Moon Knight is one of those characters that tend to get the B-rating and the back seat, despite the intricacies and depth of his character. His past is, well, dark and here he is – a shining white lunatic. The odd premise and B-rating is what makes this character so great, though, and allows artists to create some wild interpretations. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire gave us in the first six issues of the newest run of Moon Knight.
For various reasons, I had been out of the comics scene for roughly a year or two, but when I heard that Moon Knight was coming back I went down to my local comic store and blew the dust off of my old pull list and eagerly awaited this book.
Moon Knight is the character that got me into comics. I walked into the comic shop and saw Charlie Huston’s and David Finch’s “The Bottom” and knew he was the character for me. I didn’t know anything about him. I had not heard the comparisons to Batman or The Punisher that most people give when asked about Moon Knight. I just dove in.
The Huston/Finch interpretation of Moon Knight is great. Gritty, dark, brutal, and if you’ve read them you get that. If you haven’t, I recommend picking it up. It’s a good read.
The point being it’s not what the Warren Ellis/Declan Shalvey/Jordie Bellaire team created. What they created was an entirely new and fresh take on Moon Knight and I want to take some time to appreciate how brilliant this run was before the baton (or maybe white truncheon?) is handed off to Brian Wood and Greg Smallwood.
To start we have Warren Ellis. I mean, c’mon. Seeing his name on the cover will guarantee a couple of things: the book will sell and you will have no idea what to expect. Warren Ellis wrote a damn good Moon Knight and it’s great to see such a well-respected writer take on this project. Right off the bat we see some spunk in this version of Moon Knight. We see him strutting along in a suit carrying a certain air. It’s serious and spunky, but we aren’t thrown into a rainy, filthy, this-is-my-city-and-I-must-scrub-the-scum-off-the-streets-with-my-fist sort of story that tends to be attached to this type of character. Instead, we have an introspective, slower paced story where Moon Knight is helping the NYPD track down a serial killer.
Warren Ellis created a Moon Knight that we haven’t seen before. He is a protector. He’s always a protector in some way, but he’s mostly been a slave to his own mind and to Khonshu, the Egyptian god of vengeance who brought him back to life to do his bidding. This version is different. He is more cautious of others’ safety and doesn’t allow for anybody to get close to him.
At the very end of the first issue we’re tossed into a flashback with a doctor who tells Spector (his main alias) that he has brain damage and that he tends to embrace the aspect of Khonshu that brings vengeance to those who harm travelers at night. This is the main premise. He’s a protector, not just a crazy man seeking vengeance for an Egyptian god. In fact, we don’t really see a whole lot of Khonshu in this reboot of Moon Knight, not compared to earlier runs. The doctor believes that Spector’s brain is having trouble defining and cycling through the four aspects of Khonshu. That, in a nutshell, is what’s up with his head right now. That’s all we know and are told. As the series progresses we see three aspects appear: Mr. Knight, a Bone Armor suit (to fight ghost punks) and superhero – all of which fall into that protector persona.
At his heart, Moon Knight is a man struggling with identity. One thing that stood out to me in this interpretation is his relationships or lack thereof. In earlier runs, Marc Spector is often in cahoots with an old friend and war hero, Jean-Paul, and in and out of a romantic relationship with a gal named Marlene. Both of those characters show up in this reboot, but only briefly in Moon Knight #6 and neither actually interacts with Spector himself. We learn that Moon Knight uses drones and auto-driving cars instead of people. This is huge because he’s typically not a lone-wolf and details like these were no-doubt carefully thought out by Ellis when writing this arc. It’s a careful decision revealing that Marc Spector is human, a truly caring human that isn’t tightly bound by Khonshu’s grasp nearly as much as previous versions of the character. He isn’t bound by vengeance, he isn’t answering to Khonshu’s calls – he’s doing this for good.
Warren Ellis is often a big picture writer. The first six issues of this Moon Knight are often described as “one and done” stories, but I don’t think that is true and it underestimates or simplifies Ellis’s talent as a comic writer. There are hints of previous issues throughout the entire first six issues. Here are a couple of posts on Shalvey’s Tumblr that discuss this: http://dshalv.tumblr.com/page/3 The second post mentions whose ideas where whose, the fifth post being examples.
I think it’s important to note that the very beginning of issue #1 takes place in current time in issue #6. The “sad blogger” was talking with Ryan Trent, the officer Moon Knight snubbed in issue #1, on the phone. This sets the course for the rest of the arc. Trent’s obsession of Moon Knight and delusion of love drives him to the point of lunacy, which eventually causes his downfall. Moon Knight #6 is the adhesive that binds the whole arc together. Ryan Trent is a perfect foil of Moon Knight. There is a big difference though – Spector doesn’t want to be loved. He tells us why. Those that love him suffer and die. He’s willing to sacrifice himself and live a solitary life to protect the ones he loves.
Alright, so we get it. Warren Ellis is a hell of a writer, but it would be a massive disservice not to mention the brilliance of Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire. After all, comics are a visual medium.
The art in this book is just fantastic. I knew Shalvey had something special going once I opened the book, especially looking back at Finch’s work, there’s just a world of difference. That difference is…abs…
If you read superhero comics, you’ve no doubt run across some of Finch’s work. He’s talented and great at what he does. It’s what a lot of people think about when they think “modern superhero comics,” but it’s not Shalvey’s style.
Shalvey doesn’t have as much of a detail-heavy artistic style. He’s arguably smoother and more subtle. This isn’t to say that he doesn’t have a knack for detail, but that each and every line is thought out and seems to serve a purpose. The pages aren’t busy and don’t feel claustrophobic or cluttered. In a lot of Finch’s work there are lines and details everywhere. Shalvey’s lighter approach forces readers to engage with everything on the page because everything counts. Lines are meant to direct your eyes to focal points within the panels or show action that is integral to what is going on. These are apparent in the stunning fight scenes. The choreography is well thought out and is effective due to Shalvey’s craftsmanship.
Much of it works because of the amazing colors by Bellaire. One of the first things you’ll notice when reading this book is the bright white suit that Moon Knight wears. A common catchphrase for him is that he wears all white, “so they see him coming.” The thing is, we don’t even need to be told because he illuminates right off of the page, sometimes even bleeding into the gutter. Bellaire’s bold coloring fit Moon Knight’s persona. He is not afraid. He is willing to divert attention to himself to protect others.
There are two specific scenes I want to mention that I think showcase the artwork and teamwork of Shalvey and Bellaire. The first being issue #2 “Sniper” and the amazing first eight pages.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that I read those eight pages at least ten times before continuing on with the issue. It’s one of the coolest, well executed scenes in comics. What we see here are eight panels formatted in a 2×4 grid where each panel tells a different story, one page at a time. As the characters are killed off the “kill pages” turn crimson with black lines and panels disappear to white, occasionally captioned, as the story continues.
Issue #4 “Sleep” has some great sequences too. The scene where Moon Knight is tossed into a dream state displays the imagination of Shalvey and Bellaire’s colors to help capture an airy, surreal environment. Shalvey’s subtlety is what does it for me though. I didn’t notice it until I read it the second time through, but when Moon Knight first arrives in the dream, we see fungus and mushrooms blooming. They seemingly pop out of the ground, but with further observation we see that it’s actually an upside down skull. As the panels zoom in closer, a brain appears.
It’s just…great. Perfect, even. Effective and aesthetic choices like those are the reason this book works so well and make the dynamic between Shalvey and Bellaire rank amongst the best artists in comics today.
Moon Knight #1-6 are beautiful, engaging, and entertaining. It’s definitely sad to see this creative team leave the book, but it’s great to cherish what they created. Brian Wood and Greg Smallwood have a lot to live up to in this new phase of the Moon Knight, but stick around – Jordie Bellaire will be continuing to grace the pages with her outstanding palette of colors.