Page 45 Review by Stephen
"I blamed myself for Mother's death, for Ira's unhappiness, for my poor cat's misfortune.
"I blamed myself for war, famine, pestilence and disease.
"I blamed myself for blaming myself - then blamed myself again."
Good old guilt.
I remain immensely fond of this fully painted, coming-of-age fantasy - very much reminiscent of prime Douglas Adams - not least because when young Moonshadow originally grew up on these pages, he turned into David Sylvian, erstwhile singer-songwriter of pop group Japan turned experimental orchestrator of all manner of sonic noodling.
We'll return to that in a second.
Moonshadow is a strange boy, but then he had strange parentage: his mother was a pacifistic revolutionary hippy who called herself Sunflower, his father a G'l-Dose. The G'l-Doses are large, glowing, spherical objects for whom the only motive is caprice. Makes them somewhat difficult to reason with, let alone learn life lessons from. There's not much there by way of paternal instincts.
And so it is that David - sorry, Moonshadow - is thrown out of his home by his father (his father was his captor; the home a galactic zoo) and voyages into life among the stars with his faithless companion Ira, a sex-obsessed big bundle of matted brown fur in a bowler hat with a cigar clenched permanently between his teeth. Also, with his mother and black cat called Frodo.
As the inquisitive dreamer and innocently optimistic Moonshadow gradually learns first-hand about love, sex, war and death, the contrastingly self-centred and cynical Ira insists upon occasionally imparting his own life's journey, stopping and restarting several times after confessing, "I lied".
The saga is recollected in a whimsical, iconoclastic fashion by Moonshadow himself as an old artist. If you want a taste for its tone, there's a potentially poignant scene towards the end when a character questions: "Ridiculous, isn't it? To love someone like that?" To which Moonshadow replies:
"Ridiculous and illogical. I love him, too."
They exit the stage... to the sound of Ira, asleep, oblivious, farting.
If Ira remains resolutely unimpressed by Moonshadow, the latter ill-advisedly sees the former as the father-figure he never had.
"He was a surly, cynical, lecherous grouch; a horny sensualist who cared for nothing save filling his belly and fondling his genitals. He farted with malice, belched without shame, and offended everyone.
"No wonder he stole my heart."
Originally billing itself "A Fairy Tale for Adults" and published in 1985 by Marvel's aptly titled Epic imprint (it's a long, improbable story but God bless editor Archie Goodwin), it ran to a full twelve monthly instalments during which punishing schedule Jon J. Muth (SANDMAN: THE WAKE, M etc), found himself floundering. Equally accomplished stablemates Kent Williams and George Pratt were therefore reigned in for a couple of issues. As a youngster I could barely see the join but I can, admittedly, now. They're still beautiful, every single page.
It was the very first series I read that had not a cape in sight and its revelatory effect upon me - as to what else I might relish - was almost as transformative as working alongside our beardly beloved Mark. So if you're a superhero reader teetering on the edge of trying something new, this comes highly recommended with the proven prospect of thirty-five years of branching out further and enjoying this medium in all its diverse glory. You might even open a comic shop some day.
This is also recommended to those who simply enjoy lambent watercolours or a daft old quest full of mischief.
Muth's wet-brush washes over his tight, neo-classical pencils evidence the sort of looseness I fervently envy but have never been able to reproduce. It's aesthetically pleasing enough in fine art, but in sequential art this proves vital, for it encourages the eye to move along at the same jaunty, clipped pace of the narrator. You must surely have stumbled upon some comics rendered in stodgy gouache whose cover may have held promise, but whose interior panels clog up the proceedings with their overwrought detail and density. Not so here, not remotely. I reckon readers of DESCENDER and MIRROR (MIRROR volume 2 out now) will adore this.
Returning to the book's visual references to David Sylvian, although for the first collected edition Muth repainted certain pages after he found his heart worn a little too vulnerably upon his sleeve and so pulled his cuffs down a notch (by lessening the likeness to the singer-songwriter repeated voted most swoonaway man in pop by the readers of Smash Hits) when he rejoined J. M. DeMatteis for an additional one-shot of MOONSHADOW illustrated prose (reprinted here with additional back-matter sketches), he reversed his sartorial thrusters and resumed direct portraits.
If you harbour any further doubts just Google David Sylvian's 'Red Guitar' single from his first solo album and watch Anton Corbijn's video. Oh, here you go: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tTX49CjAgo
Yes, that's Moonshadow as an old man. There are even balloons if you wait long enough.
I leave you with an extract from the boy's earliest contact from outside his spaceship, a distress signal which immediate ignites the "rose-tinted Romantic" in him. Ira's to the left of him, his mother to the right. He's stuck in the middle, boo-hoo.
"Someone was in trouble, in the heart of the Kickapoo Cluster. A true Lancelot-in-training, visions of endangered damsels filling my head, I reached for the controls.
"Are you stupider that you look? This whole sector's infested with plague! We can't go in there!"
"Sunflower", rising from a languorous rest below deck, dissented:
"If someone wants our help, Moon, then they should have it. "Show kindness to thy brothers and free them from suffering, right?"
I was utterly confused: To turn my back on a being in need contradicted every belief I held dear. But entering the Cluster was flirting with suicide, and I had no desire to indulge in cosmic wrist-slashing.
I agonized; I theorized; I scrutinized my conscience.
"We're going in!"
... then wet my pants."