Moonstruck #5 review
Moonstruck #5 concludes the first story arc for the new Image Comics title. The story is the brainchild by one of the creative forces that ushered in indie hit Lumberjanes: Grace Ellis, who is assisted with art from Shae Beagle and Kate Leth. This story centers around a very shy and just as sensitive werewolf named Julie, traversing life as a supernatural 20-something barista in a diverse fictionalized urban setting filled with other amazing mythic creatures. The only problem is that Julie does not particularly care for her lycanthropic nature, in fact she detests it. She finds herself hurt to the core from insulting comments based on her nature from her neighbors and fellow townies, and frequently retreats to the comfort and simplicity of her favorite series of children detective stories the “Pleasant Mountain Sisters” envying the normalcy of their affable existence. And yet over the course of these five issues, the audience has seen her wants be dashed away by romance, adventure, and magic based conspiracy. And ultimately while the ending does tie up most of the major arc loose ends, it also definitely leaves room for more development and an audience eager for the next installment.
The main action of the story centers around Julie assisting her genderqueer best friend and plucky co-worker Chet. Chet is a former centaur who has been without their horse half, or in their own unabashed words “butt,” following the theft of their magical essence from what Julie and company thought was an underground magic show in issue #2. These events have left Chet as a human, creating a game of cat and mouse (or rather werewolves and ghost) between the intrepid heroes and magic stealing renegade magicians. But again these occurrences are not as Julie would have them, she does not enjoy things like the supernatural. Magical premonitions, spooky situations, and most importantly the stress and pressure of helping Chet cause her great panic and emotional suffering.
What further complicates matters is how the situation has caused a rift between her and recent girlfriend Selena. Selena is in a lot of ways Julie’s opposite; outgoing, a social butterfly, adventurous, and quick to speak her mind. Interesting still is how Selena seems much more comfortable with her werewolf persona, not as visibly bothered when she transforms, as opposed to Julie who looks uncomfortable in wolf form and mostly does so due to uncontrollable biological triggers; such as anger or the full moon.
In a another set of circumstance, these differences wouldn’t be cause for conflict between the couple, but the search at hand with getting back Chet’s “butt,” has brought these tensions to the surface.
As the group has progressed in their search, Selena keeps positioning herself as a sort of leader of the search party, arguing with Julie, not communicating well, reacting aggressively. This reaches a fever pitch in issue #4 when Selena rips one of Julie’s Pleasant Mountain Sister books in half. In issue #5, these relationship woes come to a head, with Julie understandably upset at the way Selena has been treating her. She is frustrated with her about some of the comments Selena made in the heat of interrogating one of the magicians, ultimately insecure at what they might imply about Selena’s view of her. Selena, while sorry for hurting Julie’s feelings, also has some legitimate concerns thinking Julie needs to be more cautious, but also is irritated at Julie’s refusal to embrace their shared werewolf heritage.
The balance of emotional character conflict mixed in with the larger supernatural obstacles is on extraordinary display here. While on Lumberjanes, Ellis was great at blending the personal dramas of the characters with the fantastical settings and ideas and that has definitely carried over to this title. When an emotional moment is happening the reader is invested and eager to see it continue, it’s not some dragging scene that makes them want to get to the intrigue or mystery. At the same time when a dramatic or action-heavy scene is happening, the reader is equally excited to see that through, with a lot of “edge of your seat” moments that have the reader genuinely concerned with what might happen to these characters they have come to be so fond of.
Another great element of the writing is how Ellis is able to integrate humor into the book. It can be difficult for writers to find a balance that works with comedic dramas, sometimes oversaturating it with forced humor, or having humor be so absent that if it does show up it seems out of place. That hasn’t been the case with Moonstruck, and issue #5 is no exception, using humor to inform the plot to great effect. Chet’s ever present wit and optimism in spite of their lost magic and/or “butt;” the leading rogue magician Darian using jokes and cruel mockery to show his callousness as a threat; or most importantly the stylistic contrast of the Pleasant Mountain Sisters excerpts. These interstitials at first appeared as humorous distractions semi-related to how Julie reacts to the plot, but by the end of issue #5 are used with such sharp precision to perfectly represent Julie’s character progression.
The great details of the writing are supplemented by stand out art from Shae Beagle. Her unique style carries these characters and sets the emotional atmosphere with breathtaking linework. Even simple things like tufts of fur or the mystic gleam of a werewolf’s eye are brought to such fruition through her unconventional shapes and unexpected angles. This stylized depiction of reality may come off as surreal to some audiences, but works well considering the subject matter of the book and still fits within the fantastical genre Moonstruck operates in. Her character designs feature bulbous shapes and unique sharp angles that might be jarring to some, but work well in their own world proportioned in an accurate way. That fantasy quality is helped by the gorgeous coloring job from Caitlin Quirk, who gives the book a painted quality from her subdued palette, that still allows for full saturated colors.
The book’s biggest flaw comes in the form of pacing and plotting. Though all of the major plot lines are resolved, the last few pages are too rushed, with not enough page real estate to digest the arc’s grand finale. This ultimately creates a very scarce resolution that might leave some wanting. Additionally the the creators make a cardinal mistake of introducing a new character in the final issue of an arc. Though the character is a minor one, her introduction is important relating to the twist of Darian’s identity at the end of the book, but it would have made for stronger storytelling if she had a quick appearance in a previous issue or even cameoed in the background.
In a sea of titles from multiple publishers, Moonstruck is able to stand out from the rest of crowd with its most solid concept: identity. It is a tale using iconic tropes and ideas to tell a timely story featuring a diverse, modern cast to explore real human issues like anxiety, self-acceptance, and emotional conflict. By existing in the medium of comic books, it is able to merge those familiar character types with the more real subtext in creative ways, taking fantastical beings to their visual limit with gorgeous art, and contrasting the drama of the book with surreal inhabitants that take full advantage of the title’s genre. A great series that is heading straight to the moon with possibilities.