Bringing the chickens home to roost, part four

…and the last one:

Digital Pull List: Moon Knight

Just like it’s titular character, the newMoon Knight series by Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire proves that no matter how often Marc Spector is left for dead, he’ll keep getting back up. Now three issues deep into his sixth official ongoing series, under the Marvel NOW! imprint, the Fist of Khonshu is experiencing another unique rebirth under the deft hands of his creative team.

Moon Knight #1 cover by Declan Shalvey
Moon Knight #1 cover by Declan Shalvey

The last time Moon Knight starred in his own book was the 12-issue run by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev that ran from May 2011 until April 2012, and is one of the cornerstones of my digital collection. Say what you will about Bendis’ lengthy prose, for my money his best work has been done paired with Maleev’s phenomenal art, a collaboration first seen in their four-year run onDaredevil described by IGN as “one of the greatest creative tenures in Marvel history.” Their run on Moon Knight I felt was equally impressive, breaking new ground by letting Marc Spector really own his psychoses and use them to his advantage. In what I see as a current trend in comics generally, creators are frequently free to present their stories in these sorts of maxi-series, a trend that really allows for some terrific storytelling without getting bogged down in keeping a narrative running solely for the sake of continuing a monthly title.

Daredevil #26 cover by Alex Maleev

I first became aware of the new Moon Knight series through some promo pages that showed Moonie’s new costume – a three-piece suit and tie job complete with gloves and dress shoes, his entire head covered in a white cowl with a crescent moon symbol but sans cloak – all in stark white. Although his duds has seen a fair amount of modification over the years, this was certainly the biggest departure from his standard look. If I’m honest, the whole concept of superhero costumes is one I’m frequently skeptical of to begin with, so my impression of the unusual choice was a hearty “good for you, Warren Ellis, to hell with spandex!” My favorite superheroes have always been the street level guys anyway, and Moon Knight in particular has been a favorite since the Moench/Sienkiewicz run that started in 1980 which, as I peruse a gallery of the covers, I realize my brother had the entire run of the series. Damn, wish those issues were still packed in a milk crate in the attic!

Moon Knight volume 1, issue #7 cover by Bill Sienkiewicz – this one has always stuck out in my memory.

The first issue of Ellis’ run has a lot going for it, not the least of which is Shavley’s art that perfectly balances a look of realism with just enough comic-bookishness so that it doesn’t look silly because, let’s face it – in real life costumes would look pretty goofy for the most part. More than that, though, the art is very impressionistic and flows more like film cuts from an true piece of cinema rather than a summer blockbuster. The way a warm New York day cuts to a still Manhattan night on page one, followed by the way page 2 draws you deeper into the shadows of the city’s dark alleys on page two sets the stage perfectly for Moon Knight’s latest iteration as a hero who is grounded in the streets.

In fact, this time around find Spector working as a sort of consultant for an NYC police detective – a smart move for both him and the book itself that lends an air of realism to the whole affair instead of the standard “long vigilante” path that heroes typically follow. While assessing a crime scene, Spector’s skills as a soldier and crime-fighter are put on display, something I particularly enjoyed reading as a huge fan of procedural crime shows that is often omitted in usual superhero fare. The short scene also addresses a vigilante’s place in the world, when one of the beat cops questions his presence there as a civilian and he explains that the safety of the officers themselves in his concern – not just punching bad guys until they stop whatever they’re up to for the time being. The climax of the story shows off a bit of the tactician in Moon Knight that let’s him keep his whites white, too – no mean feat considering a confrontation deep below the streets in Manhattan’s old sewer tunnels.

The epilogue to issue one adds a nice bit of introspection as well, giving a glimpse inside the head of our hero that raises all sorts of questions that hopefully Ellis will have plenty of time to answer.

Quickly following up my read of the debut issue with the following one, I was at first a little confused. The first eight of 22 pages sets up a great narrative mystery that felt strangely devoid of the title character but certainly shows Ellis and Shavley’s bold approach to using white space. In fact, I felt like Shavley was really flexing his artistic muscles here, sacrificing art space to instead move the story along with powerful imagery.

When Moon Knight finally makes an appearance, we see him descending into the city decked out in a variation of his traditional costume, and for the rest of the read I was actually wondering if I’d snagged the wrong book because it was a big departure from the previous issue’s ambiance. It is worth noting that, again speaking to the strong sense of realism in the series so far, Ellis is not afraid to have his hero get injured by conventional weaponry during a drawn-out fight sequence with the issue’s bad guy and Shavley does an excellent job of showing that the cuts, bruises and gunshot wounds these character suffer aren’t just something they shrug off and keep going. The issue wraps up neatly with a mysterious non-costumed but still very dangerous character that, like last issue’s ending, sows the seeds for further storytelling down the line.

Going for the hat trick, I dove right into the next and latest issue #3, and that’s where the series really started to take shape for me. I will admit that it seemed a little short despite the standard 22 pages, but to that end I’ll credit Shavley’s art for pulling me along for a ride that takes you deeper into both Marc Spector’s psyche and the world he’s living in these days.

Issue #3 is essentially a ghost story, and about halfway through I experienced ana-ha moment when it occurred to me what I think Ellis is doing with this series. First, we had crime-fighting detective Moon Knight. Then soldier superhero Moon Knight. And now supernatural investigator Moon Knight.

Ellis is taking his time with each issue to craft small tales that allow Moon Knight to explore all of the many aspects of his personality (or personalities?) that we’ve seen throughout his career. In this way, I feel like this is a true reinvention of the character that kind of breaks the fourth wall for fans by having Marc Spector recognize all the phases his gone through and giving him the presence of mind to select the proper one for each job…except that we see when he’s all alone at home, maybe there’s more to it than that, as his longtime benefactor the Egyptian god Khonshu seems to be guiding him. That’s actually one of the things I’ve always liked best about the character – the ambiguous notion of some otherworldly deity that as far as I know has never really been confirmed as real (at least in the comic universe).

Another thing I’m digging about this series is the heretofore lack of established villains or even newly created costumed supervillains. I like the niche Ellis is carving for Moon Knight as a hero who is really taking ownership of his oddball place in the greater world of superheroes he operates in by taking on cases that slip through the cracks.

Like other titles in the Marvel NOW! and Infinite Comics imprints, Moon Knight has really grabbed my attention for the innovative way it’s treating the stories and characters, and I’m definitely keeping this on my digital pull list. If you’ve ever been a fan of Moon Knight, I say with confidence you won’t be disappointed by this title. And maybe go back and check out the Bendis/Maleev run while you’re at it – you can get the whole 12-issue run for $18 or so on the Marvel Comics App and start your own digital library.


Leave a Reply