Thursday, October 28, 2010

Vengeance of the Moon Knight #7-10 "Killed, not dead"

With the conclusion of the "Shadownland: Moon Knight" tie-in mini-series, Marvel have officially ended the Greg Hurwitz run on the character, while announcing the plan to continue with the character in a different direction. This comes on the heels of breaking up the creative team following their first arc on the title, with artist Jerome Opena getting employed to assist with the relaunched "X-Force".

At the time, the editorial had only announced that #7 and 8, guest starring Deadpool, would feature the fill in art of Ten ("Ghost rider") Eng Huat. Following the dwindling sales results for the title, Marvel have no doubt hoped to attract some of the attention by featuring the comedic Merc with a mouth, content that the "Vengeance"'s focus on broader Marvel universe would make it somewhat more creatively justified. This approach ignored that now, at the peak of his popularity so far, Deadpool has been overexposed to the point of absurdity. Therefore, his presence alone certainly doesn't help the two-parter turn into a novelty factor for an already too jaded audience. Even if it did bring in those new readers, what little "Killed, not dead" had to present itself certainly did Moon Knight no favors.

This tale of the two anti-heroes' conflicting interests over a hospitalized criminal, and his right to live, does appear to at least continue Jake's character arc under Hurwitz' authorship, but that's the extent to what it does to separate it from the underlying Silver Age of the Marvel Universe. Deadpool is, like always, completely over the top, but the end result is neither funny enough for the reader to be entertained, nor is nuanced in such a way to convincingly lead one to empathize with the wrong woman whose grief is at the center of the story. Amid Haut's stylish angular anatomy, and energetic points of view is nothing less than a missed opportunity, teasing the reader with the premise of juxtaposition between the mercenary pasts of the characters, only to abandon the subplot in the second issue.

Having just such a throwaway story between two more ambitious arcs in an ongoing title would be a much more reasonable decision, providing the regular penciller with a headstart on the upcoming issues. As it stands now, Marvel's B-titles such as "Vengeance of the Moon Knight" are essentially so unsuccessful that the publisher gains more from the stop and start tactics of constantly relaunching and cancelling the series (with the added benefit of rethinking the brand in-between), than by the continuing publication of a traditional ongoing title, where one creative team follows on the heels of another. Trying to make the best of a bad situation, all the editorial could think to do was use the final two issues as a training ground for introducing new artistic talent to the company's pool of freelancers.

Hence, Juan ("Black summer", "No hero") Joze Ryp makes his debut for Marvel in an over-sized issue, teaming up Moon Knight with Spider-Man, after the company's flagship mismanaged cameo appearance in the opening arc. Once again, the story has little bearing on Jake's new Batman-like status, being decidedly lighter, and focusing on a cliched interpretation of both leads. Hurwitz's story seems to draw as much inspiration from Moon Knight's classical appearance of a superhero being flown around on a helicopter, as well as "Spider-Man 3", hoping that the reconfiguring of the title past it's Marvel Knights phase will endure such a lighthearted approach. In practice, "Collision" becomes an instantly forgettable diversion, seemingly aimed solely at testing the penciller's storytelling skills.

As such, the museum heist perpetrated by the Sandman certainly bring to the fore Ryp's kinetic and detailed style, alebeit rendered more universal, than his Avatar press work. And by abandoning horror and gore as his trademark subject matter, the artist still manages a story that feels much richer, and interesting in appearance than the regular, serviceable work offered in Marvel's less popular titles. That said, Juan has much more trouble rendering Moon Night's new body armor as lean as Opena, as well as spending far too much time on splash pages in an issue that's already stretched way past the limits of it's simple story.

The heavy Geoff Darrow influence is still hard at play, but Ryp somehow makes it his own, with superhero fans traditionally favoring just such an intensively realized version of New York, and the chaos on the streets in the hero/villain scenes. Just like Eng Huat, his commitment to the title covers one more issue, albeit that being a new story, clarifying Moon Knight's place in the Avengers franchise. At the time of the solicitations, there was still some doubt whether the title would continue past #10, but all was made clear soon, when no new "Vengeance" material was being announced past the "Shadowland" tie-in mini series.

Thus, the title proper ended it's run in another generic story, imitating the style of Ed Brubaker and Mike Deodato jr.'s "Secret Avengers", albeit with the Moon Knight as the spotlighted character. Such a slight distinction makes for a very unrewarding reading, particularly when the team title the protagonist has been included in still hasn't found it's own voice. Hurwitz finds his niche in showing the team protecting an ancient artifact from falling into hands of a rather over the top Captain Barracuda and his crew, ostensibly dusted off from the archives of Marvel's decades old filler material.

It goes without saying that just such an issue serves as no recommendation for the Secret Avengers title, neither is it a proper Moon Knight tale, by any stretch of the imagination. In returning the character to his West Coast Avengers phase, Marvel is simply following the tradition, of cancelling his solo book, and keeping the property in the minds of fans by having him play a role in one of the satellite Avengers books. As for the artistic contribution, even Juan Joze Ryp can do little to elevate such a silly story, and be inspired to make it stand up as an enjoyable superhero romp. Working under heavy coloring of Andres Mossa, his art becomes indistinct and blurry, brining forth the rawest parts of his style under the nightmarish sky and murky tanker walls. This is particularly off putting, following the open and lighter colors of the artistic team's collaboration in the previous issue.

In many ways, this issue hardly makes a case for it's existence, except by acting as a clear signpost of where the fans can expect to find the character next, now that "Vengeance of Moon Knight" has been cancelled.

Looking at the four issues following Opena's departure, it becomes clear that Marvel has rushed it's new ongoing series into existence. Following so quickly after the previous volume's conclusion, the publisher would have perhaps been better of by soliciting the 6-issue "Shock and awe" Dark Reign tie-in as a mini-series. Thereby, judging by the success of it's performance, the editorial could have made a more sensible decision regarding the start of a potential ongoing follow up.

Still, their entrust the creative team with a monthly series doesn't seem so misguided, when taking into account the general tendency of mini-series to underpeform in today's market. North American comic shops are simply overflowed with superhero books, and launching a new series starring a character that can at best be considered fan favorite, by employing a creative team that still has to find sizeable following, would have always been a risky proposition. That eventually, the work itself proved only adequate, certainly did the title no help in at least attracting the positive reviews that could have potentially helped the title stay afloat a little longer.

Yet, this was still not the end for Hurwitz's take on the character, as a last minute "Shadowland" event tie-in mini-series ended up providing something resembling a true ending towards a few of the main themes set up in his and Opena's opening "Vengeance of the Moon Knight" storyline.

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