BY JOSH BURY
British author Warren Ellis isn’t known for penning “normal” comic book characters.
Transmetropolitan’s Spider Jerusalem, a journalist dealing with (and partaking of) the excesses of the dystopian future, is not a model citizen. Retired CIA agent Frank Moses, the main character of RED (later turned into a feature film) is hardly your average pensioner.
But Ellis’s mastery of the bizarre is further accentuated in his triumphant return at the head of Marvel Comics’ new Moon Knight #1, released on March 5 under the “All-New Marvel NOW!” imprint.
“What’s the barometer for ‘weird’ in the Marvel universe?” Ellis asked USA Today.
With Moon Knight, Ellis is happy to raise the bar.
While it’s true that Marvel has its fair share of strange characters, it is also true that Marc Spector, also known as Moon Knight, is up there with some of the most eccentric.
A former mercenary who was gunned down during his only attempt to show mercy, he was raised from the dead by the Egyptian god of vengeance, Khonshu. Wearing the cloak of one of the deity’s priests, Marc Spector fought strange and supernatural crime in the United States with a variety of gadgets, and his fists, as Moon Knight.
Making the situation even more complicated is Spector’s alter-egos, which he used to gain easy access to both the criminal underworld and elite, that also eventually became alternate personalities, calling Spector’s mental health into question.
The character had a lot going for him: an internal psychological struggle, an offbeat supporting cast, a unique take on fighting (he’d rather take a punch than dodge it,) and a white costume that illustrated his mindset perfectly: he wanted his enemies to know he was there.
“[His] cape is actually a crescent moon and he goes out only at night and dresses in reflective white so you can see him coming. Now that’s nuts …. I like that,” Ellis pointed out to the LA Times.
Sadly, Moon Knight had been neglected by Marvel for some time. The failure of Vengeance of the Moon Knight, released in 2009, showed that the character was in limbo, with no real sense of direction, evident in the volume’s writing. A further relaunch of the character in 2011 made him barely recognizable.
Enter Warren Ellis.
Marvel senior editor Nick Lowe told USA Today that the Ellis-led volume of Moon Knight is “a baseball bat with nails dipped in LSD that’s going to hit you right in the gut.”
He is correct.
Working with artists Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire, Ellis is able to evoke a potent and gritty image of New York City as it buckles under the weight of crime.
After an initial explanation of Spector’s past as Moon Knight, we find that he is also working with law enforcement as the white-suited “Mr. Knight” – a flimsy loophole that prevents the “freaks and capes” unit on the police force from having to apprehend him for his acts as Moon Knight.
This first issue reads more like a detective story focused on, as Ellis put it in an interview with Marvel.com, “weird crime.”
Spector’s character exudes an aura of calm collectedness throughout much of the issue and exhibits less of the brutality seen in previous volumes, but his multiple personalities are also discussed (and, intriguingly, further explained).
Ellis’s storyline asks the question: is this a new Marc Spector? Or is “Mr. Knight” just one of his personalities?
And is Khonshu himself, who sometimes interacts directly with Spector, simply a hallucination?
“There’s a reason why he was crazy in previous incarnations, and a reason why he appears more sane now,” Ellis told USA Today.
Shalvey and Bellaire’s art style complements Ellis’s storytelling well. Shalvey’s strong lines and use of light and shadow work well with the storyline and create atmosphere. There are times when he shows Mr. Knight essentially in silhouette, but a bright white one instead of the usual black.
Shalvey’s page-wide panels are able to say a lot, without any dialogue at all – and he has several in this first issue. He also makes effective use of extreme close-ups: a risky proposition that pays off by creating dramatic tension.
Bellaire is responsible for the colouring, and it adds depth to Shalvey’s pencils. Blacks, deep reds, pale oranges and sombre browns contrast against the stark white of Mr. Knight’s three-piece suit, mask and gloves as he navigates both the surface of and depths below New York’s streets.
Readers unfamiliar with Moon Knight will find this series a great starting point. The history of Moon Knight is explained in brief, but none of it is necessary to understand this volume and there are few references to prior material. This is the perfect place to pick up this series, and if you already like stories in the detective, crime procedural or supernatural vein (Lowe specifically mentions fans of HBO’s True Detective television series,) you should enjoy it.
Familiar Moon Knight fans will enjoy the new “explanation” for Spector’s personalities, and will likely enjoy the fresh “Mr. Knight” concept.
But purists have nothing to fear, as preview images for issue two show a very familiar mask and cape in his future.
And, based on the quality of this first issue, it looks like Marc Spector is here to stay.