Crazy Runs In The Family, Part 1 (Moon Knight #188 Review)

Moon Knight has always fought crime in the shadows of the night, but a new enemy wants to banish the darkness and burn him down with fire and light. Get ready to meet the man who will soon be Moon Knight’s ultimate villain!

Moon Knight # 188
Writer:  Max Bemis
Artist:  Jacen Burrows
Colorist:  Mat Lopes
Cover Artist:  Jacen Burrows & Mat Lopes
Publisher:  Marvel Comics

What You Need to Know:

When last we saw Marc Spector AKA Moon Knight in Jeff Lemire’s final issue (Moon Knight #14—released May 2017), Spector had made peace with his other 2 split personalities—Steven Grant and Jake Lockley.  Though Spector had not been cured of Dissociative Identity Disorder, the 3 personalities all united as Moon Knight, went back to Ravencroft Asylum and banished the Egyptian moon god Khonshu after declaring that the three of them never needed him.  Moon Knight stood on the rooftop of the asylum and took solace in that his mind was quiet at last.

What You’ll Find Out:

Doctor Emmett is no longer treating Marc Spector, but instead is counseling a young man named Patient 86.  She asks him about his time in the Army and “the incident” which apparently involves him burning alive soldiers in his platoon who had bullied him.  She asks him a series of questions that jump around from topic to topic following whatever comes out of her patient’s mouth:  when did he “become” himself, what did he walk away from the Army with, how did he discover God, did he get his point across when he burned them alive, etc.  There are few logical leaps here, only bizarre twists and turns in her interior monologue because Emmett’s analysis of her patient fails to evolve from a rational deduction. Most of her conclusions come across as erratic emotional reactions (“It’s like I want to have a beer with this guy”) instead of objective analysis based on factual observations and cold, hard data.

We then get a clumsy dinner scene with an oafish colleague bragging about treating Brad Pitt and stilted dialogue that forces Emmett to explain in detail to everyone at the dinner table the stuff that makes up Moon Knight’s costume.  She ends the night in bed thinking about what a jerk her colleague is and how she’s enriching herself as a doctor with everything she’s learning from her new patient and that it’s bigger than Moon Knight (“Who cares about that freaky son of a @#$% anyway?”).  Professional isn’t a word one would use to describe our esteemed caregiver.

The next 2 pages show Emmett trying to explain Patient 86’s mental illness to him in language that is immature, incompetent and stupid…

Moon Knight 188_page 6

He tells her he ended lives so how he is not insane by her standards.  She replies, “I’m not sure the fact that you’re a murderer proves anything about your nature.”  She then draws 3 famous serial killers’ faces on a chalkboard, smiles and says, “Imagine hearing audible voices that told you to eat a person.  These people needed treatment.” She summarizes her patient’s diagnosis by stating that a combination of bipolar disorder and child abuse wasn’t his fault and neither was his murdering the soldiers in his platoon.

She finishes by implying that “the power of symbolism” was what saved Moon Knight from mental illness.  This is not the insightful counseling one would get from a board-certified medical doctor.  It’s word jumbles of mental illness terminology trying to pass itself off as a plausible diagnosis; pure nonsense that is at best misleading and at worst potentially harmful if mistaken for fact.

It ends with a drawing of Kurt Cobain, a quote from a Foo Fighters song and the erudite Dr. Emmett making “hand horns” ala Ronnie James Dio in Black Sabbath.  If that’s what passes for treatment at Ravencroft, it makes Arkham Asylum look like the Mayo Clinic.

Next Emmett goes to an Egyptian mythology exhibit at a museum to find a cure for Patient 86…since it “worked for Marc Spector” which she herself contradicts in the very next panel by noting that Spector is “legally insane.” She wonders to herself if every priest who hears the voice of God is crazy (the answer is yes) or if the authors of the United States Constitution were crazy for “invoking God on every page.”

Note to Max Bemis:  I did a search on Google. The United States Constitution contains no reference to God.

I wish I could say this lunacy ended there. It doesn’t.  Bemis keeps Emmett jabbering on like this in the pages that follow.  He even has Emmett allude to political conservatives (i.e., impotent men who “can’t accept change”) by calling them Amon-Ras, like the Egyptian god our nascent villain has started to emulate.  All thanks to Emmett’s inspired treatment for bipolar murderers to heal themselves by identifying with mentally ill superheroes and the gods of ancient sun worshippers.

Dr. Emmett should not expect the New England Journal of Medicine to be doing a cover story on her groundbreaking techniques anytime soon.

Moon Knight only appears twice in this issue, in a few news clippings on a bulletin board and in a powerful dream sequence gorgeously illustrated by Jacen Burrows:

Moon Knight 188_page 15

One morning, Patient 86 declines further traditional therapy from Dr. Emmett (not that he’s gotten any as far as we’ve seen).  He tells her he’s going to spend the afternoon in meditation.  How this is so disturbing to Dr. Emmett that she finally becomes concerned enough to go to the V.A. hospital her patient came from to ask a few questions isn’t clear.  Why any doctor wouldn’t consult an admitted murderer’s previous physician and hospital before trying to treat him makes no sense, but at least that’s consistent with the plot here.

This leads to 86’s V.A. doctor delivering a dumb line about how 86 brought “nothing but warmth to this place” (Get it? Amon-Ra? Sun God? Warmth? Yuk-yuk-yuk!) and how anyone would also have done the same thing 86 did to his fellow soldiers.  There’s nothing quite like trusted medical professionals justifying mass murder. Emmett leaves only to be stopped by a crazy patient who knows she’s here about “The Nameless One” and that he lights fires without matches and to “BE AFRAID!”

I wouldn’t blame Geena Davis if she sued Bemis for stealing her line from 1986’s The Fly. Then again, our villain is Patient 86, isn’t he?

Emmett returns to Ravencroft to find 86 in a straitjacket tied to a chair in his cell and blood smeared all over the walls as the orderly tells her he bit off a nurse’s nose.  Emmett takes this news pretty well by telling him this is all “heartbreaking” (not inhuman, sick, evil or unforgivable; just that it breaks her heart).  The orderly proceeds to help de-escalate the situation by leaving the room so the doctor is all alone with a violent murderer in a cell covered in fresh blood.  I’m sure that’s standard operating procedure for all murderers in insane asylums who bite off their nurses’ noses, don’t you?  Hannibal Lecter would love this place.

His reason for maiming a woman and attempted murder? He revealed himself to the nurse and she didn’t believe him!  Dr. Emmet’s response is equally idiotic…

Moon Knight 188_page 21

Patient 86 bursts into flames at which point she figures out he’s Amon-Ra, the Sun King.  DUH.  As he walks out setting both her and his cell on fire, she tells us her mind has become clear on him.  (Because that’s what people normally do when they’re engulfed in flames—wistfully reflect on the life and times of the guy that’s using pyrokinesis to kill them.)  “Sometimes the sun consumes us”…wait, is that my burning flesh I smell or is it my designer shoes? Darn, one of those is going to be hard to replace! Now, let me recite an interior monologue of banal metaphors about the sun.

As Ravencroft Asylum burns to the ground, Dr. Emmett is being wheeled to an ambulance. One of the paramedics tells her to hold on…and then asks her if she can speak.  Her entire body is covered in third degrees burns and her right eyeball is completely burned out as she whispers, “I believe.” The brainless paramedic asks her to repeat that and she screams,


What Just Happened?

As a new critic for Comic-Watch, it is my sincere goal not to be the stereotypical catty critic.  Unlike the character Anton Ego in Pixar’s Ratatouille, I do not thrive on negative criticism nor do I think negative criticism is fun to write and to read.  I don’t want to be that guy.

But God help me, this is one of the worst scripts I have ever read.

I wish no ill will toward Max Bemis, but I have a tough time finding anything nice to say about his writing on Moon Knight.  This script is so convoluted and contrived, it is embarrassing.

Jeff Lemire’s run on Moon Knight was subtle, sublime, inventive and complex yet accessible and easy to follow.  Dr. Emmet as depicted by Lemire wasn’t a Moon Knight fangirl; she wasn’t a believer.  She was a devout skeptic and implicitly a pawn of Khonshu.  Here, Bemis has her clipping news articles in the age of the Internet, no less, collecting Moon Knight’s cape and getting into fights with other medical professionals about whether Moon Knight wears a leotard or a Kevlar stocking!

Had we gotten some flashback explaining when, how and why Emmett now admires a man she once mocked for his “elaborate delusion” that he was Moon Knight, then I’d buy it.  But without any explanation at all, Emmet’s total 180 defies plausible suspension of disbelief.

This new villain who Marvel’s solicitations have dubbed Sun King fails on multiple levels.  At various points, this man whom Marvel promises will be “Moon Knight’s greatest nemesis!” talks about Egyptian mythology like an adolescent child (“I like his funny hair.”)  Bemis, who is the lead singer of Say Anything, writes his deadly super-villain quoting what I assume are Bemis’s favorite singers and rock groups.  Patient 86’s dialogue makes him sound more like an unruly teenager playing a hackneyed villain in a high school play than a megalomaniacal, mass-murdering Army veteran who believes he’s a God.  The characterization for 86 is disjointed due to both his trite abused child background (see classic 80’s novels The Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon) and the mish-mash of disparate diagnoses like shellshock, bipolar and dissociative identity disorder.

Also, I know people who are bipolar and I’m sorry, but this villain is not bipolar; he’s a psychopath or schizoid or has antisocial personality disorder.  But it is frankly an insult to real people who are bipolar (Axis I disorders) to put them in the same category as those are violent schizoid and antisocial diagnoses (Axis II disorders).   If you’re going to write about mental illness, requiring a writer to research basic facts on the subject he’s depicting is not an unreasonable request.

It doesn’t help during the climax of your story when you have life-saving paramedics show up to save the supposedly-sympathetic victim of your antagonist and all of them act like morons.  Paramedics don’t talk or behave like hammy actors reading lines from a bad movie; severe trauma victims in shock and covered in 3rd-degree burns don’t either.  Unintelligent endings like that don’t leave readers scared or excited about what the villain will do next.

Another thing:  this book is called Moon Knight. If your goal is to create what you are advertising will be his “greatest nemesis,” then the plot should shed some light on the relationship between the antagonist and the protagonist.  Based on this issue, Patient 86 and Marc Spector have no relationship at all.  Retelling the feud between 2 gods from ancient mythology and telling us your antagonist identifies with one of them is not establishing a personal conflict with your protagonist.

Why should we care about Patient 86?  Where are clues that there is some sort of personal connection between these 2 characters who are allegedly going to be each other’s, ultimate enemies?  Right now, Bemis has given us no substantive narrative to build suspense toward Spector and 86’s inevitable confrontation.

This book’s sole redeeming qualities are the slick, detailed artwork by Jacen Burrows.  Behind all the flashy style and forceful action is a wealth of storytelling talent.  Combine that with Jacen’s real knack for making characters stand out in body language and facial expressions and his artwork is going to be the one thing that might elevate this run of Moon Knight to another level.

Rating:  5 / 10

Final ThoughtMax Bemis’s first issue of Moon Knight is a big disappointment. It is drowning in buzzwords from Psychology 101 and cliché abuse subplots you’d find in any Thomas Harris novel or any episode of Law & Order: SVU.  Sun King seems to be just a retread of dozens of fire-powered super-villains we’ve all seen for decades.

The only thing I enjoyed about this book was the exciting art of Jacen Burrows.  His polished skill coupled with passionate enthusiasm for his work gives a powerful punch to this rendition of Moon Knight.

I pray that Bemis pulls a total 180 in the next issue and surprises the hell out of me by upping the stakes and throwing a few curveballs in the characterization.  But based on this script, I cannot find a reason to believe otherwise.  This story seems D.O.A.  I hope he proves me wrong.

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