I have a problem with Mark Millar. Never mind that he has written some good, if not great, comics like Ultimates, The Authority and that he is also commercially, incredibly successful. The man is a steam powered self promotion machine, with a determination to discuss comics and present them as a form which is merely a storyboard for a future movie. One of his current comics, Secret Service, even arrived with a movie deal already in place, before the damn comic had even come out. The majority of his concepts too, are nothing more than well drawn Elseworlds stories (what if Batman was evil? What if the Flash was evil?) with little or no substance to them. His mainstream comics work of late, Old Man Logan, was nothing more than Unforgiven with little to recommend about it.
What a pleasure it is then to be able to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the first issue of his new series Starlight, drawn beautifully by Goran Parlov. Telling the story of Flash Gordon placeholder Duke McQueen, who returned from his pulp adventures decades ago, and now has to face up to old age, retirement and the loss of his wife, Starlight is oddly sweet and emotionally interesting. Falling somewhere between The Incredibles and the opening ten minutes of Up, this is a smart, interesting and subtle debut issue. The death of McQueen’s wife in particular is a perfect example of the use of panels in comic book storytelling, and Millar wisely chooses what not to show his readers. So, all good then? There is something amiss about the issue: on the back cover we are promised that Starlight marks the beginning of the Millarworld Universe proper, introducing a wider universe of interconnected characters. One hopes that Starlight manages to tell an interesting and smart story before succumbing to the inevitable crossover fatigue that Millar is no doubt thrusting forth into our faces.
Anatomy Lesson is one of the most famous single issues of comics from the past twenty years. Alan Moore’s seminal retcon of the Swamp Thing mythos (he thought he was a man transformed into a plant, he was in actual fact a plant with the memories of a man) is still one of the finest examples of the retcon being used to positive effect. Now, with Moon Knight launching from Warren Ellis (or, as his fans cringingly refer to him ‘Internet Jesus’) and artist Declan Shalvey, here comes another attempt to retcon a character. Moon Knight has a long, complex and even for a comic book character, stupid origin story in which a mercenary, Marc Spector died at the foot of an Egyptian moon god, who brought him back to life to fight crime, only for him to go mad and develop multiple personalities. Ellis immediately points out how utterly stupid this sounds, and goes on the offensive, creating a tweaked origin and new explanation for his ‘insanity’ which is much more interesting than anyone has tried before. The issue itself is the usual that fans can expect from Ellis, with a mutated SHIELD agent straight out of his Batman run, a costume from Planetary and detective skills from Fell. It’s all very good, and at times very funny, but one can’t help but feel as though Ellis is doing all of this with his eyes closed. Declan Shalvey on the other hand absolutely nails every single page of the issue, his design of Moon Knight is stark and spectacular. Praise is also due for colourist Jordie Bellaire who keeps the titular character a human shape of negative space on every page, the pure white costume standing out. The use of black and white in the issue is fascinating and smart. It will be interesting to see where he takes this story next, although, knowing Warren Ellis, we’ll get several delays on issue 2 before it all gets cancelled anyway.
The death rattle of DC Comics continues with the final arc of Brian Azzarello’s simply fantastic Wonder Woman, continuing in issue 29 this month. The series has, since the beginnings of the New 52 been telling a single ongoing story, with no intrusion from the rest of the wider (currently incomprehensible) DC Universe, and is all the better for it. Here, Diana, with brand new responsibilities, fights gods for control of Olympus. The story features a rather bizarre S&M influenced take on the Minotaur, and comes across like an issue of Sandman with a bit more punching. Azzarello leaves the title in September of this year, presumably so that DC can shoehorn more of that painfully forced romance between Wonder Woman and Superman into the title, and have her meet up with Batman and Green Lantern for a party on the Justice League satellite. Well done DC. Well done.
Finally, over at Image this month, East of West hits 10 issues, falling somewhere between Akira and The Dark Tower. Text on the front of the comic reads:
‘This is the world. It’s not the one we were supposed to have, but it’s the one we made.
We did this. We did it with open eyes and willing hands. We broke it, and there is no putting it back together.’
And sets the tone perfectly for this weird post apocalyptic fantasy in which Death is pit against the other three horsemen of the apocalypse in a strange Wild West-esque backdrop. Aside from Hickman’s characteristic high concept storytelling, the main draw here is Nick Dragotta, who raises his game issue after issue to deliver some of the most interesting comic book storytelling out there at the moment. In past issues there have been 16 panel pages and here, in this issue we get three full on splash pages, all of which could be contenders for moment of the year in a comic. It’s good to end the month on a high note.