by Patrick Ehlers and Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Patrick: Hey, how fast is a comic? I’ve read twenty-page comics that take me over half an hour to get through, and there are some issues I can breeze through in less than 10 minutes. Some comics take place over the course of 60 in-universe seconds, while others stretch on to tell stories that take entire lifetimes. So the answer to my question is: variable. Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s Moonshine 11 masterfully commands pacing to create breathless swings between compression, tension and release.
The issue starts in medias res, but at some distance from the action itself. Of course, we don’t need a lot of information to know what’s going on: this is Moonshine we’re talking about here, and the last image we saw from the previous issue was Lou Pirlo clutching his neck and baring his pronounced canines. Still, Risso gives us one ominous reminder of the supernatural phenomenon we’re dealing with, and Azzarello gives us one scream of terror.
Even the silhouette of the roof and that rickety flood lamp feed the reader instant details. I mean, check it out: with the moon representing Lou-as-a-werewolf and the scream representing violence, we’ve got the “who”, “what”, and where for this whole scene in the first fucking panel.
And buckle the hell up, because we ain’t slowing down for nuthin’. The scene that follows can really only be described as Lou tearing up the prison camp, and the pacing is relentless. Risso and Azzarello are quick to equate this kind of storytelling speed with violence, and we get two gored faces by the end of the third page. In those first three pages, the source of the violence, Lou, is off-page, the only evidence of his rampage being the screams, gunshots, and dripping wounds of his victims.
When Lou does burst onto the scene, the bursting is literal.
I’m in awe of the kinetic action of this page. The planks of wood that are blasting apart have an immediate physical effect on one of the characters. We can feel the weight and speed of it splintering apart as this poor dude shields his face. Risso then whips his camera around 180 degrees — instead of coming in from the right, Lou’s barreling in from the left! And the acting on these guys in their pjs just sells it further: it’s all happening too fast for ANY OF THEM to even have their guns pointed at him.
This is Lou’s revenge. It is violent and bloody, a thousand beats of vengeance in just a couple seconds. Risso is almost frenetic in his depiction of the events, rapidly cross-cutting between Lou’s perspective and that of his victims. It’s a lot of information to take in, but the nature of the graphic imagery makes it tough to linger on any one panel for too long. The same is true when Boss Dirt gets a look into the mess hall, and witnesses all the carnage Lou visited upon it. Risso draws six separate panels of the same gory scene, giving a strobe-like intensity to the end of this scene.
And then… it stops.
There’s an alarmingly short scene in the middle of this issue that slows the action way down. Tempest and her (we now discover, adopted) mother have a loaded conversation about Enos’ death, and who is to blame for it. By the bloody metrics laid out in first 8 pages of this issue, nothing happens in this scene, but the thuddingly slow pace suggests otherwise. Mama Holt and Tempest have some serious shit to work out, but they dare not address that shit in a way as direct as Lou employs throughout the first half of the issue. Tempest is about to draw down, even transforming just enough to show her teeth to her mother, but they both know that they can’t just kill their way out of the mess they’re in. Enos is dead, Tempest maybe doesn’t belong — no one they murder is going to change those two fundamental facts.
But when we flip back over to Lou’s self-liberation, we snap right back to frenzy. Drew, maybe I’ll leave it to you to share some your favorite Risso staging from the back-half of the issue. Lou is a certified horror movie villain here, popping out of the wheat fields and killing dogs and impaling dudes on his claws. It’s exhilarating, in an admittedly blood-thirsty kind of way. Do you think this empowers Lou? Does he now have the tools to go back to town and fight for… shit, who does Lou fight for?
Drew: I don’t think it’s too glib to say “himself,” and while that could just put him naked and on the run (as he is at the end of the issue), I think he knows his old bosses well enough to understand that he’s still basically backed into a corner. That is, in the same way that Lou’s werewolfing mostly served his self-interest here in allowing him to escape from prison, it’s going to need to serve him in helping him escape the mob. Which is really the only reason I could see him going back to town. I don’t think he cares enough about Holt or Tempest or Delia to do it for them, but he needs to bring his association with the mob to a definitive end.
Speaking of definitive ends, let’s talk about the violence in that chase scene. Patrick is right to praise the tension in that opening scene — we see the effects of Lou’s rampage for three pages before we ever see him, and dwell on the carnage after he leaps away — and Azzarello and Risso double down on that strategy here, distilling it to its most elemental form. Lou’s monster is always mostly cloaked in shadow, and the violence is always kept explicitly out of frame. Risso prepares us for this pattern as Lou wheels around to face down the three dogs chasing him. Or rather, he prepares us when he cuts away for five panels before returning us to the scene:
We see the aftermath — we see what he did to the dogs — but we don’t actually see him do it. It’s a pattern that holds for all of the violence for the rest of the issue, whether it’s a wolf-y backhand or a decapitation. And again, it’s not an aversion to gore — we see the disemboweled dogs, just as we saw the blood-soaked mess Lou made of his bunkhouse — but it does work to distance us from the act of the violence. Is it representative of Lou’s own distance from his actions here? And/or a further parallel to blackout drinking, where the aftermath and consequences are crystal clear, but the actual offenses can’t quite be remembered?
Intriguingly, for all of Lou’s wrath, he leaves Boss Dirt — the chief architect of his recent miseries — alive. Maybe that’s a cruelty unto itself, knowing the horrors Dirt would wake up to, or anticipating that his fellow prisoners would catch up with him and deal out their own vengeance. That is, I’m not sure if Lou leaving Dirt alive represents the presence or absence of conscious control over his actions when transformed. Did he leave Dirt relatively unharmed as a form of revenge, or because he isn’t capable of such an abstract intention when he’s a werewolf? Here again, I think we might draw parallels to drinking — is the boorish behavior of a drunk an indication of their true feelings, or of their complete disconnect with their own feelings?
It’s those ambiguities that make Azzarello/Risso joints so rewarding to dig into, especially because they tend to bear fruit on whichever side you come down on. But it does make anticipating what will happen next almost impossible. I think Lou has to go back to town, and that he’ll have to reconnect with all of this series’ major players, but exactly what those reconnections look like is anyone’s guess. There again, we might find another parallel to alcoholism — we know Lou is coming for that next drink, but that’s really the only certainty here. Will it kill him? Will it help him find peace? Anything is possible in the world of Moonshine, so long as it’s on the other side of a bottle.
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