I guess it’s no secret that I’ve been pretty hard on most of Marvel’s product — both of the print and celluloid varieties — here at GU and at other sites I write for in recent months, but even I have to grudgingly admit that sometimes they get things right. A prime example of this is their new Moon Knight series, which is the only title in the “All-New Marvel Now!” re-relaunch (no, that’s not a typo, given that the first “Marvel Now!” appears to have had a very short shelf life indeed) that I was actually looking forward to, and which immediately joins the ranks of monthly books from the self-appointed “House Of Ideas” that are actually worth reading (Hawkeye and Superior Foes Of Spider-Man being the others, with the “new” Waid/Samnee Daredevil series being a pretty sure bet to join them, but that’s just a continuation of the old book with new numbering and a higher cover price — so if you’re keeping score at home, Marvel’s still down one good book since two of their best “Now!” titles, FF and Young Avengers, have already bitten the dust).
We may as well be honest and admit that Moon Knight himself was never much of a character and Marvel never had a very clear idea what to do with him — he started out as a pretty obvious Batman clone, albeit one dressed all in white, given that he was a rich guy without super-powers who fought crime with his detective skills and a bunch of clever high-tech (for their time, at any rate) gimmicks, but then things got a little confusing : it turns out that his alter-ego, Steven Grant, was actually a mercenary soldier named Marc Spector earlier on in life, and was resurrected from the dead when he got himself killed in the general vicinity of a statue of an Egyptian god named Khonshu, who told him he had work to do to atone for his past sins before he could enter — I dunno, Egyptian heaven or something. Khonshu didn’t give him any particular super-human abilities or anything, mind you, just told him that he wasn’t wanted in the afterlife yet, and he needed to get busy balancing out his karma (which is, admittedly. not exactly the most Egyptian concept).
Fast-forward a few decades and about half-dozen quickly-cancelled MK series later, and we find that Spector/Grant/Moon Knight is an absolute basket case, suffering from MPD/DID, a seriously devastating form of mental illness that hasn’t exactly been portrayed sympathetically in comics or, for that matter, most other media (the despicable and condescending Showtime TV series The United States Of Tara comes to mind here — but then, we don’t expect anything good from the pen of Diablo Cody, do we?), and probably won’t be in this new series, either, but — well, it makes for an intriguing premise, I suppose, to have a “hero” who’s not exactly sure which of his three “alters” is his “real” self.
The smart thing Marvel’s doing here is turning this series over to some great creators who actually know how to do hard-boiled crime. The only successful run this character has ever enjoyed on anything like a sustained basis was back when Bill Sienkiewicz cut his artistic teeth on the original MK book (and Bill’s back to provide one of the way-too-numerous alternate covers for this new debut issue, pictured below), so returning Moon Knight to his creator-driven roots makes a lot of sense, especially since he’s been floundering for a long time now in one short-lived series after another that all bore the hallmarks of too goddamn much editorial interference.
And hey — if you’re going to let skilled creators have a go at a (sorry to be blunt) second-tier (at best) character, then you could do a lot worse than putting Warren Ellis (or, as he’s known in some parts, The Other Bearded Guy From England) in the driver’s seat. Ellis knows how to construct exemplary neo-noir stories, so his talents are perfectly suited to the task here. His Moon Knight has ditched the cape and tights in favor of a bright white three-piece suit and mask, and is more comfortable on (or below) the streets than he is swinging from rooftop to rooftop, and the first issue of this new series gives a nice little glimpse into what Ellis intends to do with the character by re-introducing him quickly (but completely enough for new readers to get the general gist of things), setting up a small but interesting supporting cast. and then tossing him into that rarest of things in comics these days — a pacy little stand-alone, single-issue story.
Spector/Grant/Moon Knight starts out by appearing, for all intents and purposes, to be on the trail of your garden-variety serial killer (the title of the story is even “Slasher”), but is able to deduce, in short order, that the prey he”s stalking is actually something quite different altogether. I won’t give too many plot specifics away, suffice to say that S,H,I,E.L.D. is hiding a nasty secret in the sewers beneath New York, and it’s gonna take a guy who’s unafraid of getting his immaculate suit dirty to put a stop to it.
The only real flaw here script-wise is the tacked-on nature of the ending, which sees our protagonist returning to his abandoned mansion and getting chatted at by Khonshu before the obligatory “to be continued” rears its head on the last page. Apart from that, though, this is essentially a near-flawlessly-told little tale, and one that stands up well to re-reading.
It also stands up to numerous re-looking-at (sorry, shitty new compound word invented there). I’m not terribly familiar with artist Declan Shelvey, but the pages reproduced in this review should go some way towards showing why he’s the perfect guy to draw this book. His work isn’t flashy by any means, but it’s gritty, authentic, unforced, and incredibly atmospheric. Even if the stories in all subsequent issues end up sucking — and it’s a safe bet that won’t be the case, obviously, because Ellis is just so damn good at what he does — this would be a comic worth buying on the strength of the art alone. Throw in the pitch-perfect hues provided by budding superstar colorist Jordie Bellaire, and you’ve got a feast for the eyes.
Sure, $3.99 is still too goddamn much to plunk down for 20 pages of story and art, but at least the new Moon Knight comes reasonably close to delivering good value for the dollar, and since this is a series that will, in all likelihood, only last as long as its creators feel like doing it, this armchair critic would venture that it’s probably well worth jumping on right at the outset and sticking with things for the next year/two years/however long it goes. In a few months, when everybody’s got their feet under them and the story’s kicking on all cylinders, it seems no stretch to assume that this will be the best thing coming out from either of the “Big Two” publishing houses.
Weird as it is to to even type this statement, the simple fact is that Moon Knight is a Marvel comic actually worth being excited about — how crazy is that?