Thursday, February 19, 2015

Pop stuff: Birdman; Moon Knight Epic Collection

What I've been watching, reading, hearing, etc.

Birdman is a hypnotic meditation on all the pressures - internal and external - faced by the artist. In this case, the artist is Riggan (Michael Keaton) an actor typecast as a superhero, but trying to break out and revive his career by doing something "real" - a stage adaptation of Raymond Carver stories. 

He's taking a risk and questioning whether it's worth it, as is everyone around him: his daughter (Emma Stone), attorney and co-investor (Zach Galifianakis) his cast (Ed Norton, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough) and the critics. 

Can Riggan pull it off? Why is he trying? Is he even creating art, or just trying to revive his career? Is he a true actor at all, or just a guy who made a lot of money in childish adventure films? Were those films any less valid than what's he's trying to do now? 

These questions and doubts race through his mind, and throughout the film, given intensity by a pressure cooker score, played entirely on drums, by jazz musician Antonio Sanchez.

Riggan is cracking up. He falls off the wagon. And he starts seeing and talking to his Birdman self, who keeps telling him to give up and get back into costume - he's not too old. 

As we watch, we wonder how artists can create at all, or how we can even see their work through all the layers of expectation, cynicism and biased interpretation we bring to them.

The film answers its own questions by being brilliant. Casting a former Batman alongside Spider-Man's girlfriend and a one-time Hulk was a clever, meta move that provides the audience its own part in the film. 

When Birdman tempts Riggan to just be a superhero and forget about art, we know we've been tempted, too, to just enjoy movies for their big explosions and popcorn value. As moviegoers, we're sometimes complicit in typecasting actors and drowning out more thoughtful, more quiet stories. We've also been hypocritical by being snobby, looking down our noses at blockbusters and mistaking pretension and over-ambition for true "art."

The film, written and directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu stays with you long after you've seen it and makes you look at films, art and artists in a new way. Keaton's performance is a subtle tour de force and the supporting cast is just as great. It's one of the most remarkable and worthwhile films I've seen in a long time.


Moon Knight Epic Collection: Bad Moon Rising. Created as a villain in Marvel's 1970s Werewolf by Night series by writer Doug Moench and artist Don Perlin, Moon Knight eventually evolved into a hero featured in his own comics.

Conceptually he was a blend of Batman - with his costume, fighting style and gadgets - and The Shadow - with his multiple secret identities, mystical elements and supporting cast of girlfriend Marlene and chauffeur/helicopter pilot "Frenchie."

This book, an entry in Marvel's new and awesome "Epic Collection" series,  includes all the character's appearances from the late 1970s into the early 1980s, when Moon Knight secured a backup slot in the color Hulk! Magazine, eventually gaining his own title.

This is when the character really came into his own, with scripts by Moench and artwork by Bill Sienkiewicz doing his best Neal Adams impersonation. 

Looking back at those strips now, Moon Knight was clearly a bridge between Bronze Age newsstand superhero fare and the new Dark or Grim-and-Gritty age. 

Frank Miller gets most of the credit/blame for this transition into darkness, but Moon Knight was slightly ahead of the curve in crossing over. 

The Hulk! backups and Moon Knight's own series were non-Comics Code Authority approved and featured elements of horror and violence not found in other superhero comics of the day. 

I have vivid memories of many of those stories, likely because they were so different . By forsaking the code, Moench's scripts became more realistic, even while their central character stayed in a superhero costume. 

Apart from, sort of, crossing over with the Hulk in one memorable tale, there were no super villains and superheroes in the episodes. Moon Knight fought serial killers not space aliens or mad scientists. 

Moench and Sienkiewicz were very obviously paying tribute to the O'Neill-Adams' early 1970s Batman run in their work, but were also breaking new ground.

In this book, we see an era of comics storytelling shift before our eyes. It's interesting for that reason, but also fun to read. Apart from some muddy color from the Hulk! comics that doesn't translate well into this new format, it looks great, too.

1 comment:

  1. Birdman would have been more brilliant if the scriptwriters had found a way to have the characters talk without the common vernacular of obscenities. Using what used to be called "gutter" language doesn't make the film "more genuine," but it CAN alienate some of us who went in wanting to like it, but were alienated by this stylistic choice. For plenty of society, this IS NOT the way "average people" talk.

    ReplyDelete