Sunday, January 31, 2016

Moon Knight's Most Badass Moments (so far)

For those of you who haven't been paying attention or just really suck at remembering stuff, my favourite comic book character (also: I'm the one who's into comic books) is Moon Knight. And for those of you who aren't me or like twelve other specific people, Moon Knight is a "superhero" in the Marvel Universe.

He looks like this:

While it's hardly a unique trait among comic book characters, particularly superhero types, one of the major things that makes Moony my main man is that he's a total badass. He's a maverick who plays by his own rules and when he's not being outright ignored by the superhero community at large, he's being actively shunned by them. Even Deadpool winds up doing more team-ups than him. This also makes him something of an underdog - he doesn't really have any powers and when he's in trouble he (usually) doesn't have the option of calling up Tony Stark or Nick Fury.

Now before I launch into an essay on all the stuff that makes Moon Knight my avenging spectre (ha) of choice let's return to the main point which is he's badass. With that said, here is a sampling of some of his most badass moments.

Spidey didn't like posing for this one
Honourable Mention: Ultimate Moon Knight crazies himself back to life (Ultimate Spider-Man #110)
Haven't done the honourable mention thing in a while because I don't want to somehow undermine the five choices I make, but I thought that since this isn't the regular 616 version of Moon Knight, I could get away with it.

Moon Knight only appears in a couple of arcs of Ultimate Spider-Man but writer Brian Michael Bendis definitely does him justice. I think that's partly because he's really not very different from his classic incarnation. He's still former mercenary Marc Spector, now wealthy and sometimes moonlighting (I had to) as a New York cabbie who also dresses in the aspect of Egyptian god Khonshu and fights crime. The costume is given a bit of a tweak (as you can see) but his methods, personality(ies) and genuine craziness are all pretty much intact, although the personalities are shuffled a bit.

Our moment occurs in the second arc containing Moon Knight, "Ultimate Knights", a nod to the Marvel Knights comics in 616. Moon Knight first met Spider-Man in the arc "Warriors". The two fought for awhile and Moony succeeded in totally freaking Spider-Man out. Here, Moon Knight teams up with him, Shang-Chi, Daredevil, Iron Fist and Dr. Strange in an effort to take down the Kingpin, who is pretty much EXACTLY the same as his 616 counterpart. Shang-Chi had previously attempted to infiltrate Fisk's organization via posing as a skilled assassin for hire (actually to replace Elektra who had been killed by...Moon Knight) but his cover was blown rather quickly and he barely escaped alive. The group decides this was still a good idea, and, as part of their larger plan, should be attempted again. Moon Knight volunteers to be the one to do it and everyone agrees at once since Fisk isn't that familiar with him (as he was with Shang Chi and is with DD and Spidey).

Ultimate Ronin
It goes quite well at first as Moon Knight creates the character of Ronin (a nice nod to something concurrently going on in New Avengers, also written by Bendis) and is quickly hired. Of course it still winds up a disaster as ruthless assassin Ronin eventually asserts its dominance over all of Moony's personalities and he goes from undercover agent to full on baddy. The situation in his head is actually visually illustrated for us as we see the personalities all meeting and discussing the situation together. But in addition to Steven Grant (who is now the cabbie - there is no Jake Lockley), Marc Spector (businessman) and Moon Knight, Ultimate Moony also has a nameless little girl personality. She's also eyeless. Because that's cool. Ronin murders Moon Knight, drives off the others and takes over. Spider-Man actually has to fight Ronin after the latter is ordered by Kingpin to apprehend him and is quickly defeated. But taking out the hero in his own book isn't Moony's badass moment here. No, that comes when he finally is discovered by Fisk (ok, actually Kingpin had known all along but the last thing this entry needs is more explanations) and is promptly executed by two mooks. Shot in the head and dumped in the outskirts to send a message to other costumed vigilantes in New York.

Except Moon Knight eventually gets back up. How did he pull this off? No healing factor, no illusion powers, nothing like that. Back in his messed up mind, we see the other personalities urging the seemingly dead Moon Knight persona to wake up. The little girl screams at him a bit to no avail. Then Ronin comes over and gives a try, grabbing his head and yelling "Get up!" It does the trick.  The personality revives and so does his physical self. He staggers to a police station, takes off his mask and has Fisk formally charged with attempted murder leading to his arrest (something none of Spidey and the others could achieve).

So there you have it: Moon Knight is actually too crazy to be killed. Badass.

5. Burning His Ties To The Avengers - Literally (Marc Spector: Moon Knight #50 Volume 3)
Yeah, screw those guys
While the Marc Spector: Moon Knight series was the longest running, it really wasn't one of the more memorable runs for the character. The creative team was always in flux, causing the tone and direction to fluctuate along with it. Sure, some cool and important stuff happened like Punisher killing Marc's insane brother Randall (something he thought he'd done himself years previously), visiting a couple of alternate universes and participating in Acts of Vengeance hijinks, but as a whole it was kinda weak.

Still, one of Moony's most badass moments does indeed happen in this series. I'm not entirely certain of the order of events but I'm reasonably sure that at the time of the series's opening, Moon Knight was a member of the West Coast Avengers. He (along with Tigra and Mockingbird) leaves the team in issue #41 but it's established at some point later on in Marc Spector Moon Knight that he's still considered a reserve member and thus has a membership card. So-called misuse of said card was one of the actions that led to Moon Knight's fiery resignation from Earth's Mightiest Heroes.

The Avengers, in disarray after the events of Operation Galactic Storm and Captain America's subsequent resignation as team leader, became increasingly concerned with Moon Knight's actions, particularly using his membership card to gain access to the Latverian consulate and attack Doctor Doom (an extremely badass act in itself), his ties to the Punisher as well as villain Tombstone and the revelation (captured on television no less) that he'd been housing some kind of demonic presence in his body - Demogoblin by way of Hobgoblin. Anyway, Moon Knight, busy with his own affairs, repeatedly ignores the team's calls insisting he come in for a meeting.

 Finally, he agrees to go after an altercation with Thor. They spend so much time debating the pros and cons of having him on the team as well as whether or not his actions require some sort of disciplinary measures on their part, that he up and leaves while they're babbling. They don't even notice until seeing the smoke from the flaming membership card he leaves behind.

4. The Raid, Superhero Style (Moon Knight #5, Volume 7)
I'm assuming the elevator wasn't working
This one doesn't require much setup. In the latest Moon Knight series, kicked off by writer Warren Ellis, standalone stories limited to single issues replaced the common practice of story arcs spanning multiple comics. After six great stories Ellis moved on but later writers mostly followed his example. In this particular issue, the second last written by Ellis, Moon Knight storms a dilapidated apartment complex to rescue a kidnapped young girl.

In what is a clear homage to awesome action movie The Raid, (director Gareth Evans's name can be seen spray painted on a wall in one of the panels), Moony makes his way from the ground floor to the sixth, cutting a brutal and bloody swath through all resistance.  His nasty fighting style has been showcased in many issues over the years but perhaps this is the single one that celebrates it the most. I'd point out some of the highlights except: 1. Pretty much every panel is a highlight 2. I really couldn't do them proper justice. So just seek out the comic for yourself, in print or digitally.

Moony with a sidekick?
3. The Final Moon Knight/Midnight Reunion (Moon Knight #12, Volume 4)
One thing Charlie Huston firmly re-established in the Moon Knight mythos is that for someone without any powers, the guy can take a hell of a lot of punishment. This is illustrated in spades in the two Huston story arcs "The Bottom" and "Midnight Sun". The next badass moment comes from the latter.

Way back in the very first Moon Knight series, our hero came up against a flamboyant art thief called The Midnight Man. Despite his initial seeming lack of a threat, he would quickly become something of a nemesis for Moony, culminating in his going insane after having his face disfigured from a fall in one of their encounters. He went from daring cat burglar with a thing for theatrics and mind games to another damaged opponent, bent on revenge. Then he died.

Years later, during the Marc Spector: Moon Knight run, Marc would be faced with a new chapter in the saga between himself and Anton Mogart (Midnight Man's real name): a young man named Jeff Wilde, who claimed to be Mogart's son. But this wasn't the old "son of a vanquished villain shows up for revenge" schtick; Jeff wanted to help Moon Knight. His reasons were never all that clear. He said something like he wanted to make up for all the trouble his father had caused Marc but by offering his services as costumed sidekick Midnight, he just caused trouble of his own.

Still, Moony reluctantly agreed to take him on, feeling somewhat responsible for what happened to the kid. But Jeff, while not entirely without guts and talent, wasn't very effective as a crimefighter and more often than not blatantly disregarded Moon Knight's advice and orders. Eventually his bumbling got him captured by the lunatics at the Secret Empire (an offshoot of Hydra considered too crazy even by their standards) and they did the logical thing: turned him into a superpowered, killer cyborg. Sometime later, he apparently died.

But years after that, Huston revealed in "Midnight Sun" that Midnight was still alive and had become completely unhinged and completely obsessed with having a showdown with his former mentor. To get his attention he went about murdering people and ripping their limbs off to use them as hands in clocks traced in blood. The hands pointed to midnight.
"I knew I could save you, Jeff."

Moon Knight tracked him to a makeshift lair in the sewers (much like one Mogart fashioned years before) and was promptly overwhelmed when attempting to ambush Wilde. With the aid of a female cyborg assistant, who apparently had nursing skills, Midnight (now dressed in his own Moon Knight costume) tortures the bound (to a giant clock face) Moon Knight by removing parts of his spine with a pair of pliers. Yup.

So this goes on for a few minutes until lady cyborg gets upset, clobbers Midnight and frees Moony, who is, you know, not in the best of shape. She whines to him for a bit about how she and Midnight are unable to die and how Midnight had assured her Moon Knight would be the one to "save them". She expresses her disappointment in him. Moon Knight, having somewhat regained his wits says "I can save you." He rips the minute hand off the clock and leaping off the platform, plunges it down Midnight's throat, ending the latter's torment. A pretty emphatic form of closure on the whole Midnight Man/Midnight saga.

(That was the badass moment but if you're wondering about loose ends, I'll just inform you Moon Knight also "saved" the woman by telling her walk out of the tunnel and gaze at the full moon for her salvation. In doing this, she is blown away by the heavy ordinance of Moony's helicopter.)

Moon Knight: Secret Avenger
2. Making Deadpool Say Uncle (Vengeance of the Moon Knight #8, Volume 5)
Charlie Huston's resurrection of Moon Knight in 2006 (his first ongoing series since the mid nineties) was what absolutely solidified his status as my all-time favourite not only superhero but comic book character, period. As with Ellis nearly a decade later, Huston kicked off the series but only stayed on for about a third of its run. He wrote two amazing arcs (named in the previous entry) then writing duties were taken over by others. While I enjoyed seeing an overmatched Moony take on the Thunderbolts after Norman Osborn (head of H.A.M.M.E.R. at that time) sicced them on him, the final arc of that series, "Down South", with a mostly out of costume Moon Knight fighting cartels in Mexico, was a big letdown for me.

This was immediately followed by a new series, Vengeance of the Moon Knight (Volume 5), that had a somewhat new direction: Moon Knight trying to be a bit more "heroic" (this being The Heroic Age of Marvel at the time) and erase some of the ill will he'd built up in the superhero community and public eye. So he's basically making a concerted effort to not, you know, kill or horribly maim his opponents or cause too much collateral damage. He does so well in this he impresses Steve Rogers enough to recruit him to a new Avengers team, albeit a secret one (um, Secret Avengers) that no one outside of it will be aware of. A pretty big turnaround after Rogers's "I don't like your style, mister," speech to Marc Spector back during Huston's run.

Anyway I'm mentioning all this to properly set up the next badass moment. Sure, Moon Knight has been playing by the rules and even playing well with others - things he's definitely not known for - all to very encouraging results. But he's still Moon Knight and operating this way was...kind of getting to him.

Enter The Merc With a Mouth, Deadpool.
You shouldn't have mentioned the healing factor, Wade

Deadpool was doing what he does - he was on the job to assassinate some crime boss for a woman whose life had been destroyed by said crime boss - when Moon Knight arrived and stopped him. Said crime boss was confined to a hospital bed at the time and of course, the new "good boy" Moon Knight couldn't allow him to be murdered while helpless. Deadpool of course taunts him for this as they fight (Moony didn't know who the heck it was and would later refer to him as "that welfare-looking Spider-Man) and asks: "Come on Casper, where's that killer instinct?" Moon Knight tells him he's about to see it but Deadpool is incredulous: "Sure. You're Lee fucking Marvin with me - who can't be killed."

Well. He shouldn't have said that. Moony draws a sword (OF COURSE he has a sword) and declares: "Game on." Deadpool answers with his own blade but now that Moony isn't holding back anymore, it's really no contest. He proceeds to slice and dice the annoying mercenary until there's not a whole lot left to cut. He dispatches one of the most badass characters in the Marvel U with ease. Deadpool concedes defeat with a: "*Kkkkkkkkk* Uncle*" and Moon Knight stalks off remarking how he really needed that. And so did we.

1. Another Faceoff With Bushman Ends In A Face...Off (Moon Knight #2 Volume 4)
Well, it really was a face only a mother could love
As this list has already demonstrated, acts of horrific violence are pretty routine for Moon Knight. And while I hope I've shown that he still has badass moments that don't directly involve them, you shouldn't be all that surprised that our number one entry is yet another. And this one tops them all.

Moon Knight #1 of the 2006 series ends with a broken and disheveled Marc Spector. We're shown he's been out of the hero game for quite awhile and that his life has subsequently fallen apart, lashing out and alienating the small handful of people in the world that actually care about him. We see him sporting a beard while sitting in a chair yelling at his Khonshu statue. It appears he doesn't even have his faith anymore. Not in his god and not in himself.

Moon Knight #2 gives us the flashback that shows how he arrived in such a state. Fittingly, it's a battle with his arch nemesis, the man who inadvertently created Moon Knight, the vicious Raoul Bushman. The two are slugging it out on a rooftop. Moony provides some great running commentary as they go at each other:

How many times before a guy figures it out? How many times do you beat a guy down? How many times do you take him out? Before he knows you're better than he is? He never got it. Guess that's why he's called a nemesis. So, how many times can you do the same thing? Before you get sloppy? Blame it on arrogance. Blame it on a bag of tricks grown tired. Blame it on the passing years. Blame it on him. Blame it on our hatred. The hatred born from slaughter. Slaughter born from friendship. Friendship born from recognition. Recognition of a kindred soul. Souls hating each other. Hating as you can hate only one thing. The reflection in the mirror.

Oh, this can't be good

You won't see Batman doing that
Eventually the fight goes over the side of the roof and Moon Knight is badly injured, hitting his legs off a fire escape on the way down. Lying sprawled and broken in the alley, he's nearly defenceless as Bushman, staggering through a barrage of crescent moon darts and collapsing at his side, manages to bite his enemy's face right through the mask with those terrible filed teeth. Moon Knight somehow manages one final punch then grips Bushman's face in one hand while retrieving one more crescent dart with the other.

Then he peels off the guy's face.

I think it's only too appropriate that Moon Knight's most badass moment ever is also the one which led directly to a downward spiral which nearly destroyed him physically, mentally and spiritually. After two years on the sidelines, wallowing in self pity and abusing pain killers, he managed to pick himself up once again (with a little help from his friends, of course). He's a character who has died and been resurrected several times in continuity, but it's this resurrection of his life, pulled off not by an ancient Egyptian god but by the man himself, that is his greatest comeback.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Essential K-Pop Songs of 2015

The time has come to share more music randomness from South Korea. This year was tougher than last to sort out the top five slots. There was so much variety and throwbacks to decades past that incorporated old and new genres that I love. Like last year I wanted to highlight a few songs and the artists that made an impression on me. I hope you find something here that entertains you.

Do not be afraid, my friends. The whole point of this list is to present something unfamiliar that you wouldn't have discovered otherwise. Let's go!

5)Wonder Girls - I Feel You

Album: Reboot
Back in 2007, Wonder Girls was perhaps the first k-pop group that I became familiar with and they dominated the airwaves in Korea with some catchy hits. Over the years some members changed, others worked on solo projects for a while, and the group went on hiatus in 2013. They reformed this year as a four member band with an 80's concept, playing instruments for the first time as part of their performance.

I was happy and surprised to find an upbeat number with a music video that captures the neon haze and ridiculous glam of the eighties so well. Even the production quality and mix feels very true to form for the retro sound. Plus, there's something very entertaining to me about a girl performing rigid dance steps in heels and one-piece swimwear while jamming on a keytar. If any of this rings your bell I highly recommend checking out their entire eighties themed album Reboot that features this song. It's a solid eighties concept album that does everything from Madonna-esque dance pop to darker synth-rock, and the whole thing sounds truly truly truly outrageous.

4)Lim Kim - Awoo

Album: Simple Mind
There's something so lovely about Lim Kim's voice. Her breathy singing is unique - often ethereal - and I've enjoyed every song she's put out. So I was thrilled to see her release a full album this year.

"Awoo" has a less than conventional sound with its up and down pitched melody, and simple bass line, but it's that voice that makes it so pleasant and pulls the whole thing together. So many of the tracks on the album are a dreamlike experience, with her quiet voice guiding you over heavy electro beats. I highly recommend listening to it as you drift off to sleep.

If you ask me what is supposed to be going on in the video, it's hard to say. There seems to be a teasing theme going on, and Lim Kim acting like a cat, but besides that I don't have a clue. It's very colourful, well produced, and suits the unusual sound of the song. Like a lot of Korean music, it's the quirkiness that draws you in, and Lim Kim is a talent to watch.

3)Hyukoh - Hooka

Album: 22
Hyukoh is a four member indie band that have been part of the underground music scene for a couple years, but really gained wider success this year with multiple hits. Oh Hyuk, the leader of the band, has been especially busy collaborating with other singers and producers throughout the year and he has lent his soulful vocals to several songs that I love.

While there were other songs for Hyukoh that peaked higher on the Korean music charts in 2015, "Hooka" was the one that I kept coming back to again and again for its chill intro that builds into a solid blues rock tune. The style and especially the chorus reminds me of The Doors, but I have no idea where the band draws their inspiration. I haven't gotten that specific vibe from any other tracks.

Many of their songs have both English and Korean lyrics, but the English is easy to miss because of pronunciation and unclear meaning. I don't consider it a downside, but just an element of their style. In "Hooka" the harsh pronunciation adds intensity as the song progresses.

All in all, Hyukoh is band I'm excited to see more from in the new year. I think you'll agree.

2)Brown Eyed Girls - Brave New World

Album: BASIC
In Korea, Brown Eyed Girls have been making an impression on the music scene for a decade now, and the song in question is from their sixth album, proving that these girls are still working hard to be innovative and to last in this competitive industry. You may even be vaguely familiar with them if you happened to watch Psy's follow up song to "Gangnam Style". In his music video for "Gentleman", the core dance choreography is lifted directly from BEG's hit song "Abracadabra". One member of the group, Gain, even appears in the video alongside Psy performing the dance she made famous.

When I first listened to "Brave New World" it caught me a little off guard. The song changes gears throughout and it felt jarring in the beginning. It was on repeat listens that the song took hold in my brain and I could appreciate the brilliant composition.

"Brave New World" opens strong with a throwback sound reminiscent of late 70's Michael Jackson, then quickly shifts into a more modern beat. The instrumentation driving the song is amazing and I love how the contemporary pop elements melds with an underlying orchestral arrangement that's sprinkled with funk and disco. The chorus hits hard with powerful vocals, and then I can't sit still. Later in the song listen at the rap breakdown (at the 3:17 mark) where the song filters down to something new, and then builds back up with strings as the beat returns. Every time I listen I keeping hearing new details.

The music video also fits the song well, with it's futuristic imagery and settings, and the ladies look stunning. Overall the song is excellent for its creative arrangement, the strong vocals, innovative transitions, blending of genres, and wrapping it all up in a stylish presentation. I can't get enough of this song, and I hope you give it a listen, or two.

1)Red Velvet - Dumb Dumb

Album: The Red
Okay you guys, this last one is crazy as fuck. The first viewing is an all out assault on the senses, and the song is wild and bombastic. Red Velvet debuted in 2014 with four members: Irene, Wendy, Seulgi, Joy, and most recently, Yeri joined in 2015. Fun Random Fact: Wendy grew up in Canada from an early age and auditioned here before joining the group.

The music video alone is worth checking out for the insane production value and screwy imagery. You have objects smashing apart in slow-motion, a rag doll robot dance, cloned girls marching down conveyor belts, giant mechanical claw arms, impossible boxes of flailing legs, and so on. Some people say the imagery in the video is depicting the manufactured idols of the Korean pop industry. That would explain the cartoonish factory producing and packaging identical looking girls. In that way Red Velvet could be making a statement about itself as a group and the nature of pop idols in Korea. Or it could just be more typical wacky k-pop stuff.

Despite being a rookie group Red Velvet is quickly gaining success with the release of their first full album The Red. It hit Number One on Billboard's World Albums Chart in September and this video was ranked #9 in Rolling Stone's 'Best Music Videos of 2015'. Honestly, I don't think I listened to another current album - K-pop or otherwise - more than "The Red" this year. It's just that much fun.

"Dumb Dumb" is brassy, experimental, and like the rest of the album, bursting with energy. These girls have real talent, and their vocals shine on every track. If you enjoyed this, then I recommend "Ice Cream Cake" their single from earlier in the year which I feel is easily as good as "Dumb Dumb", but I didn't want a group or artist appearing twice on the list.

It may seem like nothing but flashy nonsense to some, but Red Velvet delivered a crazy upbeat song with a memorable music video, in one of the best top-to-bottom pop albums I've heard in some time. Check it out.