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Year of the Artist, Day 123: Alex Maleev, Part 5 – Moon Knight #1

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Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Alex Maleev, and the issue is Moon Knight #1, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated July 2011. Enjoy!

After Spider-Woman mercifully came to an end, Maleev and Brian Michael Bendis started working on Scarlet, which continued Maleev’s unfortunate period of art, as it’s only slightly better than Spider-Woman. When that title went on hiatus, he and Bendis began working on Moon Knight, and as Moon Knight is one of my favorite comic book characters, I gave it a try. The writing was pretty awful, so I didn’t last with it, but Maleev’s art was far better than it was on Spider-Woman/Scarlet, so I thought I’d finish up our tour through his career with some art from that title. Since I bailed on Moon Knight, the only Maleev comic I’ve bought is his Secret Avengers issue with Warren Ellis, but this issue is slightly better drawn, so I thought it would be a good place to end up.

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I don’t know if Maleev used models for this book, but if he did, he did a much better job with them than he did on Spider-Woman. He uses a rougher lines and more hatching, which perhaps counter-intuitively adds realism to the figures. The blood on “Bushman” in Panel 1 and on “Jake” in Panels 2 and 3 doesn’t look as artificial as it did in yesterday’s post – Maleev, it seems, drew the blood onto the figures rather than Photoshopping in the special effects of blood. The characters actually look like they’re holding those guns, and in Panel 4, the figure of Jake falling backward and the gun appear to be in the same space instead of appearing as if the gun has been superimposed on the panel. Even something as simple as the shell casings in Panel 3 look as if Maleev drew them rather than using an image he found somewhere and placed in the panel. All of this – the rougher lines, the hatching, the relationship to things within the panels – is a change from art he was doing just a few months earlier. It probably doesn’t hurt that Matthew Wilson, a superb colorist, is coloring this comic. Instead of the lurid blues and greens and pinks of Spider-Woman, we get a more dignified palette that helps place the characters more properly within the panels.

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Yesterday, I wrote that Maleev’s rendition of Captain America featured one of the worst facial expressions in superhero comics history. I may have been indulging in some hyperbole, but it still wasn’t a great look. In this comic, he gets to draw Cap and Wolverine again, and while the results aren’t great, they’re better than when he was drawing Spider-Woman. Again, perhaps Maleev wasn’t using models or, if he was, he wasn’t being so faithful to their faces, so we get some nice hatches on the characters’ chins, and Maleev even makes their faces move a bit – Cap looks sternly at Wolverine in Panel 2, and he looks downward in frustration in Panel 5. Marc Spector’s suit, you’ll notice, is as heavily inked as anything we saw in Spider-Woman, but it doesn’t have that sickly sheen that tainted the art on that book. Just that small difference is enough.

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Mr. Hyde shows up, and Moon Knight fights him. Unlike most of Maleev’s work since he started drawing Daredevil, he does a pretty good job with this action scene. The splash page is pretty cool, as Moon Knight crashes down on Hyde’s chest, although the lack of motion lines makes it unclear whether our hero has kicked Hyde in the chin or slashed at him that sickle in his left hand (the sickle also has no blood on it, which makes it more unclear). Still, we once again get the rough inks, which contrasts very nicely with the way Maleev draws his cowl and cape, which seems to grow and float around him. On the next page, Maleev blocks the fight pretty well. Moon Knight throws Hyde to the ground, then attacks him with his right fist. He follows this by grabbing Hyde around the neck, but Hyde recovers and grabs him by the throat with his right hand. Maleev leads us from left to right in Panel 1, from right to left in Panel 2, down to Panel 3, with its white background, and then a nice turn as Hyde shrugs him off and goes for his throat. Unlike our previous two posts, it’s obvious that Maleev is showing two characters interacting with each other, and he’s drawing them so that what one does affects the other in a visually clear way. It’s very nice work.

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This is, of course, a Bendis comic, so there are plenty of pages with characters just standing around talking. Sheesh, Bendis! Marc Spector finds an Ultron head, and he talks with Wolverine, Spider-Man, and Cap about it … even though they’re not really there, because they’re all in his head. Maleev decides to use the same three drawings of the other heroes as Marc turns his head, which isn’t that bad a deal, actually. Artists do this a lot (especially when they’re working with Bendis!), and I don’t mind too much, although it does bug me a little. Yesterday, I noted that Maleev was using the same photograph of Spider-Woman in three consecutive panels, and he does that here (in fact, he does this in the three panels on the page facing this, so for seven consecutive panels we get the same drawings), but I don’t mind it too much – he actually drew these characters, which is one point in its favor, and he put some effort into making them look like they’re wearing clothing rather than painting a naked woman. The inking helps, too, as at least they don’t look like they’ve been Photoshopped in. I haven’t written much about Maleev’s page layouts in these posts, because his layouts aren’t too stunning, but the negative space Ultron head in the foreground of these panels is a nifty touch.

I wish Maleev would draw more like this, but I haven’t been getting his recent books, so I don’t know if he’s still doing this or if he’s reverted to the more photo-realism of the earlier period. Someone can tell me, I’m sure!

I’ve been doing some pretty famous artists recently, but tomorrow, I think I’m going to feature one who’s not quite as famous. That’s just how I roll around here! I am going to feature an artist who is currently one of my favorite people in comics, so if you remember me raving about this person in the past, you might be able to figure out who it is! In the meantime, feel free to check out the archives!

7 Comments

Greg, what do you think of the largely nonexistent backgrounds in these pages? I remember discussing Iron Man: Extremis with a friend of mine when he commented how the one flaw with Granov is that his work takes place in a lot of vague grainy spaces that might look good, but are still lazy art. I see a bit of the same problem here (although there’s certainly more hatching at times), but, not having read this Moon Knight, I don’t know if it takes away from the story…

And is that even the means through which we should judge the art? As a part of the narrative reading experience? Or should we look at the effort and power separate from the story and/or writing as well (or even simply the latter, alone)? Interested in any of your thoughts on that.

That’s a good question. I mean, a lot of comics art stretching back to the 1930s doesn’t have a lot of good backgrounds, so it’s not like it’s new. I think part of the problem with someone like Granov’s art is that because it’s so stylized, the lack of backgrounds becomes more important, especially when artists don’t use them at all – in older comics, you might have one panel every so often without them, but it wasn’t too common an occurrence. I chose poor examples for that from Moon Knight, because Maleev does quite a decent job with the backgrounds – in the wider shots, he puts MK in a recognizable city – it’s Los Angeles, but I’m not sure if Maleev used photographs of LA like he did with Portland in Scarlet. In interior shots, the characters are definitely in rooms with walls and doors and the like. The sequence with Ultron above uses an establishing shot that puts them in a room.

I think we can definitely judge art by how well the artist places us in the story. One of the reasons I’m not a big fan of Granov or latter-day Larocca is because they don’t really put the characters in any recognizable spaces. One of the best things about Maleev’s work on Scarlet was that you could recognized Portland landmarks, however he “drew” them into the book. If you’re an artist and you’re just doing characters posing, why are you even drawing a story? You can do posters and make money that way. So yeah, I do judge artists not only by the way they draw figures, but how well they use the entire panel/scene.

When I read this comic, I thought the fact that Wolverine was always shown as being just as tall as Cap and Spidey (and taller than Moon Knight!) was supposed to be a clue about the fact that he’s imaginary. But then the real Wolverine shows up, and nope, that’s just how Maleev draws him. Which is to say, incorrectly.

Maleev recent run on Batman: The Dark Knight was a true jump in the right direction for him as an artist. He uses a lot of ink, a lot a hatching, he frames the panels from interesting angles and he almost always has a background. It looke quite good.

I note the backgrounds shifts from panel to panel in the consecutive panels to indicate a perspective shift – subtle but a nice touch to me.

buttler: Yeah, Logan is short! It’s not that hard!

Alin: Thanks. I knew he drew some issues of that title, but I didn’t check them out when they were published, so I didn’t know how they looked. Maybe Maleev is finding a better balance between drawing and using photos.

Ecron: That’s interesting. I hadn’t noticed that, but you’re right – it is pretty neat.

Okay here is something relatively current that I have read. I enjoyed this run on Moon Knight well enough but I never noticed how stiff and lifeless the artwork is until now.

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