Friday, March 20, 2015

MARVEL SPOTLIGHT #28 & #29

”THE CRUSHING OF CONQUER-LORD!” | “THE DEADLY GAMBIT OF CONQUER-LORD!”
Writer: Doug Moench | Artist: Don Perlin
Letterers: Irving Watanabe (#28) & Debra James (#29) | Colorist: Irene Vartanoff
Editor: Marv Wolfman

The Plot: (issue 28) Moon Knight thwarts a break-in in Manhattan, unaware that the thieves are a group of corrupt police working to frame the mayor for a man named Mr. Quinn, a.k.a. Conquer-Lord. A pair of cops find their defeated fellows and, unaware of their dishonest proclivities, believe Moon Knight has turned against the police.

After a run-in with the honest cops, Moon Knight begins to investigate the break-in further and learns that Quinn is looking to install his own puppet mayor via the upcoming election. Moon Knight changes to his secret identity of millionaire Steven Grant and, with his secretary Marlene, heads to a ball at the mayor’s mansion. But Conquer-Lord shows up as well. Grant changes to Moon Knight, but the villain uses Marlene as a hostage and escapes. Seconds later, a servant announces that the mayor has been shot.

(issue 29) Medics arrive to tend to the mayor, who was tagged by a stray bullet when Moon Knight thwarted Conquer-Lord’s assassination attempt. Frenchie flies Moon Knight back to Steven Grant’s mansion, where Grant finds his new valet, Merkins, spying on him for Conquer-Lord. Grant allows Merkins to escape, then follows him to Conquer-Lord’s hideout, where the villain has Marlene in a death trap. Moon Knight enters the building, takes out Conquer-Lord’s men, and defeats the villain himself, rescuing Marlene.

Continuity Notes: Following from his fight with the werewolf, during which he was apparently bitten (though I have no recollection of that happening), Moon Knight’s strength now waxes and wanes with the phases of the moon.
Early in the story, Conquer-Lord reviews Moon Knight’s past, learning that he was a mercenary named Marc Spector who parlayed his ill-gotten gains into a fortune as Steven Grant, and that, in addition to occasionally becoming Spector again as needed, he also utilizes the identity of cab driver Jake Lockley.
With this tale, Moench puts the vast majority of Moon Knight’s trappings into play for the first time. In addition to learning about his various identities, we see Frenchie again, now piloting the high-tech Moon Copter, we meet Steven Grant’s butler, Samuel (later to be named Samuels) and secretary/girlfriend, Marlene Fontaine (later Alruane), and we're introduced to Lockley’s main contacts, a diner waitress named Gena and a vagrant named Crawley. The only thing missing at this point is the revamped, mystical origin, and that's still a few years off.
My Thoughts: Let's get one thing out of the way: Conquer-Lord is a really dumb name. But, that aside, this is a very fun two-parter. It reads like a “pilot episode” for Moon Knight, introducing his supporting cast and explaining his methods and secrets. One thing I've always liked about Moon Knight is that he's kind of a rough character, owing to his past as a mercenary. He uses much more slang than the typical hero, and isn't afraid to really lay into his enemies (though not to the disturbing extent depicted by the character’s more recent handlers), and all of that is on display here.
We also meet Marlene, who has, for a long time, been my favorite superhero girlfriend. Unlike many such women who are there to be damsels in distress or to provide an emotional counterpoint to the hero or what have you, Marlene is frequently painted as Moon Knight’s equal. She is smart and confident, and capable in combat as well. And, once Bill Sienkiewicz comes into the picture, she's quite sexy, to boot (not that Perlin’s version doesn't have appeal of her own, as evidenced by the panel where she takes a phone call from Lockley in her underwear).

The rest of Perlin’s art here is very nice too. Inking himself, he turns in a much better job than the two WEREWOLF BY NIGHT issues, where embellishment was provided by Howie Perlin (his brother? Son?). I really only know Perlin from work on Marvel’s TRANSFORMERS series, and I haven't read any of those issues in a very long time. Here, he makes sure all his characters are visually distinctive and interesting to look at, too. I really like his Marc Spector, who looks a bit like a character that could've been drawn by the legendary Frank Robbins.

The Conquer-Lord story isn't remembered as a Moon Knight classic, but it's by no means a bad story. It gives the character a proper introduction and sets up his status quo, all thanks to his co-creators, Moench and Perlin. Sadly, this is Perlin’s last work with Moon Knight, but at least he gets to put his stamp on the character before checking out. Bill Sienkiewicz will soon arrive to visually define Moon Knight, but everything he does with the character will build upon Perlin’s foundation.

9 comments:

  1. I forget if Moon Knight already had his variable moon strength, but it's not connected to a werewolf bite. It's introducing it into his powers and offering a possible (though wrong) explanation. Also I don't know if the coloring improves in the Bill S. issues, but these read a lot better in the Essential version I read. It's a very Spirit-influenced style, and I think the black and white makes it pop.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's funny; as I reread these stories, I was surprised that the "moon strength" was mentioned so often. It comes up a lot.

      I know that later on, his strength is explained as being a gift from Khonshu, but here it's attributed to the werewolf bite which never happened on-panel. But I'm pretty sure Moench does away with it eventually, and then other writers bring it back and explain it as a gift from Khonshu.

      The coloring in the early Sienkiewicz stuff is actually very beautiful. Most of those stories come from Marvel's HULK! magazine, which had the really nice watercolor looking work you would see back then from time to time. All those early Bill S. tales are colored by Steve Oliff, who would go on to become one of the premier colorists in the industry.

      Once Moon Knight graduates to his own ongoing comic, the colors look about like anything else Marvel had on the racks in the early eighties. Not great, but not awful. I could see that stuff looking really nice in black and white. But the Oliff material is amazing in color.

      Delete
  2. Let's get one thing out of the way: Conquer-Lord is a really dumb name.

    I'm glad you got that out of the way. :)

    Moench wasn't trying too hard there, was he? For all the flack the 90s get for just slapping together two kewl sounding nouns and calling it a codename, "Conquer-Lord" isn't any better.

    So was the introduction of the supernatural origin elements a conscious effort to distance the character from being a Batman knock-off? I've always heard that, but even though those elements are in play here (the millionaire secret ID, the helpful butler, etc.), there's also already a lot of differences, chiefly Marlene's involvement and the multiple IDs (which I guess Batman has, what with Matches Malone and all, but not nearly to the prominence of Moon Knight's).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, I'm not sure what possessed him to name a character Conquer-Lord. He's kind of a cool looking character, both in and out of costume -- Perlin gives him a really distinctive "civilian" face -- but the name just kills the character for me.

      I'm not sure if they were actively trying to tone down comparisons with Batman by introducing the supernatural stuff. I believe Moench has said a few times that Moon Knight was never intended to be a Batman knockoff in the first place; he's his own character. But at the same time, Moench has also said that Batman was the number one character he wanted to write when DC offered him a job in the eighties, so maybe he was subconsciously making him Batmanish even if he didn't realize it, and added the Khonshu stuff later to differentiate them.

      Personally I like Moon Kight without all the Khonshu material. When Khonshu comes into the picture, that's the start of "nutjob" Moon Knight, and I don't like him as an out-and-out loon. Moench's early Moon Knight is a little unstable, drifting through his various identities without realizing it, but he's not certifiably insane like they make him out to be these days.

      Delete
    2. Come on guys, Conquer-Lord is totally seventies-appropriate name for a villain. It wasn't trying to be 90's-ubercool, but shamelessly fun and unapologetic superheroics of the groovy "Luke and the Fist" era having some strappingless outing before getting streamlined into the more structured yuppish awesomeness that was to be the 80's.

      Delete
    3. "Conquer-Lord" does have a sort of hokey Silver Age vibe to it. I just don't associate that sort of thing with the seventies' Bronze Age, which was usually less about hokiness and often more about pretentiousness.

      Delete
    4. Matt, the celebrated flag-bearer title for the era had a guy named Moses Magnum trying to sink Japan! Yes, it certainly got grittier after the night Gwen Stacy died, but an element of the Silver Age shamelessness lived on, and even flourished against the odds in a world becoming a nastier place in rapid fashion. Who could ever forget that time when Tony Isabella gave Johnny Blaze Ghost Rider a Friend in the seventies?

      Delete
    5. For whatever reason, Moses Magnum sounds like a seventies-style name to me. Like a name you might run across in a Blaxploitation film (along the lines of John Shaft or Cleopatra Jones). But Conquer-Lord just reeks of the Silver Age (not in a bad way, mind you -- I use the word "reeks" with positive connotations).

      But to each their own!

      And yeah, that Isabella GHOST RIDER stuff was... weird. I've never read it; never had much interest in Ghost Rider as a character -- but from what I've heard it just seems entirely bizarre for a comic book.

      Delete
    6. "The Ghost Rider wonders only about the identity of his mysterious rescuer. His query receives this reply. 'I am... a Friend.' And nothing more. Somehow, that is answer enough."

      I won't go into theological parallels, but that's some Gjallerbru-holding appropriate shit that there.

      Delete