9.02.2014

Moon Knight #7 [Advance Review]


The City is The Thing.

If you’ve ever read any of Brian Wood’s books, especially his Creator Owned Comics – because those are the best kind of comics, natch – then you know that the writer fiercely loves New York City, and the city tends to pervade the work.

In books written by Brian Wood (Channel Zero, The New York Four, and DMZ probably serving as the best example), New York City transcends its status as mere metropolitan setting and becomes a thematic undercurrent, if not one of the characters outright. That’s certainly the case with his inaugural issue of the new Moon Knight, a character which has sort of shifted recently from his convoluted continuity roots to embody that new ideal.

If Wilson was “The Ghost Protector of Chinatown” in DMZ, then I’m gonna’ take some liberties with Brian Wood’s writing and go ahead and go on record and say that Moon Knight is “The Ghost Protector of Marvel’s NYC.”

For this run on Moon Knight, Brian Wood is collaborating with Greg Smallwood (ok, go ahead and get all of the “Big Wood” and “Small Wood” jokes out of your system, you idiots, I swear I’ve heard them all during my LCS shifts, and I’ll wait for you to compose yourself, because this book is more important than that vapid nonsense), along with Eisner-Winning Color Queen Jordie Bellaire. In a nod at providing consistency with Warren Ellis’ approach on the title, Declan Shalvey remains on cover art duty, Bellaire’s coloring itself is a welcome holdover, and Greg Smallwood brings a similar intent to the creative team.

Smallwood’s sense of purpose is all about layout fluidity and panel ingenuity. As was the case with Shalvey, there’s deliberately a sense of experimentation at play, but Smallwood puts a lot of his own English on the ball, if you’ll pardon the pool term. If you caught his captivating work on Dream Thief with Jai Nitz, then you’ll particularly notice his superb use of sound effects as panels. You’ll notice small flourishes like the manga-inspired visual symbol for a dead cell battery. It adds so much life to such a throwaway moment when you consider what the alternative might have been. What, a little red battery icon that said 0%? C’mon. What we get instead is a memorable moment instead of a flyover panel. When you understand and have mastered the fundamentals and then selectively break those rules, you know what that’s called? That’s called style.

I’ll draw your attention to two additional pages that’ll allow me to sing the praises of Greg Smallwood. On page 8, he uses the first of two 15-panel grids(!) contained in the issue to illustrate an urban blackout. This design punctuates the proceedings with a manic sense of claustrophobia and lurking danger. It’s just beat after beat after beat selling you on what it feels like to be in this dark city with a vigilante waiting in the shadows. I’d be remiss in not also calling out Jordie Bellaire’s lighting on this page, which sort of works its way up the side of the sequence, ignoring panel borders and inconsequential gutters to illuminate the area where your eye needs to eventually arrive. If you liked stuff like David Aja’s work with Matt Fraction on The Immortal Iron Fist, or their later collaboration on the popular Hawkeye for something slightly more contemporary, then Moon Knight is the place you need to be.

For the coup de grace to all of the lesser artists out there (sorry to be so direct, but y’all need to step up your game after this page), I’ll direct your attention to page 20. Moon Knight calls his Wing in for an emergency airlift. Simultaneously, this inventive page layout: A) provides a very cool panel-busting reveal for his aerial gadget, B) moves your eye down the page, falling with gravity in a series of inverted trapezoids, which C) bring you to your final destination, looking into the scope of a rifle, unwittingly carrying all of the storytelling action without any pesky dialogue, and D) pull back and the entire fucking page forms an exclamation point which punches you in the face while it punctuates everything I just described! That’s some multivalent shit happening right there. This is the kind of original art piece that people lust after.

Brian Wood’s script also deliberately pays its respects to Warren Ellis and what came before. It captures the perfect blend of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” while still putting his stamp on the work for discerning readers. There’s an effort made to capture the elusive feel of what Ellis instituted, not just the look. The book continues the use of the same intro text. There’s the same inclusion of forward-thinking technology that futurist fiction writers love to dabble in. It works as a done-in-one, but now connects to a larger narrative arc. Moon Knight’s sense of humor has that deadpan voice to it, evidenced by lines like “Carry on.” Moon Knight might be a raving loon. Everyone else he encounters might think he’s a raving loon (albeit with moments of stark clarity). But, Moon Knight doesn’t think he’s a raving loon. He’s quite serious. He doesn’t exist relative to anyone else’s perception of him. The best villains and anti-heroes are always the protagonists of their own narrative. It’s that juxtaposition that allows this brand of straight-faced humor to work.

It may be a little early to posit observations like this, but I do think this could function as one of Brian Wood’s “New York City Books,” because of the way the city already seems intent on establishing itself as a fundamental element. Moon Knight says as much, that this is his city, protecting the city is important, the city is a living breathing organism that’s just been knocked unconscious, the city is something more than the sum of its constituent parts. Wood also laces the script with some of his trademark moves (DMZ again service as a good example), like the newsfeed used as a contextual backdrop, the awareness of global political tension, or the sense of social unrest that seems to be bubbling just below the surface. 

The Wood and Smallwood Moon Knight strikes me as slightly less the offbeat psychological recluse of the Ellis and Shalvey Moon Knight, a necessary adjustment reflecting the proclivities of (primarily) the writer. If the Ellis Moon Knight was half Suited White Knight Detective (subverting its roots as Marvel’s own Dark Knight derivative), and half, I don’t know, Doctor Strange, then the Wood Moon Knight is portrayed as more half Suited White Knight Detective, half “Ghost Protector of NYC,” and that’s just fine for the more grounded sensibilities.

Brian Wood and Greg Smallwood’s Moon Knight is a strong continuation of the Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey incarnation, one which adds their own unique characteristics, both aesthetically and thematically. It’s delightful, refreshing, and just plain cool. I think that Wood may have finally found his home in the Marvel Universe, applying his outsider ethos and indie voice to a property with mainstream appeal and rich potential. Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey would have been a tough act for anyone to follow, but Brian Wood and Greg Smallwood have done it with grace and style. Grade A+.

8.31.2014

9.03.14 [#BookOfTheWeek]

#BookOfTheWeek is brought to you with generous support from my retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics. Make Yesteryear Comics your first and only destination in San Diego for great customer service and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new titles during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.

Moon Knight #7 (Marvel): There’s a small selection of really choice books out this week, including the raucous fun of God Hates Astronauts #1 (Image), Jason Aaron's gritty homecoming tale in Southern Bastards #4 (Image), and the luscious-looking Concrete Park: Respect #1 (Dark Horse), but the clear standout is Moon Knight #7, with the new creative team of Brian Wood and Greg Smallwood, with colorist Jordie Bellaire and cover artist Declan Shalvey holding over. Honestly, and I say this with all due respect, I think most people are just hoping the new team doesn't fuck things up, it was a magic formula, and I was initially pleasantly surprised and then quickly blown away by what they pull off. Wood and Smallwood delightfully thread a very tiny needle here, managing to provide a respectful continuation of what Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey laid down, while still stamping it with their own unique style. Wood grounds the White Knight hard in a noticeably present NYC bubbling with social tension, while Smallwood brings his sensational A-game with layout ingenuity and panel design. If page 20 alone doesn't make you believe in the dynamic abilities of the medium, then it's time to find a new hobby. It’s very rare that you have one creative team that’s can’t miss, followed by a different creative team on the same title that’s equally can’t miss, but these guys have done it.  

8.25.2014

The Massive #26 @ Comics Bulletin [Advance Review]


I wrote an Advance Review of this week's The Massive #26 over at Comics Bulletin.

8.24.2014

8.27.14 [#BookOfTheWeek]

#BookOfTheWeek is brought to you with generous support from my retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics. Make Yesteryear Comics your first and only destination in San Diego for great customer service and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new titles during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.

The Massive #26 (Dark Horse): There’s a ton of great stuff out this week, everything from the sales juggernaut that is Saga #22, and Black Science #8 (probably the best thing Rick Remender has produced since that career-high Uncanny X-Force run) to Charles Soule’s Letter 44 #9 and Joe Casey’s post-genre Sex #15. I also want to direct people’s attention to Fuse: Volume 01 by Antony Johnston and Justin Greenwood, which is basically CSI: Galactica if you want some pitch shorthand. For me, #BookOfTheWeek was a very close call, which came down to The Massive #26 and Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #2. Tom Scioli’s take on these 80’s nostalgia properties is just perfect. It captures this manic sense of nostalgia and invades your childhood with an indie comics aesthetic that is equal parts reverence to the source material and deep subversive intent. It was a brilliant move to have Scarlett lead an away team to invade Cybertron(!), I love the sly details of certain scenes actually looking like action figures being played with due to their small scale, or the ruthless Bumblebee head necklace Megatron wears like a baller(!), and Scarlett's interplay with cats like Wild Bill is just sublime. It’s highly recommended and no doubt one of the best books of the year. But. Then there’s Brian Wood, Garry Brown, and Jordie Bellaire exponentially intensifying The Massive to such a degree that these final, I’d say three, arcs are just paying off so brilliantly. There isn’t a whole lot else I can say about the plot itself without encrypting things with big [REDACTED] marks all over it, but needless to say, the three central mysteries that have surrounded the series since the beginning - The Crash, The Massive, and engimatic Mary - are all starting to become more and more clear. Wood has said all along that The Massive is about the end, planned at #30, so I'm very excited to see exactly how he's going to stick the landing. I was also really impressed by John Paul Leon’s rendition of The Pieta on the cover, which is very gripping.

8.19.2014

8.20.14 [#BookOfTheWeek]

#BookOfTheWeek is brought to you with generous support from my retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics. Make Yesteryear Comics your first and only destination in San Diego for great customer service and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new titles during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.

Supreme: Blue Rose #2 (Image): There are several strong contenders this week. There’d be absolutely no shame in picking the flawless lush visuals and morality examination amid crumbling social structures in Manifest Destiny #9, the pop myth masterpiece of The Wicked + The Divine #3, Hemingway and his hemochromatosis upstaging the protagonist in The Life After #2, the overwhelming visual feast from Chris Mitten, Jordan Boyd, and Thomas Mauer in Umbral #8, or the perpetual outsider riff vis-à-vis pseudo-totalitarianism in Trees #4. Like I said, there’s a ton of great comics out this week. But, I’m inclined to give the nod to Warren Ellis and Tula Lotay’s Supreme: Blue Rose #2. The striking visuals are what first caught my attention (though I'll admit the sometimes inconsistent writing from Ellis has been far more "hit" than "miss" of late, just look at the 6-issue phenom that is Moon Knight), but honestly this is what Warren Ellis does best. It’s Warren Ellis channeling his inner Warren Ellis and ruminating on the act of the craft itself. Sure, the sci-fi message is about time as a non-linear construct, and with Lotay’s ethereal, slightly out of focus lines, the compelling premise is that if the loop has already occurred, we can message versions of ourselves from our current position. But, underneath the protagonist’s navigation of that structure is Ellis talking about process, the “protocolization” as one character puts it, similar to what Alan Moore starting doing toward the end of Promethea, a quasi-autobiographical infusion into the genre fiction. I’m feeling like this has the potential to be the best Warren Ellis creation since Planetary. That’s high praise considering I often tell people that Planetary is one of (if not “the”) best comic in the last 20 years. Grade A+. 

8.12.2014

8.13.14 [#BookOfTheWeek]

#BookOfTheWeek is brought to you with generous support from my retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics. Make Yesteryear Comics your first and only destination in San Diego for great customer service and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new titles during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.

Star Wars #20 (Dark Horse): Well, it's the end of an era. For me, this is the last Dark Horse Star Wars book I'll ever pick up off the stands. Brian Wood, Carlos D'Anda, and Gabe Eltaeb deliver a satisfying conclusion to their run. By including Seren Song, a Rebel Alliance deep cover agent, and her stolen Imperial Geological Survey data, it offers readers the opportunity to read in between the lines and learn how the Rebels discovered the remote world of Hoth. The writing is totally solid, dialogue full of Star Wars-isms, fleshed out world-building, and clever new lines ("The Falcon grew talons." Wood seriously nails the slightly smart-ass voice of the ice-cold assassin droid IG-88.). But, one of the greatest treats is seeing Carlos D'Anda work his stout lines and Gabe Eltaeb fill them with a rustic sheen that's right at home in the Star Wars Universe. There are so many memorable moments here, from Seren's Y-Wing (always a design favorite of mine), to IG-88's menacing sniper shot from atop the IG-2000, to a forced perspective shot of the Falcon in full burn, to a close-up of Han Solo's swaggering charm, this was the Star Wars title that really had it all. I've said it before, but it bears repeating: This is the last great contribution to Dark Horse Star Wars comics. If you've gotta' go out, might as well go out on a high note. Grade A+.

8.05.2014

8.06.14 [#BookOfTheWeek]

#BookOfTheWeek is brought to you with generous support from my retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics. Make Yesteryear Comics your first and only destination in San Diego for great customer service and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new titles during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.

Lazarus #10 (Image): There's a small handful of worthwhile books out this week, including Moon Knight #6, Spread #2, and The Bunker #5, but my pick is Lazarus for a few reasons. First, its dark aesthetic from Michael Lark is always the right vibe, and I loved little details in this issue like the damaged Statue of Liberty or the accuracy of the medical shears in a throwaway little moment. The brilliant world-building from Greg Rucka is just so right on, the fleshing out of families as Jonah Carlyle flees to Hock territory after a failed coup against his father and sister, the dystopian propaganda the serfs and waste live in, the juxtaposition of farmed fields with an urban backdrop, and the way Jonah's privilege comes crashing against reality outside the protection of his family's borders. There's an insistence on socially relevant economic fears and resource scarcity extrapolated to their natural extremes in this script, and it really shines with the incredible restraint shown in the dialogue department. Rucka, and David Brothers' editing I think, allow so much of Lark's imagery to carry the storytelling without any pesky dialogue. If The Godfather was crime families amid a twisted disillusionment with The American Dream of generations past, then Lazarus feels like crime families amid paranoid futurism about The American Nightmare in more current socioeconomic times. With the promising "Conclave" arc impending, which will witness a massive sit-down (maybe the biggest since The Macao Accords) between the heads of all the families, this has grown to become one of the best series of 2014. Grade A+.