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Friday, June 19, 2015

Panel Vision - Moon Knight #16

In case you aren’t familiar with him Moon Knight is a Marvel vigilante character created in the ‘70s to fight werewolves.  Since then he’s stayed around thanks to the popularity of his unique visual scheme while his actual character has ended up filtered through a variety of different lenses.  This latest incarnation of Moon Knight takes things somewhat back to the characters roots with an emphasis on supernatural fantasy, though it’s blended nicely with Moon Knight’s role as a gritty urban crime fighter.  The result is a comic that ends up thoroughly informed by ‘90s sensibilities but executed in an infinitely better manner. 

Each issue serves as a one and done story focusing on Moon Knight interacting with some freaky denizen of the night, acting as the Earthly avatar of Egyptian moon god Khonshu.  It draws heavily on ‘90s ideas about blending horror, fantasy, and action but with the added benefit of not getting bogged down in character or plot.  Moon Knight himself is pretty simplistic, he defends the night because that is his living purpose, no confusion about it.  Most of the storylines are ultimately just set-ups, at best amounting to an enemy description and their location.  Where Moon Knight makes up for that is in the incredible artwork, superb coloring, and an emphasis on developing a deeply engrossing and unique atmosphere and ethos for the series.  It’s a comic that’s selling the experience of reading it rather than any of its characters or stories. 
This month’s plot line revolves around a group of jetpack kidnappers who use their advanced flight technology to snatch people right off the street.  The bulk of the issue is dedicated to a spectacular aerial battle between Moon Knight and the sky raiders when our hero bursts out a crescent moon shaped personal flying wing.  The personalized shape of Moon Knight’s vehicle is thoroughly reminiscent of Tim Burton’s Batman and their visualization of the Batwing, down to the point of actually making a visual reference to that film at one point.  The entire sequence is a marvel of visual storytelling, essentially requiring no reading to get exactly what’s happening.  I especially like how much the creators have embraced the classic tradition of Moon Knight’s somewhat over the tope and dopey personalizations.  For instance in addition to his moon shaped flying wing he also has a quartet of moon drones and eve breaks out some moonarangs at one point.  That sequence is a treat for old fans of the ‘70s Moon Knight comic, though, like most of the book, it comes with a harder edge to it. 

That rougher edge is part of what makes this more scifi story fit into the overall tone and thematic cohesion of Moon Knight.  I mentioned earlier that Moon Knight is drawing heavily on ‘90s tropes and genre blending for its inspiration, what I meant specifically by that were properties like Spawn, Gargoyles, or The Crow.  The thing is that a lot of those series, especially Spawn and Gargoyles, were quick to incorporate elements of the growing cyber-thriller trend of the ‘90s into their genre hodgepodge.  That’s why in Spawn was originally a high tech secret agent and will sometimes fight government killers with laser guns and Cyborg hit men in addition to the normal cavalcade of angels and demons.  These properties managed this integration smoothly because they cleverly wedded the scifi concepts to the physical world of their characters, creating a physical dichotomy between the gothic architecture that informed the horror elements of their universe and the mirrored steel towers of their cyberpunk stories.
That same idea of meshing setting and concept is on display in this issue of Moon Knight.  However the issue also hedges its bets by making the jetpack kidnappers also deranged cultists that worship a similar God to Khonshu.  So even though the central chase and battle sequence is relegated to the towering skyscraper of New York proper the final resting place of the jetpack cult is a rusted, derelict off shore drilling platform.  It’s the perfect visual metaphor for the cultists, this sprawling monstrosity of collapsing metal and technology all wrapped around a dark and creepy supernatural core.  The final reveal as Moon Knight enters the heart of the oil rig is deeply unnerving and very well executed, creating a near perfect visual circuit with the story’s opening. 

Additionally the issue is just wonderfully drawn and colored.  Colorist Dan Brown gets a real sense of artificiality from the fluorescent streetlights of New York city, never letting the book slip into true darkness till we reach the oil rig.  However it’s artist German Peralta who really steals this show on this issue.  The story gives him a chance to draw a ton of very unique visual phenomena that he shows an amazing aptitude for.  The book is full of lines of motion, the exhaust from jetpacks and missiles, smoke from impacts, and some really superb blood splatter work that’s the perfect combination of colorist and artist.  The longshots of the aerial battle are especially impressive, usually featuring this trailing line of smoke, exhaust, and carnage.  The battle itself is also very well scripted, showing off all of Moon Knight’s weapons and managing to make him seem powerful and intimidating without resorting to making him unbeatable. 
I’ve mentioned previously that it’s easy to get swept up in Secret Wars fever this days and neglect that fact that Marvel really is putting out a great stable of quality comics.  Books like Moon Knight or Groot or Deathlok all run the risk of slipping through the cracks and going unnoticed, and that’d be a real shame because Moon Knight is a damn near masterpiece.  It’s an amazing example of visual storytelling, genre meshing, and just how great a comic can be when the creators are bold enough to focus on what they want to rather than what’s conventionally considered important.  

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