Welcome to What Are You Reading?, our look at what the Smash Pages crew has been checking off their “to read” list lately. Today’s reviews include a whole lot of Moon Knight, plus Amazing Spider-Man, Brubaker and Phillips’ Reckless and much more.
Let us know what you’ve been reading lately in the comments or on social media.
So in the last month or so I read all of Moon Knight’s books starting with volume 5, the majority Huston/Finch series. I grew up reading the ’90s series, and went back and read most of the ’80s series, and let me tell you, this was not a good place to start for a fan of those books. I HATED this series. Imagine someone slowly and methodically picking apart everything you enjoyed about a book you loved — chewing it up, swallowing it and then throwing it up in front of you.
This series systematically destroys all the characters from the previous series. The only characters I liked were Frenchie and his boyfriend. Finch’s art seems over-rendered and is often unclear. It has a great pinup quality to it, but the actual sequential storytelling isn’t that great. I will say that Finch has gotten A LOT better since then and I like his work now. The coloring doesn’t do it any favors, as everything is very muddy and the palette blends everything into a dull brown throughout the series. This was a pretty dark time for Marvel. The end of the series sees Moon Knight heading to Mexico in the Loxley guise under Benson I believe and doesn’t really get much better. What they did to Marlene’s character is shameful.
While the next series, Vengeance of Moon Knight by Gregg Hurwitz and Jerome Opena, isn’t the best, it does contain some very nice action sequences and sees Moon Knight striking back at Norman Osborn and HAMMER for “killing” Marc Spector in the previous series. I can’t really recommend this series, as I wasn’t a huge fan of this time in the Marvel Universe when everything was very dark and gritty. If you just want a really cool action-oriented book, though, this isn’t a bad choice. This run ends with a Shadowland miniseries tie-in with Daredevil.
Surprisingly my second least-favorite Moon Knight run is by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev, whose work I really adore. But this series, which featured Moon Knight with all-new personalities like Spider-Man, Captain America and Wolverine of all people, was such a clunker it was cancelled with #12 due to poor sales. I usually like Bendis on single-character books, but not this. The art is pretty, though.
Now on to a series I love, but it’s problematic as hell due to the people involved. Starting in Secret Avengers during the end of the previous run, the writer of the 2014 Moon Knight run introduced the memorable Mr. Knight personality. This series is very, very good, and I still recommend you buy it to support the artists on the book, like the amazing Declan Shalvey and Greg Smallwood. Both of them are some of the best in the business. After another problematic writer takes over from the previous one, the prolific Cullen Bunn and artist Ron Ackins end the book with #17. The whole series sets up what we know as the “modern” Moon Knight and really influenced the show, along with Greg Smallwood’s later contribution we’ll talk about next.
Now for a series that really re-imagined Moon Knight’s origin and plays very very heavily into the show, Jeff Lemire and Greg Smallwood’s Moon Knight Volume 8. This is one inventive series that takes literally everything that came before and re-contextualizes it into one cohesive origin. It makes everything else “make sense,” putting all the puzzle pieces together. Smallwood is at the top of his game here and stationed himself as a superstar artist in my eyes with beautiful and imaginative illustrations and superb storytelling. Lemire is no slouch either, and this book made me want to see what else he could have done in the Marvel Universe without interference, like on the X-books.
Following this series came Max Bemis of Say Anything fame and artist Jacen Burrows, with beautiful covers by Becky Cloonan. It’s a continuation of the previous series, but under the legacy numbering that was going on at the time. It was a nice break from the previous series and mainly deals with the “Sun King” and the relationship between Marc and his “god” Khonshu, and putting his life back together. It’s pretty trippy like the Lemire series was, but in an entirely different way. I would recommend checking it out.
And finally that brings us to the current series by Jed MacKay, Alessandro Cappuccio and Rachelle Rosenberg. This is freaking excellent, as John talks about below. I’ll just say BUY THIS NOW. Everything about this book is great. If you want to know more, read John’s post about the book.
The current Moon Knight series came at an interesting time, as it followed the (rather lackluster) “Age of Khonshu” storyline from Avengers that saw our hero not only being very unheroic, but also going into “god mode” against the Avengers, thanks to Khonshu. It could have established a whole new status quo for Moon Knight if Marvel really wanted it to, but thankfully Jed MacKay, Alessandro Cappuccio and Rachelle Rosenberg were able to return MK to the street-level hero we know and love, and the Age of Khonshu felt more like a footnote in his history than a new direction.
Not that there aren’t repercussions. Moon Knight’s in therapy again, this time with a new doctor recommended by the Avengers — Dr. Andrea Sterman, who has history with both Nomad and the Thunderbolts. There’s also the return of Tigra, his old friend from the West Coast Avengers who pops up to check on him — but, as we learn later, she’s got a mission of her own. She joins him at the Midnight Mission, Moon Knight’s new endeavor to protect “those who travel at night,” giving MK and his allies a base of operations. There are vampires, an ex-Hydra agent who loves his mom, a haunted house that “turns good” and two characters who help grow the MK mythos — Hunter’s Moon, a second “Fist of Khonshu” who starts as a rival but becomes a reluctant ally, and then the villain Zodiac, who has been around for a while in the Marvel U. but really comes into his own in this series.
Now, the above paragraph probably makes the book sound very complicated or inaccessible, but that’s the beauty of the series so far — it isn’t. You can read Shane’s reviews above of previous MK series to see what “complicated” really looks like (Wolverine? Really?), but this book is anything but. It’s actually very accessible, giving you everything you need to know about Moon Knight and his past without weighing the story down. Khonshu is certainly mentioned but he’s kind of a non-factor (so far), and I think the other thing that helps is that Moon Knight is pretty much always Moon Knight here, so you don’t get the extra complications that come with having three alter egos. There’s Moon Knight, his mission and the relationships he’s building along the way — and they all fit harmoniously into the story.
Moon Knight has always been a tricky character to get right — he falls somewhere between a street-level hero like Daredevil or Batman and a magical one like Blade or Ghost Rider, without really fitting in either niche. But MacKay and Cappuccio have found a happy grey area between the two that’s really working for the character right now. If you haven’t checked this series out, please do.
I swear I didn’t mean to make this my new schtick or anything but by God, what is it about comic covers these days?! I want you to take a good hard look at the regular cover for Amazing Spider-Man #1:
This is the solicitation for this issue: The best couple in comics is done? You aren’t going to believe what is happening in this volume of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. Like, it’s obvious isn’t it? Mary Jane and Peter are on the cover, the teaser for the book, the thing stores and fans alike read to see what upcoming issues are going to be about, specifically states that ‘the best couple in comics’ is done. Who could they be referencing? WHAT SHOULD THIS ISSUE BE ABOUT?!?
If you said Norman Osborn, you would really strangely be correct. Well, the Osborn family is a sub-plot, but I promise you that Mary Jane is not in this comic. It isn’t even raining in this comic!! I kind of feel like I’ve been lied to; not like I expect every cover to reflect the material inside but if I see a character on the cover in something more that a painted variant, I’m going to assume it refers to the story I’m about to read. It feels like a stock image, maybe even a concept piece to show what a potential cover should look like, and there’s nothing really there to sell you on what’s inside. It’s not like they didn’t have a cover image ready to go! There’s an InHyuk Lee variant cover that is much more appropriate for general audiences because I will tell you that Tombstone is definitely in this book:
Considering the renumbering stated ‘in media res’ with Peter Parker once again at the end of his Parker Luck with no friends, no money and yeah, no Mary Jane (like this comic even cares…). But Norman Osborn, who last had a bizarre change of heart at the Sin Eater storyline, shows up at Peter’s doorstep with a job for him: babysit his grandkids. Cute, but not really what this issue is about. It’s about Tombstone getting back his position and respect after putting both down to be a family man. Seems like the time for Lonnie Lincoln is over, and the time to bring out notorious gangster Tombstone is nigh. Spider-Man confronts him, they have a fight in the back of a crazy hydraulically walled van (?) and Spidey’s fate is left for the next issue.
In terms of story, it’s not a bad one; action moved at a decent clip, a lot of dialogue had me stop and paused to think of it in a bigger context, all the characters were on point and I’m interested in the next issue. I just wish it didn’t have to be Issue 2 of a whole new renumbering that seems unnecessary and a cover that tells nothing to the readers.
Finally, a book I haven’t read because of a cover design or issue, Legion of X #1 came out this week from Si Spurrier and Jan Bazaldua. Being a huge fan of Spurrier’s side of the Krakoa rebirth of the X-Men, I was looking forward to more introspection from our merry mutants on their new life as immortal beach dwellers and instead found a really good episode of COPS. The ‘Legionnaires’ so to speak are Nightcrawler’s new force that investigates and enforces his new Three Laws of Krakoa (with interpretive annotations for Legionary guidance). So this is less of a legal doctrine and more a moral code, that they make more mutants, kill no man, and respect their sacred land. I guess think of them less as police and more a paladins, going where there’s trouble and giving aid or punishment as the need arises. Personally, I love this kind of stuff, the weird and wild moral areas of being superpowered and what that society can do to eat itself alive if you let it, but it might be too navel gazey for those who just want some action and intrigue. We’re introduced to a wide range of color from Color Artist Fredrico Blee, from the solidity of the planet Mars to the ethereal kaleidoscope of the mental dreamscape, and I think it’s his work that best describes this book: a variety of colors and shades to this new phase of mutants that pulls itself together in a coherent story. I’m sure this all will relate to the larger story of the X-Men at large, but taking time to focus on the small but widescreen lives of less popular characters is just as important as being on a team. Keep putting Legion, Doctor Nemesis and Forget-Me-Not in X-Comics and I will keep reading them.
With their fast-paced hard-boiled action and retro look, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Reckless books deliver many of the satisfactions of a good novel with a comic-book punch. Set in Los Angeles in the late 1980s, Destroy All Monsters and The Ghost in Me, the third and fourth books in the series, make a nice pair all on their own. In Destroy All Monsters, picky private investigator Ethan Reckless relates how he came to meet his sidekick, Anna, and how their friendship evolved, as the two of them help a city councilman avenge his father’s death. In The Ghost in Me, the focus shifts to Anna herself, who with Ethan conveniently out of town takes on a case of her own, helping a former movie horror queen figure get to the bottom of strange happenings in her house. Both books move fast, starting out with the main character in a perilous situation and then flashing back to the recent past so the narrator can tell the story of how they got there, returning to the climactic point at the end for the final resolution. They also bring in a lot of atmosphere: Ethan owns a movie theater, which he eventually passes along to Anna, and the old movies they screen there provide a sort of counterpoint to the rest of the story. They also weave actual L.A. locations and history into their plots. The setting, the characters, Brubaker’s snappy dialogue, and Phillips’ incredibly rich artwork make both these books a fantastic read. They also stand on their own pretty well—I’ve been reading the series backwards with no problem, and I’ll be reaching for the first and second volumes next.
Noah Van Sciver’s Joseph Smith and the Mormons is a long but fascinating account of Joseph Smith’s life from his early days as a seer who claimed to help unwitting locals find lost treasure (which never seemed to turn up) through his ascension to the head of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. Van Sciver’s family belonged to the church when he was young but later moved away from it, so he views the story from the vantage point of someone who was once a believer but has also researched the history. He doesn’t offer opinions, just presents the facts and lets the characters do the talking. The result is a compelling and immersive journey through the lives of the earliest Mormons.