Monday, December 10, 2007

The Hurting's Holiday Gift Guide, Part Two

(Not merely an excuse for me to put up quick links for you to buy
stuff on Amazon through my site, although that never hurts.)

The Essential Moon Knight Vol. 1

I've got easily a dozen of these huge Marvel Essential / DC Showcase Presents volume bumming around my bookcase, all of them in various unfinished states. I don't think I'm alone here, either - unless I miss my guess it's pretty common for these behemoths to tax the stamina of all but the bravest souls. I mean, sure, that giant compendium of "classic" Luke Cage stories may seem irresistible, until you actually get it home and try to read the damn thing. Then your mind tends to wander.

These "classic" Moon Knight stories aren't even close to being Marvel's finest hour -- in fact, I daresay these would barely make the list even if it were 500 books long. In a word, these books are pretty much the definition of schlock. And yet . . . when I sat down to read, I moved through the book with an alacrity that bordered on the brisk. Fact is, while I can find very little of actual "value" in these stories, simply the fact that they are eminently readable and fiercely enjoyable on the primal level of genre entertainment makes them memorable.

The shorthand criticism of Moon Knight has always been that he's Marvel's Batman, and a poor-man's Batman at that. Reading this book, I came to the conclusion that such a criticism is more or less accurate, but there' is a crucial difference. There have been a lot of Batman-wannabes in the history of comics, almost as many ersatz Caped Crusaders as phony Man of Steels. (Oddly enough, however, DC themselves seem to have cornered the market on boring-ass fake Batmen in the last few decades.) Where Moon Knight distinguishes himself is in the sheer density of the pastiche: every single successful element from Batman's career, which itself encompasses almost every successful niche of popular genre entertainment for the last seventy years, can be found somewhere in the person of Moon Knight. What's more, they can all be found pretty much simultaneously.

You like straight-ahead superheroics? Dark tortured urban vigilantes? Kung-fu chopsockey? Blaxploitaiton? Tough-guy mercenary gun porn? Urban paranoia thrillers a la Death Wish and Taxi Driver? The soft-core pseudo-mystical horror of the Hammer studios? Millionaire playboys? Detective fiction? Glamorous swashbuckling? Pseudo-science-fiction gadgetry and deus ex machina technology? It's all here, all at the same time. Even Batman knows better than to mix tonality like this - sure, you've got gritty urban crime Batman, shirtless Neal Adams swashbuckler Batman, high-concept sci-fi superhero Batman, but usually not in the same story. Here, you get everything, all at once. Is it any wonder Moon Knight is a headcase? It works about as often as it doesn't, but even the worst overreaches still move fast enough to redeem themselves.

You just gotta admire the chutzpah on display here. Even back in the late '70s when these things first hit the stands they stood out for their reckless abandon. For a while Moon Knight was a backup feature in the Hulk's black & white magazine, itself infamous for its less-than-restrained approach to tackling hot-button social-issues such as sexual assault at the YMCA. There is absolutely nothing at all redeeming about these stories, except for the fact that they nonetheless exert a powerful compulsion on the reader. If Marvel still made mainstream adventure comics with the kind of near-autistic joi de vrie found here, well, the world would be a better place, I'll say that much. It's a lost art.

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