Jeff’s Initial Statement: Moon Knight #1-12 is a series of comic books by Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev, Matt Hollingsworth, and Chris Eilopoulos, published in 2013 by Marvel and currently available on its service, Marvel Unlimited.
Jeff’s Initial Disclosure Regarding Brian Michael Bendis: I was once a fan of Brian Michael Bendis’ work, not so much Fire and Jinx and Torso (although I had all those), but Powers and Ultimate Spider-Man and Daredevil. At a certain point, however, perhaps twenty or so issues into his Avengers run, a certain dissatisfaction with Bendis’s working habits became a more quarrellous form of discontent. And after the publishing schedule on Powers became erratic, after Brian Michael Bendis left Daredevil, and after Ultimate Spider-Man began to feel moribund (post issue #120 or so), I stopped buying Brian Michael Bendis’ work, and would only occasionally check it out on the stands to see if that discontent remained.
(Additional necessary disclosures and review after the cut.)
Jeff’s Disclosure Regarding Alex Maleev: I like his work just fine, albeit with certain exceptions I will likely detail below.
Jeff’s Disclosure Regarding Matt Hollingsworth: I met Matt Hollingsworth once, during the course of an afternoon at Comix Experience. I had some of his home-brewed beer, which was exceptional, and I found him a pleasant, down-to-earth conversationalist. Additionally, I think he is in the very top rank of colorists in the field, someone who frequently improves the work of the artists he colors to a significant degree.
Jeff’s Disclosure Regarding Chris Eilopoulos: I have no strong opinions about Chris Eilopoulos’s lettering, apart from occasionally wondering if my own handwriting might have ended up better if my last name has as many letters in it as his. About his work as a cartoonist and creator, my opinions on this subject should have no influence on the review at hand.
Jeff’s Disclosure Regarding The Character, Moon Knight: My first encounter with Moon Knight was in issues #28 and #29 of Marvel Spotlight, the latter of which featured both a cover by Jack Kirby and an example of the “giant chess board of danger” motif, and therefore was doubly irresistible to me on an unconscious level.
At this point, Moon Knight had appeared in a few issues of Werewolf By Night—which I hadn’t read at the time, but would probably less than a year or so later—and his appearance in these issues are a little more refined than in the originals, despite being by the same creative team of Doug Moench and Don Perlin. (By which, I mean that, if memory serves, Moon Knight was a little more of a thug in his first appearances in Werewolf by
Knight Night, an anti-heroic figure who was a viable villain for Werewolf By Night because he used cestus, those wicked spiked gladiatorial gloves, made from silver?)
As was the case with an appalling amount of my reading at the time, I enjoyed these first two issues of Moon Knight by Moench and Perlin in an unironic way, taking the character completely at face-value. (I was ten.) Only later, in 1980, when the character got his own series by Moench and Bill Sienkewicz did some of the character’s debt to Batman become clear—wealthy playboy with world-traveling past who flaps about in the night with an extremely long cape, a certain dubiousness with regard to the character’s sanity, “Dark Knight” as opposed to “Moon Knight,” etc., etc.. But on first encounter, I dug him because (a) Perlin drew him with Spider-Man’s eyes; (b) a bite from Werewolf By Night gave him super-strength that waxed and waned depending on the phases of the moon; and (c) Moon Knight didn’t just have one alter-ego, he had three, which kind of went with the whole “phases of the moon” thing. In fact, even to my mind now, Moon Knight is a pleasingly cohesive superhero in the classic sense: each bit of business about the character—from his helicopter to his multiple personalities to his changing super-strength—built off the lunar conception of the character in an unexpected way.
Jeff’s Disclosure Regarding Preconceptions of Moon Knight #1-12, Prior to Reading: My preconception of this book was that it was intended to be an ongoing series but wrapped up as a “miniseries” when its sales levels did not justify the ongoing participation of Bendis and/or Maleev. My preconception of the book was that Moon Knight, a superhero with what we used to call Multiple Personality Disorder, now had three new primary personalities: Captain America, Wolverine, and Spider-Man. I thought this idea was an exceedingly dumb one, and typical of the current regime at Marvel, in that it was so obvious in its attempt to pander to their audience that it wished to be seen as a parody of pandering to their audience. (See, for example, the many, many Deadpool spin-off books from around the same time.)
Disclosure of Publicity Material Consulted: I attest I consulted no publicity material—neither interviews, nor previews, nor social media entries from any of the involved creative parties—regarding this book before, during, or after the time of publication.
Final Pre-Review Statement Regarding the Reading of This Material: I admit I read this material expecting to dislike it, to dislike the creators’ take on the material, and with the intention of mocking it at a later date, either in the podcast or here on the website.
—–Review Begins Below—-
MOON KNIGHT #1-12: Ugh, where to begin? I knew I was in trouble when the first few pages are a very badly written recreation of a key moment in Moon Knight’s origin which turns out to be —reverso!—a scene from a TV show, Legend of the Khonsu, of which Marc Spector, Moon Knight alter-ego, is the creator and executive producer.
If nothing else, I think the ol’ “no, this is deliberately bad” trick requires that the creative material coming after the bad material not be equally tone-deaf.
Bendis and Maleev’s follow-up scene has Spector be toasted at a screening party and flirting with an attractive blonde before being summoned outdoors by Cap, Spider-Man, and Wolverine. The pages of the screening party drawn by Maleev clearly show more than a dozen people mingling in groups of two or three. But Bendis has a speech panel coming from the group of minglers on the far right making it seem like the woman in that group isn’t just talking to friends with a glass of wine in hand but is actually toasting Spector: “Ladies and gentlemen, a toast. To the man of the hour, the creator of what will be the most successful syndicated strip action adventure show since Xena, Warrior Princess…”
See what I mean? Even if I try to be generous by saying, “well, the idea is that the speech, even though it starts at mid-point on the page, actually starts being said by the woman when you get to her at the end of the ‘pan’ across the room, so people were mingling *before* she did her toast to Spector.” (And boy what a long breath that requires….) The next two panels have people looking away in the opposite direction of Spector and the woman toasting him. The artist and the writer are at cross-purposes here.
Also, are you familiar with hearing “syndicated strip” in conjunction with a TV show? I admit I wasn’t, but it caught my eye, since the term has a particular meaning for me as a comic fan. So I went to Wikipedia where I got this fun fact:
The most common form is known as strip syndication or daily syndication, when episodes of a television series are shown daily five times a week in the same time slot.
Okay. Real TV term that TV people might use. However:
Typically, this means that enough episodes must exist (88 episodes, or four seasons, is the usual minimum, though many syndicators prefer a fully rounded 100 episodes) to allow for continual strip syndication to take place over the course of several months, without episodes being repeated.
Legend of the Khonsu is probably not a show that has dozens of episodes in the can. (Spector is rich, but not that rich). It’s possible that “strip syndication” is a generic term for all shows in syndication but it’s more likely that, like Xena, Legend of the Khonsu is a “first-run syndicated program,” as those do not require enough episodes in the can for daily showings. They’re shown weekly.
So. We have a deliberately bad scene opening the book, followed by a scene where the writer and artist are at cross-purposes and the writer uses a distracting term incorrectly. Great.
If you read all of the disclaimers above, I think it’s pretty easy to see how all of my biases are in play here. I don’t have faith in Bendis as a writer, and I liked the original Moon Knight which he’s bagging on here (the other scene shown from the show involves a werewolf). I could be mistaken in my assumption that Bendis is mocking previous iterations of the character, if not explicitly the character himself: if nothing else, why would Marvel’s most successful writer either put himself on the book or consent to be put on the book of a character he’s so dismissive of?
Sadly, I am at this point so distrustful of the guy I can see him taking this book on in precisely such a fashion because: (a) he wants to work with Alex Maleev on a book again, and Maleev wanted to draw Moon Knight; (b) earlier that same year, Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye debuted to considerable acclaim and Bendis wanted to mimic/top his best friend’s accomplishment; (c) Bendis wanted to show he could make people sit up and take notice of any character he wrote, no matter how lame (a.k.a. the “Jack Kirby ‘Give me your poorest selling book'” Theory); and/or (d) Bendis really believed in this hook he had for the character, the conceit that Moon Knight’s MPD would manifest as three of Marvel’s most iconic heroes. (Hopefully, I arranged those items properly along the fraternity-to-hubris axis.)
Over the course of twelve issues, we have:
(a) Moon Knight dressing up as Spider-Man to start a fight in a strip club;
(b) the appearance of Echo, a character created by Bendis and David Mack, who is deaf and reads lips and is therefore perfectly suited to team up with a character whose mouth is completely obscured (which Bendis hangs a lantern on by having her say “take off your mask so I can read your lips!” a lot) and drawn by an artist who likes to position her facing away from a person’s face when she speaks.
(c) Moon Knight dressing up as Bullseye and torturing a potential employee to test their loyalty;
(d) Moon Knight and Echo beating the crap out of the Night Shift and then getting caught by the police because Echo can’t hear the sirens and can’t see Moon Knight passively standing there telling her “we have to go” because his mask is covering his face and of course he’s just going to stand there saying the same thing over and over without approaching her or waving at her or anything because how ya going to get a cliffhanger if people act like actual people;
(e) Moon Knight and Echo escaping from the cops, followed by Moon Knight kissing Echo, followed by Echo violentely punching him four times in the face, followed by Moon Knight asking “will you marry me?” as she runs off, followed by Moon Knight smiling ruefully and saying, “Look at me. Brave guy making jokes to a deaf girl behind her back” (instead of wondering if the reason why Echo treated like the perpetrator of a sexual assault was because she felt sexually assaulted);
(f) and on, and on, and on.
The villain behind everything is Count Nefaria, who we are told repeatedly is a “Thor level” bad guy but doesn’t do much more than fly around and shoot rays out of his eyes. Madame Masque shows up to beat up Moon Knight and Echo. Last issue cliffhangers play off the idea that Moon Knight is the guy driving the bus, narratively speaking, and the guy driving the bus is crazy. There’s an issue filled with flashbacks where Moon Knight gets his ex-SHIELD agent employee to build him webshooters, claws, and a shield, at the end of which the employee figures out who the voices might be in Moon Knight’s head. (This scene is especially obvious in a painful way.) Someone close to Moon Knight dies which inspires him to fight on against impossible odds. You get the idea, although it’s hard to really convey the fascination of watching someone write a comic book about a superhero with MPD when the person clearly doesn’t care about either the superhero or MPD. Although I don’t think Bendis consciously sat down to write a book that paints people with MPD as dangerous, unreliable, and violent, his utter laziness allowed him to construct a narrative that hammers homes those points repeatedly. If pressed, I’d say Bendis is trying to write something that kinda reminds him of Drive, something deliberately unsettling and odd. It’s a little bit like that old Mike Baron book, The Badger, but neutered and fat and unsurprising and easily self-pleased.
Was there anything at all worthwhile in the book? Yes. I gotta say Alex Maleev’s art featuring the character is genuinely lovely. I hadn’t thought of Maleev as a kind of Sienkiewicz clone, but clearly he and Hollingsworth are using Billy The Sink’s interpretation as a guide, mixing thick black inks and primary colors for when MK is being a brutal warrior, and an ethereally thin line and more varied colors for scenes of the character gliding out into the night. It’s a lot less visceral than Sienkiewicz—not only can you not replicate the initial shock of watching that guy’s ambition swell up like The Hulk and break everything in sight, Sienkiewicz was also restless and willing to throw in anything to keep himsefl from getting bored–but it’s more refined. I liked it.
Also, 2015 is the year Jeff gets in touch with his inner romantic as it pertains to his comic reading, and Maleev is pretty good at attractive people being attracted to each other. And despite my frustration with Bendis here, his ear hasn’t entirely turned to tin: every once in a while, he’ll have a bit of business like a policeman under fire hollering “somebody call somebody” that hits that Tarantino/Mamet sweet spot.
And he does craft at least one scene that justifies his conceit: while trying to escape the police, Moon Knight is hammered on all sides by his three personalities, each of whom has a different and inflexible take on how to handle the authorities. If the book had featured more scenes like that, I would’ve been a lot less disappointed in Bendis here than I was. As it is, between this and Age of Ultron (which he wrote next, but which I read prior to this), I’m really okay with never reading anything by the guy ever again. Smug complacency doesn’t sit well on anyone, but it’s especially ill-fitting on a creator with so many bad and lazy habits.
The Verdict in The Case of Jeff vs. Moon Knight #1-12: Bendis not only managed to take the fun out of hate reading this, but he made me hate myself a little for mostly wasting my time. I hereby sentence myself to forty hours of manga.