Mike D’Angelo on Children of Men
Drew: It’s funny to think about now, but I can remember a point in high school when I thought literary analysis was such a huge waste of time. Allusion, foreshadowing, symbolism, and any other literary devices were distractions that cluttered the actual enjoyment of the piece. It was years before I understood how ignorant that attitude was. In fact, it took hearing that same attitude from a peer that shook me into appreciating how much more depth of meaning we have access to thanks to analysis. Can being more aware of analysis pervert how we experience it? Maybe, but the benefits far outweigh the risks. That is, unless you allow your knowledge of analysis turn you into a total snob.
We all knew snobby music fans growing up, but it wasn’t until I read Mike D’Angelo’s piece on the long takes of Children of Men that I fully understood how useless those pretensions are. His argument boils down to the quote I used as the epigraph here, and it’s always bugged me because it flies in direct opposition to my own experience of that scene. I loved it, found it to be totally immersive, and didn’t even notice that it was a single shot until our own Patrick Ehlers insisted that we immediately re-watch the scene. My point is, an analyst’s awareness of “how the sausage is made” can’t distract from the deliciousness of actually eating the sausage — all that matters is how we experience it. Sure, if we can pick out why what was done was effective, we should, but convincing ourselves that that awareness is more important than the art itself is totally misguided. I found myself remembering this lesson as I read Moon Knight 5, an issue so formally transparent it’s hard for me to zoom out for the actual experience, but one that greatly rewards both foci.
The issue opens with Moon Knight arriving at the hideout of a band of thugs who have just kidnapped a teenage girl. Why and how aren’t nearly as important as the numbers: there are over a dozen men holding her on the fifth floor of a building with six floors. The rest of the issue finds Moon Knight counting down goons and counting up stairs in an epic action sequence as he draws ever closer to the climactic rescue scene. Only, after battling his way to the top, the actual rescue is almost a non-event of expert-level negotiation.
It’s a scene I feel I’ve seen before in an issue filled with otherwise remarkably inventive takedowns. Honestly, I don’t know if writer Warren Ellis is dictating these fights blow-by-blow, or if he’s allowing artist Declan Shalvey free reign (or anything in between), but they’re incredible, both for their inventiveness and for their clarity. Look at how they set up that final face-bash with the Bugs Bunny-esque panel of Moon Knight hiding the bat behind his back — it’s brilliant.
I could spend the rest of my word count detailing how clear and effective every fight sequence is, but I’ll limit myself to one more favorite: the opening fight of the “fourth floor.”
Everything about this sequence is perfect. Not only does every panel break contain a strong sense of cause and effect, but each panel so effectively communicates motion as to have their own sense of cause and effect. It’s stunningly fluid, made all the more vivid thanks to Jordie Bellaire’s stunning-as-ever colors. She doesn’t quite get the space to show off that was issue 4, but she takes full advantage of Shalvey’s affect of dropping out the backgrounds in action sequences, giving each floor it’s own accent color.
It’s those structural elements that really struck me about this issue. Ellis goes out of his way to be explicit about the structure of this issue, limiting the dialogue throughout the middle to counting the floors of the building. Ultimately, the issue recalls it’s own first one-liner, “may as well go through the front door,” with “When you see me coming? Run.” It seems to serve as a very explicit template for how Moon Knight should be handled — which apparently is what this run is all about, anyway. With one more issue before this creative team departs, I think it’s heartening to see them so clearly lay out what Moon Knight is all about.
Shelby, were you as pleased with the fight scenes here as I was? I tend to be pretty bored by action sequences in comics, but these were thrilling on a much more visceral level. Also, did all of the structural transparency distract you from the experience at all? It feels like it was laid on a bit thick to me, but I enjoyed the issue, so maybe it doesn’t matter. What do you think?
Shelby: I actually have the opposite idea of literary analysis, Drew; sometimes I don’t want to analyze a piece, I only want to experience it. There are times, for me, when the picking apart of a book eliminates some of the magic of it. I don’t want to know there’s a false bottom in the hat, I just want to see the rabbit get pulled out of it. That being said, I loved this issue because I didn’t let myself get distracted by any analysis; I just let it wash over me.
I loved the fights; the whole issue reads like a video game. You gotta clear one level at a time, using different methods on different thugs as you go. You can even pick up weapons upgrades should you need them. The team does a great job of imbuing each goon with such personality. My favorite is definitely the giant man with “killkillkill” tattoo’d on his chest who was just trying to take a nap. Also, he’s wearing pink combat boots and a matching belt.
It’s that little attention to detail that makes a book that is little more than a fight scene work so well. I say “little more” very specifically; when you get to the last couple pages, and Moon Knight has rescued the girl, Ellis reminds us that this book makes a habit of being more than you think.
We’ve been watching this awesome fight scene play out, without thinking anything more than, “look at this awesome fight scene!” but Scarlett has not. She has been blind to everything that’s gone on below her, and yet in three panels she immediately grasps the heart of what Moon Knight is. He’s not a bad-ass superhero fighter, he’s only Moon Knight. That is all that he is, nothing more. That mask is his true face. How is it that, even when I try to just enjoy the experience of reading this book without applying any critical analysis, I still manage to walk away feeling like my mind has been somewhat expanded?
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?