[18 May 2010]
PopMatters Comics Editor
It’s a usual kind of Marvel team-up. Almost.
It’s Very Different from similar events in DC. The classic DC superhero shindig would always appear as the JSA from one alternate reality meeting up with the JLA of another. There would be a collegial atmosphere. Then a threat would emerge more powerful than either team on their own could tackle.
Marvel was always different. Two heroes working the same case, in the same town would always bump into each other. And they would come to blows. The tension would always be, are the heroes able to stow their differences just long enough to rumble the bad guys?
The major tension in “Killed, Not Dead”, a storyarc which throws the icy-cold frivolity of Deadpool into the recovering-addict approach Writer Gregg Hurwitz has adopted with his lead character since the inception of Vengeance of the Moon Knight, is exactly the same. Moon Knight and Deadpool meet around a case involving the assassination of terminally ill crime boss Herman Goncharenko. From opposite moral positions (cannily Hurwitz includes moral dilemma around payment for services, versus supererogatory acts), the two Marvel powerhouses come to blows. But is there enough time to solve the case and rescue the kidnapped little boy, before the heroes get swept up in confrontation with each other?
The morality around payment for services versus gift economy alone would have been worth the price of the comicbook. Deadpool is a ‘hero for hire’ (well not quite a hero), while Moon Knight is a superhero who acts for no monetary reward. But Moon Knight is also a multi-millionaire while Deadpool is a working stiff. But in Hurwitz’s skilled hands, even this thematic is a sideshow. What is really at stake is the character of Moon Knight.
It really has been a long, cold dark for the character. With Charlie Huston’s reboot of Moon Knight in 2006, the central drama was that of an athlete’s comeback after regaining control of his broken body, juxtaposed with the terror of a fractured psyche that might never be redeemed in the same way. With last year’s relaunch of the character, under the new title of Vengeance of the Moon Knight, in the hands of new regular writer, Gregg Hurwitz, there has been a focal shift. Moon Knight’s story is now one of redemption, that of a recovering addict. Hurwitz has crafted a Moon Knight that would no longer kill to honor the bloodlust of his god. In fact, the ancient Egyptian deity is treated more like an insect-like annoyance than a vengeful cosmic entity.
With the previous storyarc, “Shock & Awe”, Hurwitz wrote a very disciplined, very coherent vision of the character with framed as an adult version of the band Dethklok from the TV show Metalocaplypse. Well meaning as Moon Knight, or indeed Dethklok might be, their endeavors usually end in widescale destruction and massive loss of life. Seeing Norman Osborn, the tyrannical retired villain Green Goblin (then head of the intelligence outfit H.A.M.M.E.R.) mastermind a conspiracy against Moon Knight, and seeing Moon Knight attempt to stem the loss of life was rewarding in itself. This really was a new Moon Knight, struggling with redemption.
But with “Killed, Not Dead”, and with the introduction of Deadpool as antagonist, Hurwitz has really upped the stakes. The lunatic flippancy of Deadpool poses an ideological threat to the now sober (somber and with sobriety) Moon Knight. Killing the mob boss might serve the interests of justice, but Moon Knight now needs to accept the rule of law, and the need for due process. And while this internal battle rages when Moon Knight is confronted with Deadpool, Khonshu grows ever stronger.
The final battle scene, in which Moon Knight physically butchers the unkillable Deadpool (who will not die, but eventually reconstitute himself), might be gratifying for the title character, but it also renders his Moon Knight’s earlier rescue of the kidnap-victim something of a failed victory. The point of Moon Knight’s rehab was not to stave off the consequences of killing, but to avoid the psychological need to resolve conflict through butchery.
But the real target of Hurwitz’s operatic character arc is not Moon Knight, but Marvel itself. Or at least Marvel’s business model. Possibly because Marvel does not share a history with DC of transitioning from first to second-generation comics (newspapers to comicbooks, Marvel had always been published as second-generation), Marvel introduces character drama from the ground up. Spider-man was never about the joy of superpowers, it was about how personal life and complicates what should be the pure joy of those powers.
The introduction of the absurd, the idea of the Moon Knight’s rehabilitation teetering on the edge of failure, and the gesticulated, garish exaggeration of Tan Eng Huat’s brilliant artwork all make for a masterpiece of Marvel comics. Hurwitz and Tan here present the redemption of that earlier model pioneered by Stan Lee; that superheroes are just as much character dramas as they are the journey into superpowers.