Posted by: John Kane on November 20, 2015
I am given to understand that self-proclaimed Futurist and alleged butter sculptor Warren Ellis is currently writing the comic book adventures of Britain’s favourite misogynistic throwback tool of the ruling elite. Not only that, but word has reached me that said knuckle faced sop to the Pre-Suez nostalgists like Your Grand-Dad is also currently tumbling out of explosions and beds while adjusting his cuffs at a Multiplex near you. Talking about James Bond there, not Warren Ellis. Although, having said that, having said that…no, definitely James Bond. So, what could be more appropriate then, than to write about a completely different set of comics Warren Ellis wrote and Declan Shalvey illustrated. Probably a lot of things would be more appropriate, John. Yes, but this is what you got. Life lessons, we got ’em!
MOON KNIGHT VOL.1: FROM THE DEAD
Artist – Declan Shalvey
Writer – Warren Ellis
Colour Artist – Jordie Bellaire
Letterer – VC’s Chris Eliopoulos
Contains material previously published in magazine form as MOON KNIGHT #1-6
MARVEL WORLDWIDE INC, $17.99 (US), $19.99 (CAN) (2014)
Moon Knight created by Don Perlin & Doug Moench
© 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc.
NB: This book was obtained from Derbyshire County Council’s excellent Library Service. Do NOT let them take your libraries away.
In which we join Declan Shalvey and Warren Ellis in Marvel’s continuing battle to make anyone care about Moon Knight (MK) post Bill Sienkiewicz. Changes have been made. Changes not only to the creative personnel but also to the set up itself. MK doesn’t have his old supporting cast anymore, but he does have a special Moon Mobile which is dead flash; like one of those big long cars, you know, like those limousines teenagers and hen parties hire to drive around Grimsby town centre in for reasons which quickly escape them. It drives itself, because of course it does. That’s Warren Ellis, The Futurist there (“In the Future cars will be faster, literally, and maybe have, uh, bigger wheels! MAYBE FLIGHT IS INVOLVED!!! Hic!”) MK also has a drone thing, because drones are bad except in the hands of insane vigilantes who are unaccountable to anyone. Then they are cool. More spooky Futurism there probably (“Everyone (burp!) will have their own drone, like. To go down the shops and that, yeah? I drink whisky and swear. AND YOU CAN’T HANDLE IT!!!”) Also, I misspoke back there because it turns out Sir Moon’s not nuts no more. So the whole “lunar” and “lunatic” wordplay thing has gone for a Burton. Shame, I liked that but then I am a bit traditional. Hey, keep up, old man, tradition’s for tossers and it’s the 21st Century (according to my Cats in Funny Hats calendar) so in the first issue both MK and we are told (in a phrase clearly intended to be quote fodder, and who am I to disappoint (shut up, mother! SHUT UP!)), “You’re not insane. Your brain has been colonised by an ancient consciousness from beyond space-time. Smile.” Naturally, this being Warren Ellis the flop sweat scented linguistic razzle-dazzle errs away from the meaningful and more towards the polytechnic-lecturer-down-the-pub-with-the-new-intake-and-his-eye-on-the-wee-lassie-with-the-nose–ring-and-the badly-obscured-cold-sore. Like many an Ellis-ian concept splash it’s not like it ever gets mentioned again, but I think we all felt all the cooler for reading it. I know, being a simple soul, you might think having a character “colonised by an ancient consciousness from beyond space-time” might be something you’d want to expand upon a bit, but no. As it happens, astonishingly enough, it doesn’t matter because MK still acts like someone who needs a hug and a good chat. Just in a different way.
Visually MK is redesigned as a man in a suit with a bag over his head. (Well, sometimes he isn’t, but it’s this image that works best and that you come away from the book with, so in the interests of brevity: a man with a suit with a bag over his head.) Sounds silly but it isn’t. It’s a good design; men in suits generally look really quite grand, I find. Lot of graphic potential in a suit, you know. It’s just plain classy for a start. The bag’s okay visually too, and is a proper bit of Futurism because, and there is no way Warren “Future Sailor” Ellis could possibly have known this when he wrote the book, shops now charge you for a carrier. I am forever being caught out by this, but MK can just stick his chicken dippers in his hastily doffed headgear. No fool he. I imagine (many things, but let’s stick to this one) Declan Shalvey is the one who makes the redesign work quite as well as it does. (“He’s in a suit now, Declan, not that capey thing. Oh, stop whining, JUST BLOODY DRAW IT!!!”) It’s a sharply cut suit and the visual potential of a nicely draped ensemble’s ability to communicate flow and to just generally cut a flash dash on the page is fully realised by the man Shalvey. Someone has also decided not to colour MK in which makes him really pop off the page. Pages beautifully toned by Bellaire’s subtly muted shades. Unlike Warren Ellis the Irish human being Declan Shalvey is a new one on me, but he’s very much worth watching as an artist (as opposed to watching as a “suspect”, but never rule anything out, eh). I was first struck by his apparent talent when I noted the jaunty angle at which he had cocked MK’s shoe sole on the initial splash. By the end of the book there was nothing apparent about it, Declan Shalvey was pretty firmly established in my fractured mind as a Talent with a capital “T”. Which is lucky, because sometimes it’s Shalvey’s Talent that makes the book work as well as it does. Which is why everyone refers to it as Declan Shalvey’s MOON KNIGHT, right? Oh.
It’s easy to knock Warren Ellis (so I did) but in his defence FROM THE DEAD collects six issues, the majority of which are very strong done-in ones (they vary, but are mostly good times). It’s possible Ellis even put his drink down and typed with both hands on some of them. Inevitably though there’s a couple of underdone slips into the worst of Warren Ellis’ patented Post-It Note plotting. He gets a lot of stick for this, but in all fairness sometimes this works (and equally sometimes it doesn’t). I guess it depends how detailed his Post-It Note gets before he collapses from the exertion of coming up with a crunchy hi-concept soundbite hook. Because all these issues have a crunchy high-concept soundbite hook, but they don’t all have a story. I would hesitate to suggest that Warren Ellis occasionally has his writerly priorities wrong since, you know, he’s the feted millionaire author with a built-in audience and I’m the erratic crank who has his hair cut at home and whose own love partner won’t read his stuff, but it did cross my mind every now and again. Particularly during “Box” which seemed to be based on “Moon Knight punches Ghost Punks!” and then forgot to be about anything else, although there was some half-hearted stuff about gentrification and a sad music box. All of which possibly interesting stuff was shuffled to the side-lines, because who doesn’t love pages of Moon Knight punching ghost punks! Haw, Haw. Oh, that tickles me. Ghost punks. Punching. Well worth all those pages. (There’s some sarcasm going on there but as I don’t use emoticons I’m just going to have to risk you missing it). It’s okay, sometimes comics creators are clearly having a lot more fun than their audience (Matt Fraction) which is fine in moderation (everyone else). Oh, Shalvey tries his best and it is gorgeous stuff, but storywise at base “Box” is pretty thin gruel. However, in all fairness, “Scarlet” works really well and that one’s just “Moon Knight beats up five floors of thugs to rescue a little girl.” Which as a story is equally austere in its development and complexity (“Declan, child, I have seen this film called THE RAID. DELIVER THAT UNTO ME, YOU CUR!!!”) But, ah, ah, but, crucially, this one is rich as Croesus in the visual opportunities it offers up to Declan “I can” Shalvey. The brutal choreography and general illusion of movement created by Shalvey’s art here is superlative stuff and truly cinematic in the very best sense. I winced more than once at the imaginary violence on show.
Since Shalvey saves “Scarlet” there’s only really “Box” which is a damp squib. “Sleep” gamely attempts to present a creepy mystery; one which Ellis has given a decent beginning and a solid ending, but during the (lengthy) mid-section relies so hard on Shalvey’s phantasmagorical fungi fuelled hallucinations it’s only they that prevent its title becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. “Slasher” is impressive for not only introducing the new MK set up with economical élan but also for cramming in a serial killer who MK hunts and bests using his intelligence. It even finds room for a little dig at the weaponisation of humanity to keep things current (“THEY’LL TURN US ALL INTO GUNS, I TELL YOU!!! Oh look, HOLLYOAKS is on”). It’s a tidy comic book script and Shalvey’s art keeps it interesting even during the largely static (and just on the right side of self-consciously flip) conversation bits, but it really hits its stride when things get a bit weird under the streets where the S.H.I.E.L.D. creeps sleep.
“Sniper” raises the game in term of storytelling. Yeah, Ellis really exerts himself on the one about the sniper. Or maybe it’s the case that Shalvey nearly busts a gut on this one. Perhaps it’s even a joint strainer. Whatever the case may be, it’s really just an exercise in storytelling rather than a story as such. But it’s such a good exercise in storytelling you can forgive the bit where the man walks in at the end to explain the point of the story to Moon Knight. And since that point is that bankers are dangerous assholes and we should never forget this since we are all still trying to claw our way out of a recession their unregulated greed caused with very little impact on themselves, I’m inclined to leniency. “Sniper” is a thing of beauty in its execution. As Shalvey’s countryman Frank Carson once said, “It’s the way I tell ’em!” and in “Sniper” the way Shalvey & Ellis et al tell it is pure COMICS!!! The volume closes with a smart call back to the first issue, “Spectre” (Now THAT’s impressive futurism.), where a bit part player goes entertainingly if somewhat unconvincingly nuts and tries to replace Moon Knight. I say unconvincingly nuts but if anyone was exposed to the previous volume of Moon Knight (apparently fuelled by “years of research” into MK’s condition. Oh, give over.) then in comparison Warren Ellis’ treatment of mental illness here resembles that of B.F. Skinner.
Given the paucity of plot elsewhere there’s a surprising surfeit of it in “Spectre”, maybe too much. Might have been better to have it running as a sub plot through the other issues…but clearly it’s more important that each issue be “stand alone” and self-contained” in line with whatever high-falutin’ modus operandi Warren Ellis has informed the world he is operating under via interviews I haven’t read (“NOW HEAR THIS!!! NOW HEAR THIS!!!). Remember all that horsefeathers about “comics as 7-inch pop singles” (“One day there will be 12-INCH POP SINGLES!!! Mark my words!”)? I know I am forever picking up copies of FELL and exclaiming, wow, this is like the comic as a 7-inch pop single! Rather than, Oh, yeah, another series he just left floating like the sad corpse of a duck that didn’t make it through the winter! Obviously that whole 7-inch single thing is a bit dated now, so this time out these particular comics are probably “fibre optic nano-belches of picto-jism”. You know how he gets, that Warren Ellis. With his catchy tag lines and such. Oh, you can mock, you cur, but that’s what they pay him for. With MOON KNIGHT VOL1: BACK FROM THE DEAD Warren Ellis trots out his long running Warren Ellis schtick and gives us exactly what we expect, exactly what he gets paid for, warts and all. However, Declan Shalvey, the wee shaver, is a total and thoroughly pleasurable artistic revelation, so it’s on him that the book ends up with VERY GOOD!
Seriously, that “Sniper” Chapter is – COMICS!!!