Monday, March 24, 2014

A Late-to-the-Table Review of Moon Knight #1

I know Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey's new Moon Knight series debuted almost three weeks ago, but I just read the first issue yesterday and it stuck with me and so now I'm going to talk about it briefly. The rest of the Internet has certainly already said a lot about this issue, and I have no clue what the consensus is because I've been avoiding reading those reviews until I could read the actual comic. So what follows may be old hat, but it's my hat, and that's all I've got.

Moon Knight #1 was not the best new comic I read last night, nor was it the best-looking or most surprising or strangest or, really, the most anything. But it managed to strike some unique chords in me, some of my favorites and the ones least often struck by my superhero entertainment. Right off the bat, Moon Knight shows up at a crime scene and starts profiling the murderer, shooting out a bunch of hyper-confident conclusions based on his quick yet thorough observations of the evidence. In other words, he was Sherlock Holmes, a character who's having a bit of a renaissance lately, of which I am a fan. Both Sherlock and Elementary are top-notch shows, and Holmes has always been a character whose gimmick I enjoyed. The same is true of Moon Knight, the superhero who's insane, and Warren Ellis' script leans into that, too, but I don't want to go there yet, because I have one more Sherlock Holmes-related point to make. Something I often hear or read about Moon Knight, and it is pretty hard to deny, is that he's basically just Marvel's Batman. Rich guy, throws little boomerang things in special shapes, wears a cape, operates at night, no real superpowers. Dark Knight, Moon can see the parallels. That being said, there's an almost-just-as-obvious case to be made that Batman is DC's Sherlock Holmes. Super detective, obsessive to the point of putting himself at risk often, a strange but ultimately beneficial relationship with the local cops. There are echoes of Watson in Alfred and Robin. What I'm saying is, I like the idea of taking a character like Moon Knight who often gets accused of ripping off Batman and, instead, having him steal a page from one of Batman's own influences.

Ellis also plays up Moon Knight's craziness, as I mentioned, and in ways that I like because they are such opposites in tone. From the very start of the issue—which is pretty much just a blogger giving expository background info on Moon Knight to a disembodied voice on the other end of her phone—the topic of Moon Knight's mental state is more of a joke than a legitimate concern. Moon Knight himself is very vocal about the fact the he's nuts, but since he gets results everyone seems to live with it. Some disapprove, and some even question it aloud, but nobody gets in his way because he's brazen enough to get away with ignoring the skepticism. That's a fun way to handle the long-established insanity of the character, by just announcing up top that everybody knows about it and they're letting him do his thing anyway. But Ellis then twists that idea two times before the issue's end. First, in a scene where Marc Spector, the man who is Moon Knight behind the mask, goes to his therapist. She very politely and matter-of-factly (almost callously) explains to him that he does not, as he always believed, have Dissociative Identity Disorder. What he has, his doctor tells him, are the four aspects of the Egyptian god Khonshu living inside of him, forcing him to fight against "those who would would harm travellers by night." His brain tries to give these aspects their own identities because it cannot comprehend their true nature, but he's not truly crazy as the world believes and he claims publicly. He's just a vessel for a god's vengeance, plain and simple. This news does not seem to sit well with Marc, and after he hears it the issue concludes in the second twist, with two near-silent pages of him returning home, sullen and alone. His house is empty, large, and dusty, covered in cobwebs. Marc sits in a chair and sees sitting across from him a figure dressed in a suit with a giant bird skull for a head and it says to him "You are my son" in crazy white-on-black letters. I assume this is Khonshu himself showing up to bring things to a terrifying and incredibly dismal close, an unexpectedly heavy door slamming shut at the end of what had been a pretty fun and equally surprising superhero Sherlock story.

The impact of that conclusion, because it is almost wordless and the only four words spoken are in a very stylized font, is credited entirely to artist Declan Shalvey, colorist Jordie Bellaire, and letterer Chris Eliopoulos. The ease with which they transition at the end into black-and-gray horror after all the bright-white-and-red action of the previous pages deserves much praise, as does everything else they do on this book. Shalvey and Bellaire come together to make Moon Knight's all-white outfit not just pop but dazzle against the grim nighttime city backgrounds. He is so shockingly, abrasively noticeable that you believe it as a tactic against his enemies, a first-round stun affect based solely on style and confidence. Shalvey also makes the bad guy of this debut appropriately memorable but laughable, so we know he's not sticking around but he earned his place in the #1 issue. The best pages were definitely those devoted to the therapist scene, though, starting the gorgeous mountain setting, sliding quickly into the therapist's cruel enjoyment in delivering the bad news, and culminating in a gorgeously unsettling splash page that I would diminish if I tried to describe but, trust me, it's a highlight of the year so far. Bellaire is right there with Shalvey all along the way. She lights the villain is deeps reds, a nice contrast to Moon Knight's stark whites, and then mutes the colors for the therapy scene and beyond, bringing the mood down to something more somber and unnerving. Beyond Khonshu's dialogue, Eliopoulos doesn't have a lot of chances to show off, though he certainly letters every panel as expertly as is usual for him. And he does stellar work on the third-page title sequence, a very tidy and fun way to introduce the book's semi-humorous-with-a-lurking-dread tone.

I said this wasn't the best thing I read last night and that's true, but a lot of that is just because it's too new a book to bring out the same kind of emotions in me as the series in which I'm already heavily invested. Moon Knight was definitely my favorite debut in a couple of months, and is probably the title from the current wave of new Marvel stuff that has me most excited. I was always champing at the bit to see Shalvey and Bellaire on this particular character, and they did not disappoint for a second. They did, however, surprise me quite a bit in their handling of him, from his design to his supporting cast to his fighting style, so that's all great. I also didn't really know how to feel about the prospect of Ellis writing Moon Knight, and I damn sure didn't expect him to write a violent Sherlock Holmes with a death wish whose every move was dictated by the will of a god. That's a concept I'm attracted to for a number of reasons, and now that it has been so delightfully introduced, I'm eager to see the next step, the evolution of all these themes and threads.

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