Axel-In-Charge: Unmasking the "Totally Awesome Hulk"
Daredevil, Batwoman, and Moon Knight are the top new comic books that I’ve been recommending to new readers lately. People who haven’t read comic books in years are looking to get back into reading them, and while they want something they can jump into without any continuity problems, they aren’t exactly looking for a paint-by-numbers either. Much has been made of the new era of comic books, words like graphic novel and sequential story telling are bandied about and people have high expectations. With all of this in mind, recommending books to these readers can be tricky, especially people looking to dive back into the monthly floppy release all over again. Lately, I’ve been finding that one of the following three titles will usually work for most of these new readers, satisfying the desire to read a current, well-crafted superhero comic book from issue 1 onwards.
Written by Mark Waid, this is an ever-so-slightly different take on the tortured soul Matt Murdock had evolved into over the last decade. Now we have a Daredevil who has chosen to return to his role both as a superhero and a lawyer, and with that choice he embraces his life with gusto and joy. Waid writes a very peculiar sort of superhero, a man with hints of a debonair Cary Grant, Rock Hudson or Errol Flynn. While this isn’t the kind of anti-hero fashionable from around the mid-seventies on, there is actually enormous appeal in the dashing, protective man with a twinkle in his eye.
That’s the strangest thing about Waid’s take on a swashbuckling Daredevil, he’s infusing him with laughter and joy. He actually enjoys the work of superhero-ing, it isn’t a burden to him. Waid allows Murdock to revel in the job and it leaps out on every page, imparting a very rare sense of fun to the reader.
Paulo Rivera’s art is deceptively classic comic book style, echoing David Mazzucchelli’s seminal work on Daredevil in the Born Again storyline that he worked on with Frank Miller. In the intervening years, changes have been made to the medium and Rivera does a lovely job of utilizing all the tools of elegant, contemporary sequential storytelling within this context. His dynamic action sequences draw the reader in, effectively completing Waid’s joyfully penned adventure.
A friend of mine said that this comic book “elevates the medium” and I can’t agree enough. Clearly transcendent, last year’s Detective Comics: Batwoman run (collected as Batwoman Elegy) appeals to nearly everyone. New comic book readers seem to be as attracted to it just as much as experienced ones, it is instantly visually appealing and upon reading; tremendously satisfying.
With the first issue of the Batwoman solo series, JH Williams shows that he is more than capable of taking on the role of writer as well as artist, as he dives deeply into the many threads of Batwoman’s complex life. J.H. Williams III already proved his delightful writing skills on eerily touching books like the Snow storyline of Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight (later collected as Batman: Snow.) Emotionally engaging, peppered with a visceral thrill of danger, this is a book which promises a great deal moving forward, building beautifully on Rucka’s initial foundation.
If Rivera is echoing Mazzucchelli on Daredevil, then Williams is channeling a good helping of Dave McKean (á la Black Orchid) on Batwoman. With his modern take on art nouveau style as well as a good helping of historical symbolism, J.H. Williams III art is deceptively pretty, hiding enormous complexity in unconventional layouts. Rather than being more difficult to read, once we let go of the desire to simply scan thoughtlessly from left to right, and allow ourselves to be led by the art and rhythm of the story, the reading becomes very organic and natural. Giving us pause to take in the art and move through the story more instinctively creates a very specific pacing which Williams uses very effectively in his storytelling style. Even though this is only the first issue, I don’t think I’ve seen Williams visual style used this effectively since his work with Grant Morrison on Seven Soldiers or Alan Moore on Promethea, and I’d expect nothing less from what is clearly a labor of love.
Out of all three titles, this is the one which I personally come to with the least experience of, or attachment to. Although I’ve got a couple of the Moon Knight Essential volumes, I really bought them only to look at Bill Sienkiewicz’ early artwork. Totally ignoring the story as I browsed the evolving early style of one of my favorite artists, I came away from them totally ignorant of the actual superhero depicted.
Alex Maleev’s art is always distinctive, and with Bendis’ sparse writing style, he has the scope to experiment visually in some very interesting ways. With Moon Knight, Maleev is creating pages that echo the best, most experimental aspects of Sienkiewicz’ classic comic book art work, using the white space of Moon Knight’s costume to create moments of stunning imagery.
Graphically bold and brutally expressive, Maleev creates his Moon Knight as a wild ride of a book. With Bendis’ dialogue as cavalier and cocky as always, the duo create an environment which reads like a really fun, cheesy detective series from the ’70’s. I mean that in a good way, remember the Rockford Files or Starsky and Hutch? Okay, me neither, but once in a while they have reruns and maybe I’m crazy, but this has that kind of a feel – embattled, reluctant, oddly sexy hero just getting on with doing a dirty job while the rest of the world almost-but-not-quite fights him.
The ongoing internal dialogue of the three aspects of Moon Knight (in the form of Captain America, Wolverine and Spider-Man) allow for amusing interactions which wouldn’t work in any medium other than comic books. While no one uses thought bubbles anymore, we’re getting a hell of a lot of inner life here and it is bloody good fun to be in on the insanity that Moon Knight is wrestling.
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