Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Moon Knight (2006), Vol. 1-2

For a blatant Batman knock-off, Moon Knight is surprisingly interesting and enjoyable as it delves head-first into psychological issues and bloody violence.

With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

moon knight the bottomWriter: Charlie Huston

Artists: David Finch (#1-8), Mico Suayan (#9-12), Tomm Coker (#13)

Issues: Moon Knight (2006), #1-13

 

“Where to?”
“The city.”
“What do we look for?”
“Trouble.”

Despite thinking of myself as a Batman fan, I’ve barely read any actual Batman comics. I grew up with the early 90s, award-winning Batman: The Animated Series, not to mention the rise of Tim Burton’s Batman films and most recently the fantastic Batman Arkham games. The rich guy with all the toys and a traumatic past devotes his life to being a hero – who doesn’t like Batman? Even Marvel wanted to get in on that, and thus Moon Knight was born.

I’d never even heard of Moon Knight until he was listed as a playable character in Marvel Ultimate Alliance. Surprisingly created back in the 70s, the character enjoyed his first solo series in the 80s and throughout the 90s, never reaching the massive success of his DC counterpart. And make no mistake, Moon Knight is very much a Batman rip-off – he’s got the money, the underground lair, the moon-shaped weapons and vehicles. He operates at night and primarily takes out street criminals, and he enjoys making a statement and causing fear and pain even more than rescuing people.

In 2006 a new Moon Knight series was launched for the first time in years, chronicling the character’s return to action after a crippling attack with a villain. As a jumping on point it’s a bit heavy and confusing, layered in with lots of backstory and character details regarding Marc Spector, his past, and his allies and enemies.

moon knight #8b

The actual story is told in a supremely cool, gritty, and dark style. At the end of issue #1 it’s revealed that the action-packed opening scene was really just  Marc Spector reminiscing while he lay in a wheelchair popping pills and wallowing in self-pity. Psychological torture is a major theme of the series as Marc wrestles with who he is and whether or not his moon god is real or just a part of his fractured psyche.

Marc’s legs were blown out during a nasty encounter with Raoul Bushman, his nemesis and former fellow mercenary from his past. During the horribly blood encounter, which is told through flashbacks, Marc is near death but finds the strength to take Bushman down by ripping his face off with a crescent knife. This becomes a major catalyst for Marc as he begins seeing the horrifyingly faceless Bushman constantly. The grotesque ghoul identifies as Khonshu, the moon god that first resurrected Marc and bestowed his gifts.

Much of the first arc, “The Bottom,” (#1-6) is saddled with setting up Moon Knight’s new status as a retired, former vigilante and his new supporting cast of friends and enemies. Marc doesn’t even wear the costume and become Moon Knight again until issue #6 as he comes to grips with his violent and frankly sadistic personality. The theme of whether or not Marc is crazy is explored throughout, and the consensus seems to be that he’s pretty damn crazy – a surprisingly refreshing take on a Marvel hero.

moon knight #4Moon Knight’s friends and relationships are particularly well done. He still pines for ex-girlfriend Marlene, and his best friend is still his other merc buddy Jean-Paul. Jean-Paul is French and gay, and his supportive relationship with Marc and romantic relationship with another man (who later becomes Marc’s physical therapist) are handled with a refreshing amount of maturity, and given plenty of time to develop and grow.

My favorite character was one that I had to look up on wikipedia what his actual name was – Profile, who can read people instantly, learning their fears, wants, desires, etc. The hilariously quippy, chain-smoking Profile is first used by a shadowy organization who wants to get rid of Moon Knight once and for all, and they act as the primary villains for the first arc. Really though, Marc is his own worst enemy as the focus remains on his own inner demons thanks to the many taunts of faceless not-really-there Bushman.

I loved the dark-but-heroic art by the fantastic David Finch (New Avengers). It presents an effective combination of noir-ish blacks and grays with sharp punctuations of Moon Knight’s white costume. I love the emphasis on extreme close-ups and the use of sweat, tears, blood, and smoke to convey the dark themes. The effects of Profile’s abilities in reading people is also presented in a very clever, fun format as he sees neon words and signs floating around people, literally shaping who they are. Marc Spector is drawn like a chiseled, scarred 80s action-hero, which combined with his violent outbursts and mental breakdowns make him a frightening person for anyone to interact with.

The second volume, featuring the story arc “Midnight Sun,” (#7-12) technically act as tie-ins to the then-ongoing superhero Civil War and afterward the Initiative. Marc (who spends a great deal of the comic series not in costume) is visited by a rotating cast of guest-stars, including Captain America, Iron Man, and Punisher. Mostly it’s a fun way to see how the rest of the Marvel Universe views Moon Knight, and in turn allow Marc to push everyone away and generally be a violent asshole to everyone. It should come as no surprise that he and Punisher have a mostly friendly chat while Punisher is busy murdering people, heh.

moon knight #10

The story falters a bit when it tries to do a Pulp Fiction, out of order narrative involving another villain from Moon Knight’s past. His former sidekick has become the villain Midnight, a very talkative, admittidly funny Joker-type that is obssessed with his former mentor. The later issues all jumble together with Moon Knight finding his lair in the sewers, attacking him, being captured and fighting back all told in a confusing, out or order style. The comic was heavy enough as it is in exploring mental issues and a very unstable protagonist; having to flip back and forth between multiple pages to try and piece the story together was a bit too much.

David Finch unfortunately left after eight issues. The new artist did a reasonable job in replicating the dark, moody style but it wasn’t quite the same. The story wraps up in issue #12 but the volume contains a final one-off in issue #13 with a completely new artist with a very bizarre style. The art becomes impossibly dark and even abstracted in parts, making it quite difficult to discern what is happening in a lot of panels. The story involves Marc going in to register for the Initiative, and it’s a fun example of how Profile’s powers can be used to manipulate others.

For a blatant Batman knock-off, Moon Knight is surprisingly interesting and enjoyable. The singular focus on Marc as a fairly horrible person who happens to be a vigilante is fascinating, and the focus on dark, bloody action separates it from most of the bright and glitzy Marvel fare. Despite some confusing story moments I’m definitely enjoying this series. I look forward to catching up on Moon Knight as apparently he sticks around permanently this time.

moon knight #3

My Top Ten Most Anticipated Games of 2015

Read the full list over on my blog on Game Informer >>

Now that my Top Ten Games of the Year list is out of the way we can focus on what’s really important – being excited for future games! Many of the biggest 2014 games were pushed into the next year, and many new Kickstarter and Early Access games will be debuting. I’m feeling fairly confident that all of these will actually release this year, but time makes fools of us all….

Read the full list over on my blog on Game Informer >>

Gotham – “Penguin’s Umbrella” Recap and Review

As violence between Maroni and Falcone continues to escalate, Penguin reveals a new component of his manipulative strategy, forcing Gordon to deal with the consequences of his decision to spare Penguin’s life.

gotham penguin's walk

Last week’s excellent episode left us with an exciting cliffhanger – Oswald Cobblepot reveals himself at the police station just as Gordon and Bullock are getting arrested for his murder. As the payoff episode to the longest running plot thread of the series, “Penguin’s Umbrella” falls a bit short in the end, but still gives us some supremely fun moments – including our first encounter with Batman villain Victor Zsasz. Gordon is forced to take some rather extreme measures in an attempt to save his skin, allegiances are tested, betrayals revealed and Carmine Falcone gets to come out as one of the smartest, most socially and business savvy people in Gotham, as he should be.

We begin with Penguin looking decidedly more penguin-y: he’s got his own mini-entourage to go along with his limp and over-sized shoes. Fish Mooney is less than enthused at the sudden news that he’s alive, and orders her right-hand man Butch Gilzean to bring her Jim Gordon.

Our hero, meanwhile, is entering full blown panic mode. I’m disappointed that we don’t pick up directly after the final moments in the previous episode as it was set up to give us a satisfyingly dramatic scene, but it also would’ve necessitated a lot of info dumping which we already knew. Gordon is clearing out his locker and giving Barbara the old ‘pack your bags and get out of town’ phone call when Bullock arrives with a sucker punch and holds Gordon at gun point. Jim lying about killing Oswald also puts Bullock in rather hot water with the mob, and he’s understandably furious with Gordon.

Read the full Review at Leviathyn >>

Gotham – “Viper” Recap and Review

Gordon and Bullock search for the source of a new street drug that causes euphoria then death. Meanwhile, Oswald Cobblepot works his way deeper into Maroni’s inner circle and Fish Mooney continues to plot against Falcone.

gotham cop meeting

Gotham finally succeeds in drawing Bruce Wayne into its own plot threads instead of leaving him to make noble reactionary faces at newscasts (well, he still does that here too). The title of the episode, “Viper,” is also the name of a dangerous new street drug that’s suddenly flooded the market and – stop me if you’ve heard this before – is killing anyone that takes it. It’s like the plot of Max Payne only instead of seeing Viking angels the user temporarily gains Hulk-like strength before their bones collapse.

We begin with what is already an overused scene in Gotham – Alfred walking in on Bruce Wayne doing something crazy. Alfred attempts to placate what he naturally sees as obsession with crime and politics, but Bruce remains steadfast in his thirst for knowledge and information, which Alfred begins to grudgingly respect.

It appears this is not the same young master Bruce that was an angsty young man in Batman Begins; Gotham’s Bruce is already past the self-pitying stage and well onto the path of superhero in training. I haven’t decided if I’m annoyed by his quick composure or relieved that we don’t have to see a mopey young Batman every episode. Either way, he’s smart enough to be asking the right questions about Arkham from last episode, and eventually wins Alfred over to help him.

Read the full recap and Review at Leviathyn >>

Gotham – “Arkham” Recap and Review

As a contentious city council vote on the future of the Arkham district approaches, politicians from both sides are in danger. Gordon and Bullock must race to protect the council and an old friend visits Gordon.

gotham mayor arkham

Gotham has been teasing us with Arkham Asylum for the last three episodes, and this week finally puts the infamous insane asylum in focus. Sort of.

The old abandoned Arkham Asylum is at the center of a turf war between the two biggest mobsters in town – Falcone and Maroni, and the two will do whatever it takes to grab a bigger piece of the pie. It feels like the series has been somewhat building to this mob war, but it really just amounts to a single assassin taking out a few councilmen and going after the mayor. While the main killings and subsequent investigations are underwhelming, the political maneuvering behind them are somewhat interesting, and once again it’s the side stories that really lift this episode up.

“Arkham” picks up right where last week’s left off, with Oswald Cobblepot paying a friendly visit to a very shocked Jim Gordon at his own home. Oswald puts on his now familiar disarmingly friendly guise and Barbara’s equal friendliness is a funny contrast to Gordon’s complete inept to deal with the situation, until he leads Oswald outside and practically assaults him in the streets. “I should’ve killed you. I should put a bullet in your head right now!” Gordon’s rage is something we haven’t seen much of and I definitely like this side of him while he’s young and brash.

“There is a war coming, Jim,” Oswald exclaims before dropping more hints about Arkham. Oswald wants to play every angle he can, and what better way to upset the natural balance of mobsters vying for power than the one honest cop in Gotham?

Read the full Review at Leviathyn >>

Gotham – “The Balloonman” Recap and Review

Detectives Gordon and Bullock track down a vigilante who is killing corrupt Gotham citizens by attaching them to weather balloons. Meanwhile, Oswald Cobblepot returns to Gotham and gets a new job close to an influential figure in the underworld.

gotham balloonman

I mentioned in last week’s review that I was growing fond of the focus on Penguin’s rise to power and the intriguing manner in which he’s portrayed – a sycophantic, underestimated sniveler who nonetheless squeezes out of dangerous situations and resorts to gruesome violence at the drop of a hat. It’s fun to watch this character from a “what the hell is he going to do next” point of view, and “The Balloonman” opens with his darkly humorous return to the city he loves.

Alas the actual titular villain is as lame as you imagine and much of the main structure of the episode is so heavy-handed in introducing a proto-vigilante that I worry about Gotham’s extreme dumbing down for the broader audience it’s trying to reach. I think going for that larger, non-comic book audience is great, but there shouldn’t have to be a compromise for heavy-handed dialogue and eye-rolling repeating themes.

After Penguin steps off the bus and becomes refreshed upon witnessing numerous petty crimes happening around him, we cut to what is apparently going to be our Murder of the Week. This one is a bit unusual, even for a comic world, as a crooked business man (we know he’s crooked because he’s literally on the phone telling his lawyer to pay off judges and jury members) gets accosted by a street vendor before he’s handcuffed to a weather balloon and sent soaring. It’s inventive, theatrical and silly, and it also means our poor detectives have no body to work with when they arrive on the scene.

Read the Full Review at Leviathyn >>

Gotham – “Selina Kyle” Recap and Review

selina kyle

Last week’s pilot episode was bloated with introducing familiar faces from Batman’s world as well as all new characters, but still managed to present a decent murder mystery that sets Gotham up as an institutionalized organized crime world that’s begging for a hero. In Fox’s Gotham, that hero is unfortunately a straight-laced Jim Gordon, who ended the pilot episode by pretending to go with the flow by faking the murder of Oswald Cobblepot. Penguin and the rest return in “Selina Kyle,” which I enjoyed a bit more than the pilot simply because the episode was not afraid to take the focus away from Gordon and Bullock and explore Gotham’s far more interesting characters.

The episode opens with young Bruce Wayne attempting to conquer his fear, as he opened up to Gordon about last week, by hovering his hand over a burning candle. Alfred catches him and immediately reprimands him before they embrace. This is an Alfred we’ve never before seen portrayed on screen – the young soldier who’s inexperience with child care is almost painful to watch. With Gordon being propped up as the obvious father-figure, it’s difficult to see where Alfred fits in. Hopefully their tense relationship allows us to dive a bit more into Alfred’s own past and personality.

Read the full Review at Leviathyn >>