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Thoughts: Moon Knight #7

This is  a post of simple observations and thoughts. Objectivity may not apply.

quotes

“He has no idea what and who he is up against. What power he is taunting. Tell our friend Count Nefaria will see him now.”

– Count Nefaria

I dig this quote for its complete over confidence and classic super villain tone. The emphasize on one’s power as well as the use of the third person  makes this quote the arrogant asshole that it is. If anything, it bounces off the following quote quite nicely.

“God, I’m hard on myself.”

– Moon Knight (Marc Spector)

The scene leading up to this final deal sealer of a line exemplifies the lack of confidence Marc Spector has in himself. Marc’s personalized version of Wolverine delivers a few lines of tough encouragement to hopefully push Marc’s ass into action. It’s a nice showing of how Marc’s own mind or subconscious or whatever worries about the man’s ability to do the job. How much does that say?

issue specifics

The reveal of Count Nefaria obviously stands out as this issue’s main development. Too bad I know nothing about this guy, so I’m sure some of the assumed impact is lost on me. According to my buddy Joey Aulisio though, he’s a vital X-men bady. I’ll take his word for it.

Even without the context, I do find Nefaria an interesting reveal, and after some thought I feel his involvement works. Here’s why.

Count Nefaria exuberates confidence and a higher level of actual super powers. The quote above suggests such as does the mention in the comic of how the character has battled Thor and the Hulk. Some may say such a super power doesn’t belong in a street level character’s comic. Well, they’re wrong, especially in the case of this street level comic.

What point have I kept bringing up throughout every post I’ve done on this series? Marc Spector sucks as his job and lacks the ability to meet the standard of a super hero.

What’s more interesting that to pit a wannabee hero against a real deal, experienced super criminal?

I couldn’t think of a better test for the character. If anything, this L.A. Kingpin should only offer our protagonist a more personal conflict. The mission no longer means freeing and protecting L.A. It means overcoming a load of self-doubt along with that other stuff.

Nice going, Bendis and Maleev.

The self-aware Marc Spector I discussed last issue carries over into this one. Both the opening scene with Buck as well as the scene involving the above quote echo the development.

No further thoughts, really. It’s just nice to see I wasn’t off in my analysis. Although, it looks like Maya may have some confronting to do when you consider the ending of this issue.

Maleev turns in some excellent pages this issue, and Matt Hollingsworth, even though not the comic’s regular colorist, does a class act job filling in the white spaces. I love the sequence in which Snapdragon  communicates with the still hidden Count Nefaria. Just her in a dark room for 8 panels, but the red sears laid down by Hollingsworth amp up the tension.

I actually really dig the splash page of Moon Knight hammering Nefaria. I like the placement of Moon Knight on the page and how he falls on top of the Count. Plus, the cape wrapping around the bottom right corner of the page is a nice touch.

Speaking of the fight, I dig that Marc kind of has his moment as he dampens Nefaria’s powers, but then progresses to fuck up everything and allow the character to escape. It’s what the character would do.

Buck’s reason for crossing Marc comes off as a lackluster reveal. I was looking for something complex and tangled, but really the reason was very predictable. But, hey, it’s logical. I can’t discredit Bendis too much for that.

series thoughts

People probably complained and set fire to cars because this first arc lasted 7 issues, but I say the pacing felt right. I’m sure someone also considers these 7 issues complete setup, and yes, they are, but in reality these first 7 issues provide us the right amount of time to sink into this narrative. 7 issues weren’t necessary, but I like Bendis’ choice to dabble around. The pacing put me into the character’s head as well as suggested Bendis’ focus. I needed that, especially when this series is all about Marc Spector’s psyche.

Come back here, to this blog, for issue #8.

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Thoughts: Moon Knight #6

This is  a post of simple observations and thoughts. Objectivity may not apply.

the quote

“What you need to do is allow yourself time to acclimate back to who you really are.”

-Marc Spector

I enjoy the fact Marc says this to Maya. It’s somewhat ironic, but the line also suggests the self-awareness Spector possesses. He knows he can get lost in the head trip that is his life.

But, of course, the line relates to the larger idea this issue of Moon Knight is after. Being you.

issue specifics

A moment in this comic actually forced me to go, “oh, shit.” The spread across the tops of pages 15 and 16. The personalities meet. Three in full uniform. One in his birthday suit. “Moon Knight” is all that’s spoken.

I’m speaking of course of the Avengers scene placed at the comic’s conclusion.

I’ve discussed over and over how Moon Knight offers multiple examples of the character’s identity crisis. Well, this issue, we witness the partial accumulation of the crisis and dive into an unspoken intervention. Is this the actual, full on stare down of the conflict? Considering this is issue 6 of an ongoing comic book series, I kind of doubt it, but the book clearly contains a moment of realization and slight stand off which points toward an idea of a resolution. Am I making any sense?

 So the Avengers show up at Marc’s crib (kids still say crib, right?), and like the talented pros they are, Maleev and Bendis execute a solid transition to move us into the scene. And I type Maleev’s name first because, well, the dude drew it. Bendis probably indicated of such a transition in his script, but Maleev provides the full front execution.

We flip the page and peer over Marc’s bare shoulder toward the figures of Captain America, Spider-man and Wolverine. It’s a moment where we’re at first unsure whether these icons are within Marc’s mind, casually visiting once again as they seem to do, but as the scene progresses its apparent this Cap, Spidey and Wolverine are the true flesh and bone.  

Then Marc precedes to flip his shit while the icons stare blankly and have no clue. They’re just there. It’s comical in a way.  

Marc’s right to flip out, though. The move really makes a lot of sense. He’s viewing the truth of the matter. Cap, Spidey and Wolverine exist beyond him. He is not them. What’s even better is the state in which Marc lives this scene. The dude’s pretty much without clothes. Now, before you make any assumptions of my personal life, hear me out. This comic has a weird baptism theme going on. Earlier in the book, we spend a scene with Spector in the shower, and Maleev clearly emphasizes the blood and grime of Marc’s previous adventure washing down the drain. The scene is about cleansing the character, and through a progression to build up the moment of truth, he precedes to step out of the shower, deliver the above quote to Maya and then freak as the Avengers appear.

The nude aspect works similarly to Miller’s technique in Born Again. The hero lies within the man. The costume only works as dressing around the hero. And in Marc’s scenario, the costume clouds his judgment, but stripped down, against a visual representation of himself, the character experiences a moment of clarity.

The reveal/semi-reveal/not-reveal of the L.A. Kingpin did not work for me. I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to recognize him or not. The scene just plays oddly. Usually, when the big bad lays hidden for a later surprise, the comic tends to keep him in the shadows. But here, in issue 6, I’m seeing this guy’s full figure, and I am witnessing him take people out. The character becomes active this issue simply via his actions in the scene, but Bendis and Maleev never make it clear as to what I am supposed to gather from this showing.

Buck ratting out Marc … I’m still considering this one. I feel the narrative hasn’t yet given me enough to judge what exactly is going on here. We’re only seeing the character in small increments, but I feel the action mostly comes from a genuine place. The dinner/date scene from issue 5 probably relates to Buck’s motivations for making the call to S.H.I.E.L.D. That shit raised suspicions.

I’m typed out. Issue #7 = round the corner.

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Thoughts: Moon Knight #5

This is  a post of simple observations and thoughts. Objectivity may not apply.

the quote

This line sums up the issue:

“The lack of control for a guy like me. The randomness of it all. I needed to be the master of my universe.”

– Detective Hall

And it’s delivered by a supporting cast member whom we’ll likely consider just another cop in a super hero comic. Detective Hall hates super powered “crap” as he puts it. The phenomenon disrupts his day and makes his job as cop just a tad bit harder. Though he seems to simply be complaining, Hall does speak a fair amount of truth with his statement. At least, truth for Marc Spector’s character.

series thoughts

I’ve focused mainly on Marc Spector’s psyche in my discussion of the Bendis run, and I don’t really see my focus changing anytime soon.  Like most Moon Knight comics, the book appears to be shaping into another long form study of the character, but I’m giving Bendis some credit because I actually feel he’s taking this misbegotten property into new territory. That’s what really hit me this issue. Moon Knight, besides the here-and-there use of the Avengers cast, is riffing on a fairly new set of components.Whether it’s the setting, supporting cast, or protagonists themselves, this Marvel comic contains an actual bit of world building. And you can feel it. How? Through the simple fact the focus is on a pair of characters you rarely ever read about.

Whether this series runs 50 or 11 issues (which is quite possible when you consider the sales chart), I believe at its end it’ll be safe to say Bendis and Maleev made a legitimate contribution to Moon Knight. So far the series has done a solid job of echoing the character’s known core, but both artists have taken the steps to actually expand upon the concept. We need to remember that Doug Moench’s baby still has plenty of room to grow. Besides Charlie Huston’s first 6 issues, the character hasn’t been developed much at all since the original 80s series. Spector’s just been stuck in a vacuum … left untouched because the character’s been easily labeled Marvel’s Batman. Bendis and Maleev, though  … these dudes see the possibilities, and like the Marvel Universe’s west coast, they see this character as an underdeveloped frontier.

issue specifics

When Hall says super heroes only create confusion and inhibit control, the character really comments on Marc Spector’s condition. I noted in my first post about the series that Bendis took the character’s usual roster of 3 faces and multiplied it by 2 – making Spector the owner of 6 personalities. Up unto this point though, we’ve only known Spector as a TV producer type. We know he wears a costume, but we haven’t seen it; the costume has had little involvement. But now we get to actually see .

Issue 5 dedicates half of its pages to examples of failed super heroics. First, Spector completely goes against local law enforcement and starts a small riot. Second, he abandons his woman of interest as well as partner in order to get to safety. Third, Spector takes several punches to the face when the typical trope would involve a passionate make out session. Three solid instances in which we are exposed to Marc failing as Moon Knight. Three pure instances of induced confusion.

And that’s what it all goes back to, really. Confusion  –  a one word diagnosis of Marc Spector.

“The lack of control for a guy like me.” “I needed to be the master of my own universe.”

That’s Marc Spector’s conflict and motivation broken down into two lines. Super heroes remove the order from his life, but he can only achieve superiority and individuality with them. Let the internal conflict fly. And, think, Bendis hasn’t even dropped Spector’s own personal god Khonshu into the equation yet. When that happens … all bets are off.

I love how Maleev draws Moon Knight’s face under the cowl.  The white eye slits amidst all the black comes off as very abstract. The face itself even seems to move a bit due to a suggested Rorschach quality.I mean, it makes sense. The book is all about shifting identities.

The entire issue shows off a lot of Maleev’s skill as a storyteller. The art here completely removes any notion of his work being stiff. Rather, it’s fluid. The fights move. Pages offer various panel distinctions. I even simply like how Maleev illustrates the character getting around town, whether its via his glider cape or surfing on car tops. Paired with colorist Matthew Wilson, Maleev creates a vibrant, visually striking Moon Knight comic not seen since Sienkiewicz.

I do like that Maya punches Marc in the face. It proves the character’s missteps, but also gives their relationship an interesting dynamic. Once was enough, though. I faced an issue with just how many times she hits him. Not that I find it offensive. And, man, Maleev illustrates the sequence in brutal fashion. I just found it pointless. One, single fist to the face conveyed the point. Repetition only hit the point over the audience’s head. A misstep.

For a guy who created a super hero/crime comic, the interrogation scene was a nice return to form for Bendis, and the scene shows he still has it in him to create a poorly lite, tense back and forth. Maleev draws the talking heads in exciting fashion, and I like how the addition of a simple brick wall really cements the atmosphere.

….

That’s all I have. Issue #5 … in the books.

 

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The TW Review – Moon Knight #4 – And Marc Spector goes on a date …

So I’m an issue behind? Big deal. Real life caught up with me, and the internet hit the way side. Oh well. I’m back (at least for this post), and I want to communicate my thoughts and feelings on this issue of the Brian Bendis/Alex Maleev Moon Knight series.

Marc Spector goes on a date with Maya Lopez this issue. They experience the conventional first date awkwardness. Spector attempts to sound like smooth talking Philip Marlowe. There’s some real talk after the failed smooth talk. Spector and Lopez engage in post-date action (interpret action however you wish).

The end.

This issue read fairly fast. I’m not stating such to mark the comic with a negative criticism. I, in fact, sometimes enjoy Bendis’ quick, “decompressed” issues that so many people seem to criticize. Granted, those light issues are the only narrative installment for an entire month, but I can live with quick bursts every so often. Not every single issue needs the seemingly demanded 200 word balloons or heavy plot. Every instance of a narrative, if we are to understand narrative as a living, breathing organism, is not long and padded. At some point the story, like life, slows down and meanders without dialogue or revelations and just skips along, leaving moments how they are.

I’m probably depicting this comic as some sort of avant garde, subtle display when it’s not. Remember, it’s a Bendis Marvel Comic. It’s a good comic, but in no ways artistically dramatic.

I’m just romanticizing quick, light comic book issues because that’s what I do, and even though it’s light, Moon Knight #4 still pulls off an interesting, complete thought.

Reading this issue, I recall the DVD extras of the Daredevil film. I think back to watching the “Men Without Fear” documentary, you know, the one where every worthwhile Daredevil creator – minus Steve Gerber – is interviewed, and I remember how Frank Miller commented on super hero sex and his portrayal of such through Matt Murdock and Elektra.

Miller used the classic Daredevil love story to express costume intimacy via the comic book fights we are all accustomed to. Hell’s Kitchen stood in for DD and Elektra’s bed room, and kicks and bounds marked each and every sexual move. Miller put super hero sex on the page but disguised it in a way that was culturally acceptable (not like this shit that happened last week). This same idea leaks its way into Moon Knight #4 via the end of the issue. Alex Maleev takes the circumstance of the book, the main sequence being the date between Spector and Lopez, and turns a climactic fight sequence into a post-date hook up, playing off of the cliche super hero team-up. His display of the battle feels like an intimate moment between Maya and Marc. It’s the first team-up, and both characters are partners in this rage against evil.

This single fight feels like an extension of what is to come. Marc Spector and Maya Lopez. Two nobodies on the west coast, alone, facing a great threat to the Marvel U.

But the depiction of super hero relationships is  not as smooth and sexy as Miller’s because Bendis keeps in mind Marc Spector’s flaw of character – he’s not the real deal.

Like any classic Brian Michael Bendis comic book scene, Spector and Maya Lopez have a conversation. Around this conversation, Bendis deploys something you’d easily see in a high school set teen movie: gossip. Avengers and Marc Spector’s head-friendlies appear, and Bendis has them act as a social panel to characterize our love birds as nobodies. It’s the super hero version of a 90s teen movie where the cool kids discuss the awkward “romances” of the dorks. I love it.

Because Marc Spector is the dork of the super hero community. As I’ve discussed before, Spector plays hero; he’s not actually a hero. Bendis uses that flaw to bring the character down to a amusing level by making him the loser of the Marvel U, and he now has a nice “girlfriend” in tow.

Then there’s the scene itself.

Like any situation, you cannot entirely trust hearsay in order to judge a person. We may understand Maya and Marc as nobodies before the scene, but Bendis sort of brings us back to believing in these characters via the date. It’s a very humanizing scene that starts off awkward yet evolves to cute. Spector flirts with his lady friend in a style I find familiar, and then carries on into a simulated, smooth talking act as he tries to find answers to the case he’s working. Once the mystery man thing fails, Spector stops himself and the real characters come out.

I love the dialogue Bendis plants here.

Marc: ” Let’s just cut the sass down and have a real conversation.”

“Wouldn’t that be nice, if two people who do what we do had a real conversation?”

Only two word balloons but they sum up so much of Bendis’ Marvel career.

But it’s also just a nice scene for the simple fact that it gets right what a date between two people should be. One half act, or presentation to attract, another half heart-to-heart. Bendis boils down the halves of an entire date to two pages. Decompression what?

What I’m trying to say is … I love how this issue cures Marc Spector of his loneliness. Granted, dude’s fictional. I shouldn’t give a single shit whether he’s lonely or not. But there’s something nice about the way Bendis has paired the character with somebody on his level. Marlene, Spector’s previous leading lady, was fine and interesting in her own right, but Maya makes a lot of sense to me. She’s underdeveloped, similar to Moon Knight, and she’s typecast. People know her as the deaf Avenger. Same with Marc Spector. He’s “crazy Moon Knight.” The character’s been subject to his own identity flaw in recent years – both in fictional awareness and in online comics culture.

I like that Spector now has an equal, and the series’ cast has a new, solid, unexpected addition. Bendis and Maleev have crafted a solid issue here. It sells the thought that even the losers can find companionship.

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The TW Review – Marc Spector: producer, maniac, pimp

Yeah, let’s do this again.

For those who read the previous “TW Review” post, I teased of two reviews. Not happening. I had too much to say about the subject below, and honestly I can come back to the other book at another time. Carry on.

Moon Knight #3
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis, Artists: Alex Maleev, Matt Wilson, Cory Petit

Marc Spector wanders between many faces. That’s the character. He exemplifies the “super hero” who lacks the skill of decision making as well as the shell trying to morph its inner contents. Moon Knight gives home to any reader struggling with the concept of identity. Any poor sap unsure of what direction he or she wants to go in can relate to the Macabre Moon Knight, especially those less than satisfied with who they actually are.

Which, really, should strike a chord with us all.

Brian Michael Bendis snapped the reigns on the agent of jet and silver three months ago, taking over a character whose seen more than a fair share of failed creative attempts. Which has been a shame. Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz crafted some wonderful comics with this character, and ever since Marvel has only published sludge for Moon Knight to star in. I’d argue the presence of some favorable bits in Charlie Huston’s run 0f 2006, but really Marvel, and the numerous creators involved, have only degraded Moon Knight’s status from subject of prestigious work to pulp joke.

The Bendis/Maleev direction appears willing to return Moon Knight to some sort of pedestal. The new found title sits ready to reclaim the glory of last decade’s Daredevil run. A book concerned with drama, street level focus, and character study. The Bendis/Maleev comic seems ready to further develop Marc Spector rather than play him as a poor man’s Batman.

It’s odd that I am only now discussing or reviewing this book. Besides Greg Bergas, I’m probably the most vocal Moon Knight guy online. I’m unsure what that says about me, that you know, Moon Knight is my peak of vocality , but so be it. Months before the release of Bendis/Maleev Moon Knight you, doubtfully, couldn’t shut me up. The news came as a blitzkrieg. The potential of Marvel Comics shined bright and friendly once again. My old stacks of MK comics found new attention. Hell, I even made big plans for this blog in the department of content.

I was all over this book and ready to read. Then it came out.

So why the clam up? The first issue gave me nothing new. Every bit of plot and concept that Marvel PR tossed to the media made it into the first issue yet nothing else. I knew going in that Marc Spector now possessed three new identities, and this concept turned out to be the big “reveal” of the series premiere. The cliffhanger shot or the pace setting issue Bendis holds such a reputation for failed terribly in my eyes.

To be fair, Bendis provided warning in the book’s prior months of marketing. I forget the exact quote, but he spoke out saying most comics give their all in the first issue, and after that they sort of trail off and no one ever talks about them again. A point which stands as totally correct. This era of comics revolves around first issue buzz. No one shows concern for issue #7 or discusses series on issue-to-issue protocol. A mission to bring back to style the issue-to-issue narrative felt like a bold one – another reason why I was so stoked for this new comic.

Still, a certain vibe was attained with the actual reading. Seeing the not-so-new, new first issue in print quelled my excitement. I understood the writer’s need not to blow the load out of the gate, but I would have liked some sort of tease or battle cry rather than a lame “yeah, you know.” It’s always nice to stand up and clap when you’re the audience, but instead Moon Knight #1 conveyed a feeling of “well, I guess we have to get this into the actual comic so it matters, huh?”.

I enjoyed #1 fair enough, but it never made me shout with glee. In my storm of reading though, I’ve caught up on the new Bendis/Maleev project. I now emote glee.

So, yeah, that’s all context for the next two paragraphs or so of review. Oh well. Issue #3!

Bendis showcases how well he can write the character in this issue. Like most Bendis comics, the plot doesn’t stretch far but that’s OK. Instead, Bendis uses extended moments to document Spector’s interactions while also setting up a supporting cast. This comic is a good example of the term we know as “decompression.” Not that it’s really decompressed, necessarily. Plot movement falls short, but the comic never wastes any time – which seems to be the main idea of “decompression.” No, instead Bendis uses decompressed story telling the way Ellis and Hitch intended it. Extended moments shine light on intimate details and highlight character ticks we will want to know. The comic gives us a close look at the newly reformed Marc Spector a.k.a. Moon Knight.

Wolverine, Spider-man, and Captain America certainly work within Spector’s newly forged system of multiple personalities, but remember, Spector’s working the west coast and strutting his stuff as a TV producer. The man has a day job, and Bendis uses the day job as a backdrop to further explore Spector’s psyche.  Issue #3 opens with a scene cast straight from Tarantino’s True Romance with Spector whizzing his way up the Californian coastline in a convertible.  On the way, Maleev makes point to detail the character’s wardrobe, and Bendis creates a scene of flirtation between Spector and one Maya Lopez (whom Spector spent the night with). The comic rolls along until Spector arrives on the set of his big, new television show. Words are shared with his assistant, and we are even privy in Spector’s work day as he actually shows concern for producing a well-crafted production. Then things turn dark. Bendis writes a flashback to show Spector’s hiring of an ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. Purpose? Sidekick or partner of some kind. To fully trust a partner though, Spector pushes this agent through an unnatural test. Spector tortures the man while dressed as the less than kind Bullseye. Why? To see if this potential partner spills any beans on his possible employer. The scene ends, and the ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. speaks, “man, how crazy are you?”.

The issue revolves completely around the concept of identity, or more specifically the different kinds of roles we play in our everyday lives. While that is familiarly a Brubaker theme, Bendis knows how to make it his own with his portrayal of character. Spector works as a Hollywood hotshot, but that includes many things. In this case, television producer equals working man, pimp (as in ladies man not the traditional definition), and maniac. Spector becomes Bendis’s filter for Hollywood stereotype. He represents the ideas of corporate art we all dream of. The rock star playboy comes out with Maya. The power hungry, coked-up suit plays when the lights are turned down. In the middle, a working man presents passion for his project.

Boom, boom, and boom. The issue rolls out each identity, each person, very well by way of smooth pacing. Each segment just flows right into the next.

It’s a solid way to keep to the character’s core while also providing some sense of relevancy to our world. In the day and age of super hero movies, it makes a lot of sense for a super hero to comment on Hollywood. There’s also that matter of Bendis currently developing his own television series. I’d like to think Spector’s time as a TV producer provides some sort of personal expression of Bendis’s new found experiences.  Art reflecting life seems appropriate in this situation, especially if Bendis currently suffers his own identity crisis. I’m afraid only he knows that.

Of course, the separation of roles works just as well for the fictional character as it does the real world. Oddly enough, the three roles presented in this issue match up with Spector’s original trio of masks. The pimp, the playboy totally belongs to Spector’s Steven Grant persona – the millionaire, Bruce Wayne-type who wore the hot blonde on his arm. The working man goes to taxi driver Jake Lockley, and the maniac is right up the alley of Marc Spector the loose cannon mercenary.

What Bendis has done is taken Spector’s original three personae and multiplied it by two. There are three heroes, and there are three Marc Spectors. Just like us who work within one name yet act like different people within different situations, Spector now experiences the same. While he may appear slightly more stable, Spector is in all honesty more fucked up than ever. Doubt me? The dude holds 6 personalities to his name.

And this is the guy with the head of Ultron, working the case of the West Coast Kingpin. Bendis has me by the nuts.

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Some Things Just Don’t Change

Brian Michael Bendis means many things to many people, but for the longest time Bendis, to me,  meant company bullshit and the error of super-hero comics. I’m not necessarily sure why. I think it was a matter of his position and the frustration I felt toward Marvel. You see, they raised prices at the time of my highest “hate,” and, well, I was one of those “3.99 protesters.” I know, I know. Something I should probably keep hidden nor does it really have anything to do with Bendis,but whatever. I was there, and I’m past it now that I actually read my comics…Anyway, Bendis…not my favorite dude in the heyday of late 2009/early 2010. His books were 3.99, his Avengers did plenty of talking, and Siege was on the horizon.

“Fuck this guy,” I thought. “My days of Ultimate Spider-man respect are gone.”

Taking Marvel Readers for the usual spin, Siege came and went, but while so, news broke.

“In July, writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev examine those questions and more when “Scarlet,” their new ongoing, bi-monthly creator owned series from Marvel Comics’ Icon imprint, begins. We spoke with Bendis about the project…”
Comic Book Resources

July, Bendis back to his roots, and I gave it a shot. Boy, I’m glad I did so.

Scarlet’s still some sense of the traditional Bendis. Characters talk while stories span more than a few issues. There’s even that sense of slow down mid-arc while the last chapter inspires thoughts of, “what happens next.” Bendis writes this book through and through. No doubt about it. On a larger playing field though, this book resembles something like a rejection slip or a mighty middle finger aimed at all the nay sayers and labels. Yes, in some sense, this is Bendis’ Recovery. Here’s the album where the artist, while not totally reinvented, comes out and exclaims, “I’ve still got it.” That “it,” in this case, would be Bendis’ ability to bring something a little different and exciting to the comics market.  Scarlet proclaims Bendis’ right to still be in this game.

Part of the Scarlet’s statement simply comes from the creator-owned aspect. We have this odd perception in the comics scene that when a creator goes creator-owned it means some sense of “rebellion.” Kirkman, I think, is owed much thanks for this perception. The original Image guys inspired this idea nearly twenty years ago, but I think for this current era Kirkman steals the show. That manifesto went a long way, and it still lingers in the air now. He, whether he wished it not, made creator-owned this quasi-bad boy act where the artist can tell the company man to fuck off and seemingly be ok.

Not saying Bendis is telling Marvel to fuck off – that would honestly make no sense -, but the bare aesthetic of a creator-owned comic encourages thoughts of breaking the mold. Scarlet being Bendis’ first major creator-owned work since Powers, the book that got attention, says something about the writer’s place as of now. After ten years of being Marvel’s go-to boy with an on-and-off creator-owned book floating in the background, Scarlet makes us all suddenly question. Is Bendis just the “Avengers guy?”

That answer would be no. Our attentions are so caught up in who this guy is today that we forget Brian Michael Bendis wrote and drew as an indie comics creator. Before Ultimate Spider-man, the world knew Bendis as Fire and Goldfish. And Bendis still talks about these books, more than a decade later. Listen to any Bendis Tapes on John Siuntres’ Word Balloon Podcast, and I bet Bendis will name drop a few of those early books. Why? I think they are still strongly attached to him. This isn’t a guy who found a Marvel gig and said, “Ok, now I start.” This is a guy who loved doing his early stuff, and he never tries to cover it up. Bendis still pushes copies of Jinx and Torso; he wants the world to know what he’s capable of. Scarlet, and really this entire wave of new creator-owned material from Bendis, is another step in that direction. A certain amount of it disproves the majority perception, but another piece of the pie is a return to form. Bendis’ core, I think, is creator-owned, and Scarlet exists as a call back to that.

But it’s not all in the book’s appearance and identity; the story itself holds meaning. This book kicks off with a female protagonist who, right out of the gate, strangles a man and tells us why. The bare action isn’t the point, though. The “how” is.

Scarlet breaks the fourth wall. The technique should clue us in. The author wants to talk. Let’s look at this line: “I’m sorry to be right in your face like this. I know you were looking for a little diversionary fun. I know you were subconsciously hoping you could just watch without any of it actually involving you” (Issue 1, Pg. 4).  Hmmm. Involving “you.” This goes back to my idea typed above. While Scarlet in the story is on a mission to instigate revolution and wants “your” help, Bendis is clearly speaking for his own cause here. The thought of looking for some “diversionary fun” without involvement so sums up a majority of comics readers and specifically the readers invested in Bendis’ Marvel work. Stuff like Avengers and the event books are so spelled out, and people read them as diversion. I mean, that kind of is the point of entertainment, but comics readers, as most on the internet should know, take the concept of thinking and multiply the aspect of pain tenfold. Remember Final Crisis? Yeah, people bitched. Why? They wanted the story’s “hows” and “whys” spelled out.

Bendis’ work kind of contributes to this. His style of storytelling, the decompression we’ve all come to love, is the norm in today’s mainstream comics. It’s become Marvel’s house style of writing, and it’s possibly conditioned readers to be, well, lazy. Decompression lets everything see time on the panel. Thought needs no part of the reading process when the writing is such because the writer can literally tell you everything.

But Bendis wants “you” involved in this one. He wants “you” to think and contribute. He, again, wants us to see him differently.

This opening houses another important aspect, though. Maybe more important than the line about contribution. It’s how it’s written. When we think of Bendis, we think of dialogue and long scenes of transacting characters. It’s the Bendis trademark. Scarlet breaking the wall reminds readers of that and reminds in a fresh way. The opening scene jolts us. It’s Bendis writing dialogue but not in a fashion we expect. Characters sit no where near a table, but rather one pissed off woman looks directly at us. Sure, she delivers a few lines of meta statement, but her plain action almost says more. She’s just talking, but she’s taking the Bendisism in a different direction.

Bendis, because of his sometimes overuse of dialogue, has lost some of his shine. Rather than it now being his gift, dialogue has almost become his curse, and it’s not something readers look forward to but rather dread. This opening feels like Bendis taking control again, though. The switch in approach makes the dialogue feel special again. The moment sounds a lot like the opening seconds on Eminem’s “Cold Wind Blows.” The exclamations of “I’m back” and “Some things just don’t change” seem appropriate in this moment. It’s Bendis doing his finest Bendis and showing that he is still the guy for dialogue. No one does it better.

The story continues as Scarlet opens up her operation and rubs the dirt further across her hands. Cops die and pressures increase, but the series unfolds in other ways. I want to point out the statement made by this comicbook, but I also feel it shouldn’t be limited to that. Scarlet has more to offer as a story. Namely, the use of a female lead. For a tale about rising up and speaking out against oppression, following a woman around seems like the only right idea. The male voice could make a point here, and maybe convey some similar feelings, but making the character female brings much more by simple nature of context. Plus, Bendis has history with the lady lead, and Scarlet makes a lot of sense in his larger body of work. Jessica Jones meet Scarlet.

But, yes. The context. This is the woman taking back her world and executing revenge on the men who made her suffer. Sounds about right. Where on the surface Bendis shapes Scarlet to represent the common, downtrodden, middle class person, Scarlet herself takes on another shape. She’s a symbol. A symbol for what we are told and a symbol for the woman as an entity. Here’s a woman who feels the need to speak and speak loud in a culture where men seem to make the rules. Plus, she’s tearing down the rules and citing them as wrong. It’s almost like this woman scorned is the release of hundreds of years of built up aggression. The denial of school, jobs, voting, and sexuality are all being voiced against right here, through Scarlet. Maybe Bendis wants that, maybe he doesn’t. I see it, though, and I think it’s impossible not to because the fiery red of Scarlet’s hair and the show of midriff only catch the eyes.

So, to wrap up, I blame this book for my resurgence of Bendis reading. While not necessarily something game changing or even solid, Scarlet shows me that Brian Bendis can still make a point and make a comic with a layer or two. I lost faith in this dude for a while, but it feels like Bendis is hitting a new creative stride. He still needs to speak and deserves to do so. He still makes interesting comics. I’m happy about that.

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Thoughts: S.H.I.E.L.D. #1-6 + ∞

A Marvel or DC comicbook breaking the mold, in any fashion, deserves some sort of credit. Why? It’s not easy for a mainstream book to push forward. The editorial hurdle stands tall, and it preaches a pattern of slow pace and continuity. Any light of experiment in a mainstream book, especially in these modern times, is, honestly, quite the achievement. While Jonathan Hickman’s S.H.I.E.L.D. stills functions within the Marvel house style, the book  does showcase an element or two that make its narrative unique. Namely, the characters and their function.

The cast includes Da Vinci, Issac Newton, Nostradamus, Nikola Tesla, Michelangelo, the fathers of Reed Richards and Tony Stark, and some kid (whose name I honestly forget), and after six issues I honestly feel I know none of them. At least, not as I would expect when reading a Marvel Comic. Hickman characterizes and defines his cast, but he does it in more of a archetypal way. Da Vinci stands in as the good, smart guy with a pocket full of ideals, while Newton functions as the bad, smart guy concerned with selfish development.  They go no farther than what the reader would already know; it’s pretty obvious and well-known these guys were smart. The bad and good, the ideals and selfishness are the only new bits. Even those stick to the archetypes. The combination of those specific qualities is nothing new in terms of heroes and villains.

And yeah. Mr. Richards and Mr. Stark are a lot like their sons. Not necessarily archetypes, but they work as stand-ins for characters we already know. Nostradamus speaks the future while burdened by the knowledge he carries. Tesla and Michelangelo are mysteries.

None of it goes farther, but it surprisingly works.

Hickman sacrifices character for idea in S.H.I.E.L.D. There is a cast, yes, and members of it seem to be experiencing an arc, but their “existence” doesn’t seem to mesh in a traditional sense. The characters feel hollow, almost: just shells for concepts rather than actual characters. That’s what Newton and Da Vinci are in this series. Hickman takes entire issues to examine the two to show their concept and not their actual character. Maybe that’s confusing and maybe the book cold better from a strong, developed cast, but to me the hollowness is intentional. For two reasons. One, this isn’t about characters; this is about knowledge, human potential, and more. A writer could write high ideas and character complexity, but leaving the character out helps the reader hone in on the series’ core. Plus, the appraoch gives the book an attitude – an attitude that says, “this is what we’re about.” This is the first volume or prologue after all. To Hickman and the story, it’s important we understand what this is from the beginning.

Second, the hollowness or lack of character centric plot breaks the Marvel mold and helps the book stand out in a sea of simularity. Marvel books center on characters, and S.H.I.E.L.D. does not. It’s simple, but the difference alters S.H.I.E.L.D. in a big way. Many during its monthly release, including myself, said that at some point the book’s plot would come together in a recognizable thread. Truth is it was there all along,  just not in a form we expected. The focus on ideas rather than some lead figure changes the way we read it. Comicbook readers, specifically mainstream readers, make a point or just instinctly know to attach to a character. That’s our anchor point and guide; characters are the heart beat of most stories. S.H.I.E.L.D. throws us off when we cannot find a character to grasp onto. We suddenly begin to read differently as we search for a plot thread, and S.H.I.E.L.D. gains a sense of narrative identity by doing something a little different.

I like how Hickman achieves this, and I like the result. I find it smart and stylish. The pacing of S.H.I.E.L.D., however, sticks close to Marvel’s current style. Yeah, I know, I couldn’t let it get away completely. It does, though. The narrative follows a different pattern, but its actual flow plays it pretty safe. Marvel books, excluding Rick Remender’s stuff, share a common ground of slow pace. What do I mean by that? Plots unfold and declare themselves sluggishly. Everything is little drawn out and everything has a wide screen, absorb this kind of tone. Plots and their visuals feel almost a little big for the printed page. Everything feels a little too serious, and specific moments see specific attention. Most would probably call this “decompression,” but I’m not sure what to call it. I just know this exists, and the thread runs all across books by Bendis, Brubaker, Fraction, Millar, Gillen, and probably others. S.H.I.E.L.D. falls into this slump just by its structure. 

It’s not a terrible thing by any means, but it is nothing different. On some levels, I feel Hickman does a wonderful job structuring this comicbook. I love how the first three issues unfold. We go from a classic first issue with everything in your face to two issues focusing on two sides of the same coin. Hickman gives you everything in the first half of the prologue; then, everyone meets in issue four to go nuts in the second half. But, as I just typed, it takes Hickman HALF of this first volume to setup his world. HALF. That’s a lot of time, especially when you consider this book’s “every other month” scheduling. Slow pacing: that’s the draw back of most Marvel/DC books.

S.H.I.E.L.D. does enough to break away though, and as stated at the top, the smallest action to experiment is just enough to give a mainstream book credibility. And the writing stands complimented. Dustin Weaver, what can I say? He brings this book home in a lot of ways.  There is a certain cosmology that comes when creating a book like this, and Weaver understands that. The big panels and detail he provides echo Hickman’s intended focus, and he gives Hickman’s point a visual look. 

I don’t see S.H.I.E.L.D. keeping this chosen style of narrative – the infinity issue makes it clear that Hickman wants to develop his cast as he seeds background and plants motivation- but for what it’s worth S.H.I.E.L.D. volume one feels different enough. The story certainly pulled me in, and I still feel Hickman has something to say. That’s what matters, right?

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