EXCL. PREVIEW: Harlem's Dead are Rising in "Amazing Spider-Man" #1.1
Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Moon Knight (volume 3) #1, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated June 1989. Enjoy!
Moon Knight’s third series of the 1980s was written by Chuck Dixon (back when he was still going by “Charles”), pencilled by Sal Velluto, inked by Mark Farmer, colored by Mark Chiarello, and lettered by Ken Lopez. It’s not a bad series, and the team starts us off with a fairly typical establishing page – the bad guys are threatening an innocent civilian, and in the final panel, the hero says something from off-panel, leading to the big reveal on the next page (which in this case is a double-page spread). Let’s see how they do it, shall we?
Dixon gives us some superfluous information in the first panel – the caption box tells us it’s in Bethpage on Long Island, and the grumpy husband tells us it’s 3 in the morning. Both of these nuggets of information we already know, because Velluto has drawn them on the right side of the panel, which is where our eyes begin. But that’s okay – Dixon also gives us the information the the dude’s wife has run out of diapers and he’s heading to the ATM. This is, of course, a convenient way for Dixon to get an innocent civilian out on the street at 3 a.m., which makes him an easy target for the thugs. This lets the thugs engage in some tough guy talk, which gets turned around by Moon Knight, whose word balloon is in the right corner of the final panel.
The art on the early issues of Moon Knight is smoother than it later became, but I haven’t looked to see if Velluto got a new inker (as I suspect) or a new colorist (as is possible) or if he just started doing rougher work to fit the tone of the book or because it was faster. Farmer, who for years was (still is?) Alan Davis’ inker, uses a thin line that in places almost fades to invisibility, while Chiarello’s work, combined with the thin line, occasionally looks colored directly from the pencils. The art team uses shadows well – the way the punk’s shadow falls across the victim in Panel 3 foreshadows the way Moon Knight’s shadow falls across the punks in the final panel, for instance. Chiarello uses a lot of blues and yellows – the sign in Panel 1, the punks’ car, the ATM, the punk’s jacket, the other punk’s pants are all blue, deepening the night scene and making the splashes of yellow stand out even more. In the final panel, the victim is haloed in yellow while the baleful white of the moon lights the rest of the scene, making the shadows stand out even more. Farmer’s thin line and Chiarello’s soft colors make the final panel even more stark, because Moon Knight is standing in direct opposition to the murkiness of the night, which spawns these punks.
Velluto is constrained a bit by the five panel stack, but within each panel, he does a nice job. The car is moving left to right, drawing our eye that way. We see the punks’ car moving into the picture at the top of the panel, obscured by the caption box so we don’t miss it, and this puts it in a good position in Panel 2 so that Velluto again moves the reader’s eye from the left to the right. In Panel 3, the gun is situated between the two word balloons, pointing our way toward the hapless victim, and Velluto keeps the victim on the right side in Panel 4, because the main action of the panel – the blond dude ripping the door off – has to go somewhere, and reversing our point of view might obscure it. In Panel 5, the action shifts from the bad guys doing bad things to the good guy, Moon Knight, showing up and telling them their evil is over, so of course the hero gets to be on the left, where our eyes go first, and his shadow finger is pointing directly at one of the bad guys and also toward the next page. Velluto makes the best of the confining page layout (and I don’t know if Dixon was writing “The Marvel Way” or if the script demanded five stacked panels, but either way, it’s somewhat confining) to give us a fairly complex page. You’ll notice, for instance, that each panel has an anchor on the left side of the page and movement on the right, which speeds our eye up to the next panel: the shopping sign/the car driving up to the ATM; the punks in the car/the victim walking to the ATM; the motionless gun/the punk turning his head and looking nervous; the punk holding the gun/the other punk ripping the door off/the victim about to use his card; Moon Knight standing on top of the building/the punks turning in fear and wetting themselves. It’s a nice trick to balance the page out, and Velluto does it fairly subtly.
This is Comics Storytelling 101, and the creators get a lot onto the page without cluttering it up too much. Moon Knight was just a decent series, nothing great, but the fact that it was begun by people who knew what they were doing (even though neither Dixon or Velluto had worked in comics very much before this) made it a solid read for some time. The fact that the series went a bit nutty later in its run has nothing to do with Dixon and Velluto!
Next: I should hate this comic, but I actually love it. There’s some comics like that already in the archives!
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