Marvel has had a pretty strong year in 2018, with titles like The Avengers, Black Panther and Venom relaunching to impressive sales and critical acclaim. But amid all the fuss over Marvel’s Fresh Start relaunch and major crossovers like Infinity Wars, one book seems to be consistently overlooked. Moon Knight has been one of Marvel’s most underappreciated books for years now. That’s more true than ever in 2018.
The series has a very strong track record dating back to 2014, when Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire delivered a dramatic new take on Moon Knight and his split personalities. Even though Ellis and Shalvey only remained on the book for six issues, they established a winning template that subsequent creative teams were able to follow and build upon. If anything, I was concerned when Marvel revealed that the series would be shifting in a different direction with last year’s Marvel Legacy relaunch. Fortunately, the series has only gotten better under writer Max Bemis and artists like Jacen Burrows and Paul Davidson.
One of the great challenges with this character involves how best to convey his peculiar brand of madness. We’ve seen that take many forms over the years, including a phase where Moon Knight had manifestations of Wolverine, Spider-Man and Captain America bouncing around his head in Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev’s 2011 series. Bemis and his artists have managed to put their own compelling spin on that element. In the current series, the warring personalities of mercenary Marc Spector, millionaire playboy Stephen Grant, streetwise cabbie Jake Lockley and even Egyptian moon god Khonshu are all sharing the same body. They’re frequently shown bickering among themselves and routinely trading off control of their shared body.
Bemis better than most is able to convey the highs and lows of Spector’s unstable personality. Part of the appeal with this characterization is the fact that it’s impossible to tell how much of Moon Knight’s world is actually tied to the supernatural. Some past books have been pretty clear that Marc Spector is indeed granted power from an ancient Egyptian god, but this series is a little more subtle. It’s never clear whether Marc actually has a bond to Khonshu or if it’s all just the hallucinations of an unstable mind. It’s reminiscent of Stephen King’s The Shining in that way. The original novel leaves little question as to whether the Overlook Hotel is genuinely haunted, whereas the 1980 film leaves room for the possibility that the Torrance family are merely suffering from a wicked case of collective cabin fever.
The new series has also been great about expanding the ranks of Moon Knight’s previously thin rogues gallery. In fact, the first two issues of Bemis and Burrows’ run feature little of Moon Knight himself. Instead, their early focus was on building up a new villain called the Sun King, establishing him as the dark mirror to Marc Spector in many ways. The series has also given us memorable new villains like The Trust and Uncle Ernst. Not only are these villains unique in terms of powers and personality, their stories intertwine with that of Moon Knight himself in clever and compelling ways. Uncle Ernst in particular has proven to be a terrific new addition to the hero’s mythology, one who played a formative role in his troubled childhood.
The current series also stands out because it’s found the ideal balance between horror and humor. As much as Bemis has established himself as a writer capable of plumbing the depths of human psychosis, he’s also perfectly willing to explore the goofier sides of these characters. He outed Marc as a Dazzler fan. He re-imagined the formerly fearsome Bushman as a compulsive over-eater who’s had his own face sliced off one too many times. One of the series’ major villains turned out to be a Cronebergian monster made up of the fused bodies of dozens of hipsters and punk rockers.
That blend of humor and horror wouldn’t be possible without artists like Burrows and Davidson bringing these scripts to life. Burrows and particular honed his ability to smash together gruesome horror and bleak, black comedy on the zombie series Crossed. Moon Knight has been a natural transition for him. In a time where too many mainstream comics jump from artist to artist with little regard for a consistent visual style, Moon Knight has shown no problem establishing and maintaining a unique sense of style.
Unfortunately, Moon Knight has continued to fly under the radar despite consistently being one of Marvel’s best books. But with the series nearing the issue #200 milestone, perhaps a few more readers will discover what they’ve been missing.
For more on Marvel, check out our reaction to the latest (insane) chapter to the Infinity Wars event: