a modern era. Rather than read Watchmen and agree with it, then look to other creative outlets as new avenues of opportunity, these people, and so many others like them, decided there’s still more work to do. They sat and thought … Superheroes aren’t going anywhere. So, what if we wrote them, and what could we do with them?      

This line of thought started a takeover. They were readers and fans who applied their talents and slowly took the reins from the professionals who ran the show, who made the comic books, and they became the pros themselves. Their thoughts of what if we wrote them? led to paying gigs that turned into careers. And some of them are pretty long by now. Brian Michael Bendis, for instance, is looking at 29 years in this line of work. And, I don’t know, maybe I’m too easily impressed, but I think a 29-year career in the comic book business is an accomplishment, of some sort. 

Not a lot of people do it, for one, and it seems like a hard job to hold. You have all the deadlines attached to writing multiple books, and there’s the pressure to deliver stories that satisfy passionate fans. You have to deliver this certain, professional level of work while maintaining an online presence that’s mostly used to market yourself. And for that, too, you have to produce content. Personally, I could see writing a comic book or some series being an enjoyable challenge. But when I think about doing all the rest of it that’s required to have a career, it sounds kind of draining. Maybe it actually isn’t. I mean, I’m not living the life I’m describing here, and I really don’t know what it’s like. Maybe the whole thing really is fun and fulfilling? But I don’t know, it seems like there are a lot of ugly stories from the comic book business and its history. And it sounds like the business takes a lot from the people who give to and work in it. For example, just look at all the money that’s owed to the working-class people who created these superhero characters in the 1960s and on. They did this work for a paycheck on tight deadlines, sacrificing time away from their families and themselves, and their efforts were absorbed by private companies under “work-for-hire” contracts and then milked in every possible manner for money. Now, Hollywood makes enormous profits from their labor, but the people who originally had the ideas and actually made them exist haven’t really shared in this gain. Or, for another example, you can think about the instances of artistic frustration and theft that really challenged the people who cared about this artform. For instance, the original comic book artwork drawn for classic Marvel and DC comic books is now worth thousands of dollars. While actual people drew those images, and that artwork bears their name and their craft, the private companies that employed them often assumed ownership of these art pieces, and the artists were often denied possession of it along with the opportunity to reap any monetary reward from its sale. Today, it seems like comic book creators, even after decades of activism for content rights and better pay, are still just trying to secure opportunities and keep their careers alive. Recent news of Substack providing grants to comic book writers and artists to produce new work (without claiming intellectual property rights) could represent a shift in reader consumption and creative careers, pushing the business in a new direction. Or it may just amount to a select few producing projects that previously wouldn’t have been made because of limited resources. Either way, comic book creators today seem to be trying to find a reliable path through a professional life while embracing their idea of creativity, where they can make something that they have more say in, unedited. But there’s a scarcity complex in the comic book business. There are only so few spots available to write or draw stories on a mass audience scale, and people compete for those positions — Everyone thinks they can make it. And if you get in, it’s really about staying in. And to stay in, what does it take?

Maybe by writing all that, I’ve somehow incriminated Brian Michael Bendis. I’ve done the thing, where I sit here and type my thoughts and assume to know something. But, I mean, if someone lasts 29 years in this dirty business, they must be dirty, too, right? Wasn’t that one of the points of The Wire? But, I don’t know Brian Michael Bendis personally. I know nothing about his actual life, and I’m not going to pretend that I do. It’s bad enough that I’m here attempting to make any sense of an entertainment medium, a complicated business, or the concept of fiction as a human being with an isolated, limited, biased perspective — who knows nothing. And honestly, in this long, long introduction to where we are now, I can’t even say I have an exact point to make by writing all this, which is why I’ve never been a real critic or writer of any merit. I guess I just want to start this way, so you know where I’m coming from when I read and respond to one of Brian Michael Bendis’ latest comic books, Justice League 2022 Annual #1

Now, this is where I’ll be really annoying and just totally flip the script on you. I really just want to say something about artist Sanford Greene’s artwork in this comic book. Even for someone with just a passing interest in superheroes or illustration and visual art, these drawings are eye-catchers. They’re striking. Look: 

The first thing I notice is the style, the overall look and feel of Greene’s visual interpretation of a Justice League comic book. I see the influences of artists like Jack Kirby, Paul Pope, and Darwyn Cooke. With Kirby, it’s that superhero bombast where worlds collide and punches get thrown. For Pope, it’s an appearance of flow and liquidity, the line art drips, and it’s all vibe with a knack for storytelling. And then you have Cooke — who implies that chiseled jawline, the iconic, the statuesque man in a cape smiling at you, here to help. 

But I also see Greene being Greene.

It’s like I said in the first paragraph of this write-up: There is something positive to appreciate about someone who can smudge up the commercial sheen of superheroes and show us something personal. Especially at this point in our culture, when everything is so much a product. Look around you: Movies are franchises, YouTube is content. And it’s getting hard to find compelling artists working within our large, institutional venues. There are so many artists in this world, and so many of them are talented and have things to say or discuss, but it’s only a very select few who make it through and take on the societal duties of entertaining, informing, and challenging everyone else through globally shared fictional stories. Or music. Or film. Or whatever it is. A small percentage of those who do hold these positions of influence actually use them for anything interesting. I think a lot of people try to, to their credit, and I can appreciate their efforts, deeply and genuinely. But, ultimately, whoever makes it in the traditional sense, with money and a career, is really, actually, just a good employee. Like, think about it, Brian Michael Bendis and Sanford Greene are employees of DC Comics, who were hired to write and draw Justice League 2022 Annual #1. But with being good employees, I’d argue they both found some personal motivation in this assignment, and they made this comic book better than it had any right to be. It could have been dull, repetitive, piecemeal, and nerdy and still achieved solid, safe sales and got them paid. But both Bendis and Greene had fun with it. There’s no way they didn’t. I mean, look at what this comic book looks like:

Very few of the very good artists end up on the world’s stage. And The Justice League is the world stage of superhero comics. You can make the argument that other superhero teams take the cake. I mean, The Avengers seems to be everyone’s favorite. But the Justice League starts with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. They are the originals. They are fucking superheroes. You cannot corrupt them. Because, thankfully, they represent our best moral selves. As real human beings, as the men and women who dreamt these characters up from our collective imaginations, these superheroes mean so many things to so many people, across the whole world. We, as the audience, have imprinted upon them our feedback and fan craze. We’re all responsible for Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, in some sense. We’ve reflected our personal interpretations and obsessions onto them, and they have changed and evolved in response to that. A lot of care has gone into giving them worthwhile values, too, like fairness and justice. We’ve preserved this about them even though we have experimented with their presentation, at times. Conceptually, they are meant to save the day, to encourage peace. That’s their core. They’re superheroes, strong, but kind — what we want to be. 

To see Greene’s talent on a world stage like this is exciting. His artwork feels totally his own. The way he draws carries with it a style and tone that can shake away all the background noise and cynicism that’s now attached to superheroes. It disrupts their corporate glow and presses pause on the broad cultural questions they beg we ask: Like, when is enough of a particular thing, enough? It connects you, instead, to the power of superheroes. Their visual presence. They stand tall and take command. They’re always up for an adventure to save the world. Too many other writers and artists have tried to tell superhero stories that are more “realistic” or broken and literary, to somehow say something of the genre’s capacity for “serious” stories. And there are even good examples of those comic books I can point you to. But this popular artistic tone and pursuit has also made the genre dull, made it corny. When it could have been wild, free, and dream-like. 

Luckily, Greene draws superheroes as if they’re something to see. He presents these characters as if their actions can shape the planet and the universe. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman possess this might and godhood under Greene’s pencil. But they’re also humble. They can break away from their epic battles to throw a surprise party:

This isn’t the first time this has been seen in a superhero comic book. For example, some X-Men comics have shown this moment in a story to convey a family aspect that’s important to the Merry Mutants. In Bendis’ own comics, he’s used this framing device to evoke innocence or something wholesome. When I think about Bendis, now, I think of him as a dad. According to some interviews he’s given, he has several kids. He’s no longer the guy who wrote and drew Fire. He isn’t that young gun mixing things up. He’s the dad of the comic book business, now. His work has shifted in tone to present that. The “creation” of Miles Morales — Generation Z’s version of Spider-man — is the main example. Bendis thought up this character variation on Spider-man in order to reflect and capture our present youth’s attention.  A new character named Miles Morales could much more effectively connect with a younger audience than our old friend Peter Parker, the 60-year-old, geeky teenager turned irresponsible, messy adult. Miles instantly landed with a broad pop culture audience upon his debut, quickly making appearances in media beyond his singular comic book title: Ultimate Comics: Spider-man. His “creation” isn’t necessarily the most groundbreaking accomplishment, as Miles Morales is literally just a different interpretation of an already existing character, but he certainly holds his own. Readers care about the stories he inhabits. For Bendis, this success could absolutely be based on a calculated career choice. He could have pitched Marvel Comics this idea as a way to expand an iconic franchise and capitalize on a national conversation regarding diversity. The success of Miles Morales has most certainly helped Bendis remain in the comic book business this long; it’s undoubtedly helped his position as a good employee of the big publishers. But who am I to really know the actual intentions? It’s also possible that Miles Morales reflects the writer’s personal want to emphasize the idealism powering superheroes. Spider-man, with Peter Parker’s faults and tedious, relatable challenges such as paying rent and sustaining relationships, was always seen as a common man. He was someone underneath that mask who looked like us, just a mess trying to get through it. But he could still save the world, or at least New York City. He was a fucking nerd, but he was a Queens boy, too. He was from the boroughs. A New Yorker. And Miles Morales drives at this same sentiment. He’s connected to the city, where he lives, and he’s a kid just trying to figure things out. He’s speaking to a readership that isn’t yet so jaded or fed up with it. They all still have that thing that makes them kids. That thing a lot of us can lose and have lost. They get to have their own experience with Miles Morales, Spider-man. And that’s great for them. I’m happy to say. 

It’s weird how in the last paragraph I had to get cynical about Miles Morales and Bendis’s intentions in co-creating him (Artist Sara Pichelli drew the character and is credited in his original appearance; Both Bendis and Pichelli co-created this successful superhero.). My cynicism is just meant to cover my bases. When writing about superhero comic books, there’s this tendency to defend yourself. You can feel that you have to defend your decision to spend time on this hobby, and at times obsession, that’s primarily focused on men and women in capes and costumes. Why would you write more than 3,000 words on this random issue of Justice League? Like, why? It feels like a justification is owed to anyone who glances at the post preview on social media. I have to explain myself and pretend to have authority in this subject. If I can get snobby, get snobby. 

That’s where Zack Snyder’s Justice League tows a beautiful line. 

It is at once a corney, beautiful, personal, gaudy, corporate, CrossFit version of a superhero movie starring Ben Affleck. It’s a divisive subject for some reason. Those that love it are still petitioning Warner Bros. for a full restoration of Zack Synder’s Justice League strategy and vision — The fans want him to make more of these movies. Maybe he’ll get to, someday. I wouldn’t be mad. Because I love that Zack Snyder is eagerly slapping his name on this stuff. Somebody has to. Somebody has to give it some charm. It’s everywhere, it’s all the movies now. Somebody needs to spice superheroes up. Give them a perspective that doesn’t ignore or pretend to be anything other than what it is. Looking at Snyder’s entries into the canon, (there’s quite a few to list; Google it), he seems like a pretty good fit for the job. I was actually a bit moved by The Snyder Cut. It really captures what’s so powerful about superheroes. There are stakes in the story that you actually care about. It totally commits to its scale where gods are at war for the fate of everything. It made me feel like a kid, just watching something without judgment or a takedown ready to go. I wasn’t trying to be smart. I knew that Snyder made this movie following the death of his daughter, and I could accept its expression because I could see the heart in its making. Maybe I am naive, but cynicism is just old. 

So, back to the surprise party:

Beyond wholesome, I see vibrancy. I see real interest in each other. No one is shy, not one at all. It looks like a nice time. I don’t really know what happened behind the scenes to present this artwork and image to me. I know I had to pay money for it, that’s all. It showed up at my house in a brown box containing so many other superhero comic books. I struggle with the corporate greed and repetition, the impact on our critical thinking, the hollowness. But when it’s Saturday, and there’s nothing to do, reading these stories is a good way to let your thoughts run wild. They contain so much nonsense and high emotion. Even the bad ones do. But, when you get a Sanford Greene drawing like this, it makes you stop and appreciate the whole thing. Of how it’s possible to put something familiar into plastic. I don’t know how Sanford Greene became employed by DC Comics, but I like to sit here and think that Brian Michael Bendis helped him out. He used his position in the industry to give someone new a chance. So, if Bendis can do that after 29 years, I say he keeps his job.

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Thoughts: Moon Knight #12

One year, and well, here we are. The finish line. Seems like not that long ago I wrote this excited expression, but as I gander at the date stamp, that was February 2011 and so much has changed since then. Moon Knight, by Bendis and Maleev, has come and gone, leaving us now to only label it with one, final opinion before we let the jaws of some long box silence these issues with its might. Because that’s how this works. One day’s hot item becomes another day’s forgotten, tarnished soul.

I guess I could run through the specifics of this final issue, but in all honesty, I’d rather not. Moon Knight #12, like issue 11 before it, only soured my overall opinion of this work. The comic simply acts like any other Marvel Comics wrap up – plot lines are jarringly tied off and hints of future stories find automatic preview. I should have expected no less from this final issue, and to run through the bullet points would only feel repetitive as well as unnecessary because, all of which really needs to be is, this issue was a disappointment.

Past the muck of the conclusion, though, I can recall enjoying this series, and I feel confident Bendis and Maleev gave a fair run at one of the few comic book characters I give a damn about. There are issues of their Moon Knight run which I feel completely capture the character while simultaneously updating him, in some sense, for this 2011-12 comic book, and the storytelling in those issues exemplify why Bendis and Maleev work so well together. The team showed this character to be a capable concept that’s not quite ruined or cursed as some may like to believe, and while not perfect, produced a fine comic book around it.

Some may have read my issue-by-issue posts and asked themselves, “why bother?”, but for me, this comic book did something I’ve been waiting to see for years. It took my favorite character and pushed him forward in some sense while also wrapping his narrative in some delightful sense of craft. At the end of the day, yeah, Moon Knight by Bendis and Maleev falls short due to the usual conflicts and constraints of mainstream publishing, but overall the book seemed to work well enough within such constraints to be something worth a read every month. For me, that was worth covering.

As for future Moon Knight stories, I don’t feel as if I need them. They’ll be more, no doubt, and I’ll probably read along, but in some sense, the end of Bendis and Maleev’s run placed the period on an ongoing desire I’ve had ever since I discovered the character. I’ve wanted a Moon Knight comic in which the character went somewhere new and was produced by top talent, and now that I’ve finally received that dream book, in some sense, I feel as if there’s no where else to go but treat this series as the character’s end and re-read what I already possess.

Does that make sense? I don’t know, but after closing issue 12 I felt oddly full. I’m no longer hungry for THAT Moon Knight series because now I feel as if I’ve finally had the meal, and for the most part, I enjoyed it.

At some point in the future, check back, as Chad Nevett and I plan to discuss this series in one, final written piece, putting a close to Moon Knight by Bendis and Maleev.

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Thoughts: Moon Knight #11

I walked away from this one disappointed. No matter this issue’s place as a penultimate chapter, Bendis and Maleev feel it’s more important to make Moon Knight #11 a perfect example of what some complain about super hero comics for. The issue involves a lot of fighting with little point, and it drags out such a thing way past its due because supposedly we’ll enjoy another fight sequence in a comic book. Sure, Moon Knight, under Bendis’ pen, has kept a hand between itself and obligatory action scenes for most of it’s run, but all this newly added violence, rather than act as an appropriate crescendo to a build, stems from a character who’s role resembles a cheap cameo. As I wrote last issue, Madame Masque seemed to appear to act as bridge between this Bendis project and another, and Moon Knight #11 only confirms those previous suspicions. The inclusion of her character really hasn’t lead to anything but an off-putting aside in what was a consistent series, and man, with one issue left, what poor timing to go off on a tangent.

+ Thoughts

– Echo’s ghostly appearance toward the end makes for a nice scene, and it manages to bring a few things full circle. Granted, it’s a total rip off of Obi Wan in A New Hope, but the bit plunges right down to a key piece of Marc Spector’s character and bluntly calls attention to it.

“Then show me. Don’t just tell me.”

Sums up a lot about a guy who spends more time in his head than anywhere else, and as sad as it may be, the moment emphasizes a relatable theme for the reader. Although the message comes from within, the part Marc’s trying escape, the message isn’t diluted or misplaced. Instead, Echo’s spirit is now a new, little voice inside of him, and and it allows Marc to tell himself to kick his own ass into gear. No better help than self-help, right?

– This one, small panel of Ultron is cool.

The panel provides a menacing flair even though it’s randomly spliced into the page. Dead hollow eyes  cut into a cold, chrome object, and it feels as if this brawl is under the eyes of something larger.  But, aside from tone, the panel reminds the reader why exactly these characters are fighting, making a nice attempt by Maleev to make this entire fight sequence feel like it may have a reason.

– Thoughts

– Too bad that reason’s overshadowed because while the fighting between Moon Knight and Madame Masque revolves around a plot point present since issue one, one of the character’s involved hasn’t been around that long, and her spontaneous appearance hasn’t exactly sported a very good cause. Basing what should be a thrilling struggle on the involvement of a character with little development was a bad move, leaving the entire fight sequence uninspired rather than thrilling. Much of the issue reads like page filler, and it perfectly captures the groan and hiss angry comic readers release when they complain these books contain too many fights. “It’s apart of the genre,” usually encapsulates my typical excuse, but here I only felt the groan most people utter.  Masque may be a fine character in her own right, but here she serves little purpose other than Big Bad’s daughter, and when Big Bad appears to already be back in the game by this issue’s finale, you start to wonder … why transition to Masque at all? What was the point? To show a father/daughter relationship? To show Moon Knight’s apart of some larger, fictional world? You thought it’d be fun? I don’t know. I don’t know other than what I’ve already written – that it connects one Bendis book to another. Which is fine, but this is a poor connection which, ultimately, only drug out this series another issue.

– What’s worse is that the fight’s not even drawn that well. Maleev’s artwork isn’t awful, but something about his contribution in this issue feels off. I’ve enjoyed his work on this series thus far, but issue 11 features a Maleev prone to stiffness and awkward placements of both characters and objects.

This doesn’t work when more than half your issue involves people punching each other. If anything, the artwork only emphasizes what’s wrong with the comic because stiff and poorly composed are about all that describe it.  

Verdict

Weak issue. Not the way to lead into your finale, and right now I’m only hoping Bendis can wrap this up to some degree (although, history says he won’t). When people complain about Bendis for drawn out plots, I usually roll my eyes a bit, but this example has me in agreement- a poor representation of this series and both men’s work.

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Thoughts: Moon Knight #10

There’s a tiny bit of crying in this issue, but little of it sticks as the story quickly beats on to the falling action. Aside from Spector, Detective Hall and Snapdragon reappear, and for some reason Madame Masque is now involved.  The matter of the Ultron head also veers its head into the scenario, and … Ah, whatever. Just read the comic.

+ Thoughts

– The first two pages of this issue are pretty strong, even though the first page is just a repeat of last issue’s finale. The inclusion of it here works though since, one, it’s a pretty cool page and, two, it reestablishes the stakes and places page two in context. As for page two, eight horizontal panels work well to convey a sense of carnage and mean spirit. The reds in place by Matt Hollingsworth bring out the pain, and Maleev’s choice of stacking the panels in such a way, with use of two vertically streaked, solid red shots, creates a clear idea of speed, moving the reader through the reading experience in a fast, bold, brutal fashion. In one page, Maleev translates the core of the fight we barely even see, and we understand it completely. Plus, this execution simply declares Echo as dead without any dramatic last word or final breath. She’s fucking dead, and Marc’s pissed. That’s all we need.

– The scene with Marlene at first concerned me. While reading, I was caught off guard, and I thought Bendis was all of the sudden bringing back past baggage. But really, it’s another dream/headtrip thing, and it’s in place to remind the reader of where Marc Spector’s been before and, not unlike Spider-man, the dude possesses some guilt. The scene works, feels appropriate and places the circumstance of Echo’s death into even more context. It also presents some indication of mourning from Marc’s character without getting too sappy or unnecessary. Also, the shot of Marc’s face in the last panel on page five presents a wonder example of Maleev’s talent for facial expressions and human likeness. Someone make that a Twitter avatar.

– “Wolverine” telling Marc to suck it up and quit moaning was cool. “Quit bitchin, bub!”

+/- Thoughts (neutral ground)

– The overhead shot of Echo’s body on the autopsy table is a shot that often reoccurs in Bendis’ work, conveniently placed lamps and all. In an early issue of New Avengers, it’s done with Spider-woman. Later in Secret Invasion, it’s Elektra’s skrullified corpse. I have to assume the writer indicates the artist to draw this particular shot in this situation, as this same shot has occurred with three different artists (that I know of). It’s no surprise that a comic book artist would have familiar, go-to shots, but I find the practice by a writer interesting. Could say a few things about Bendis’ scripting style.

– Detective Hall and Snapdragon … I guess I’m happy to see them again? I don’t know. No opinion.

– Thoughts

– Madame Masque really comes off like a poor excuse to connect this dying series to Bendis’ larger catalog of work, and ultimately her appearance can only mean just that. It just seems a little late in the game to introduce a new villain to the story, and the reason for it is simply weak. Count Nefaria is hurt. OK, but isn’t that more interesting? Having this crumbling villain, who has lived most of his villainous career as a figure of power, go up against what is essentially a normal man? That scenario contains much more conflict and emotion than this substitute, tie-in shit we’re about to witness. Also, the whole thing voids the build-up of Nefaria as West Coast kingpin, making me wonder: why not Madame Masque from the start? Why wait until issue ten, of a twelve issue tale, to introduce her? Because, Bendis and Marvel need a story next summer. Plant those seeds now.

Verdict

This issue doesn’t loose much steam. While a death has occurred, Bendis and Maleev keep the story on task and weave the plot together so it marches the complete narrative to its planned destination. Madame Masque though, man. WTF?

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Thoughts: Moon Knight #9

Two months later, and I’ve finally decided to jot down my thoughts on Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev’s Moon Knight once again. Between laziness and realizing the meticulous behavior of doing issue-by-issue commentary, as well as trying not to repeat myself with every new issue, these MK posts took a backseat, but since it’s been announced the series will end with issue 12, I figure I should at least finish the task I took on. I can’t promise these last few posts will be as heavy as the first 8, but I’ll make them as interesting as I can, and once it’s all over, I’ll write a nice overview essay of the series. That’ll last longer anyway. For now though, some quick thoughts for the sake of putting them out there.

So this issue contains a lot of fighting and internal struggle, making it a pretty fitting climax for a story about an uncertain super hero with a multiple personality complex. Count Nefaria, the owner of a monocle and power boner, who’s fought Thor, the Avengers and some X-dudes, comes back from his last appearance to belittle and beat Marc Spector, and he chooses to do so by killing Spector’s girl and driving him up an emotional wall. After 20 pages of combat and dialogue between Spector and the voices in his head, the issue ends with Spector loosing his crayons and adopting his Wolverine persona in a whole new way, leaving the reader on a cliffhanger of rage and bloody fists. Sorry. I hate summaries.

So, Random Thoughts style, here’s the rundown.

+ Thoughts

– I definitely consider this to be one of the better issues of the series. Maybe the best, but I’m not sure as I haven’t read the others in quite some time.  But it’s up there. Why? While it may sound cheap, the book gave me what I really wanted to see, which was a visually enticing fight involving Moon Knight, in costume, drawn by Alex Maleev. Say what you will, but I enjoyed the payoff because, unlike almost every other super hero comic, Bendis and Maleev’s Moon Knight hasn’t involved much fighting or super hero action. The series has kept those elements to a minimum, building the tension between the reader and what’s on the page. This was a necessary fight, and while the battle involved a villain, the real fight took place in Spector’s head which, at the heart of this book, has been the scene of conflict all along.

– This comic incorporates the downward spiral of the story into the pacing and plot. If you notice, the issue begins with Marc on the roof of a building, and it ends with him in an alley. The entire fight moves from top to bottom, reflecting the events within the issue as Marc enjoys some classic hero versus villain fisticuffs until he’s in the street, watching his lady friend die. The consideration on this level speaks of the craft put into the issue, and it reminds that not all Big 2 books are thrown together chunks of shit. Thought went into this, and it’s an especially wonderful touch as the descent provides Maleev’s artwork with an extra bit of movement. A lot of his shots in this issue are horizontal or slanted to accommodate the high-to-low battle, and from this Maleev works the fight into a fluid, lively piece. And, of course, the descent in setting reflects the peril of our lead.

– I found the cuts between Buck/Marc scenes and Marc/Cap/Spidey/Wolverine scenes affective for their ability to present some background and explain the origin of Marc’s new weapons, yet I also feel these scenes simply act as quality transitions in order to introduce each personality Marc’s carrying around in his head before we witness the internal dialogues of the issue. These back-and-forths come off as bold and stylish.

– Thoughts

– This is sort of cheap, but I honestly was a bit bummed about Echo’s apparent death. I liked her. She made a lot of sense in this series, and it seemed there was much more to the character than previously hinted. But, for the story at hand, her death is the most logical way to progress the narrative and place Marc Spector where Bendis wants him. So, on a matter of storytelling, this move works. And anyway, I’m sure she’ll be back in some other Bendis project somewhere down the line. That’s the way this shit works. But, for now, I’ll honestly kind of miss her. Pathetic, I know.

Verdict

Good fucking issue. It certainly positioned the story in a new way. I’m ready for more, and I guess, the coming conclusion.

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Those Issues of Ultimate Spider-man I Didn’t Read | Part 1

I know it’s technically Ultimate Comics Ultimate Man Spider-comics Spider-man now, but to me the Brian Michael Bendis series is simply Ultimate Spider-man. Three words. One hyphen. That’s it.

Some time between 2008 and 2009, Marvel Comics decided to publish a comic book mini series entitled Ultimatum. It’s purpose? Totally wash away Marvel’s special line of comics known as the “Ultimate Line” and leave the debris in a position to rebuild after – a little retcon fueled disaster event to get all the fans up in arms. Written by Jeph Loeb and drawn by David Finch, Ultimatum took Marvel’s line of “limited continuity,” “free from Marvel mainline crud” comics and injected it with its own dose of Marvel hysteria and event comic chaos. Ultimate Comics, a subdivision of Marvel Comics traditional 6-1-6 line, suddenly found itself uprooted in limbo after nearly ten years of consistent focus and “left alone” mindset.

It was right at this time I dropped Ultimate Spider-man. And when I say dropped Ultimate Spider-man, I don’t mean “I bought it for 3 issues and then tossed it off my pull list.” No. I dropped Ultimate Spider-man. Like a “after buying it for 60-some issues and then going on a fanboy rampage” kind of drop.

To cut it short, the entire reason for dropping the title was an extremely dumb one. Basically, David Lafuente did not equal Mark Bagley (clearly because he is much better), and without the visual voice of Mark Bagley Ultimate Spider-man was no longer Ultimate Spider-man. Granted, I did buy the Stuart Immonen stuff, and I tolerated it (I clearly had poor judgement in the early days),  but when Lafuente showed up, it pushed such a drastic change that the title I came to count on left me hanging. I dropped that shit cold. Cried about it on the internet. Did the fanboy thing. Hard.

Looking back, the whole thing was not my most respectable moment. The excuses I had for “hating” the Lafuente work are things I would easily laugh at anyone else for saying today. But, at the time, my interest in Ultimate Spider-man suffered a fatal blow, and from then on I would do my best to avoid the book. Just up until recently.

I’ve gone back, and after a little back issue hunting (remember that shit?), I’ve managed to read the entirety of Ultimate Spider-man Phase 2 a.k.a. what I’ll term the “Lafuente Era” as well as “Death of Spider-man,” which is everything I missed during  my great purge. And what’s funny is, “Death of Spider-man” aside, this is probably the best portion of Ultimate Spider-man overall, and I skipped it. I’d even consider it a little crown jewel in Bendis’ entire career at Marvel because the “Lafuente Era” of Ultimate Spider-man did it right. Between a combination of aesthetics and pure storytelling, Bendis and Lafuente captured the essence of the teenage super hero story, fulfilling the entire concept of Ultimate Spider-man, at a higher level of craft, some 140 issues from its beginning.

But something had to be sacrificed in order to achieve that short stretch of issues. A notion of consistency. Maybe the above bits of my personal back story were simply that – personal bits – but I feel the interruption or shift I felt as a long time reader actually reflects an overall shift in this long running comic book series. Look back at it. Ultimate Spider-man, for something like 8 years, marched on at a steady pace, with consistent aesthetics, telling the same, focused story. 8 years.Ultimate Spider-man may be one of the last comics of its kind to accomplish such a run, and between the book’s own determined focus and my infantile attachment to it, the crashing wave of Ultimatum, and the shake up that followed, put the whole operation in rough waters.

So this, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of how Brian Michael Bendis did his best to steer his saga of “power and responsibility” clear of murky waters and keep it afloat. Of how a relaunch, a renumbering, a death and a rebirth – all in the course of two years – tried their hardest to derail Bendis’ solid 8 year train. For my next few blog pieces, I’m going to take a look at the period of Ultimate Spider-man I didn’t read. The “Lafuente Era,” but also the PR stunt known as “Death of Spider-man,” and I’ll even dive into the more recent version of the title featuring the character Miles Morales. The purpose? To discuss each as an individual work, but to also try and connect the three shifts – “Lafeunte,” “Death,” “Miles” – and see how they each represent their own version of Ultimate Spider-man as well as represent a period of identity crisis for a title that was once so sure of itself.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Up first, the “Lafuente Era.”

None of these issues are perfect, and neither when paired together do they create a perfect work, but I’d mark the first 6 issues of Lafuente Spider-man closer to perfect Ultimate Spider-man than anything else.

Big, hyperbolic statement. Maybe I should back down, but it’s true.

What this initial arc accomplishes so well is providing the perspective of Peter Parker, or more or less, really putting the reader behind the eyes of a teenage super hero, placing him or her into that world. Which makes sense. The title of the arc is “The New World According to Peter Parker.” And while it’s clearly a mark of Bendis’ pen that brings about this focus, David Lafuente obviously makes the huge impact because it’s his contribution that inspires the youthful attitude as well as energetic bounce.

Looking at his artwork, the energy comes across as hard to deny. Speed lines up in your face. Expressive style. The vibrant colors dubbed on by Justin Ponsor. The elements are there for explosive comic book art, but the component that really catches the attention and sells the performance is the roundness and curve of Lafuente’s line work. It’s the element that captures that sense of motion you experience while reading a Lafuente drawn comic book. The curves seem to suggest a youthful vitality and plumpness, and it’s such a contrast from the muscle tight, skinny aesthetic Mark Bagley provided. There’s life there. A freshness, versus the 1990s-heyday look Bagley performs.

But motion derives itself from another element important to this comic. Lafuente uses a nice array of vertical panel structures throughout his entire stay on Ultimate Spider-man, which I found to be an interesting choice in page design as well as storytelling. First, the focus on vertical direction relates itself well to the Spider-man character, the subject of the piece. The character travels and fights in an acrobatic, vertically dependent fashion. The panel structure Lafuente insights sort of places the subject in an ideal environment, allowing the actual illustration to rest in a frame that works with it rather than simply houses it. Second, this is Lafuente’s way of dealing with the “Bendis Problem” I think most artists face when drawing one of his scripts – talking heads. Where long, horizontal panels tend to slow down a story in order to suggest a widescreen affect, vertical panels seem to quicken the pace by providing this quick cut movement to the page. This speeds up the scenes drenched in dialogue while making it visually exciting. But it also effects the actual dialogue. As a reader, you’re reading these sequences in a cut-to-cut fashion, so you’re reading faster. Which works. Teens tend to talk fast, and it’s already a tone Bendis writes in when writing Ultimate Spider-man so Lafuente’s contribution to the storytelling matches up very well, emphasizing what Bendis does.

So while curved lines and vertical panels suggest youthful energy, I would also suggest the actual style Lafuente draws in adds to the youthful perspective. I’m not at all an expert in manga, but Lafuente’s style is certainly manga influenced. Manga stylings have been creeping their way into American animation for years, and in this day and age it’s sort of won out with the younger audience. Anime, manga … it’s what the kids are into, and I know from experience, most high school kids that like to draw … they draw in an anime-inspired style. This suggests to me that a lot of younger people sort of automatically dub a manga influence to maybe the things they imagine – as in cartoons, drawings. So the visual design sort represents that teenage perspective in terms of illustration and what else, but more importantly, it simply represents an aesthetic that’s popular at the moment, popular especially with a younger demographic.

Bendis certainly does not freeload on Lafuente’s talent, though. While the writer plays up the usual plot elements of supporting cast and riff-heavy dialogue, it’s Bendis’ attention to teenage specific conflicts that really cements the desired perspective. I think issue 1 lays everything out so smoothly, especially the first page in which we see a single close up of Peter Parker’s face as he reviews the details of his life.

“My name is Peter Parker. I am Spider-man.”
“I was bit by a one-of-a-kind spider and now I have one-of-a-kind spider-powers.”
“I’ve saved the world. Or at least helped save it.”
“I almost died doing it. A couple of times. For real. But I didn’t.”
“I’ve fought bad guys of every shape and size. True bad guys. World-class villains. Bad bad guys.”
“I’ve met super heroes, icons. Captain America. Yep.”
“You’re talking to a sixteen-year-old who can swing across the city on a web line he actually invented.”
“A guy who can life a city bus over his head. A guy who has fought the Hulk and walked away from it.”
“We’re talkin’ vampires, mutants, Doctor Doom, Sandman, Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus …”
“I have already seen and done more than most people will ever get to do in their whole lives.”
“And now I have one question, and I want you to think about this very carefully.”
“I want you to look my in the eye and I want you to tell me:”

“Do you want fries with that?”

Turn the page, and you discover Peter works at some shitty fast food joint.

I love this opener for its flow and build up, but even more for the attitude it suggests – and it’s something I can completely relate to. That feeling, that when you’re a teenager, you know everything, have done it all, yet you’re still subjected to adults looking down on you. Now, while Peter certainly has done it all, the scene still captures that vibe of “desired verification” from an adult audience by simply its setting. Peter’s out of the costume here. He’s on the job, looking like any plain slub who can work a cash register. No one sees how special he is, or how special he sees himself. He’s just on the job, doing what anyone could, in an environment where adults run the show. And that’s shown when an elderly woman confronts Peter’s manager, another adult, and falsely accuses him of being a smart ass. While falsely accused, the manger automatically assumes the old woman is in the right and degrades Peter without hearing anything Peter has to say.Because he’s a “kid.”

The writing here even backs a classic “Peter Parkerism” – you know, “Puny Parker. He’s nothing special.” It’s a sort of cast off line Stan Lee would write for Flash Thompson all the time, but it sort of comes along and lives in this scene, summing up a very real thought felt by many people in their teenage years.  That sensation of not being  understood and the desire for respect from those older than you.

But that’s one, specific example. Really, it’s a case of the first 6 issues as a whole. To sum it up, when read together, “The New World According to Peter Parker” just reads like a very solid pop super hero comic in which the youth perspective is at the forefront. Whether it’s simply being placed in a house full of 16-somethings as Aunt May continues to take in and house many of Peter’s friends or the high school relationship drama, the first six issues of Bendis and Lafuente’s run are all about a youthful aesthetic and voice. And it’s done. Well.

The antagonist of the first arc, Mysterio, even supports what the creators are after as the character is really one of the few adults shown in the story. His villainy, then, comes as no surprise. He’s that adult looking to crash the party and subject his creed on the kids. This thought eventually reaches its climax as Mysterio learns of Peter’s super hero secret and attacks him at his very school, suggesting no place is safe.

A fair criticism of the Mysterio plot line may be it’s seeming lack of motivation, but I felt the character’s unexplained presence actually supports the theory I’m implying. Mysterio, as the original Steve Ditko sprawl of fog and green latex, worked under a faceless guise, and such a tradition is carried over to this new vision of the character where facelessness works in favor of an unexplained origin or purpose. What we know is that the character’s a bad guy who wants Spider-man, or “Spider-boy” as he once refers to him as, dead, and that makes him scary. It’s not the reason for his villainy or his background. It’s the simple surface of the character’s guise which suggests a sensation of the unknown that makes him frightening, and it’s the idea of a faceless threat which suggests something untouchable. A greater projection of an idea – which is certainly something Mysterio usually concocts with his “super power.” What better way to represent the “evil” adults than a single, identity-free super villain who just happens to be one of the few adults in the story? Why not represent that in a character who’s more like a force than just a individual man? Of course he doesn’t need a motivation. He’s just an old man trying to ruin the youth’s fun.

So that’s really, kind of the first 6 issues. If I were to sum it up in one word, I’d go with immersion.

The latter half of the Bendis/Lafuente run is, however, not necessarily as solid. Instead, the plotting sort of suffers from a usual Bendis fault in which too many plot beats are stacked on top of one another. They’re not bad comics. The aesthetics still ride high and please the senses. The problem lies more in the structure of the plot, and because Bendis is determined to make so much happen, certain plot lines suffer and are lost in the mix. Name example, the Kitty Pryde stuff.

I like how Bendis brings Kitty into this incarnation of Ultimate Spider-man, and how he uses her to handle the entire ‘Mutants in the Ultimate Marvel Universe” thing. Her story really ends up representing another tried and true conflict felt in teenage wasteland, only her’s is a drastic extension of the thought I was on earlier with Peter Parker and the shitty fast food job: being misunderstood. Bendis’ writing of her and her situation call on the typical X-men story – mutants hated by the public – but he pivots the usual plot detail into a position where it resonates with the teen mantra of “the world doesn’t get me.” It’s a nice touch and well represented by Kitty’s new identity of  ‘The Shroud,’ where she literally is dressed head-to-toe in a cloak, hidden from the world.

When Bendis decides to really open up the Kitty can of worms though, he does it, brings the drama, but quickly sidetracks and moves onto something else. Which, I guess, in itself would be fine, but he does so in the midst of one story arc, after selling the reader on the Kitty plot line. “Tainted Love” starts out taking two issues to focus on the Kitty thing and by issue three dovetails into this out-of-no-where Chameleon plot. The comic gains this tangential sensation around this point, and the move sort of cheapens some of the importance placed on Kitty’s story. You know, by making it only a “plot mechanism” to plant the seeds for the Chameleon story. Which, eventually, proves to be a lesser, done-to-death story. Although, like the Mysterio stuff, Chameleon is another villain who’s identity is a question, continuing the theme from the first arc, yet only upping the ante when he robs Peter of his identity.

The real gold moment of “Tainted Love” comes with J. Jonah Jameson, though, who’s ever-passionate hatred of Spider-man comes to a head as he uncovers who Peter Parker really is. This scene illustrates the adult perspective and the teenage perspective colliding, or better yet, becoming one as both Peter and Jameson are in the same predicament. They’ve both had their identities hijacked by Chameleon, and they are both now tied up and held captive. There’s no separation. Neither one is better than the other. They’re just both drugged hostages seeing the world from the same, poorly lit room.

I wouldn’t say this run of Ultimate Spider-man comes to any conclusions by its finish. I didn’t receive any great speech or answer to any of life’s great questions. It’s not that kind of comic. Instead, these 15 issues crafted by the likes of Bendis, Lafuente and Ponsor, are more about setting a certain tone and letting a reader live in that. Immersion, or like I said at some point in this post, capturing the essence of the teenager. Which is what the core of Spider-man – all the way back to Ditko – is. And it’s what Ultimate Spider-man has always been about. The teenager.

Out of the three shifts, I’d call the “Lafuente Era” the ideal version of Ultimate Spider-man. While Bendis and Bagley captured the concept early on in their run, the work the team produced eventually piled up into a heaping mass that sort of negated what Ultimate Comics was about: continuity free tales. Granted, this run may continue that continuity plagued narrative, but in some ways the Bendis/Lafuente run feels like a reboot of Ultimate Spider-man. Any new reader could pick up Ultimate Spider-man here and get a complete – or semi-complete – picture. The voice is here. The core of the Spider-man concept is here. And the aesthetics are superb.

If I were to guess, when Bendis saw the chance to start over, you know,  post-Ultimatum, I think he took it – like really took it. Because this version of Ultimate Spider-man may be similar, but it’s also entirely different.

I feel David Lafuente made the difference. What he brought to the table changed this book, giving it this new, magical charm. His style, his line work – those things embody the spirit of Ultimate Spider-man. New, fresh, exciting, energized. That’s what Ultimate Comics was meant to be.

The “Lafuente Era” feels like the start of an entirely new title rather than some continuation of an 8 year plot, and I feel Bendis and Co. would have kept it going if not for the loud interruption known as “Death of Spider-man,” which, ultimately, left the end of this run somewhat unfinished and keeps it from existing as a complete, closed story.

That interruption is what I’ll write about next.

Next time: I go over “Death of Spider-man” in a much shorter blog post.

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Thoughts: Moon Knight #7

This is  a post of simple observations and thoughts. Objectivity may not apply.

quotes

“He has no idea what and who he is up against. What power he is taunting. Tell our friend Count Nefaria will see him now.”

– Count Nefaria

I dig this quote for its complete over confidence and classic super villain tone. The emphasize on one’s power as well as the use of the third person  makes this quote the arrogant asshole that it is. If anything, it bounces off the following quote quite nicely.

“God, I’m hard on myself.”

– Moon Knight (Marc Spector)

The scene leading up to this final deal sealer of a line exemplifies the lack of confidence Marc Spector has in himself. Marc’s personalized version of Wolverine delivers a few lines of tough encouragement to hopefully push Marc’s ass into action. It’s a nice showing of how Marc’s own mind or subconscious or whatever worries about the man’s ability to do the job. How much does that say?

issue specifics

The reveal of Count Nefaria obviously stands out as this issue’s main development. Too bad I know nothing about this guy, so I’m sure some of the assumed impact is lost on me. According to my buddy Joey Aulisio though, he’s a vital X-men bady. I’ll take his word for it.

Even without the context, I do find Nefaria an interesting reveal, and after some thought I feel his involvement works. Here’s why.

Count Nefaria exuberates confidence and a higher level of actual super powers. The quote above suggests such as does the mention in the comic of how the character has battled Thor and the Hulk. Some may say such a super power doesn’t belong in a street level character’s comic. Well, they’re wrong, especially in the case of this street level comic.

What point have I kept bringing up throughout every post I’ve done on this series? Marc Spector sucks as his job and lacks the ability to meet the standard of a super hero.

What’s more interesting that to pit a wannabee hero against a real deal, experienced super criminal?

I couldn’t think of a better test for the character. If anything, this L.A. Kingpin should only offer our protagonist a more personal conflict. The mission no longer means freeing and protecting L.A. It means overcoming a load of self-doubt along with that other stuff.

Nice going, Bendis and Maleev.

The self-aware Marc Spector I discussed last issue carries over into this one. Both the opening scene with Buck as well as the scene involving the above quote echo the development.

No further thoughts, really. It’s just nice to see I wasn’t off in my analysis. Although, it looks like Maya may have some confronting to do when you consider the ending of this issue.

Maleev turns in some excellent pages this issue, and Matt Hollingsworth, even though not the comic’s regular colorist, does a class act job filling in the white spaces. I love the sequence in which Snapdragon  communicates with the still hidden Count Nefaria. Just her in a dark room for 8 panels, but the red sears laid down by Hollingsworth amp up the tension.

I actually really dig the splash page of Moon Knight hammering Nefaria. I like the placement of Moon Knight on the page and how he falls on top of the Count. Plus, the cape wrapping around the bottom right corner of the page is a nice touch.

Speaking of the fight, I dig that Marc kind of has his moment as he dampens Nefaria’s powers, but then progresses to fuck up everything and allow the character to escape. It’s what the character would do.

Buck’s reason for crossing Marc comes off as a lackluster reveal. I was looking for something complex and tangled, but really the reason was very predictable. But, hey, it’s logical. I can’t discredit Bendis too much for that.

series thoughts

People probably complained and set fire to cars because this first arc lasted 7 issues, but I say the pacing felt right. I’m sure someone also considers these 7 issues complete setup, and yes, they are, but in reality these first 7 issues provide us the right amount of time to sink into this narrative. 7 issues weren’t necessary, but I like Bendis’ choice to dabble around. The pacing put me into the character’s head as well as suggested Bendis’ focus. I needed that, especially when this series is all about Marc Spector’s psyche.

Come back here, to this blog, for issue #8.

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Thoughts: Moon Knight #6

This is  a post of simple observations and thoughts. Objectivity may not apply.

the quote

“What you need to do is allow yourself time to acclimate back to who you really are.”

-Marc Spector

I enjoy the fact Marc says this to Maya. It’s somewhat ironic, but the line also suggests the self-awareness Spector possesses. He knows he can get lost in the head trip that is his life.

But, of course, the line relates to the larger idea this issue of Moon Knight is after. Being you.

issue specifics

A moment in this comic actually forced me to go, “oh, shit.” The spread across the tops of pages 15 and 16. The personalities meet. Three in full uniform. One in his birthday suit. “Moon Knight” is all that’s spoken.

I’m speaking of course of the Avengers scene placed at the comic’s conclusion.

I’ve discussed over and over how Moon Knight offers multiple examples of the character’s identity crisis. Well, this issue, we witness the partial accumulation of the crisis and dive into an unspoken intervention. Is this the actual, full on stare down of the conflict? Considering this is issue 6 of an ongoing comic book series, I kind of doubt it, but the book clearly contains a moment of realization and slight stand off which points toward an idea of a resolution. Am I making any sense?

 So the Avengers show up at Marc’s crib (kids still say crib, right?), and like the talented pros they are, Maleev and Bendis execute a solid transition to move us into the scene. And I type Maleev’s name first because, well, the dude drew it. Bendis probably indicated of such a transition in his script, but Maleev provides the full front execution.

We flip the page and peer over Marc’s bare shoulder toward the figures of Captain America, Spider-man and Wolverine. It’s a moment where we’re at first unsure whether these icons are within Marc’s mind, casually visiting once again as they seem to do, but as the scene progresses its apparent this Cap, Spidey and Wolverine are the true flesh and bone.  

Then Marc precedes to flip his shit while the icons stare blankly and have no clue. They’re just there. It’s comical in a way.  

Marc’s right to flip out, though. The move really makes a lot of sense. He’s viewing the truth of the matter. Cap, Spidey and Wolverine exist beyond him. He is not them. What’s even better is the state in which Marc lives this scene. The dude’s pretty much without clothes. Now, before you make any assumptions of my personal life, hear me out. This comic has a weird baptism theme going on. Earlier in the book, we spend a scene with Spector in the shower, and Maleev clearly emphasizes the blood and grime of Marc’s previous adventure washing down the drain. The scene is about cleansing the character, and through a progression to build up the moment of truth, he precedes to step out of the shower, deliver the above quote to Maya and then freak as the Avengers appear.

The nude aspect works similarly to Miller’s technique in Born Again. The hero lies within the man. The costume only works as dressing around the hero. And in Marc’s scenario, the costume clouds his judgment, but stripped down, against a visual representation of himself, the character experiences a moment of clarity.

The reveal/semi-reveal/not-reveal of the L.A. Kingpin did not work for me. I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to recognize him or not. The scene just plays oddly. Usually, when the big bad lays hidden for a later surprise, the comic tends to keep him in the shadows. But here, in issue 6, I’m seeing this guy’s full figure, and I am witnessing him take people out. The character becomes active this issue simply via his actions in the scene, but Bendis and Maleev never make it clear as to what I am supposed to gather from this showing.

Buck ratting out Marc … I’m still considering this one. I feel the narrative hasn’t yet given me enough to judge what exactly is going on here. We’re only seeing the character in small increments, but I feel the action mostly comes from a genuine place. The dinner/date scene from issue 5 probably relates to Buck’s motivations for making the call to S.H.I.E.L.D. That shit raised suspicions.

I’m typed out. Issue #7 = round the corner.

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Thoughts: Moon Knight #5

This is  a post of simple observations and thoughts. Objectivity may not apply.

the quote

This line sums up the issue:

“The lack of control for a guy like me. The randomness of it all. I needed to be the master of my universe.”

– Detective Hall

And it’s delivered by a supporting cast member whom we’ll likely consider just another cop in a super hero comic. Detective Hall hates super powered “crap” as he puts it. The phenomenon disrupts his day and makes his job as cop just a tad bit harder. Though he seems to simply be complaining, Hall does speak a fair amount of truth with his statement. At least, truth for Marc Spector’s character.

series thoughts

I’ve focused mainly on Marc Spector’s psyche in my discussion of the Bendis run, and I don’t really see my focus changing anytime soon.  Like most Moon Knight comics, the book appears to be shaping into another long form study of the character, but I’m giving Bendis some credit because I actually feel he’s taking this misbegotten property into new territory. That’s what really hit me this issue. Moon Knight, besides the here-and-there use of the Avengers cast, is riffing on a fairly new set of components.Whether it’s the setting, supporting cast, or protagonists themselves, this Marvel comic contains an actual bit of world building. And you can feel it. How? Through the simple fact the focus is on a pair of characters you rarely ever read about.

Whether this series runs 50 or 11 issues (which is quite possible when you consider the sales chart), I believe at its end it’ll be safe to say Bendis and Maleev made a legitimate contribution to Moon Knight. So far the series has done a solid job of echoing the character’s known core, but both artists have taken the steps to actually expand upon the concept. We need to remember that Doug Moench’s baby still has plenty of room to grow. Besides Charlie Huston’s first 6 issues, the character hasn’t been developed much at all since the original 80s series. Spector’s just been stuck in a vacuum … left untouched because the character’s been easily labeled Marvel’s Batman. Bendis and Maleev, though  … these dudes see the possibilities, and like the Marvel Universe’s west coast, they see this character as an underdeveloped frontier.

issue specifics

When Hall says super heroes only create confusion and inhibit control, the character really comments on Marc Spector’s condition. I noted in my first post about the series that Bendis took the character’s usual roster of 3 faces and multiplied it by 2 – making Spector the owner of 6 personalities. Up unto this point though, we’ve only known Spector as a TV producer type. We know he wears a costume, but we haven’t seen it; the costume has had little involvement. But now we get to actually see .

Issue 5 dedicates half of its pages to examples of failed super heroics. First, Spector completely goes against local law enforcement and starts a small riot. Second, he abandons his woman of interest as well as partner in order to get to safety. Third, Spector takes several punches to the face when the typical trope would involve a passionate make out session. Three solid instances in which we are exposed to Marc failing as Moon Knight. Three pure instances of induced confusion.

And that’s what it all goes back to, really. Confusion  –  a one word diagnosis of Marc Spector.

“The lack of control for a guy like me.” “I needed to be the master of my own universe.”

That’s Marc Spector’s conflict and motivation broken down into two lines. Super heroes remove the order from his life, but he can only achieve superiority and individuality with them. Let the internal conflict fly. And, think, Bendis hasn’t even dropped Spector’s own personal god Khonshu into the equation yet. When that happens … all bets are off.

I love how Maleev draws Moon Knight’s face under the cowl.  The white eye slits amidst all the black comes off as very abstract. The face itself even seems to move a bit due to a suggested Rorschach quality.I mean, it makes sense. The book is all about shifting identities.

The entire issue shows off a lot of Maleev’s skill as a storyteller. The art here completely removes any notion of his work being stiff. Rather, it’s fluid. The fights move. Pages offer various panel distinctions. I even simply like how Maleev illustrates the character getting around town, whether its via his glider cape or surfing on car tops. Paired with colorist Matthew Wilson, Maleev creates a vibrant, visually striking Moon Knight comic not seen since Sienkiewicz.

I do like that Maya punches Marc in the face. It proves the character’s missteps, but also gives their relationship an interesting dynamic. Once was enough, though. I faced an issue with just how many times she hits him. Not that I find it offensive. And, man, Maleev illustrates the sequence in brutal fashion. I just found it pointless. One, single fist to the face conveyed the point. Repetition only hit the point over the audience’s head. A misstep.

For a guy who created a super hero/crime comic, the interrogation scene was a nice return to form for Bendis, and the scene shows he still has it in him to create a poorly lite, tense back and forth. Maleev draws the talking heads in exciting fashion, and I like how the addition of a simple brick wall really cements the atmosphere.

….

That’s all I have. Issue #5 … in the books.

 

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The TW Review – Moon Knight #4 – And Marc Spector goes on a date …

So I’m an issue behind? Big deal. Real life caught up with me, and the internet hit the way side. Oh well. I’m back (at least for this post), and I want to communicate my thoughts and feelings on this issue of the Brian Bendis/Alex Maleev Moon Knight series.

Marc Spector goes on a date with Maya Lopez this issue. They experience the conventional first date awkwardness. Spector attempts to sound like smooth talking Philip Marlowe. There’s some real talk after the failed smooth talk. Spector and Lopez engage in post-date action (interpret action however you wish).

The end.

This issue read fairly fast. I’m not stating such to mark the comic with a negative criticism. I, in fact, sometimes enjoy Bendis’ quick, “decompressed” issues that so many people seem to criticize. Granted, those light issues are the only narrative installment for an entire month, but I can live with quick bursts every so often. Not every single issue needs the seemingly demanded 200 word balloons or heavy plot. Every instance of a narrative, if we are to understand narrative as a living, breathing organism, is not long and padded. At some point the story, like life, slows down and meanders without dialogue or revelations and just skips along, leaving moments how they are.

I’m probably depicting this comic as some sort of avant garde, subtle display when it’s not. Remember, it’s a Bendis Marvel Comic. It’s a good comic, but in no ways artistically dramatic.

I’m just romanticizing quick, light comic book issues because that’s what I do, and even though it’s light, Moon Knight #4 still pulls off an interesting, complete thought.

Reading this issue, I recall the DVD extras of the Daredevil film. I think back to watching the “Men Without Fear” documentary, you know, the one where every worthwhile Daredevil creator – minus Steve Gerber – is interviewed, and I remember how Frank Miller commented on super hero sex and his portrayal of such through Matt Murdock and Elektra.

Miller used the classic Daredevil love story to express costume intimacy via the comic book fights we are all accustomed to. Hell’s Kitchen stood in for DD and Elektra’s bed room, and kicks and bounds marked each and every sexual move. Miller put super hero sex on the page but disguised it in a way that was culturally acceptable (not like this shit that happened last week). This same idea leaks its way into Moon Knight #4 via the end of the issue. Alex Maleev takes the circumstance of the book, the main sequence being the date between Spector and Lopez, and turns a climactic fight sequence into a post-date hook up, playing off of the cliche super hero team-up. His display of the battle feels like an intimate moment between Maya and Marc. It’s the first team-up, and both characters are partners in this rage against evil.

This single fight feels like an extension of what is to come. Marc Spector and Maya Lopez. Two nobodies on the west coast, alone, facing a great threat to the Marvel U.

But the depiction of super hero relationships is  not as smooth and sexy as Miller’s because Bendis keeps in mind Marc Spector’s flaw of character – he’s not the real deal.

Like any classic Brian Michael Bendis comic book scene, Spector and Maya Lopez have a conversation. Around this conversation, Bendis deploys something you’d easily see in a high school set teen movie: gossip. Avengers and Marc Spector’s head-friendlies appear, and Bendis has them act as a social panel to characterize our love birds as nobodies. It’s the super hero version of a 90s teen movie where the cool kids discuss the awkward “romances” of the dorks. I love it.

Because Marc Spector is the dork of the super hero community. As I’ve discussed before, Spector plays hero; he’s not actually a hero. Bendis uses that flaw to bring the character down to a amusing level by making him the loser of the Marvel U, and he now has a nice “girlfriend” in tow.

Then there’s the scene itself.

Like any situation, you cannot entirely trust hearsay in order to judge a person. We may understand Maya and Marc as nobodies before the scene, but Bendis sort of brings us back to believing in these characters via the date. It’s a very humanizing scene that starts off awkward yet evolves to cute. Spector flirts with his lady friend in a style I find familiar, and then carries on into a simulated, smooth talking act as he tries to find answers to the case he’s working. Once the mystery man thing fails, Spector stops himself and the real characters come out.

I love the dialogue Bendis plants here.

Marc: ” Let’s just cut the sass down and have a real conversation.”

“Wouldn’t that be nice, if two people who do what we do had a real conversation?”

Only two word balloons but they sum up so much of Bendis’ Marvel career.

But it’s also just a nice scene for the simple fact that it gets right what a date between two people should be. One half act, or presentation to attract, another half heart-to-heart. Bendis boils down the halves of an entire date to two pages. Decompression what?

What I’m trying to say is … I love how this issue cures Marc Spector of his loneliness. Granted, dude’s fictional. I shouldn’t give a single shit whether he’s lonely or not. But there’s something nice about the way Bendis has paired the character with somebody on his level. Marlene, Spector’s previous leading lady, was fine and interesting in her own right, but Maya makes a lot of sense to me. She’s underdeveloped, similar to Moon Knight, and she’s typecast. People know her as the deaf Avenger. Same with Marc Spector. He’s “crazy Moon Knight.” The character’s been subject to his own identity flaw in recent years – both in fictional awareness and in online comics culture.

I like that Spector now has an equal, and the series’ cast has a new, solid, unexpected addition. Bendis and Maleev have crafted a solid issue here. It sells the thought that even the losers can find companionship.

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