Friday, April 10, 2015

HULK! MAGAZINE #13 & #14

”THE BIG BLACKMAIL” | “COUNTDOWN TO DARK”
Script: Doug Moench | Art: Bill Sienkiewicz w/Bob McLeod (#14)
Colors: Steve Oliff | Editor: Rick Marschall

The Plot: (issue 13) In a framing sequence, the mysterious Lupinar is briefed on Moon Knight by his assistant, Smelt. Meanwhile, Steven Grant leaves to deliver $250,000 to the Chilean ambassador’s terrorist friends in exchange for the missing Horus statue. But first Grant changes to Jake Lockley and visits his contacts, Gena and Crawley, for information. Soon after, Moon Knight makes the exchange and then follows the terrorists to see them ambush an armored truck. Moon Knight switches to Marc Spector and aids the villains to ingratiate himself with them.

Elsewhere, the Mayor of New York City receives a ransom demand complete with the threat of nuclear attack. Spector realizes that the terrorists have stolen uranium from the truck. Before he can take any action, however, someone dressed as Moon Knight, working for Lupinar, appears, ready to expose Spector. And back at his headquarters, Lupinar is shown for the first time in full, revealed as a wolfman.

(issue 14) Spector tackles the ersatz Moon Knight and both are gunned down by the terrorists. The imposter is killed, but Spector plays possum and changes into costume. The terrorists split up, so Moon Knight hitches a ride atop one car while Frenchie follows the other. Eventually Moon Knight’s car takes him to Lupinar’s home, where Moon Knight confronts the villain. As the pair duels with fencing sabers, Frenchie calls the federal nuclear response team to recover the stolen plutonium from the terrorists he had followed. With his nuclear threat canceled, Lupinar impales himself upon Moon Knight’s blade.

Continuity Notes: Smelt states that his files on Moon Knight were acquired from Conquer-Lord, last seen in MARVEL SPOTLIGHT #28-29. Indeed, the entire framing sequence is strikingly similar to the bit at the start of MS 28, wherein Conquer-Lord was briefed on Moon Knight by his own assistant.

Part of the briefing covers Moon Knight’s encounter with the werewolf and it is once more stated that his strength is rumored to increase with the phases of the moon. Moon Knight himself confirms this to be the truth in the very next scene.

This is the first time since his debut in WEREWOLF BY NIGHT 32 that Moon Knight acts in his actual, true identity of Marc Spector, soldier of fortune. It is revealed, again by way of Lupinar’s briefing, that Steven Grant made his fortune by investing in a copper mine that Spector discovered while leading an insurgency in Africa.

Lupinar suffers from hypertrichosis, a condition resulting in an extreme excess of body hair, which has kept him locked in his home as a freak for his entire life. When his plot is thwarted, he chooses death over further imprisonment.

My Thoughts: I didn’t mention it last time, but Moon Knight is extremely cavalier about his secret identity in these stories. In the previous two chapters, he changed from Jake Lockley to Moon Knight in front of a criminal (after identifying himself as Lockley by name), he worked openly with Marlene (who called him “lover” in front of another criminal), and he was quite obvious about Steven Grant’s “friendship” with Moon Knight to the corrupt Chilean ambassador. And here, as in the Conquer-Lord story, we find him up against a villain with complete files on all of his various alter egos. I'm unsure if Doug Moench was making a statement about secret identities here, but it seems worth mentioning.

This story brings Bill Sienkiewicz into Moon Knight’s world as regular penciler. Sienkiewicz will stick with the character for years to come, illustrating all his HULK! backup stories and transitioning into the ongoing MOON KNIGHT series in 1980, where he will have a multi-year stint as penciler. The Sienkiewicz we have here is my favorite version of the artist. Later on, he will develop a bizarre abstract style which, to me, is extremely ugly. But here he's doing a shameless impression of Neal Adams to great effect, and the style fits Moon Knight to a tee.

Sienkiewicz’s beautiful artwork is complemented by Steve Oliff’s equally gorgeous colors. Oliff’s work benefits from the higher production values of HULK! magazine, giving us deep, rich hues which look almost painted. Strangely, none of the subsequent HULK! backups reach quite this level of beauty, though all are far superior to a typical comic book of the era.

Art and colors are great alone, but they're best in service of a good story, and unfortunately Moench turns in a bit of a clunker here. The idea is sound: Moon Knight working to stop a nuclear terror threat. But much of this is a rehash of things we've seen before: the framing sequence briefing is, as noted, nearly identical to a similar scene in MARVEL SPOTLIGHT. And pitting Moon Knight against another “wolfman” so soon is a downright bizarre choice, even if this guy only looks like a wolf. The duel is nifty, but in general it feels as if we've seen a lot of this stuff before.

Moench’s script also engages in one of my pet peeves: cutting from scene to scene, picking up with characters in mid-sentence. Example: as “Countdown to Dark” opens, we get a brief look at Spector and the mercenaries confronted by the Moon Knight imposter. The scene then switches to Lupinar’s home, where Smelt’s word balloon says, “--like to get a load of Spector’s mug right now, Lupinar.” What is accomplished by this? You never see TV shows or novels engage in this weird narrative tic, but it pops up often in comics. Isn’t it fair to suggest that a benefit of scripted fiction is the fact that, unlike real life, we have the luxury of not walking into a room as someone is in the middle of a statement? I've never understood this technique, and I will never consider it to be anything other than utterly dumb.

Nonetheless, even with a lackluster story propelling it, this serial -- the longest storyline we've so far seen Moon Knight involved in (not counting the DEFENDERS arc), has its moments and is chock full of terrific artwork. It's not the best Moon Knight has to offer, but it's not bad at all. And, I should admit, when I first got into the character back in college, this was the second Moon Knight story I ever read and at the time I really liked it. It's only now, examining it with a more critical eye, and especially in light of what's gone before, that I realize it's weaker than I'd originally thought.

2 comments:

  1. Later on, he will develop a bizarre abstract style which, to me, is extremely ugly.

    "Later on, he will develop a bizarre abstract style which, to me, is extremely groundbreaking, complex and fascinating, even while it's not traditionally-attractive."

    There, I fixed that for you. :)

    Seriously though, I know your feelings on the matter. Just had to give you a hard time on the record here.

    Moench’s script also engages in one of my pet peeves: cutting from scene to scene, picking up with characters in mid-sentence.

    I can't say it bothers me as much as it does you (I can't really think of any examples that stuck out to me offhand) but now that you mention it, it does seem an odd stylistic tic. Obviously, it's trying to create the sensation that we're getting dropped into a conversation in progress, as if to say that events are happening whether we're watching them or not, but I'm not sure to what end a writer would want to create that effect.

    I will say, I do think we see that technique in movies and TV shows sometimes - like when we jump from one scene to another and a character is, say, already on the phone with someone, and we don't see them answer the call and start the conversation.

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    1. I have nothing against those who appreciate Sienkiewicz's later style. And really, I don't think there's anything wrong with it for some other purpose -- it just doesn't work for me as comic book art.

      As for the "mid dialogue scene change", I know I've seen it in plenty of other comics, but I'm hard pressed to think of one right now. And I guess I should clarify that it's not jumping into the middle of a conversation that bugs me. I understand that; we don't need a preamble before we get to the important info. It's the part where we pick someone up in the middle of a sentence that I don't like. I just don't get it.

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