Being fair to "Moon Knight" # 1 isn't a problem. It's a conspicuously thin, often poorly-crafted, and largely empty-headed comic book, and I'm absolutely confident that that's a reasonable judgment of its worth. No, the problem is that it's so poor a piece of work that it's hard to want to do anything other than savage it, because, after all, Mr Bendis and Mr Maleev are outstanding professionals and they really shouldn't be peddling exploitative piffle such as this at $3.99 a hit.
But a blogger that's little but constantly crabby is of no use to anyone at all, least of all himself. Even the entertainment value of watching a grown man spluttering and steaming up his glasses about the travails of reading superhero comics quickly palls, as I'm sure you'd agree. Invective isn't analysis, and a sneer and a spit and a "how could they do this to the children?" spirit of outrage doesn't help make sense of "Moon Knight" # 1 in any productive way at all. Of course, I know this. And so, I've spent the past week trying to write about Mr Bendis and Mr Maleev's tale in a series of ways which might involve more than self-righteous carping and a know-nothing amateur's misappropriation of his old notes from Comics 101.
I've failed. I've started six different essays at six more-or-less different starting points and each one has ground to a halt. Some of them were complete except for the need for one last pass, and some stalled after four or five paragraphs. For the truth is, there's no compromising with "Moon Knight" # 1, there's no apparent point in trying to engage in a debate with it. It's a comic which defeats any attempt to open up a dialogue, because it's only concerned with the narrowest of audiences and the most parochial of standards. As a text, as a comic book, "Moon Knight" seems to shrug its shoulders when approached with even the least invasive of questions, self-satisfied and safe in the knowledge that it'll be book of the week and first choice on the podcast menu for a great swathe of the comics blogosphere. Speaking to no-one who isn't already a committed soldier-consumer in the hardcore audience, ambitious for nothing beyond delivering more of the same with a tiny little twist of ersatz-difference, "Moon Knight" provokes negativity in the uncommitted because it doesn't seek to speak to anyone other than its mates. It simply doesn't care what anyone thinks beyond the ranks of those who are already pre-programmed to applaud it. Because of that, the most positive response that anyone not sold on the typical Marvel Comics product of 2011 can generate is apathy.
For "Moon Knight" # 1 is the exact opposite to a comic book seeking a broader audience. Indeed, it's a comic book that effectively, and very efficiently, tells everyone beyond the adept that they're not welcome here, that they can either applaud or get lost, and that's a very strange attitude to be taking when launching a new book in an industry marked by an ever-decreasing audience for its monthly product.
Below are six introductory sections from my six different stillborn reviews of "Moon Knight" # 1. This isn't, as I'm sure you'll realise, a tribute to the fractured consciousness of Marc Spector and his incredibly suspect super-power of mental illness, but it is a marker of how so much of the modern-era superhero product defeats the will to engage with it. Fans will put up with just about anything, of course, or at least they will right up until saturation point arrives and they just walk away, but there's a far, far greater audience out there who might just want to read a superhero book or two if they were given equal time with the elect. If only folks could just find a trace more evidence of comics which speak inclusively to them rather than exclusively to the hive mentality of the entirely-habituated superhero devotee.
1. The One In Which The Blogger Tries To Talk About Social Representations
It seems that nobody at Marvel Comics was remembering to think about anyone other than white blokes on the morning that "Moon Knight" # 1 got the go-ahead. And no-one, it appears, has thought anything more about the whole business of who does and who doesn't get invited to appear in the pages of "Moon Knight" over the past year and more that Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev have working on this series. And so, regardless of why it is that such things keep happening in the product shipped by Marvel and DC, that fact is that the only person of colour in the whole of "Moon Knight" # 1 is a black actor shown playing a corrupt mercenary, who, having fulfilled his role of protagonist-maiming bad guy, disappears in a helicopter by the third panel of page 3. Thup-thup-thup-thup-thup-thup goes the sound effect as the only non-white figure in the book escapes from admittedly-playful stereotype into invisibility, and there's nothing but Caucasian folks for the 30 pages from then onwards.
Given the chance to completely revamp a superhero book, it might be imagined that Marvel would have taken the opportunity to think about more than just elbowing the likes of Logan and Peter Parker into one more monthly comic. But, no, faced with an almost blank canvas, Mr Bendis and Mr Maleev have decided to present everything - including the super-heroics - in as whitebread and malestream a fashion as can be imagined. Perhaps this is a situation which will change with issue 2, or issue 6, or whenever, but, taken in isolation, just as it was bought and read in isolation, "Moon Knight" # 1 is a book which just doesn't seem to care about being seen to care where race and gender is concerned. And so, even the three costumed identities which have been given to Marc Spector as part of his comic-book madness are as white as they can be. Did no-one consider that Luke Cage or T'Challa might have been chosen as one of the triumvirate of disordered alters, was no-one feeling a touch more ambitious when it came to the matter of who was given panel-time in this book? Well, if they were, they weren't listened to, or perhaps their imput will only register in the months to come. But for now, it's Cap and Spidey and Wolvy and Moony, and the all-white line-up in the forefront of the book is mirrored by the all-white supporting roles and the all-white walk-ons in the background too. For people of colour don't even get walk-on parts in "Moon Knight" # 1. Of the twenty distinct women and men at Marc Spector's party, for example, as you can see below, not a single one is anything but conspicuously white.
Women, however, do have a substantial presence in "Moon Knight" # 1. In fact, there's lots of women featured at the afore-mentioned elite gathering on pages 6 and 7. That they're all white and sylphlike and beautiful and largely hanging onto the arms of status-saturated men, that they're representative of no-one but media-lovely white models and actresses, is something of a drawback where any claim to being socially inclusive is concerned. But, at least there's not just a single stereotypical white woman in the entire book. No, there's lots of stereotypical white women, silent and pretty and nought more than window dressing.
Regrettably, those people-who-aren't-blokes swiftly disappear from "Moon Knight" # 1, never to be seen again, after the end of page 7. Having added that apparently vital element of traditional glamour to the gathering, and with no other narrative function for them to fulfill, they snap out of existence. After that, it's 26 pages of the white fellas.
Did nobody notice? Did nobody care enough to notice? Did Mr Bendis and Mr Maleev, who have of course produced a significant body of work that's clearly socially inclusive, not think to ask themselves what "Moon Knight" # 1 could seem to be saying about who does, and who doesn't, get to appear in today's superhero books? Was there no one making sure that the wrong impression, that an entirely-unintended impression, wasn't created, especially given how similarly careless so much of today's comics product can be where race and gender are concerned? Was there really no way to tell the story of Moon Knight - to indeed launch a new series of Moon Knight - without being so apparently unconcerned about anyone but the white boys?
No, it's nothing to do with Political Correctness and the dreaded quotas and the freedom-devouring Thought Police, and everything to do with kindness and respect. Not the kindness we show when we're conspiciously expressing our dearly-held convictions, or the respect that marks our behaviour when we're determined to make a point, but the conscious lack of carelessness which we work to constantly maintain when it comes to the matter of remembering that everyone deserves to be at every party, and that everyone always ought to be invited.
2.: The One In Which The Blogger Tries To Be Funny And Fails
My Business Studies Homework, by Brian Michael Bendis (aged 43)
"Describe how you might create a demand for a commercially unsuccessful superhero." (10 marks)
- Super-hero fans only buy franchise books.
- The Avengers are Marvel's biggest franchise.
- Moon Knight is a sort-of Avenger whose solo books don't sell.
- Moon Knight is a solo character with a loyal if small fanbase.
- Moon Knight's solo book might sell if it was a clearly-branded Avengers title which also appealed to his fans.
- Moon Knight is a mentally ill superhero with comic-book schizophrenia and many different personalities.
- Being mad is a Unique Selling Point (USP). Very few books have totally insane leads who can look moody and threatening too.
- Moon Knight could be rebooted as a mentally-ill superhero who imagines himself surrounded by The Avengers when he's actually on his own. He could even imagine that he is several other superheroes at different times. Moon-Knight could be his own team-up book!
- This Moon Knight's book would be an Avengers comic and a solo book, attracting two different groups of fans simultaneously. There can be lots of scenes of Wolverine and Spider-Man and Captain America, but no-one can moan that the book isn't about Moon Knight.
- So, Moon Knight can be different and exciting and surprising and funny too, because mentally ill superheroes are different, and can be exciting, surprising and fun too.
- Yes, Wolverine and Spider-Man and Captain America would be in Moon Knight all the time, shifting units while adding variety to the Marvel Comics line. (239 words.)
It’s hard to say whether the defining characteristic of Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s new “Moon Knight” book is silliness or desperation. Perhaps a comicbook which is so marked by an excess of both qualities demands the invention of a new term to describe such a manically futile situation. Might I suggest;
Silliperation (noun) - the condition of behaving in an unconsciously silly and desperate manner in order to survive in a hopelessly incestuous and collapsing marketplace.
Extreme circumstances create remarkable and previously unimaginable adaptions. The fantastic ecosystems clustered around deep sea hydrothermal vents. The arsenic-DNA of the bacteria which thrives in Mono Lake, its waters three times more salty than the ocean. The quality of silliperation which marks the work of many superhero comic creators, who toil in the most inbred and demanding of economic circumstances, tasked with selling more of the same to a profoundly conservative audience already saturated with largely interchangeable product. (see: Moon Knight # 1)
4. The One In Which The Blogger Tub-Thumps About Slack & Poor & Empty Storytelling
Is it possible that "Moon Knight" # 1 is at least in part meant as some great ironic comment on the current state of superhero books? Or could it even be a precisely-framed metaphor for creative and commercial entropy, given that any publishing endeavour which requires this degree of effort and ingenuity in order to sell comics is already expending far more energy than it can ever possibly hope to generate. "Moon Knight" # 1 is, I would suggest, definitive evidence of the heat-death of the superhero comic's current status quo.
|A double page spread of a man resting his left elbow on his left knee, bereft of foreground or background beyond the top of a big sign.|
But whatever it might be that "Moon Knight" was intended as a metaphor for, it surely isn't a very good comic book in itself.. A depressingly thin tale when stretched out unnecessarily across 33 pages, it has none of the depth and detail which made Mr Bendis and Mr Maalev's "Scarlet" such a worthwhile, if rather deliberately cold-hearted, read. In truth, all that "Moon Knight" # 1 seems to be is a race to the last-minute reveal that the title character has been imagining the presence of the Avengers he's apparently been talking too. Page after page of basically contentless, unremarkable, poorly-designed fight scenes and chit-chat follow one after the other, and in the best/worst traditions of Marvel's recent years, the book is packed out with redundant full page and double-page splashes. For example, I've placed a scan above of a two-page shot of Moon Knight in which the superhero is shown leaning his left elbow on his left knee. And that really is all that that particular one-sixteenth or so of the comic is showing us; a big bloke dressed in a white costume leaning on his knee. There's no text beyond the three words "You're not alone.", which will, it's true, pay off 20 pages down the line.. But that's a tiny amount of content for a double-page spread which could and should have been used in a way that respected the readers more. (Surely a compact, intense and effective 17 page story is better than 33 pages of relative waffle every
time?) Perhaps we're being shown Moon Knight rising to the responsibility of patrolling Los Angeles, spurred on by the imaginary Captain America's words. But if we are, why are we given nothing of L.A. beyond parts of four of the letters of the Hollywood sign? And why has Moon Knight been shown in such a way that we can gain no sense of character, or of Spector's relationship to his new stomping grounds, beyond the fact that he's so big that the artist had to cut him off so awkwardly at thigh and calf? With no hint of scale or meaning or plot, with no foreground or background of any substance, this is a quite literally empty dollop of spectacle. It's art which could've been used to show Moon Knight in any situation at all; simply snip out the insubstantial sections of the Hollywood sign and insert a hint of any other tourist trap and - voila! - instant superhero eye-candy! Yet remove these two pages and the story in "Moon Knight" # 1 suffers not a whit as long as the key three words - "You're not alone" - are placed somewhere else, somewhere appropriate in the text..Can there be any more telling example of narrative indiscipline than a double-page indulgence which contributes so little to a tale that it could be removed and no-one could ever suspect it had existed in the first place?
Here we can see the next step into the abyss which superhero books have been stumbling towards for more than half-a-decade at least, namely the creation of the comicbook which in large part doesn't even numbly rehash old forms and conventions, but instead rather vaguely and limply simply refers to them. Remember, this book seems to say, all the things you liked about Moon Knight and superheroes in general? Well, we liked them too, and if you wouldn't mind using your own experience to flesh out what's before you, we think you'll have a really good time. And so, this really isn't a well-wrought tale of Moon Knight. Rather, it's the comic-book equivalent of a faded reminder on a post-it sticker reading, in tiny handwriting;
"Please add your own memories to flesh out what little is before you, and hang on until the big reveal, because that'll give you something to chat about afterwards."
5. In Which The Blogger Attempts A Snide Little Swipe At The Absence Of Characterisation In "Moon Knight"# 1
It's far too easy to moan on about the absence of emotion and characterisation in Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev's "Moon Knight" # 1. Anyone noting how empty of human, rather than superhuman, experience the tale is might make the mistake of rushing over one of the great character-establishing lines in modern-era comics. Now, although I don't think that the combination of these 5 words and the book's final reveal was quite worth $3.99 of this consumer's hardly-disposable income, it is worth noting here the following statement of intent from this issue's bad guy;
"I will liquefy your head!"
Now don't tell me that that's not great satire, as well as being the closest to characterisation that the nameless supervillain of the piece receives in the 11 pages he appears in. However, that doesn't mean that he's not given any other markers of individuality. at all. Oh, no. He has a lovely little short cape, as if his shirt's shrunk to the point where it's just a shoulder-wrap, and he says "Aagh!" and "Rraaggh!" too.
Obviously, there wasn't time or space in those 11 pages to establish anything other than a grunting, intimidating, by-the-numbers tough guy. Even giving the reader his name would've obviously got in the way of whatever it was that it would've got in the way of.
6. In Which The Blogger Wonders About Superhero Fun And Psychological Disorders
The accounts of the Marvel press conference thrown to publicise "Moon Knight" # 1 are far more of a hoot than the comic itself. I was particularly amused by how several pieces placed Mr Bendis's fear that (1) some readers might be offended by Moon Knight's madness next to (2) the writer's concern that folks would object to his removal of the occult aspects of the character's set up. That the issue of showing disrespect to the mentally disordered might not be one to bracket with a matter of magical continuity seems to have escaped quite a few folks struggling to grapple with the big and lil'issues at play here. Still, a significant number of bloggers, podcasters and forum devotees did indeed pick up on the pertinent issues concerned with representations of mental disorder being used to sell superhero comics. Not that many of them were concerned with the social justice of it all, but a good few were somewhat irate that Moon Knight's current cognitive problems aren't consistent with his previously-shown psychological issues. Let no-one say that many fans aren't interested in the key issues where the arcana of the sub-genre is concerned.
In truth, there's very little of the matter of mental disorder on show in "Moon Knight" # 1, and it should be said that, so far, nobody could mistake the title character's cognitive problems for anything other than a disadvantage. He's obviously a man who's isolated by his condition, but the problem is, what condition is it? The press have referred to Moon Knight having Multiple Personality Disorder, but it's notable that BMB is never quoted using that term, What Mr Bendis is quoted as saying is that he's "studied it over the years", so he's evidently aware that MPD is an anachronistic term once used for what's now known as Dissociative Identity Disorder. Strangely enough, the appearance and disappearance of the illusionary-Avengers in "Moon Knight" doesn't seem to match any reports I've come across of D.I.D., but then, I only had to study the condtion in order to teach it. There's a very great deal of material I've never read, let alone studied, concerning D.I.D., and given that Mr Bendis has declared that any use of mental disorder in comics has to be "based in reality, even (in) the silliest of stories", I look forward to learning more and more about D.I.D. as "Moon Knight" continues.
Yet, even with the faith that Mr Bendis has so carefully studied the mental abnormality concerned, and even given his stated determination to ground his representation of it in psychological reality, it is somewhat worrying to read the following, in which he states that Moon Knight;
"...doesn't have full control over his personalities, which is part of the fun. Just because he wants Spider-Man or Wolverine to take over, doesn't mean that's what's going to happen .... I'm much more interested in his character as a pro-active Avenger than a depressive hero ... "
Finding the "fun" in D.I.D. is indeed something which both those suffering from it and those treating it might find a rather questionable idea. Yet it's hard to deny that Mr Bendis has a high concept to play with when he asks; "Wouldn't it be interesting to have a multiple-personality superhero who loved his personalities?" And there is some literature which suggests that a crowd of alters can learn to live productively with each other, but I've never come across a case study where it's suggested that such a situation is easy to produce and maintain at all. Mr Bendis therefore obviously has a few years worth of rather bleak stories before him explaining how Moon Knight and his alters learn to cope with their shared condition before we get to the "fun". (*1) Certainly, respecting the challenges faced by those diagnosed with D.I.D. would surely involve not turning their exceptionally difficult situations into entertainment just to flog a superhero book or two.
Perhaps if Mr Bendis and Mr Maleev had produced a comic book which was clearly cartoony and absurd in its depiction of Moon Knight and his condition, then it might be possible to regard the whole matter of his disorder as a very big fun-generating joke. But "Moon Knight" is anything but a broad and playful confection of a comic. Instead, it's grim'n'gritty, ponderously serious and not-a-little violent. Though future issues obviously can't be prejudged, Mr Bendis is setting himself a ferociously difficult challenge, to take a serious psychological disorder and present it as "fun" in the context of a pseudo-realistic superhero comic. That, I must admit, is the one narrative snare which really does inspire me to return to future issues, namely the matter of how Dissociative Identity Disorder can be presented as both true-to-life and fun, particularly as Mr Bendis doesn't want to represent Moon Knight as a "depressive hero". Ah, the happy-go-lucky, fun-inspiring form of DID is what's before us, cries the cynical centres of the blogger's mind! Yet, given that the content of future books can't be anticipated with reference to the evidence in a single comic and a few reports of a news conference, all I can say is I'm looking forward to what's a-coming with the keen sense of a man hopeful that a potential car-crash might yet be averted.
*1:- Of course, I've also come across literature arguing that D.I.D. is nothing but an iatrogenic condition, but since the issue is a live one, I'd say the best course is respect and restraint where the matter of those concerned is involved.
In Which The Blogger Tries To Add A Conclusion To Six Seperate Sections Of Six Different Essays
In the end, the modern-era comics industry always does win any debate that might be picked with it because it refuses to listen to any voices not engaging in applauding the emperor's new clothes. Though there are clearly exceptions to this rule, the sense of an oblivious enterprise operating quite independently of any wider discourse beyond "what's coming next month?" transmits itself from far too much of the Big Two's product. It's as if all that stuff about gender and race and value for money and characterisation and emotion was just a smokescreen being used by vicious and maladjusted folks on the net to disparage a perfectly celestial comic-book business. If you don't like it, runs the message, go away. We don't need you, we don't care.
And that's fair enough, although it's also somewhat rich for a business which is always declaring how it cares for its consumers and wants the very best for them to also seem to be so dismissive. But the market isn't growing, and the sub-genre isn't evolving so much as devolving in places, and there are tens of thousands of us who'd love to spend more of our money on comic books, if only they weren't so often poorly crafted, and socially careless, and concerned with costumes and punch-ups and spectacle at the expense of people and their thoughts and feelings.
If only the comic book industry and the hardcore fan-community clustered loyally around it weren't so impossibly exclusive and self-possessed. If only the very act of challenging the worth of the modern-era's product wasn't immediately considered an act of apostasy rather than the concern and passion of genuine and well-meaning friends.