Moonshine 5


Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Moonshine 5, originally released February 8th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

I’ll only do nudity if it’s important to the plot.

Actress, Traditional

Drew: I can’t remember when I first heard this sentiment, but I can guess with 100% certainty the gender of the person who said it. Actresses use this line to justify the choice to disrobe, but the fact that they need any kind of criteria speaks to how often they might be asked to do nude scenes that aren’t important to the plot. More importantly, I’ve never heard a male actor express anything similar to this, because male nudity is so rare — they don’t need a rule for deciding which nude roles to take because they’ll likely never be offered one in the first place. Curiously, because male nudity is so rare, it necessarily has more impact, making it feel more “important” than even the most “essential” female nudity — I can count the number of times I’ve seen male nudity in films on one hand, but I’m certain I’m remembering all of them. This may be a tellingly long-winded way of saying I want to talk about Lou Pirlo’s wang, but damnit, I think it’s important.

Actually, part of what makes Lou’s nudity so surprising is that every scene leading up to it takes a much more…let’s say “traditional” approach to nudity.

Lou and Tempest, walking near a tree...

Lou’s junk is kept coyly out-of-sight, obscured by his legs or shadow, while Tempest’s chest is unobstructed and clearly lit. This is exactly the approach to nudity we might expect of premium cable or R-rated films — female nudity is meant to be titillating in spite of how banal it is, while male nudity is too taboo even for stories that are explicitly trying to be shocking. It reiterates the flawed logic that female nudity is “more important” to the plot, suggesting that Tempest is somehow more vulnerable here, in spite of being in absolute control of the situation.

Let me be clear: I think writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso are intentionally misleading us here, using the familiar grammar of nudity to lull us into a false sense of security. The use of nudity subtly hints that Lou has all of the power here, even when he obviously shouldn’t. We see these traditional gender roles take shape and kind of forget that Tempest might be the predator here.

Indeed, it’s not until the next day, after Lou is imprisoned by Hiram, that we realize how we’ve been misled. Here’s how Risso shows us that Lou isn’t in control, after all:

Lou's wang

That camera angle might have been enough to establish the power dynamic here, but there’s something visceral about seeing him completely nude. Risso could have easily kept Lou’s crotch in shadow — note the hard shadows on the ground around him — which only emphasizes how deliberate this choice is. Lou doesn’t just have no power; he has no humanity, relegated to the barn like an animal.

And maybe his sin was animalistic? It’s actually not entirely clear what offense Lou is being punished for here. Hiram’s moralizing about temptation certainly works with Lou’s affair with Tempest, but it might also be moral offense at being tempted by Joe’s business offer — it’s telling that Hiram’s final words to Lou are about giving him chances to leave. Then again, Lou’s “sin” might be having been turned into a werewolf, and Hiram is simply trying to protect the world from him.

Of course, exactly how (or, indeed, if) Lou became a werewolf is also ambiguous. Tempest bites him during their tryst, but another (?) monster wakes him by dripping drool into his open mouth. Then again, it may have nothing to do with bodily fluids — Patrick has suggested that it might be Holt’s liquor, and Lou’s conversation with Annabelle introduces the idea of witchcraft into the mix. Tempest could certainly be the “witch” Annabelle refers to, but so could Delia, who seems to overhear Lou’s transformation in this issue’s haunting final image.

Tempest or Delia?

Patrick, I’m not sure if you can draw any deeper conclusions from those ambiguities at this point (though I welcome your guesses), but I’m hoping you can at least address some of those scenes I didn’t mention. What did you make of Lou’s visions of a werewolf in New York? Or the gangster showdown brewing back in town? Or maybe you just want to spend your wordcount on talking about dicks. Whatever floats your boat.

Patrick: Maybe I can speculate about the dicks under the suits worn by the gangsters — that covers just about all the bases you proposed, right?

Actually, I would like to start with the fashion of L’ago and his incompetent lackies. The town restaurant (where, remember, they might not totally know what “pasta” is) is completely packed with old fashioned Italian gangsters. They’re all done up in their cheap suits, most of them still swearing their jackets and hats, despite a prominently displayed coat rack

guys-in-suitsIf power and vulnerability are being expressed through nudity in this issue — and I think Drew makes a compelling case that that’s exactly what’s happening — then we also have to notice when everyone insists on wearing the same thing. Yeah, yeah, yeah, some suits are brown, some are gray, some of pin stripes — these are all the exact same outfit.

That is, until L’ago enters the restaurant. He’s not dressed like anyone else. His knee-length black jacket obscures his red striped pants, and a white scarf draped over his shoulders neatly frames bowtie around his neck. Even his head gear sets him apart — not only his he the only character wearing glasses, but those glasses are a dark shade of sanguine pink, and he sports a tidy bowler instead of the ubiquitous fedora. L’ago gently storms in and takes control of the situation, but he really doesn’t need to say or do anything to accomplish that. Risso has crafted a character that is immediately recognizable as supernaturally in-control.


I think this actually speaks to something we were talking about in our discussion of the first issue: how people present themselves. Do they lead with their own identity or with the trappings of their station? L’ago seems to do both, projecting confidence because he is confident.

And sure! Let’s talk about werewolfery in New York! Risso and colorist Cristian Rossi tap into the same color scheme we’ve seen used before for flashbacks tinged with fantasy, but it’s sort of impossible to infer that that’s what we’re experiencing here. Lou’s voiceover recalls the immediate aftermath of his sister’s drowning, and his father’s subsequent drowning-in-booze. There’s a page break in the narration, but the sentiment that accompanies the appearance of the wolf in New York is:

“We shared a lot of laughs, and more than a drink or two. He was never shy about it — if he had a bottle, I’d get a nip as well. I’d like to think that was because he recognized a pain in me that needed to be dulled. Not one that he wanted to eat me alive.”

That’s obviously loaded language: “eat me alive” is rhetorical when talking about emotions, but literal when discussing backwoods wolfmen. So, what are we seeing here? Is Lou remembering himself as the werewolf he always was, mourning his sisters death? Is he foreshadowing a return to New York where he continues to monster-kill people in his grief? I believe what we’re seeing is wholly metaphorical: Lou learns to drink at an early age to cope with the pain of loss, but that same drinking makes him more likely to inflict future pain on himself and others. It’s cyclical — the cure is worse than the disease. That’s true of the so-called solution of sending in L’ago’s cronies from NYC, that’s true or turning into a werewolf to destroy your enemies, that may even be true of partnering up with Tempest.

But ultimately we’re left with the questions “if this is a metaphor then how did _____ happen?” Like Lou’s chains: who undid them? Wolf-Tempest? Annabelle’s ghost? Delia’s magic? Risso and Azzarello are viciously withholding, as if to suggest there is a very thin line between magic and metaphor to begin with. And hey, that’s exactly where I wanna be anyway.

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?

7 comments on “Moonshine 5

  1. (I”m almost caught up on being weeks behind!)

    I think I need to reread the previous 4 issues. There’s a lot going on here that needs me to have a better understanding. I’m not sure the rereading will help – there’s a lot of obvious intentional mystery, but man, this might be better as a trade for its depth.

    I’m always weirded out by blatant nudity in comics that sit right next to kids comics. I don’t mind it for me except that I always feel like people are looking at me looking at tits and dicks while I read on the bus. I just wonder if this keeps comic stores from being as kid friendly as they used to. I don’t want to talk about a comic character’s junk, but it’s interesting to me and I can see how it would be a check against some parents letting their kid read comics.

    But I also know I’m an American that has been trained to have nudity issues. However, this comic would get an R rating, maybe close to NC 17, if it were a movie. Dammit, this comic makes me consider things that I think are wrong. Not censorship, but bags or warning labels. Dammit, how did I get so old and conservative. I don’t have kids, so I don’t care if MY daughter is looking at Lou’s junk, but I know that means I can’t tell my 10 year old niece to go downstairs and pick out comics they want to read (and this isn’t the only comic I read that definitely pushes the envelope).

    I’m not saying I believe in this being labeled or wrapped, I guess I’m saying I can understand how one would come to that conclusion. All because of one donger. Well, and some boobs.

    • I definitely think the big two can do a better job of making their comics all-ages appropriate (or at least having more all-ages comics), but I have no problem with there being adults-only comics. I mean, this series wouldn’t appeal to a kid, anyway, right? It has a kind of dreary historical setting and is very deliberately paced, so it’s not like nudity or explicit gore would be the deal-breaker. Especially when this series uses nudity so effectively — it’s a tool that shouldn’t be off of the table for a whole medium just because of where that medium is traditionally sold. Most shops (though not all) tend to separate big two series (which have tighter, but not necessarily strict, standards of “decency”) and independents (which, like this one, might be littered with swear words and/or nudity), which seems like a reasonable solution to me.

      • Today my LCS had a great table of graphic novels set up. They were all all-ages, mostly queer friendly books — Nimona, Steven Universe, This One Summer, Hellcat, Squirrel Girl, etc. — and I thought it was a great thing to have. I was really proud of my shop.

        But then directly next to it, practically touching the table, is a shelf holding volumes of Saga, Sex Criminals, and The Wicked + The Divine. They’re all some of my favorite books, but I wouldn’t want them anywhere NEAR the all-age stuff. Your story reminded me of this, Scott, and made me laugh.

        I don’t think there’s anything wrong with some comics (or Moonshine in particular) having nudity, but I do think there’s more need for all-ages book and better marketing for both all-ages stuff AND more mature, thoughtful comics.

        Another thought: there are a lot of indie books that have cursing, violence, and/or nudity that DON’T feel as essential as Moonshine’s. Take Descender, for example — I get startled every time a character throws out an f-bomb because, otherwise, it would be SUCH a wonderful all-ages book. Is it really necessary? It feels like it’s limiting that book’s audience in a way that Moonshine’s cursing or nudity isn’t, and I know I’ve had that issue with other Image books before (even if they don’t come right to mind). The freedom Image gives for this kind of content is wonderful and has paved the way for a lot of phenomenal comics, but I resent the idea that they’re a requirement of an Image book.

        • I think a big part of the problem is that comics fans are, stereotypically, kind of self-conscious to be reading stories written “for kids,” so publishers are reluctant to market comics as “for kids.” Moreover, some publishers seem to have a chip on their shoulder about being “NOT for kids,” which is why they’ll have totally gratuitous swearing (or just puerile grimness) in books that really don’t need it. I wish the “comics are for kids” stigma wasn’t such a force in marketing, because I really think “kid-friendly” and “NOT kid-friendly” shelves is the easiest way to do that. Unfortunately, I think a lot of publishers see appealing to a younger audience as coming at the expense of their core older audience, so they’ll never really market their best all-ages comics as all-ages.

        • I use comixology, so I can’t talk too much about my LCS design (though I could discuss how comixology groups new releases by publisher, so that you have, for example, Gotham Academy close to books like Sheriff of Babylon or other mature Vertigo stuff, instead of books like Boom’s output). Though Spencer is right. It is great to have both a table of all-ages, queer friendly books (though Steven Universe is fit only for narcissists and abusers, so should probably be in a different place in the store. Could I suggest a rubbish bin?) and a shelf of mature, Image books that aren’t suited for kids. But they need to be in distinctly separate parts of the store. Don’t hide Sex Criminals, don’t be ashamed of mature books like that. We should celebrate the fact that comics are doign mature works like Sex Criminals and Moonshine, books that are willing to target adults like that. Just place it in a different part of the store to Nimona.

          But there is a lot of interesting things to say about Spencer’s point on books like Descender. Yeah, Descender is a book that could easily be a kid’s book. There is a shift towards kids books recently, thanks to Boom and other publishers (and, to a smaller degree, Marvel and Gotham Academy). But the wounds of the shift to the direct market still sting. The shift did lead to many great works, and led to the changes in comics that led them to being more complex. And yeah, while it is great to have books like Moonshine, it is a shame that too many people doing their creator owned books don’t think about if the book really needs to be mature.

          Honestly, the real tragedy is with the superhero genre, since these characters were made for kids in the first place. Drew is right that there is a real stigma against kid friendly works. It is a shame that there are so few that you could say were actually appropriate for all ages (and even those that would be appropriate for all ages feel accidental). What would be awesome is if superhero comics generally tried to angle for that level of maturity that the Young Justice TV Show had, where it was a mature show that could engage people of all ages in mature ways, while doing what Marvel does with the current Jessica Jones for books like the Vision that need to be aimed at an older audience, where it is clearly marked as a mature book, or do what DC used to do, and create a Vertigo style imprint designed to be set in universe, but is a mature readers imprint

        • Marvel has been doing a better job recently of making kid-friendly stuff, but because they don’t market it as explicitly kid-friendly (which would assure parents that they don’t need to fear, and hold the publishers to a concrete standard of kid-friendliness), I question whether they’re really reaching kids. Engaged LCS staff can correct for marketing deficits at the ground level, but not every LCS has that kind of engaged staff. Heaven knows we’ve all been to a shop where the cashier scoffs at what you’re buying — I’d hate to need actual recommendations in that situation.

        • Yeah, Marvel have been doing a much better job (DC started to, until they basically threw it all out and focus solely on selling Gotham Academy trades through Scholastic and nothing else). But yeah, you are right that Marvel don’t draw enough attention to it. Ultimately, they sell those things alongside books like Daredevil that most certainly aren’t for kids. We can’t rely on retailers, as that depends entirely on the quality of the retailer. Especially as I’d argue the problem of a bad retailer for kid’s stuff gets even worse in comics, as the nature of how the direct market changed the industry and how it created a market flooded of mature books means that there are likely many really good retailers who just aren’t comfortable with the new batch of kid friendly comics. What do you recommend, when your barometer of quality for the last decade has been pretty adult content?

          Hopefully, Boom and others will help rebalance the market. But Marvel needs to step up a bit more. If they are going to release Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, they need to make it astonishingly clear that this is for kids and make sure kids know that there are comics for them, without going into stores’ like Spencer’s where they have a table full of great stuff for kids and Steven Universe

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