Miniseries Review: Moon Knight (dir by Mohamed Diab and Aaron Moorhead & Justin Benson)

No sooner had Ryan posted his essay about whether or not comic book companies like Marvel or DC actually need readers anymore then I came over here to type up my review of Moon Knight.

Why is that relevant?  Well, Moon Knight is a 6-episode miniseries based on a character who made his debut in the pages of Marvel comics.  The character has a loyal following of readers but the Disney miniseries has introduced him to a whole new group of people, many of whom have never even held a comic book, let alone read one.  I’m one of those people.  If not for the miniseries, I wouldn’t have the slightest idea who Moon Knight is because, for the most part, I’ve never been a comic book reader.  I would have to imagine that if I was a comic book reader, it would bug the Hell out of me that people who have never read a comic book are now suddenly acting as if they’re experts on all of the various costumed characters who have been published by Marvel and DC over the past few decades.  I can remember how upset I was when everyone suddenly decided that they were an expert on Dario Argento and Italian horror just because they had read some lame article on the remake of SuspiriaNo, I wanted to say, you haven’t done the work!

Unfortunately, that’s the way of the world now.  With the current pop cultural dominance of the MCU and the DCEU, everyone’s a super hero fan regardless of whether or not they’ve ever read a comic book.  And, with the explosion of social media over the past decade, everyone is now in a position to present themselves as being an expert regardless of whether they’re tweeting their own thoughts or just plagiarizing what they’ve read on Wikipedia.  It doesn’t matter whether the topic is politics, television, history, science, religion, or comic books.  Everyone now claims to be an expert and, as the old saying goes, when everyone’s an expert, no one’s an expert.  Again, if that annoys the Hell out of you, I sympathize.

Perhaps you can take some consolation in the fact that, even though I watched all six episode of Moon Knight today, I hardly feel like an expert as far as the character is concerned.  For the most part, I enjoyed Moon Knight but I would be lying if I said that I was always able to follow what was going on.  Oscar Isaac plays Marc Spector, a mercenary who is mortally wounded in Egypt but who is revived by Khonshu (voiced by F. Murray Abraham), the Egyptian God of the Moon, who tasks Spector with protecting humanity from evil or something like that.  Sometimes, however, Spector becomes Steven Grant, a mild-mannered and neurotic Brit who works in a museum gift shop and who is haunted by strange dreams.  When Grant discovers that he’s actually Spector, this leads to him meeting Spector’s wife, Layla (May Calamawy) and also having to battle Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke), a fanatical cult leader who is trying to get his hands on ancient scarab that will …. let him do stuff, I guess.  Harrow’s evil, Moon Knight’s good, and I guess that’s all we really need to know.  Moon Knight is basically a typical MCU “let’s all fight over the artifact” story, with the main twist being that all of the Gods are Egyptian instead of Norse and the hero has dissociative identity disorder and might actually very well be a patient at psychiatric hospital.  

With all that in mind, Moon Knight is actually pretty entertaining.  It’s biggest strength, not surprisingly, is Oscar Isaac, who appears to be having a ball playing several different versions of the same character.  When he’s Marc Spector, he gets to play at being a grim and serious action hero.  When he’s Steve Grant, he gets to play a comedic bumbler who gets the chance to prove that he’s stronger and more capable than anyone gave him credit for.  Isaac does a good job with both roles and the show is at its best when it’s just Isaac arguing with himself.  Playing a villain in an MCU production is often a thankless task but Hawke’s brings the right edge of fanaticism to Arthur Harrow and F. Murray Abraham voices Khonshu with the just the right combination of righteous indignation and weary frustration.  The show makes good use of its Egyptian setting and the fourth and fifth episodes are enjoyably surreal as they delve into the corners of Spector’s mind.

Unfortunately, the show’s conclusion leaves a bit to be desired.  After all that build-up, it all pretty much leads to a standard MCU street battle and the possibility of more Moon Knight action in the future.  That said, I enjoyed the show for what it was.  Turn off your mind, relax, and float across the Duat, as the old saying goes.

Do Comics Publishers Need Readers Anymore? Part One

It’s easy to forget now, but when Marvel Studios launched in 2008, the move was met with a fair amount of then-understandable skepticism — after all, not only had the publisher sold away the film and TV rights to most of its “A-list” characters in a series of bad deals largely brokered by Smilin’ Stan Lee himself, they’d also sold off a fair number of “B-listers” as well : Spider-Man was unavailable for them to use, as were the X-Men, but so were also-rans such as Daredevil and The Punisher. The cupboard wasn’t bare, by any means, but properties such as Iron Man and Captain America — while they certainly had their fans — were nothing the major studio players were all that interested in. It’s fair to say, in fact, that at the time of the MCU’s genesis, the most bankable character under the company’s control was The Hulk, the rights to whom had reverted back to Marvel after Universal declined to produce a follow-up to Ang Lee’s 2003 box office disaster featuring the big green guy.

My, how times change. Nearly 15 years on, not only are Iron Man, Captain America, Daredevil, and The Punisher more popular with movie-going audiences than Batman and Superman, people are forking over hefty monthly subscription fees to Disney Plus to watch shows featuring such formerly-bottom-tier characters as Moon Knight, The Vision, Winter Soldier, and Loki.  Hell, even joke properties like Ant-Man have become box office gold. Odds are pretty good that, at this point, Marvel would even turn a hefty profit off the likes of Alpha Flight or Damage Control, so insatiable is the public’s appetite for their product.

All of which, believe it or not, is my long-winded way of getting back to the title of this short series and assuring you, dear reader, that the question I’m asking is NOT a rhetorical one — at least not in all cases. Admittedly, there are comics publishers that clearly and obviously DO need readers — in fact, we’ve spilled a generous amount of digital ink on this very site examining how the burgeoning YA market has forever altered the publishing strategy of one company, in particular, as they appear to be abandoning their artistic principles wholesale in an attempt to chase down a readership that may not even be there for the taking at this point and trust me when I say that what’s true for Drawn+Quarterly is just as true for Top Shelf, although the scale is vastly different given the latter puts out five or six books per year while the former puts out 30-40. So, yeah, SOME publishers still rely on people BUYING, READING, and maybe even LIKING their books — but what about everyone else?

Certainly, Marvel’s success in the “wider world” hasn’t translated into any sort of appreciable sales bump for their printed product — the comics market as a whole is slightly up compared to where it was a few years ago, and up a bit more than that if we cast our sights back a decade or so, but the idea that a comic like Thor only moves a thousand or two more copies a month than it did BEFORE three multi-million-dollar blockbusters were extrapolated from it has to be considered something of a disappointment no matter how one chooses to look at it. Ditto for Spider-Man. And The X-Men. And Doctor Strange. And — well, all of ’em. Clearly, then, some sort of fundamental disconnect exists between the “comics crowd” and the “movie crowd,” even when it comes to the EXACT SAME characters and content.

In fact, the two markets are so completely divorced from one another at this point that Marvel and DC aren’t even really bothering with one of the oldest tricks in the book anymore : launching a new series to coincide with the release of a big-budget film. When DC did this back in 1989, releasing the new Batman series Legends Of The Dark Knight at roughly the same time as Tim Burton’s Batman film, the results were spectacular, with LOTDK #1 becoming the biggest-selling comic of the year and the biggest-selling first issue of ANY comic in almost 50 YEARS. By the time 2012 rolled around and Marvel released a new Avengers #1 within weeks of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers movie, though, no one gave a shit and the series fizzled out within a few short years — only to be replaced by ANOTHER new Avengers #1 just in time for the Avengers : Age Of Ultron flick. That title was even shorter-lived, however, and by the time the third and fourth Avengers films rolled around, Marvel had thrown in the towel on the whole concept of cashing in quick with new comics to accompany new movies.

Obviously, then, REALLY popular films don’t translate into comic book sales, but the reverse is also true : REALLY popular comics don’t necessarily lead to box office fortunes. DC has learned this the hard way more than Marvel has, of course, with top-selling titles like Watchmen and top-selling storylines like the death of Superman failing to catch fire with theater-goers (although the widely-held view that Batman V. Superman‘s $900 million box office take represented a “disappointment” may have more to do with a successful “whisper campaign” directed against both the film and its fortunes than it does with financial realities — I mean, come on, I know we live in absurd times, but the idea that a movie that rakes in just under a BILLION DOLLARS is a “flop” is just plain nuts), but in its own way this is just further proof of the argument that I’m laying out, is it not? Comic book CHARACTERS are more popular than ever, but comic books THEMSELVES are almost becoming surplus to requirements, while comic book SALES offer nothing by way of a “leading indicator” as to what will or won’t be popular with the broader, entertainment-starved public.

From a purely logical point of view, nothing about this makes any real sense, of course, but logic also dictates that the super-hero movie craze probably should have died out years ago, yet here we are. As is the case with the multinational banks, then, it appears as though we’ve entered a period of history where at least Marvel, and maybe even DC, are quite simply “too big to fail,” and we’re going to be stuck with them for the rest of our fucking lives — but how long will they even BOTHER sticking with an archaic “delivery system” for their stories? 

Already Marvel Unlimited, the company’s digital comics platform, is more or less DARING readers to stick with printed periodicals, given they offer almost everything in the publisher’s vast back catalogue for something like six or seven bucks a month and have gone from having a one-year lag between print and digital availability to a mere a six months, and now just THREE months, while DC is doing their level best to chase off what readers they have left by slowly rolling out an absurdly high $4.99 cover price on more and more of their books. Factor in the inherently limited reach of so-called “direct market” distribution, and you honestly have to wonder if either of these companies even CARES about selling comics anymore, because it sure doesn’t look like it. Sure, they need stories to make movies out of, but more and more often what we see on the big screen bears little to no resemblance to any printed-page antecedent — original screenplays are taking the place of adapted ones, origins of characters are radically altered, entire modern-day mythologies are scrapped in favor of new, POST-modern ones. Hell, if you look at the comic book version of Aquaman and the cinematic version, about all they have in common is a name.

Admittedly, the demise of the monthly “floppy” has been predicted for years now and it has yet to come to pass, but I’m not really here to echo that death knell — Marvel and DC will continue to publish comics for as long as they FEEL like publishing comics. They simply don’t seem concerned about SELLING too many of them at this point, and aren’t going to invest any real capital into boosting their circulation figures. They need SOME readers, sure — but evidently not a whole lot of ’em. What they DON’T need is the publicity black eye they’d get from shutting down their publishing operations, so as long as they can run things on the cheap (and we all know they do), and make a few bucks’ profit at the end of the day, their parent companies will keep tolerating their continued existence as a necessary hassle.

So — do Marvel and DC need readers? I guess so. At least a few — and at least for now. What’s perhaps MORE surprising, though, is that there is a veritable gaggle of middle-rung publishers who don’t seem to  need ANY readers AT ALL to stay afloat — but we’ll get into that next time.


This essay originally appeared on my Patreon site, and is presented here as part of a craven week-long event to gin up interest in getting YOU, dear reader, to subscribe to said site.

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“The Devil’s Grin” Treads Where Angels Fear To

Following up a masterpiece is always a tall order, regardless of the medium — just ask Francis Coppola, Michael Cimino, Harper Lee, and Pink Floyd, among others — but following up an ACCIDENTAL masterpiece? That’s almost wholly uncharted territory.

All of which is to say that I don’t think Alex Graham set out to make the DEFINITIVE comic of the COVID lockdown era with Dog Biscuits, but I’ll be damned if that isn’t what it turned out to be, both by dint of its topical subject matter and its daily-via-Instagram delivery method, form and function coalescing into something as close as we’re likely to get to comics’ ultimate statement on the most consequential period of modern history — although, in fairness, hard-core fans of Simon Hanselmann may beg to differ. But I’m drifting (just a bit, as is my custom) away from whatever slightly dubious point I’m attempting to make here, I think.

Before I get too lost in the weeds, then, it occurs to me that Graham had three possible routes post-Dog Biscuits that she could have taken : do something just as “big,” only this time by design: pull inward and do something more small-scale: or just do whatever the hell she felt like. Wisely, she went with the the third option, and the still-developing result is The Devil’s Grin, a strip  she is serializing at something more akin to her own self-dictated pace via her Substack (hey, times change), the first part of which has just been collected and self-published by the artist in a magazine-sized package bearing the subtitle of “Milk.”  For the record, it clocks in at 52 pages and this is only the prologue.

So, yeah, maybe she’s going the “epic” route here again in terms of sheer length — it remains to be seen — but in terms of scope, this feels more like pre-Dog Biscuits Graham, with a tight ensemble of admirably bizarre anthropomorphic and/or downright ALIEN characters dealing with issues that are more personal, rather than societal, in nature, and navigating a path through terrain that is hitherto uncharted chiefly because it’s hitherto UNIMAGINED — unless you know of any other stories set in 1948 centered around a mutant prematurely-delivered baby (or perhaps it’s an accidentally-aborted fetus, it’s kinda hard to tell) that’s flushed down the toilet, captured by a demonic entity,  and fed until it’s the size of an adolescent by a lactating rat in the space of a couple of days. Annnnnddd I guess that’s me revealing most of the plot of this opening salvo in entirely offhanded fashion. Sorry.

In any case, as you’ve no doubt surmised, tonally this thing is all over the map — grimly humorous, deeply disturbing, deliberately sickening, and classically surreal, Graham’s own authorial POV somehow remains admirably clinical, even dispassionate, throughout : there’s a real sense that we’re not being “clued in” as to how we should THINK and FEEL about any of these personages (loosely speaking) and proceedings because the cartoonist HERSELF hasn’t come to any firm conclusions about any of that yet. It’s an organic work that is feeling its way forward, and in a very real sense both reader and author are in the same boat — one that’s floating through the municipal sewer system of Henryville, Idaho some 75 years ago.

In a pinch, I’m tempted to call a lot of what’s happening here “confusing,” but that seems like too narrow a term — it’s INCOMPLETE (hell, barely begun) to be sure, but there is an internal sub-logic to what Graham is doing that doesn’t exactly “make sense” in any conventional (or even UNconventional) definition of the term, but it’s just as true that at least everything FITS TOGETHER. Events proceed in linear fashion, but the question of whether or not our as-yet-unnamed protagonist is “moving forward” or simply falling into a deeper hole is very much an open one. Just about anything could happen on any given page here, and that makes this comic an inherently EXCITING one.

As for Graham’s cartooning, its trajectory isn’t in question in the least : with each successive project, she continues to build upon her already-established strengths, her linework becoming more expressive as it thickens, her body language becoming more articulated, her character designs becoming more unique, her facial expressions becoming more animated. It’s all rough-around-the-edges stuff, no doubt about that, but it’s the kind of roughness that feels authentic bordering on the EARNED. This is a hardscrabble world she’s drawing and it LOOKS that way — as it damn well should.

Obviously, its far too early to say whether or not Graham is crafting another masterpiece here, but there is every indication that she damn well COULD be — and that if The Devil’s Grin does indeed become one, it will be an entirely DIFFERENT SORT of one than Dog Biscuits was. If that turns out to be the case (hey, no pressure here or anything), then I think the debate over who the most interesting, imaginative, and NECESARRY cartoonist of our times is might just be over with.


The Devil’s Grin #1 is available for $12.00 directly from Alex Graham at

This review originally appeared on my Patreon site and is presented here as part of a dubious gambit to get new subscribers by offering free preview content throughout the course of the week. In any case, should you feel inclined to discover more, you can join for as little as a buck a month and I post three new essays/rants/ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics every week. Here’s the link :

Music Video of the Day: (Bang A Gong) Get It On by T. Rex (1971, dir by ????)

This song was most recently heard in episode 9 of The Offer.  The Godfather wrapped shooting and everyone banged a drum and got it on.  This music video is from 1971, before The Godfather had even premiered!