Best Shots Reviews: MOON KNIGHT #2, THE FLASH #51

DC Comics April 2016 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Moon Knight #2
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Greg Smallwood and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Moon Knight has always been a tough character to nail down. Creators must combat the comparisons to a more famous caped crusader while also avoiding retreading the same thematic material that has helped define the character. The second issue of his newest series, written by Jeff Lemire, with art by Greg Smallwood and Jordie Bellaire, continues to add layers to the story, playing with Marc Spector’s mind in fun ways.

Jeff Lemire’s script creates an eerie sense of discomfort in the reader’s mind, from the hypnotic way that the hospital workers speak to each other (“He’s cooked, Bobby.” “Damn straight, Billy.”) to the inclusion of Marc Spector’s extensive supporting cast (are they locked in the prison with him, or is he seeing other prisoners as the only people he’s cared about?), Lemire’s writing helps create a sense of confusion in the reader. If there is one criticism that can be lobbied at the issue, it’s that Moon Knight #2 is treading some of the same “is Marc insane?” territory that has been at the center of other takes on the character. However, Lemire’s script keeps the issue so intimately focused on Marc’s mental state and his escape (both psychological and physical) from the hospital, that it feels refreshing.

While Lemire’s script is solid, it is Greg Smallwood’s artwork that gives that inner conflict life. The issue opens with some sketches that Marc has done, showing his past as Moon Knight. These pages do a wonderful job displaying Marc’s focus on his alter ego, and the sketches are presented as being paradoxically orderly and chaotic, with seemingly random images of the Moon Knight cowl, along with some breakdowns of the weapons that Moon Knight carried. By opening with these sketches, Smallwood creates the image of a man who isn’t exactly in his right mind.

Smallwood’s art throughout the rest of the issue is phenomenal, utilizing cleaner lines for the scenes that take place in the hospital, while the scenes in which Spector dons the Moon Knight persona have a rougher quality to the artwork, playing heavily with shadow and the negative space created by the darkness. This adds to the puzzle of the book: is Marc crazy or are these murky shadows the real world?

Jordie Bellaire's colors define the tone of the book, working well with Smallwood's artwork to create a nightmarish hospital. Bellaire's subtle use of pale blues during a scene in which Spector confronts Khonshu captures the feeling of a moonlit night. Bellaire also makes use of olive tones, along with dirtier browns and yellows to create a sickly feel at the hospital. The location feels entirely unhealthy, allowing the reader to buy into Marc's skepticism.

Moon Knight #2 is a stunning piece of work that plays well into the titular hero’s muddied history. While Marc’s sanity has been played with throughout the character’s history, it’s never been brought to the forefront in such fashion as it is here. Lemire’s script allows for Marc and his supporting cast to come through as characters, while the artwork by Greg Smallwood and Jordie Bellaire creates the mystery of Marc’s circumstances. In some ways, Moon Knight #2 feels reminiscent of a story readers have read before, but the craftsmanship and presentation of the issue make it a haunting read.

DC Comics April 2016 solicitations
DC Comics April 2016 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics

The Flash #51
Written by Van Jensen
Art by Gus Vasquez, Joe Eisma and Guy Major
Lettering by Pat Brosseau
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

It’s been 60 years since the Silver Age origins of Barry Allen as the Flash, and in that time has arguably become the keystone to many of the major events of the DC Comics universe. Central to that idea is his ability to traverse the Multiverse, and the retconned tragedy of Barry’s inability to use his time travelling abilities to prevent his own mother’s death at the hands of the Reverse Flash/Professor Zoom. Writers Van Jensen and Robert Venditti have seen the speedsters clashing over the last few months, building on the mythology for the modern era. Yet this is exactly what makes this latest “villain of the month” approach so uninspiring, especially against the weight of those previous issues.

In a possible bit of commentary about the dangers of outsourcing homeland security to private firms, the Riddler has Central City at gunpoint thanks to numerous tiny and armed drones that the police department put in place to deal with the perceived menace Flash represents. Taking the events of Forever Evil to the extreme, the Rogues have also been deputized against him, although they too have been betrayed by the Trickster. What it amounts to is a very old-school case of a villain holding the city to ransom, and a hero forced to make a difficult decision without using his powers. Formulas work for a reason, and on the one hand this issue actually works without much reference to the 50 issues that preceded it. Yet it is also a disappointing for using such a commonplace trope, especially if this is to be the penultimate issue in the "New 52."

It’s always a tough read to see heroes rendered impotent by the schemes and machinations of villains, yet Jensen somewhat cruelly has the Riddler beat Flash to show his helplessness, completely removing any sense of power or hope from the hero. Flash becomes a passive player in his own book, and when the impasse is finally broken, it is not by Flash’s own ingenuity or skills, but rather by a deus ex machina. It does lead to a cliffhanger reveal, perhaps the first clue as to the nature of Barry’s “rebirth” on the other side of next month’s issue, but it too feels somewhat tacked on after the end of a water-treading issue. In essence, it’s all surface level stuff, but it dazzles because it’s playing to the familiar, with a complete set of Rogues facing off against the Crimson Comet making this a mini-blockbuster.

Part of that dazzle comes from some art set to high volume. Gus Vasquez and Joe Eisma’s art, coupled with Guy Major’s intense color spectrum, is a shock to the system after the more stylized run of the last few years as well. The Riddler is the logical progression from Greg Capullo’s turn in the Batman event "Zero Year" and similar appearances, a more grounded hipster version played off against a bright animated style. By the very nature of the story presented here, it’s all about the big splash pages, the speed lines and exaggerated expressions. There’s a cartoon-inspired sequence of Flash rapidly dismantling what appears to be a dozen drones in a single panel, and this early piece signals the tone for the rest of the book.

Had this issue dropped earlier in the series, eyelids would barely be batted at the fun breather it provides from the often elongated sagas of decompressed storytelling. Yet with a looming “crisis” hanging over the DCU, and months of hints that Wally West is set to take up his fated mantle, this feels too comparatively lightweight for a series that has been building for something for so long. With an issue to go before "Rebirth," there’s still a chance to see some of that promise come to pass, particularly given the monumental turn by the end of the issue.

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