The Compleat Moonshadow

December 27, 2008

moonshadow-1You know that comic series you spent an insane amount of time deciding whether to read — given the amount of good things people have said — and, after you read it, you wish you didn’t? Well, mine’s called Moonshadow. Its collected version’s title, The Compleat Moonshadow, should be a dead giveaway to just how pretentious this really is.

So Ray Bradbury, Michael Moorcock, and Dennis O’Neil appear to have recommended the book highly: big deal, everyone gets it wrong more than once. And this may be a 1980s title and, at over 460 pages, the first fully painted comic epic in America. But O’Neil himself has written far better comics at that time, and someone should tell Jon J. Muth the truth: his watercolour doesn’t work correctly here. The unnatural colours diminish what the realistic drawings try to get at, and the medium’s adaption to the art form hasn’t been thought through with enough care.

This clearly isn’t on the same level as Alex Ross’s paintings, and to expect it from a time when the visual possibilities of comics haven’t been appreciated well may be rather unreasonable. But Muth could have solved some issues differently: for example, one way to depict a powerful imaginative vision beside one’s more mundane existence is to create an impressive quasi-believable environment that bridges both. Instead, Muth opts for drawing cartoonish monsters, simple shapes, and the night sky. So once again the intended magical realism is undermined, this time by an inconsistent style in the drawing.

Then, there is the mess of a storyline by J. M. DeMatteis, who otherwise writes many amazing DC superhero tales. Don’t let the standard page-long opening nods to a literary passage by, say, William Blake, W. B. Yeats, or J. R. R. Tolkien fool you into seeing depth. They are all the meaningful allusions you are getting in a contrived narrative that is as dull as it is long. The story describes the journey of the imagination of someone called Moonshadow from boyhood to young adulthood. Moonshadow is supposed to be the offspring of a beautiful hippy named Sunflower (duh!) and an alien giant smiley, probably a drug-induced fantasy. (In my reading, Sunflower is a single mother with a kid whose father she doesn’t remember: don’t make me go there.) He is accompanied on his various ridiculous adventures by a rude and hairy Freudian monster called Ira.

And that’s about it. This really is the story of a very lonely boy, and his fantastical outings even read like those of an average imaginative kid. To give the book any more credit would be an insult to my long thoughtful life after childhood. In fact, I am reminded of yet another issue I have with the story, its somewhat condescending sense of a child’s grip on reality. My only explanation for its puzzling widespread renown is that its fans might have read it at an impressionable age when it first appeared. I wonder what these folks would think about it today should they dare to re-read it.

Gweek gives Moonshadow 5 slaps on the bottom.

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