Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Bored at 8am

I'm not sure how many people do this, but whenever I read Silver Age comics I tend to skip 90% of the dialogue. I don't read issues of Ditko's Spider man to have Stan Lee tell me everything that's happening. Ditko accomplishes that by himself. The overwrought nature of Lee's scripts likely stems from his need to explain the action to his adolescent audience. These books were made for kids mind you, and the jokey nature of the dialogue add to that notion.

While the caption boxes and thought balloons that housed so many of Lee's blocks of text, have largely been abandoned, following the advent of "widescreen" comics and the influx of "mature" readers.The joke-y nature of Lee's dialogue is still readily used. In a series where the main protagonists girlfriend has her neck snapped, after being thrown off a bridge, Lee's "jokes" seem out of place. Uncomfortably so. And yet this "stylistic" flourish still exists. The introduction of moral relativism into comics seems to be predicated on the removal of its campish nature. In a dystopian future, featuring a fascistic Batman, Shark Repellant doesn't have a place. I am not advocating the removal of humor from comics as a whole, but I doubt it would be a stretch to think that Watchman's literary reception would have been dampened if it had a two page sequence were Night Owl had a bought of diarrhea. Injecting juvenile humor into a book that deals with "worldly" subjects like life and death undermines the whole process. Yet the practice is still common.

Now don't get me wrong, camp and satire have their place, but in books sold under PR snippets like "gritty" "realistic" "street level" all they accomplish is undermining the work. Cabbie, recently reprinted by Fantagraphics, takes the entire premise of the "streets" and subverts it. Dark and satirical at every point.

The difference between The Cabbie and the majority of the American Mainstreams output is that the Cabbie never strives for "realism".  An avenging cab driver with a whore for a sister, running up against the mob and a family of hoodlums, all under the direction of Saint Christopher, sounds like a ridiculous premise, which it is. And luckily Marti understands the failings of the Pulp genre enough to mock them. And that's where its humor is derived.

At the other end of the spectrum is a book about a millionaire with split personalities, dating a deaf super-spy named Echo, and fighting a magician across LA. This book though takes itself seriously.

Maleev utilizes a "realist" style in Moon Knight, while not as stiff and heavily photo-reference as Scarlett, it doesn't capture the loose cartooning style of his early work on Daredevil. Its an amalgamation of the two, with a heavier emphasis on photo-realism. Creating pages which feature both static and frenetic panels. A odd combination indicative of this series. 

Bendis's script is bipolar. This issue features a night time rooftop battle which spills into the streets of LA, and culminates in the death of Echo (Moon Knights "girlfriend"). All of these elements are put in place to amp up the issues realism, especially when rendered by Maleev. Whenever Moon Knights split personalities are involved (both when they "take over" or are simple being mentioned)the realism Bendis and Maleev try to build goes haywire. It reads like a Bendis Avenger's script bleeding over into Moon Knight. Which makes the choice of split personalities especially alarming due to Bendis's long tenure on The Avengers (and that series distinct tone). His choices seem to be him purposely shooting himself in the foot.

Take this page for example, "WHAT IS HE THE COUNT OF ANYWAY? I BET NOTHING. HE JUST DECIDED TO CALL HIMSELF COUNT." this line of dialogue, while in keeping with Bendis's take on Spider man, creates a problem. If we are supposed to fear for Moon Knights life having Spider man "yuck it up" creates a tonal shift which undermines the seriousness of the moment. Even more so, having Echo die at the end of this issues (which Bendis surely had plotted before he even wrote the issue) makes these "comments" horrifying in retrospect.

What we have here are two books, one that takes itself seriously, and the other which takes nothing serious. But only one of these books ever tells a joke.

I understand your friends think your funny, but theirs a reason Citizen Kane doesn't have any dick jokes.

Moon Knight #9
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: Alex Maleev
Colors by: Matt Hollingsworth
Lettering by: Cory Petit
Publisher by: Marvel Comics 


  1. I think you bring up a good point, but if I could argue it ...

    The point of the issue isn't necessarily the physical battle as it was more about the headtrip going on. The fight really is just a backdrop, until the end when it gets the reader's full attention because of Echo's death (which is a shift in tone, but an intentional one to supply that cliffhanger danger vibe). That said, the tone implied could still be a dramatic/serious one, but in order to show that headtrip you have to show those inner voices, and those inner voices happen to be goofy super hero characters. Maybe that throws things off, but I found the tone of this issue to be more an uncertain one than a serious/gritty one. The character's uncertain of who to be in this fight, and that's why the issue feels frantic. The tone matches the internal conflict. It's only in the last few pages, a specific tone is established, when Marc Spector picks Wolverine as, say, his "spiritual animal."

    As for Maleev's art style, I think that's where an implication of dark/gritty can come from, and I can agree that it may jumble the narrative's identity whenever flamboyant super hero characters appear.

    Although, I could just be an idiot. Nice post!

  2. "The character's uncertain of who to be in this fight" I can definitely see your argument, but i think the structure Bendis uses; Two pages of MK getting his gear followed by 4 pages of him switching personalities; rinse repeat x3. Creates s overall structure to MK's personalities splitting. They become beats in a story, instead of a man struggling to figure out "who he is" at any one point of the fight.

    I also didnt read the previous issues, so i cant attest to its place in the overall narrative. So it very well may be a battle between the personalities for dominance (Spidey deferring to Cap, the fight over whether or not they should kill the Count, etc). But i think that would have been better done if the personalities actually came into conflict (something akin to Casey's Haunt were the two brothers struggle over control of "Haunt" when they combine)