Moon Knight was, for a long time, a character I’d completely missed, though not on purpose. (Even though, like many, I mostly knew him as Marvel’s poor man’s Batman).
This changed a few years back with the series that Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev released. At this point I’d read a decent amount of Bendis’s work, but I’d stopped following him, largely as much of his mainstream work was with Marvel’s main X-men and Avengers titles. Not that I have a problem with either of these titles, but I feel Marvel’s back-to-back cross-over events over the last decade or so have made casual reading of many of their books tough. So, my main reason for reading this Moon Knight series was Alex Maleev’s art. I often love Maleev’s work, some of the comics that he’s worked on are truly beautiful. (His work on New Avengers #26 for example.) The thing is I sometimes strongly dislike his art. Just two years before this series for example he worked with Bendis on a Spider-Woman series that I just didn’t like. Too much photo-referencing resulted in stiff, boring art and messy colour just ruined it for me. But this series looked a lot nicer. It wasn’t the greatest of series: story-wise it was fine, if not amazing, but as an introduction to the character it worked. But as soon as the series was finished, Moon Knight disappeared from my radar.
Then Warren Ellis did a six-issue run on Secret Avengers, another book I had no interest in, but hey, it’s Warren Ellis! So each of the six issues in the brief run are stand-alone stories. Steve Rogers (Captain America to you and me) is the only regular character in each issue but he’s aided by some of the Avengers’ less well known members. Moon Knight pops up in three of these issues :
1. In a supporting role in Ellis’s fun first issue (art by Jamie McKelvie)
2. In a more prominent role in the darker fourth issue, in which artist Michael Lark created a new costume which has reappeared recently.
3. In Ellis’s final issue he appears again, this time with art from Stuart Immonen, artist on the amazing Nextwave.
I really enjoyed these issues, but I suppose I still had no urge to look into Moon Knight any further. Then Marvel announced that Ellis was writing a new Moon Knight ongoing with up-and-coming artist Declan Shalvey. Despite (misplaced) reservations about Shalvey’s art, I picked it up, cause yup, it’s Warren Ellis!
I only knew Shalvey as a fill-in artist, so disliking his art was unfair. He filled in at short notice and was replacing an artist who I liked, so obviously I didn’t appreciate it at the time. This is something I realized with the release of the first, rather awesome, issue of the new series. As with the Secret Avengers issues that he wrote, these first six issues are stand-alone stories, each building to a sudden, sharp conclusion.
I really can’t think of any other character that a writer has taken so quickly from the bottom of the B-list to must-read status. By the end of the first issue I was counting the days until the next issue. Ellis certainly proved that in the hands of a great writer there are no bad characters. He was aided perfectly by Shalvey’s art, as well as Jordie Bellaire’s superb colours. All the issues are stand-out, but when it comes to the art, issue #4, which is essentially one long fight scene, and #5, which features a surreal extended dream sequence, are highlights. The only real complaint I had was the issues often felt very brief, but I imagine as a trade that won’t be an problem.
One of the strengths of these issues is that Ellis either skips over, or streamlines, Moon Knight’s rather ridiculous and overly complex origin and backstory. Briefly, mercenary Marc Spector dies, is resurrected by the god Khonshu, becomes Moon Knight and also creates the alter egos, Jake Lockley and Steven Grant. Problems arise when the psychologically damaged Spector can no longer distinguish between these different personalities. (In the Bendis/Maleev run these split personalities change with Spector joined by versions of Spider-man, Wolverine, and Captain America amongst others.)
Ellis cuts most of these personalities, leaving us with Spector, Moon Knight, and Mr Knight, a version of Moon Knight who wears a suit, rather than a cape, and works with the police to solve crime. He also removes all of Moon Knight’s earlier supporting cast and clarifies Spector’s role/mission. As a result no background knowledge is required to jump straight in and enjoy these issues. (Also worth noting is that these issues were so good I finally went back in and dipped into some of the original issues of Moon Knight by Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz, specifically from the point were Sienkiewicz’s art starts developing into what we’ll see a few years later in Elektra Assassin.)
And then we got the bad news that Ellis and Shalvey were leaving the book after issue #6 and writer, Brian Wood, and artist, Greg Smallwood, would be taking over. And I dropped the book because Ellis was gone and I don’t know Woods’ work. But then today, while browsing my local comic shop, I saw the first three issues of Wood and Smallwood’s run. Over the last few months I’d heard good things, so I thought, why not?
Man, good move. These three issues were good. Really good. Wood picks up were Ellis left off and Smallwood’s art is a fine replacement for Shalvey’s. The single issue story format remains, but now there are more continuing elements, which really start to come together in issue #9. I’ll now be sticking with Wood and Smallwood to see where they take Moon Knight next.
This is a heck of series, one that I can’t recommend enough. American superhero comics don’t come much better.