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Friday, March 7, 2014

Comics Spotlight Review: Moon Knight #1

Warren Ellis returns to superhero comics with one of Marvel's most troubled - and most difficult to write - heroes in Moon Knight #1, and finds a new way to tackle the character through his pet themes.

How do you write a superhero with a debilitating mental illness? I know, I know, hold the jokes - aren't they all at least a little bit crazy? Moon Knight is different. In his most recent incarnation, Brian Michael Bendis' grim Moon Knight (Vol. 5), that illness was heightened significantly, as Marc Spector often found himself arguing with (and at times even being controlled by) alternate personalities.  Playing up Spector's Dissociative Identity Disorder was a fitting choice for a crime writer like Bendis (and a noir-influenced artist like Alex Maleev), but it never sat well with me.  The only way to 'beat' mental illness, really, is with medication and therapy, and I suspect "Marc Spector, Well-Medicated Fellow," wouldn't exactly tear up the sales charts.  He was in a neverending war with his own mind in a way that felt more 'narratively convenient' than 'authentic'.

Warren Ellis comes from a significantly different background than Bendis, a cynically comical blend of arcane horror and near-future sci-fi.  His approach to the character, then, is suitably different than Bendis', and his major change to the character's canon places it snugly within Ellis' pet themes - and, at the same time, 'fixes' the too-convenient DID issue that has plagued the character for years.  Superhero comics are great at literalizing and personifying inner conflicts (that's the core idea behind Batman's entire rogues gallery) and turning them into external ones.  It lets writers explore the issues with a slight remove, grounding and humanizing big ideas while letting us deeper into the hero's head.

Moon Knight #1 is, at its core, a procedural.  A crime has been committed, and the police are a bit out of their depth.  In comes Moon Knight, newly returned to New York after some time in LA, to help out the police.  The dialogue is mostly terse and expository.  The characters are cops, vigilantes, and criminals.  It wears the character's initial influence - Batman, primarily - on its sleeve.  But that's fine, because the story is about Spector, who he is now and how he operates.  It gives you a familiar framework to hang a story about a fairly atypical hero, which is ideal both for new readers and for longtime fans of the character who have to adjust to some fairly sizable changes in the status quo.

Declan Shalvey was a solid choice for pencils, with crisp, easy-to-follow action and strong inking that brings a lot of definition to Moon Knight's new costume.  He does falter a bit in some of the design aspects, at least until we get to some of the more horror-driven imagery, but he's solid. The procedural aspect of this issue didn't give Shalvey a ton of interesting work (his inking stood out more to me than his pencils), but the book's final pages give me a lot of hope for his work in the future.

Moon Knight #1 really needed its colorist to knock it out of the park - and Jordie Bellaire unquestionably did.  The redesigned Moon Knight costume brings Spector firmly in line with former Ellis heroes like Elijah Snow.  A stark white suite and hood that could (and probably should) look vaguely ridiculous becomes a stark, almost otherworldly statement under Bellaire's direction.  Moon Knight's costume is so stark, so utterly in opposition to the increasingly grim settings the issue finds him in - recent previous artists have tried to make the white of the costume more 'realistic', but Bellaire makes him look like a man out of phase with the universe around him, a choice made all the fitting when Ellis drops the issue's final twist on us.

Moon Knight #1 isn't Marvel's best debut so far this year, but that's only because it has incredibly strong competition.  By any accounting, this is a strong first issue, one that redefines a familiar character in ways that let him breathe more than he has in years.  Like Waid's Daredevil, Ellis recontextualized the character without fundamentally changing him, and did so in a smart, well-paced adventure.  If he can keep this up, something Ellis has had trouble with in the past, we may finally have a truly definitive Moon Knight story.

Rating: A-

Written by Warren Ellis, Pencils/Inks by Declan Shalvey, Colors by Jordie Bellaire
Released on March 5th


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