Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Moonshine 6, originally released March 29, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
“All actions takes place, so to speak in a kind of twilight, which like a fog or moonlight, often tends to make things seem grotesque and larger than they really are.”
-Karl Von Clausewitz, On War
Patrick: Lou Pirlo is, ostensibly, the protagonist of Moonshine. But he’s a man badly in need of definition. Is he an ambitious mafia man, working his way up the rungs of the organized crime ladder? Or is he a drunken fuck-up with a pretty face? Or — and this may be the most tantalizing question of all — is he a murderous wolf-man? It’s a question that requires clarity to answer, and that has never been one of Pirlo’s strong suits. As the fog of war closes in on Hiram’s Hallow, so too does the narrative confusion obscure our hero.
We don’t see human-form Lou Pirlo until the final panel of the issue. He wakes up naked, possibly dying, in Delia’s arms, and that’s the most we see of the man. The lead up to Lou’s appearance is one of those knock-down, drag-out confrontations readers would expect of the final issue in a story arc, but it’s so chaotically presented as to make any meaningful conclusion difficult to draw. Writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso have these two factions — the gangsters and the hillbillies — and Azzarello seems to love writing in their common tongue: profanity.
As usual, Azzarello is able to say more with a “fuck you motherfucker” than most writers are able to say in a sonnet. These two violent subcultures are effectively the same, each fighting over the same bootleg empire. It makes the non-stop shoot-out between kinda tricky to follow. Like, the math’s all there: and you can trace the movements of all of these characters if you put in the work. But it ain’t easy. It’s a storm of bullets, bodies and speeding cars, and Risso suggests that the reader look even closer.
Check it out — what’s he seeing? We get a close up on the eye, but it’s hard as hell to make out what’s being reflected in his pupil. There’s detail there, it’s just not clear what that detail is telling us. This tiny, distorted image forces the reader to slow down and confront the idea that we need to decode what we’re seeing. And that reading pace is required to parse out the action, right up to the point where the wolf catches up with them picks a fucking side. Pirlo-the-wolf gives the issue some startling clarity, trading in Azzarello’s infatuation with cursing for Risso’s infatuation with violence. I love the page where this turns. Joe’s henchmen are literally in the middle of exclaiming “HOLY FUCKIN’ JESUS!” when the wolf appears and puts a moratorium on language for two whole pages.
It’s a scene of grotesque, balletic beauty. The wolf’s claw’s rip through dude’s faces like they’re paper, and his jaws crash through a human skull in a way that defies the very space they’re supposed to be existing in. Risso’s playing fast and loose with reality, sacrificing verisimilitude for pure shock.
I mean, where’s that bottom jaw supposed to be, huh? But it’s a striking, horrifying vision, so who gives a shit about realism at this point? The only mobster that stands half a chance is L’ago’s angel-of-death, the so-far-yet-to-be-named bandoliered badass. I had to flip back to the previous issue to verify who this guy was, and it seems like he’s this series’ Richard Harrow — quiet, stylish and ruthlessly efficient. He turns his rifle on Lou, driving the wolf away, before kissing the cross around his neck and training his sites on Hiram. The page is so elegantly constructed, the curved lines of the insert criss-crossing with jagged internal lines from the wolf’s body and the gun, all culminating on poor Hiram’s head.
I hate to post so much of the issue, because it really is a spectacular read and no one should deprive themselves the opportunity to do so.
By the end of the issue, we’re left with a ton of questions about what makes the wolf act the way it does. Is the wolf under Hiram’s control? Tempests? Or is Lou making decisions on his own? Or is it an animal with it’s own will and agenda? And what does it mean that such a huge turning point in Lou’s life pays out with him having a sober say in it? Drew, what do you make of those last moments before we cut to the next morning? Is Delia finishing Lou off with that knife?
Drew: That’s got to be a “no,” right? I certainly wouldn’t put it past this creative team to kill off this arc’s protagonist, underscoring that he really was just a pawn in a much larger game, but I think the image of the clasped knife on the ground is a sure indication that it wasn’t being used.
The way Delia wields that knife when first encountering Lou-as-werewolf certainly suggests that she might use it, which is precisely why Risso shows it to us here, folded harmlessly, without a drop of blood on it. It illustrates an aesthetic that is always true of this creative team, but takes on a particular notability in the hyper-efficiency of that car chase: every panel matters.
It’s an aesthetic that makes unpacking this series particularly rewarding — you can basically flip to any page at random to find a panel rich with meaning — but it also requires a different kind of focus than most other comics on my pull. In this issue, much of that focus is devoted to the running tally of where each of our characters are. Risso is crystal clear in what he shows us (though we do have to pay close attention to understand that, say, Frye was the only survivor from his car), but Azzarello intentionally leaves everyone’s location at the start of the issue a little vague. The last we saw of L’Ago and his men, for example, they were in the restaurant, but they’re nowhere to be seen when Holt and his boys arrive and start shooting.
It’s disorienting, but it also forces us to be on our toes — kind of a classic move for a horror story. This allows them to return in somewhat heroic fashion, though under the ruthless efficiency of this issue, you might not fully appreciate it unless you’re paying close attention. Patrick already included the sequence above, but for clarity, I’ll refresh our memories:
Patrick focused on the carnage (with good reason), but I’m more interested in those last three panels. We see one of the gangsters level his pistol at the werewolf, whose proximity we can glean from the shadow it casts over the car. In the next panel, we see an eye with a strange, rectangular shadow cast over it, followed by the “BLAM” of a gunshot, accompanied by a rifle shell.
The reader can be forgiven for thinking the eye in the second panel was that of the gangster we saw in the first (though there’s no explanation for that shadow), but by the third panel, it’s clear that someone else fired at the monster. It’s only when we see the figure of the “angel-of-death,” as Patrick called him, that we understand that strange shadow as the one cast by his distinctive rifle sight. These are details that fly by in the excitement of this scene, but understanding them is essential to understanding exactly what happens. Azzarello and Risso could have introduced the angel-of-death earlier in the issue to make that sequence clearer, but they chose to hold him back to really goose the surprise of his arrival. It works beautifully, but only if the reader understands that every panel matters.
And I think something similar is at play in Lou’s relative absence from this issue. That he’s not “present” for this most defining moment speaks to the werewolf-as-alcoholic reading you’ve suggested from the start, forcing Lou to take responsibility for actions he can’t even remember. In this way, every beat of disorientation, of looking back at the details to tell the story, is Lou’s lot in life. He doesn’t know where L’Ago’s men are, either, but while we get to be gleefully shocked by their return, he ends up with two gunshot wounds. Far from triumphant, Lou’s arrival (in human form) is pitiful, as Delia apologizes to him for his misery. It’s an oddly tranquil image to end such a violent issue, and represents a big change for this series, which has lacked any real compassion — especially where Lou is concerned. There are untold emotional depths at the heart of this series, and it looks like the next volume might set to plumbing them.
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?