Posts Tagged ‘Bill Sienkiewicz’

 

 

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I guess it’s no secret that I’ve been pretty hard on most of Marvel’s product — both of the print and celluloid varieties — here at GU and at other sites I write for in recent months, but even I have to grudgingly admit that sometimes they get things right. A prime example of this is their new Moon Knight series, which is the only title in the “All-New Marvel Now!” re-relaunch (no, that’s not a typo, given that the first “Marvel Now!” appears to have had a very short shelf life indeed) that I was actually looking forward to, and which immediately joins the ranks of monthly books from the self-appointed “House Of Ideas” that are actually worth reading (Hawkeye and Superior Foes Of Spider-Man being the others, with the “new” Waid/Samnee Daredevil series being a pretty sure bet to join them, but that’s just a continuation of the old book with new numbering and a higher cover price — so if you’re keeping score at home, Marvel’s still down one good book since two of their best “Now!” titles, FF and Young Avengers, have already bitten the dust).

We may as well be honest and admit that Moon Knight himself was never much of a character and Marvel never had a very clear idea what to do with him — he started out as a pretty obvious Batman clone, albeit one dressed all in white, given that he was a rich guy without super-powers who fought crime with his detective skills and a bunch of clever high-tech (for their time, at any rate) gimmicks, but then things got a little confusing : it turns out that his alter-ego, Steven Grant, was actually a mercenary soldier named Marc Spector earlier on in life, and was resurrected from the dead when he got himself killed in the general vicinity of a statue of an Egyptian god named Khonshu, who told him he had work to do to atone for his past sins before he could enter — I dunno, Egyptian heaven or something. Khonshu didn’t give him any particular super-human abilities or anything, mind you, just told him that he wasn’t wanted in the afterlife yet, and he needed to get busy balancing out his karma (which is, admittedly.  not exactly the most Egyptian concept).

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Fast-forward a few decades and about half-dozen quickly-cancelled MK series later, and we find that Spector/Grant/Moon Knight is an absolute basket case, suffering from MPD/DID, a seriously devastating form of mental illness that hasn’t exactly been portrayed sympathetically in comics or, for that matter, most other media (the despicable and condescending Showtime TV series The United States Of Tara comes to mind here — but then, we don’t expect anything good from the pen of Diablo Cody, do we?), and probably won’t be in this new series, either, but — well, it makes for an intriguing premise, I suppose, to have a “hero” who’s not exactly sure which of his three “alters” is his “real” self.

The smart thing Marvel’s doing here is turning this series over to some great creators who actually know how to do hard-boiled crime. The only successful run this character has ever enjoyed on anything like a sustained basis was back when Bill Sienkiewicz cut his artistic teeth on the original MK book (and Bill’s back to provide one of the way-too-numerous alternate covers for this new debut issue, pictured below), so returning Moon Knight to his creator-driven roots makes a lot of sense, especially since he’s been floundering for a long time now in one short-lived series after another that all bore the hallmarks of too goddamn much editorial interference.

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And hey — if you’re going to let skilled creators have a go at a (sorry to be blunt) second-tier (at best) character, then you could do a lot worse than putting Warren Ellis (or, as he’s known in some parts, The Other Bearded Guy From England) in the driver’s seat. Ellis knows how to construct exemplary neo-noir stories, so his talents are perfectly suited to the task here. His Moon Knight has ditched the cape and tights in favor of a bright white three-piece suit and mask, and is more comfortable on (or below) the streets than he is swinging from rooftop to rooftop, and the first issue of this new series gives a nice little glimpse into what Ellis intends to do with the character by re-introducing him quickly (but completely enough for new readers to get the general gist of things), setting up a small but interesting supporting cast. and then tossing him into that rarest of things in comics these days — a pacy little stand-alone, single-issue story. 

Spector/Grant/Moon Knight starts out by appearing, for all intents and purposes, to be on the trail of your garden-variety serial killer (the title of the story is even “Slasher”), but is able to deduce, in short order, that the prey he”s stalking is actually something quite different altogether. I won’t give too many plot specifics away, suffice to say that S,H,I,E.L.D. is hiding a nasty secret in the sewers beneath New York, and it’s gonna take a guy who’s unafraid of getting his immaculate suit dirty to put a stop to it.

The only real flaw here script-wise is the tacked-on nature of the ending, which sees our protagonist returning to his abandoned mansion and getting chatted at by Khonshu before the obligatory “to be continued” rears its head on the last page. Apart from that, though, this is essentially a near-flawlessly-told little tale, and one that stands up well to re-reading.

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It also stands up to numerous re-looking-at (sorry, shitty new compound word invented there). I’m not terribly familiar with artist Declan Shelvey, but the pages reproduced in this review should go some way towards showing why he’s the perfect guy to draw this book. His work isn’t flashy by any means, but it’s gritty, authentic, unforced, and incredibly atmospheric. Even if the stories in all subsequent issues end up sucking — and it’s a safe bet that won’t be the case, obviously, because Ellis is just so damn good at what he does — this would be a comic worth buying on the strength of the art alone. Throw in the pitch-perfect hues provided by budding superstar colorist Jordie Bellaire, and you’ve got a feast for the eyes.

Sure, $3.99 is still too goddamn much to plunk down for 20 pages of story and art, but at least the new Moon Knight comes reasonably close to delivering good value for the dollar, and since this is a series that will, in all likelihood,  only last as long as its creators feel like doing it, this armchair critic would venture that it’s probably well worth jumping on right at the outset and sticking with things for the next year/two years/however long it goes. In a few months, when everybody’s got their feet under them and the story’s kicking on all cylinders, it seems no stretch to assume that this will be the best thing coming out from either of the “Big Two” publishing houses.

Weird as it is to to even type this statement, the simple fact is that Moon Knight is a Marvel comic actually worth being excited about — how crazy is that?

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So — this one’s done. J. Michael Straczynski and Adam Kubert’s Before Watchmen : Nite Owl series has been the book fans love to hate, even the ones who didn’t hate the whole BW “concept” from right outta the gate, and why not? Truth be told, it’s been pretty wretched, and while no single subsequent issue has been  the complete waste of paper that the first was, the sad fact is that it would take a pretty remarkable parts 2-4 to make up for that dreadful debut, and “pretty remarkable” is something this just hasn’t been.

Which isn’t to say that this wrap-up is altogether unsatisfying, simply because, well — it satisfies me to know that this series is over, and that JMS will, hopefully, never get a chance to write Rorschach again, because, if we’re honest, that’s been the real problem here : Staczynski’s take on Dan Dreiberg’s “Nite Owl 2.0” hasn’t been all that actively bad, per se, but dear God — his characterization of Rorschach has been flat-out atrocious.

In this issue, we learn that a youthful Walter Kovacs actually — SPOILER ALERT! — killed his own father, while the guy this book is ostensibly about gets relegated to second-fiddle status once again, and ends up with a broken heart to boot by the time all is said and done. Oh, and we also get served up a limp and unnecessary tie-in with a throwaway line from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original Watchmen series after our Nite Owl/Rorschach/Twilight Lady triumvirate brings down the demented preacher who’s been bumping off hookers in grisly fashion, too, that pretty much serves as a textbook illustration of how pointless and ultra-pedantic true “fanwank” can be, and that’s it — we’re done.

On the artistic front, Bill Sienkiewicz takes over on inks for the late (and sorely missed) Joe Kubert in this issue, thus completing his career decline from full-fledged Alan Moore collaborator on Big Numbers to last-second fill-in inker on a book that’s cashing in on Alan Moore’s creative legacy against The Bearded One’s wishes, and to say the results are unimpressive is to be too goddamn generous. Joe’s richly detailed linework, the unquestioned highlight of this series, is sorely missed. The covers aren’t anything too remarkable, either — the Andy n’ Bill combo provides the “main” one shown at the outset of this review, while Ethan Van Sciver is responsible for the variant reproduced immediately below:

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And speaking of wrap-ups, this is gonna do it for Trash Film Guru in 2012. It’s been an interesting year of blogging, and while I certainly didn’t foresee the extent to which reviewing comics would take things over around here, the good news for those of you who haven’t enjoyed this admittedly lengthy side-step (and let me say a very profound “thank-you” to those of you who have) is that 2013 will more than likely see movie reviews rise to prominence around these parts again, although I do plan on finishing out this whole Before Watchmen thing, my sanity be damned.

So hey, Happy New Year one and all, and I look forward to seeing any and/or all of you back here on the other side of the calendar flip. Stay safe on New Year’s Eve, and if you insist on doing something stupid, please — do it at home, willya?

What happens when you devote the first issue of a four-issue mini-series to pointless set-up and needless backstory that achieves nothing? Well, not only do you get a crappy first issue, you end up with something on the other end like Before Watchmen : Nite Owl #3, which has to do waaaaayyy too much because that opening installment didn’t even get the overall plotlines that are being set up for conclusion here going in any way, shape, or form.

Seriously, if J. Michael Straczyski had just started with the second issue, and split the various components of this third issue into two, we’d be in a much stronger position as readers to actually give a shit about how this is all going to wrap up — instead what  we got was a first issue that didn’t need to exist, followed by a second issue that finally decided maybe this series had better have an actual point to it after all, followed in turn by a third issue that actually isn’t all that bad but has to cram an awful lot in before we finish up next month. All this, as is the case with all these BW titles, from a series that has three fucking editors working on it, none of whom seem to actually show up for work.

Anyway, what we’ve got going this time around is Dan Dreiberg, aka Nite Owl 2, working side-by-side with costumed criminal/madame Lady Nightshade to crack the case they’re working on involving the murders of several prostitutes, a case the cops obviously don’t give a shit about. Meanwhile, Walter Kovacs, aka Rorschach, has taken a job as a janitor at the church he attends, while elsewhere on planet Watchmen, for reasons we don’t know, grief and anguish are eating away at Nite Owl 1,  akaHollis Mason, who’s taken to hitting the bottle. By the time the issue is over, we’ll see Dan and Lady Nightshade get it on (although essentially get nowhere on their case), Dan get some free bedside psychoanalysis from his surprsingly well-adjusted new ladyfriend, Mason turn the first draft of his by-now-legendary Under The Hood autobiography over to Dan (it’s apparently far more confessional than anything we’d previously been led to believe, ‘cuz reading through it seems to send Dan to the edge of a nervous breakdown himself), and Rorschach come much closer than his erstwhile crime-fighting partner to solving the murdered-hooker case when he makes a seriously grisly discovery in the church basement.

Like I said, compared to that first issue especially, it’s all quite readable. But it would read a lot better spread out over a couple of issues, where Rorschach’s grim find in the basement and Dan’s heartbroken reaction to Mason’s book could both have served as pretty solid little separate cliffhangers. Instead, what we get is  Dan breaking down as he reads Mason’s manuscript (which, let’s face it, probably has a lot more to do with the supposed “big revelation” coming up in Minutemen #5 than it does with anything going on here, and in fact won’t be “resolved” in this series at all) while there are still a few pages to go, and then Rorschach’s —- uhhhmmm — “situation” serving as the cliffhanger at the end of this book, which is pretty absurd when you think about it because — this is supposedly Nite Owl’s book, not his!

Ain’t that just the breaks for poor ol’ Dreiberg, though? Always kind of an “also-ran” character in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original Watchmen series, here in his own fucking book he can’t even score the penultimate issue three cliffhanger, and is effectively reduced to being of secondary importance in a series that bears his name on the cover! Again, I gotta ask — three editors “worked” on this?

On the creative front, Before Watchmen : Nite Owl #3 (variant covers, as shown, by the Andy and Joe Kubert and something called Chris Samnee, respectively) sees, sadly, the departure of the late, great Joe Kubert on inks about halfway through the issue. Not sure if his health had taken a turn for the worse and he literally couldn’t continue beyond that point or if these pages by his son Andy weren’t inked at all before he passed away, but whatever the case may be, the remainder of the issue is inked by — Bill Sienkiewicz? Holy shit there’s a name I haven’t heard in ages, and I just have to ask — what happened, Bill? To go from Elektra : Assassin and Stray Toasters to last-minute fill-in work like this where your primary job is to ape another guy’s tyle? Man, it just hurts to even think about a fall that steep. Bill gives  Joe’s incredibly distinctive look his best effort, sure, but it’s still nowhere near the same because, well — it just can’t be. But Bill, seriously, if you’re ever reading this (ha! as if!) — dude, you’re better than this. You really are. You’ve written and drawn some of the most unconventional, envelope-pushing stuff ever published by the “Big Two.” I know a paycheck’s a paycheck, but seriously : this kind of thing isn’t your forte, man. I’m as sorry as anyone that Big Numbers didn’t work out, but to go back to work-for-hire quickie cash-grabs like this? Well, I’m gonna remember you as you were, rather than what you’ve been reduced to.

Anyway, don’t get me wrong — this series has, on the whole, improved dramatically, apart from the immeasurable loss of Joe Kubert on “inks” (I still think he was essentially drawing the book over Andy’s rough breakdowns), but that waste of a first issue put Straczynski’s story in such a hole that climbing out of it’s been a pretty steep endeavor and left us with a cliffhanger in the book’s biggest moment that , again, absurd as it sounds, doesn’t even feature the (at this point nominal, truth be told) title character. It’s not so much that this is a bad series per se, just that it could have been so much better and stronger with  a few quick fixes that are so readily apparent that anyone can see them.

Except, apparently, a DC editor.