Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Review: Moon Knight by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev Vol. 2

Reading that first collection of Gregg Hurwitz's attempt at a Moon Knight series reminded me that I never read the second (and final) volume of the Brian Michael Bendis/Alex Maleev attempt, a book so short-lived that it might as well have been planned as a limited series rather than an ongoing. In fact, the second volume of the series, which collects issues #8-12, so completely wrap up every thing, it sort of felt like the book was planned as a 12-issue series from the outset, with Bendis perhaps leaving a little flexibility for himself in the last few issues should the book prove popular enough to keep going; as it wasn't, he seems to have written those last few scripts to tie everything up.

For a Bendis-written book then, it's incredibly tightly plotted, with no real loose ends and actual conclusions to the various conflicts raised (That said, the final issue, published in early 2012, does end teasing Bendis' 2013 event series Age of Ultron, both in its plot, which involves a pair of Marvel villains trying to reanimate Ultron to get on his good side before he does what he's going to do, and in a big, fat text banner in the final panel, reading "Moon Knight Will Return In...The Age of Ultron.")

The bigger surprise than how well-constructed the narrative ultimately ended up being—long-term plotting and endings being two particular weaknesses of Bendis'—was the fate of Echo, which I hope it's cool to discuss here, since this book ended almost three years ago now.

To recap the plot of the first volume, Moon Knight Marc Spector has moved from New York to Las Angeles. By day, Spector is consulting on a cheesy TV show about his adventures as a soldier of fortune called Legends of the Khonshu. By night, he's fighting crime, with the help of former (New) Avenger Echo and former SHIELD Agent Buck Lime, the latter of whom builds tech for Moon Knight.

More specifically, the crime he fights is that organized by the new Kingpin of L.A., Avengers-class super-villain Count Nefaria, who I had never heard of until I looked him up on Wikipedia after reading the first volume. Apparently, he's got Superman's powers—super-speed, super-strength, invulnerability, red eyebeams—and started out as a Thor villain. He also dresses like Bela Lugosi's Dracula for mysterious but awesome reasons. Well, Bela Lugosi's Dracula, but with a monocle. So I guess he actually dresses more like The Count from Sesame Street. He was trying to buy an Ultron robot on the black market, so that's two Avengers level issues that Moon Knight really oughta call the Avengers in on, but he's sort of stubborn, perhaps because he is literally, clinically insane.

Bendis' rather inspired—at least from a marketing angle—take on Moon Knights lunacy was to have the character seeing things and hearing voices, but for those things to be Captain America, Spider-Man and Wolverine, and those voices to be their voices. So although this is a Moon Knight comic, it's also sort of an Avengers comic, with every issue co-starring the most popular of the Avengers characters (It obviously didn't work at convincing enough people to buy the book every month to keep it going past 12 issues, but it was a good idea and a nice try).

In the first volume, when Bendis and Maleev were being rather coy about just how crazy Moon Knight was, it seemed at times that he had developed split personalities that just so happened to be these three Avengers. By this issue, though, they sort of appear like the ghosts of dead Jedi, advising him as disembodied voices or see-through figures. And, as with the Jedi in the Star Wars movie, when a character dies, they join the other ghostly advisors. So when Count Nefaria totally kills Echo, she appears with the other three, and Moon Knight starts hearing her voice as well.

That was pretty surprising. To learn that not only were Bendis and Maleev using Echo in this series, but they actually went ahead and killed her off in a fight with Count Nefaria, essentially "fridging" her (Although arguments could be made regarding how pure a fridging this was).

It surprised me because a random issue of a Moon Knight comic seems an even weirder place for an Avenger to die than for her to appear at all, and because she was a David Mack (and Joe Quesada) creation, first appearing in a 1999 issue of Daredevil. Sure, Marvel owned her, and Bendis made a lot more comics with her in them than Mack ever did—she was in New Avengers as Ronin when Bendis launched at book—but it still seems somewhat uncouth to kill-off a fellow creator's character (Additionally, she was 1) A woman, 2) Native America and 3) deaf, so that's three different groups that don't exactly have a great deal of representation in superhero comics that she represented; also, I'm just not a real big fan of killing off characters, as there's always more to be done with a living character than a dead one).

It also surprised me because Bendis also killed off The Sentry, another new-ish Marvel character he didn't create, but wrote extensively.

But, more than anything, it surprised me because this was literally the first I heard of Echo dying at all. Usually the death of a superhero, or supporting character in a superhero comic, makes some waves, but if this was heavily reported on among the people who report upon such things, I completely missed it and/or forgot ever hearing about it when it happened.

Which I guess is an argument for why killing her off isn't really a bad thing, if no one missed her, even when she was gone. (She could also have been brought back to life since then. I have no idea).

Anyway, Nefaria eyebeams her through the torso during the first of two big fights between Moon Knight and Nefaria. In that one, the voices in his head advise Moon Knight to run and/or call in the Avengers, and he refuses. He tries keeping Echo out of the suicidal fight, but in the end he lives and she dies.

Perhaps because so much of the set-up was handled in the first volume, or because the book was winding down already, this volume read much more smoothly than the first, and with few if any of the tiresome, trademark Bendis monologues. It's actually quite action-packed, and it's sort of a shame that Nefaria is in many of those action scenes, as Maleev often draws his fighting in longshot, and it's not all that clear what's going on. He and Moon Knight are posed in the air, and there's red light and explosions. From his eyebeams, I guess...?

Maleev continues to make liquids look really, really weird (Also, airborne bullets, blood splatter, laser-shields and, most especially, Spider-Man's webbing), and the collection format draws attention to some shortcuts he took that one might not have noticed with a month between seeing this on the last page of one comic...
...and this on an early page from the next issue...
He recycles art repeatedly throughout, but its never so obvious as on the cliffhanger/opening splashes like the ones above and below, which are just a turn of the page away from each other in the collection.

Despite some relative weakness in the art, Maleev's Moon Knight work is head-and-shoulders above that of David Finch and Jerome Opena. If one were to ask me for a recommendation regarding a Moon Knight comic, I'd definitely recommend these two collections over the Hurwitz-written Vengeance of The Moon Knight series, in large part because of how much more accessible and new reader friendly the Bendis/Maleev take is. Whether it is a Moon Knight series in the same way that the Hurwitz one was (or if it was Bendis and Maleev re-creating the character into something they hoped would be more marketable), well, I'm not Moon Knight fan enough to say. I do plan on trying all the other Moon Knight volumes I can find in trade though...eventually.


Anonymous said...

Ellis' Moon Knight will be the first Spector I've tasted since I bought an issue back in... 1983.

Nick Ahlhelm said...

Or it was proof no one read this book. I remember hearing absolutely no news about it at all, to the point I didn't even know Echo was in it.

Marc said...

I agree that there's something about Echo being killed off, and with none of the usual fanfare that attends death in superhero comics, that is fairly disturbing. Not because she is a "good" or "interesting" character (these things are, frankly, immaterial -- although the fact of her triple-minority status is definitely cause for concern) but because, like you said, she's the creation of another contemporary comics writer. While Echo wasn't legally owned by Mack and Quesada, she represented the closest thing to creative ownership currently possible in corporate comics, and to see that so unceremoniously tread upon is disheartening.

Many have called Geoff Johns a "company man" for DC, but Bendis seems even worthier of that label at this point, with his consistent attempts to (permanently) shelve some of the most significant characters created at Marvel over the last 15 years (Echo, Sentry, even his own Ultimate Peter Parker) -- all of this in an industry mostly dominated by characters that are over 50 years old, and in which new characters (i.e., ones created in the last 30 years) stand little chance of even sustaining their own series.

Between this and his recent resurrection of the "original" 1960s X-Men as major characters in the current Marvel Universe, Bendis's writing speaks to a kind of corporate conservatism that seems unparalleled by any other writer working in comics today. That he's also one of the industry's most prolific writers should, I think, tell us quite a few things about the state of mainstream comics today.