With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.
Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Writer: Charlie Huston
Artists: David Finch (#1-8), Mico Suayan (#9-12), Tomm Coker (#13)
Issues: Moon Knight (2006), #1-13
“What do we look for?”
Despite thinking of myself as a Batman fan, I’ve barely read any actual Batman comics. I grew up with the early 90s, award-winning Batman: The Animated Series, not to mention the rise of Tim Burton’s Batman films and most recently the fantastic Batman Arkham games. The rich guy with all the toys and a traumatic past devotes his life to being a hero – who doesn’t like Batman? Even Marvel wanted to get in on that, and thus Moon Knight was born.
I’d never even heard of Moon Knight until he was listed as a playable character in Marvel Ultimate Alliance. Surprisingly created back in the 70s, the character enjoyed his first solo series in the 80s and throughout the 90s, never reaching the massive success of his DC counterpart. And make no mistake, Moon Knight is very much a Batman rip-off – he’s got the money, the underground lair, the moon-shaped weapons and vehicles. He operates at night and primarily takes out street criminals, and he enjoys making a statement and causing fear and pain even more than rescuing people.
In 2006 a new Moon Knight series was launched for the first time in years, chronicling the character’s return to action after a crippling attack with a villain. As a jumping on point it’s a bit heavy and confusing, layered in with lots of backstory and character details regarding Marc Spector, his past, and his allies and enemies.
The actual story is told in a supremely cool, gritty, and dark style. At the end of issue #1 it’s revealed that the action-packed opening scene was really just Marc Spector reminiscing while he lay in a wheelchair popping pills and wallowing in self-pity. Psychological torture is a major theme of the series as Marc wrestles with who he is and whether or not his moon god is real or just a part of his fractured psyche.
Marc’s legs were blown out during a nasty encounter with Raoul Bushman, his nemesis and former fellow mercenary from his past. During the horribly blood encounter, which is told through flashbacks, Marc is near death but finds the strength to take Bushman down by ripping his face off with a crescent knife. This becomes a major catalyst for Marc as he begins seeing the horrifyingly faceless Bushman constantly. The grotesque ghoul identifies as Khonshu, the moon god that first resurrected Marc and bestowed his gifts.
Much of the first arc, “The Bottom,” (#1-6) is saddled with setting up Moon Knight’s new status as a retired, former vigilante and his new supporting cast of friends and enemies. Marc doesn’t even wear the costume and become Moon Knight again until issue #6 as he comes to grips with his violent and frankly sadistic personality. The theme of whether or not Marc is crazy is explored throughout, and the consensus seems to be that he’s pretty damn crazy – a surprisingly refreshing take on a Marvel hero.
Moon Knight’s friends and relationships are particularly well done. He still pines for ex-girlfriend Marlene, and his best friend is still his other merc buddy Jean-Paul. Jean-Paul is French and gay, and his supportive relationship with Marc and romantic relationship with another man (who later becomes Marc’s physical therapist) are handled with a refreshing amount of maturity, and given plenty of time to develop and grow.
My favorite character was one that I had to look up on wikipedia what his actual name was – Profile, who can read people instantly, learning their fears, wants, desires, etc. The hilariously quippy, chain-smoking Profile is first used by a shadowy organization who wants to get rid of Moon Knight once and for all, and they act as the primary villains for the first arc. Really though, Marc is his own worst enemy as the focus remains on his own inner demons thanks to the many taunts of faceless not-really-there Bushman.
I loved the dark-but-heroic art by the fantastic David Finch (New Avengers). It presents an effective combination of noir-ish blacks and grays with sharp punctuations of Moon Knight’s white costume. I love the emphasis on extreme close-ups and the use of sweat, tears, blood, and smoke to convey the dark themes. The effects of Profile’s abilities in reading people is also presented in a very clever, fun format as he sees neon words and signs floating around people, literally shaping who they are. Marc Spector is drawn like a chiseled, scarred 80s action-hero, which combined with his violent outbursts and mental breakdowns make him a frightening person for anyone to interact with.
The second volume, featuring the story arc “Midnight Sun,” (#7-12) technically act as tie-ins to the then-ongoing superhero Civil War and afterward the Initiative. Marc (who spends a great deal of the comic series not in costume) is visited by a rotating cast of guest-stars, including Captain America, Iron Man, and Punisher. Mostly it’s a fun way to see how the rest of the Marvel Universe views Moon Knight, and in turn allow Marc to push everyone away and generally be a violent asshole to everyone. It should come as no surprise that he and Punisher have a mostly friendly chat while Punisher is busy murdering people, heh.
The story falters a bit when it tries to do a Pulp Fiction, out of order narrative involving another villain from Moon Knight’s past. His former sidekick has become the villain Midnight, a very talkative, admittidly funny Joker-type that is obssessed with his former mentor. The later issues all jumble together with Moon Knight finding his lair in the sewers, attacking him, being captured and fighting back all told in a confusing, out or order style. The comic was heavy enough as it is in exploring mental issues and a very unstable protagonist; having to flip back and forth between multiple pages to try and piece the story together was a bit too much.
David Finch unfortunately left after eight issues. The new artist did a reasonable job in replicating the dark, moody style but it wasn’t quite the same. The story wraps up in issue #12 but the volume contains a final one-off in issue #13 with a completely new artist with a very bizarre style. The art becomes impossibly dark and even abstracted in parts, making it quite difficult to discern what is happening in a lot of panels. The story involves Marc going in to register for the Initiative, and it’s a fun example of how Profile’s powers can be used to manipulate others.
For a blatant Batman knock-off, Moon Knight is surprisingly interesting and enjoyable. The singular focus on Marc as a fairly horrible person who happens to be a vigilante is fascinating, and the focus on dark, bloody action separates it from most of the bright and glitzy Marvel fare. Despite some confusing story moments I’m definitely enjoying this series. I look forward to catching up on Moon Knight as apparently he sticks around permanently this time.