Why The Russos Are The Best Thing to Happen to the MCU Since Joss Whedon
This week’s new releases include three more series launching as part of the “All-New Marvel Now” initiative — Magneto, Moon Knight and Wolverine & The X-Men — but of those, I only want to discuss the first two.
That’s because they’re actually new series, rather than an existing series simply relaunching with a new #1 issue and a new creative team. (The previous volume of Wolverine & The X-Men, the one written by Jason Aaron, seems like it just ended. When was that? Let’s see, it was … last week? Marvel’s not even waiting a whole entire month to relaunch titles now?)
Those two books are also solo series featuring lower-tier characters, making them the exact sort of comics Marvel has been allowing creators to pursue riskier, quirkier, more idiosyncratic and interesting approaches on since the success of Mark Waid and company’s Daredevil and Matt Fraction, David Aja and company’s Hawkeye.
And, of course, they also both start with the letter M.
Let’s start with Moon Knight, the latest attempt to get Marvel’s kinda-sorta Batman-derived character over in the modern marketplace. It’s something the publisher has attempted repeatedly over the better part of a decade, launching a Moon Knight by Charlie Huston and David Finch in 2006 that lasted, under different creators, a good 30 issues, well into 2009. That was replaced almost immediately with the short-lived, Gregg Hurwitz-written Vengeance of The Moon Knight that made it into 2010, and then the following year the old Daredevil team of Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev reunited for a Moon Knight series that lasted 12 issues.
If Bendis can’t get a Moon Knight series going, can anyone?
Well, it’s awfully early to tell, but Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey seem off to an awfully good start; whether or note the market embraces it or not, their Moon Knight #1 is a good comic, and a great first issue. Particularly for this character, whose backstory can be a little on the throw-your-hands-up-in-the-air-and-walk-away complicated, and growing more so with each writer’s attempts to alter it.
Ellis has written Moon Knight in the rather recent past during his short run on Secret Avengers (collected as Secret Avengers: Run the Mission, Don’t Get Seen, Save the World). Of special interest is Secret Avengers #19, in which Marc Spector infiltrates a club wearing a sharp all-white suit and tie, and, when it’s time to start superhero-ing, he simply pulls his Moon Knight mask on over his head and goes to work.
The book opens on the title page with a super-simple four-sentence distillation of the entire history of Moon Knight, which echoes the three-sentence “recap” on the title page of each new issue of Hawkeye, before reintroducing us to the character, now seen wearing the all-white formal wear and mask combo from Secret Avengers #19. In addition to visually signaling a clear and clean break from past Moon Knight comics, that further distances him from Batman, whom he so often resembles, and, indeed, most modern superheroes with their capes and tights, aligning him instead with the pulp heroes of the past.
The red meat of the book — the crime being fought, the hero vs. villain conflict — involves Moon Knight cruising around in his high-tech, automated white stretch limousine, which he steps out of to help police officers solve a case involving grisly murders of the physically fit. To do so, he must descend into the sewers and fight the murderer, a machete-wielding maniac.
Around the edges of it, Ellis quite fleetly brings us up to date on where Moon Knight has been since the end of the Bendis/Maleev volume, and how crazy (and in what ways) he is this time around. In a nice twist, he’s not really crazy at all, nor is there anything truly supernatural going on. Ellis takes the original origin quite literally: “You’re not insane,” his doctor tells him, “Your brain has been colonized by an ancient consciousness from beyond space-time,” the “outerterrestrial” entity Khonshu.
Shalvey’s work here is a real revelation, and one hopes this book will garner him the attention he deserves. His storytelling is tight and elegant, allowing for a lot of panels, a lot of story, a lot of comics in this short book. There are only 19 story pages in this issue, but, to the creators’ credit (if not the publisher’s, as Marvel is asking $3.99 for this), it feels much longer.
Shalvey’s formal wear superhero is nicely drawn, with slighlly fewer lines than everything around him, making him pop and stand out as well as the colors. Shalvey does some considerable acting with the character, too, in an elaborate deduction sequence in which Moon Knight walks through a crime scene and, later, when he confronts the physically imposing villain, where he casually, barely moves when avoiding a killing blow or delivering a blow of his own.
Colorist Jordie Bellaire actually does quite a bit of heavy lifting here, contrasting the bright, almost luminous white of Moon Knight with the brown, black and gray world of the New York City night and its police officers, and the screaming red of the and black of the murderer in his den. They gradually shift from the bright, white borders of the Moon Knight adventure to all-black borders as the scene shifts from the superhero’s case to Marc Spector’s new understanding of what’s going on with his brain now.
Magneto, meanwhile, is of course an X-Men villain, and as such has never really been a solo star, despite a bunch of one-shots and miniseries to his name. The character has had a pretty interesting story arc of late through all of the X-Men books, having apparently given up his evil ways to join the X-Men for a good long while, most recently siding with Cyclops and his small band of rebel X-Men after the events of Schism and Avengers vs. X-Men.
His alliance with Cyclops was one of the half-dozen little ways that Marvel foreshadowed the gradual slide of the good-guy leader of the X-Men into tragic villainy … or misunderstood anti-hero territory, depending on who you listen to, Wolverine or Cyclops.
I admit to being ignorant of what happened to push Magneto away from Cyclops’ faction of X-Men, and to go solo and back to all-out villainy again (I’ve been reading the X-books in trade lately, and I left off at Battle of the Atom, when Mags and Cyke were still pals).
To writer Cullen Bunn’s credit, it doesn’t really matter. For the sake of this issue, the information provided in this issue is really all you need to know about the character and what he’s up to (and, haircut aside, one whose only experience with the character is the one from the X-Men: First Class movie would recognize him just fine, as he’s up to pretty much exactly what Michael Fassbender was up to).
Alone and on the run, Magneto is back into supervillain mode, having given himself the mission of tracking down various enemies of mutantkind and killing the hell out of them (he’s even got one of those maps with string, pins and newspaper clippings up in his hotel room; unlike most of the people who have such set-ups, though, he can push the pins into the map using his super-magnet powers, which is neat).
How evil is he? Well, evil enough that he’s willing to kill a half-dozen cops to get to a mutant killer already in prison, so as to murder him with magnetic power.
So Magneto isn’t at his most sympathetic here, but Bunn’s script is nice and efficient, constructed around a repeating theme of people going through the motions in their daily lives (however fantastic those motions and those lives might be), and giving Magneto enough narration that readers know the character at least realizes he’s a monster acting monstrously.
By the end of the book, Bunn and artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta have exploded the realistic, this-could-be-a-TV-show feel of the first two-thirds of the book. When Magneto enters a police station, we get a nice “magnet view” of his surroundings, as Walta highlights various metal objects in their own little panels as Magneto scans the rooms, and the title character puts on his new costume (all-black instead of the all-white one he was last seen wearing), and faces a very Marvel mutant foe, of the sort Magneto and company were just dealing with in the pages of Uncanny X-Men.
Again, it’s hard to judge a book’s future by its first issue, but, like Moon Knight, Magneto #1 a pretty good comic and a very good first issue. It offers a character sketch, some thematic content and introduces a plot-line and direction that will either intrigue you to read on or not. As first issue’s go then, this does exactly what it should.