Today, Drew and Spencer are discussing Moon Knight 2, originally released April 2nd, 2014.
Drew: When I talk about “density” in a piece of art, I’m usually referring to its meaning — the way themes and symbolism is laid over the plot to give us something more than a sequence of events. The notion that a work of art is greater than the sum of its parts is our working assumption here at Retcon Punch, but Moon Knight 2 posits that exactly the sum of those parts can be incredible in its own right. Indeed, while this issue features only the thinnest wisp of a plot, it introduces and retraces the scene with such thoroughness to create an entirely different kind of density. It’s an awe-inspiring object, featuring an intricate clockwork of pieces that aspire to exactly what they are: an utterly brief moment in time examined from every conceivable angle.
The issue opens with a sequence following eight separate victims of a sniper in their last moments before meeting their untimely ends. These eight stories are delivered in a rigid grid, and as each character is eliminated, their panel disappears, leaving only the pure white of the page. It’s a bravura sequence, but one that is also a disorienting start to an issue, forcing the audience to suss out exactly what’s going on as they work their way through it.
There are so many fascinating things going on here. One of the most interesting may be that, in order to understand the sequence of events for any one of these characters, we actually have to abandon our typical two-dimensional reading conventions (left-to-right and top-to-bottom) in order to read in the third dimension of through the page. That is, I’m not reading from panel to panel, but from page to page. That works on a character-by-character basis, where we read all of the first panels of the sequence, but it also sets up the page as a meta-panel — a moment in time that just so happens to show us eight different perspectives of the same scene.
Only, all of the panels on a single page aren’t happening simultaneously. The only hint we get of this is on the first page I included above, where one of our characters (I’ll call him “panel three”) sees another (“panel eight”) get shot, only panel eight was shot pages earlier, and several other characters have been shot since. This makes it clear that the deaths are not being presented to us in chronological order, effectively breaking the fourth dimension — time — leaving us only that third dimension, which amounts to a stack of pages.
Once again, it seems that writer Warren Ellis, artist Declan Shalvey, and colorist Jordie Bellaire are out to make us aware of the physicality of the comic itself. Beyond neutering the three usual dimensions of comics and manufacturing a new one entirely, this issue doubles down on the intriguing use of white space Patrick and I discussed with issue one. Here, character’s lives (or at least the space used to depict them) abruptly end, becoming utterly blank space. This could be interpreted as a comment on the likelihood of an afterlife, but because that white space is contiguous with the gutter, I actually see it as totally ambiguous. The gutter is where our imagination takes over, and the creators offer no more or less on that front than the utter freedom of our imaginations.
Of course, the use of the gutter here is a little unusual. Normally, the primary function of the gutter is to bridge the temporal gap between two moments in a scene. Action A is followed by action B. The secondary function is to transport us through space, as can happen at scene changes — though scene changes often happen at page turns, anyway. Here, that paradigm is flipped on its head — transport through space is given primacy, and transport through time only happens at the page turn. The effect is disorienting, but only sets up the arrival of Moon Knight, who himself is made of the white space of the gutter.
He chases down the shooter, who was out for revenge on nine former colleagues who left him for dead, but really, the rest of the issue is simply context for that strange, discursive opening. Indeed, Moon Knight serves more as audience surrogate — asking the shooter why he did it — than he does as a character in his own right. It might be easy to see that as a shortcoming, but I’m happy to sacrifice time with the Moon Knight for an issue like this. It may not be the most character-driven issue I’ve seen, but it’s a fascinating study of the medium.
Of course, I don’t expect everyone to be so thrilled with the focus here. Indeed, I suspect that this may be a bit of a divisive issue — especially for fans of more character-driven storytelling. I liked the heck out of it, but I can totally understand someone feeling differently. What do you think, Spencer? Were you okay sacrificing a more nuanced character study for these narrative gymnastics, or did this feel more like a gimmick draining the life out of the story?
Spencer: To be completely honest, Drew, I’m still not 100% sure how I feel about this issue (obviously, this article is off to a great start). Judged by its own merits it’s a perfectly fine book, but as the second issue of a newly launched title that ended its first issue by questioning the main character’s sanity, it’s a rather jarring departure.
You’re right to highlight that opening sequence, Drew, which is certainly one of the more daring and innovative layouts I’ve ever seen. Still, one of the things I appreciate most about a narrative is character development, so I took great interest in each of these victims, especially once I found out what they did to the sniper; I find it interesting that the characters are killed almost in order of likability. The more aggressive or aimless victims are shot first, while the two who seem to have some sort of happiness, be it from their family or their job, are saved for last.
I bring this up because I can’t decide whose side (if any) we’re supposed to be on, the sniper’s or the victims’. I obviously don’t endorse mass-murder as a form of revenge, but the sniper was certainly wronged by this group in the past, and if nothing else, has a right to be angry at them; if they wanted to get out of the business, couldn’t they have just retired the sniper instead of leaving him for dead?
Of course, trying to decipher the morality behind these characters may be pointless, as Ellis doesn’t exactly give us much to go on in terms of their backstory:
“Global security field” makes it sound like the victims ran an organization similar to S.H.I.E.L.D., which would mean that they dissolved a group with worthwhile aims — if questionable methods — in order to simply make more money. Or maybe they were always selfish; perhaps they killed for power, then decided there was more power to be gained with money. Who knows? I certainly know that the man who shoots the sniper sounds completely unrepentant about what they did to him — even now he still refers to the sniper as an object as opposed to a person — and considering how awful banks can be to their employees and customers — whom they use as tools, much in the same way the victims used the sniper — that line about “the bank always wins” takes on an ominous tone.
I’m sure it’s significant that Moon Knight lets the final “victim” escape after watching him murder the sniper, but since I know so little about the character — only what I’ve gleaned in these last two issues — I can’t quite place my finger on what that significance might be. Does Moon Knight consider that last murder to be self-defense, or does he simply have no problem with someone killing a man who is already a murderer? Would Moon Knight have killed the sniper himself, if given the chance? That’s one of the problems with having an issue like this one come so early in a series’ run: some of the meaning behind the protagonist’s actions is lost if we haven’t been given enough time to come to an understanding of the character. There’s a lot to like about this issue, but I feel like it would have been better served if it were printed a few months later.
There’s eight or nine pages in the middle of this issue devoted to the fight between Moon Knight and the sniper that, at first glance, could have been an excellent place to elaborate on Moon Knight’s thoughts and feelings, but the more I think about it, the more I dislike that idea. The greatest strength of that sequence is that it’s quiet; Ellis scripts hardly any dialogue and drops the sound effects altogether, letting Shalvey carry the scene, and Shalvey knocks it out of the park, creating a tense, easy-to-follow chase and fight filled with some remarkably iconic images of Moon Knight.
Drew, you pointed out that when the victims in the opening die, their panels disappear and become part of the gutter, and then you pointed out that Moon Knight is made up of the same white as the gutter. That was something I noticed myself, and Ellis and Shalvey even make Moon Knight’s connection to the gutter explicit at one point.
If the gutter is indeed connected to death in some way, then perhaps Moon Knight’s ability to literally leap out of the gutter and into the panel represents how he’s already survived death and been resurrected once? It’s certainly something those victims can’t do.
As I said, I still don’t necessarily know what to make of this issue, but it’s certainly given me a lot to think about, so in that respect, it’s successful. I suppose that this issue shows us that this book is going to be a lot like its star: both Moon Knight and Moon Knight are mysterious, unpredictable, and seem to have multiple personalities. Who knows what this book will be like next month?
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?