Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

09 July 2010

Essential Moon Knight, v. 1

Collects: Werewolf by Night #32-3, Marvel Spotlight #28-9, Spectacular Spider-Man #22-3, Marvel Two-in-One #52, stories from Hulk! Magazine #11-5, 17-8, and 20, Marvel Preview #21, Moon Knight #1-10 (1975-6, 1978-81)

Released: February 2006 (Marvel)

Format: 560 pages / black and white / $16.99 / ISBN: 0785120920

What is this?: Moon Knight, a former mercenary, becomes a superhero with the worst secret identities ever.

The culprits: Writer Doug Moench, penciler Bill Sienkiewicz, and others

Two Essentials in two weeks — this time it’s Essential Moon Knight, v. 1.

I mentioned that Essential Daredevil, v. 4, fell between “classic” runs that people have actually read. There is, however, no real classic run of Moon Knight — unless you’re talking about the issues graced by Bill Sienkiewicz’s art.

Essential Moon Knight, v. 1 coverBut before I talk about the Sienkiewicz’s art, which is the highlight of v. 1, let’s go over what Moon Knight is. Moon Knight is yet another New York based vigilante. His two twists are that he wears all white — an odd choice for a man who fights crime in the dark — and that he has three different secret identities: a rich socialite, a cab driver, and a mercenary. The latter is the role he fulfilled before becoming Moon Knight, but none of the identities seem more natural than any of the others. In fact, both Moon Knight and his girlfriend, Marlene, believe the different roles are causing him mental problems. There are no real indications of that in the story, but it does lead to the least concealed secret IDs in Marvel history; it’s hard to believe any villains would have trouble unraveling the whole thing, and indeed, several villains (and a few normal New Yorkers) discover his secret.

Sienkiewicz didn’t co-create the character with writer Doug Moench — that honor belongs to Don Perlin — but he is identified with the character because he penciled 35 of the next 40 Moon Knight stories after he teamed up with Moench on Hulk! Magazine #13. It was his first comics work, and even though his work isn’t immediately polished, when he takes over the drawing of Moon Knight about a third of the way through this volume, the stories suddenly get a little jolt to them. It isn’t the more impressionistic work that I adored in his New Mutants run, but by the time Moon Knight gets his own title, Sienkiewicz’s command of action scenes is outstanding, and his draftsmanship is excellent — impressive superheroic art, in short. There are hints of more inspired work to come; his drawings of Marlene on hallucinogenic drugs in Moon Knight #7-8, for instance, are creepy and affecting without overly distorting her into a monster.

I’m not a big fan of Moench’s writing, but what I dislike isn’t unlike his contemporaries. There are a lot of over-the-top captions and thought bubbles — they’re at early Claremont levels, at times — but although they grate on my nerves, they were de rigueur at the time. Like many novice heroes, Moench does face the problem of establishing credible villains for Moon Knight. His nemesis, Raoul Bushman, is a black man who has no powers but does have a white death’s mask tattooed on his face; the only other recurring villain is a glorified thief. A lot of the villains come from Moon Knight’s past: Bushman, Moon Knight’s brother, CIA cohorts, etc. (In one case, it’s a sidekick’s abandoned son.) There are a couple of serial killers with specific kinds of targets — bums or nurses or what have you. It doesn’t, unfortunately, lead to memorable stories.

The identity angle is Moon Knight’s strongest idea, but it doesn’t quite work in v. 1. While readers are supposed to be watching Moon Knight’s core identity break down, Moench never quite shows what that core identity is. Is he more the mercenary he was before he became Moon Knight? Is the socialite readers (and Marlene) wish he was? Or is he the cabbie he seems most comfortable as? It’s not a question that’s answered, and Moench was probably keeping it open to further his plots. But that means Moon Knight is the dominant aspect of the book, and that’s not a good sign — Moon Knight is a bland hero, not that different from dozens of other Marvel heroes at the time. He fights crime, he has girlfriend and a supporting cast, he has mistakes in his past — or actually, he doesn’t; it’s the mercenary who has the latter.

The mercenary is most interesting aspect of his personality, one that raises questions that weren’t often raised by Marvel in the Silver and Bronze ages: was he as bad as the mercenaries and spies he associated with? Does he still have that killing streak? Was his transformation to hero as simple as a pretty girl, an Egyptian statue, and a sudden desire to stop killing senselessly? By the end of the book, Moench has wisely inserted a supernatural element to the story, making Moon Knight wonder whether the Egyptian god Khonshu is truly looking out for him or using him or whether Khonshu is just a story his mind has latched onto. That’s a hook for the character’s mental illness that is interesting; hopefully Essential Moon Knight, v. 2, follows up on this.

There have been three Essential volumes of Moon Knight — that’s more than there are for the Sub-Mariner (1), Nick Fury (0 — neither a SHIELD nor Howlin’ Commandos volume), Captain Marvel (1), Silver Surfer (2), or Power Man & Iron Fist (2).46 It’s as many Essentials as X-Factor, Ghost Rider, Marvel Team-Up, Marvel Two-in-One, or the Punisher have received. This is bizarre, given that it is a forgettable superhero book from the early ‘80s. So why are there three volumes? Either it’s nostalgia for a very strong creative period or Marvel, or the reprint editors at Marvel think Bill Sienkiewicz is as awesome as I do.

Rating: Marvel symbol Marvel symbol Half Marvel symbol (2.5 of 5)

Labels: , , , , , ,


Blogger Marc said...

This book has been sitting on my shelf for a couple of years now, but I have yet to read it for whatever reason. Along with most of my other Essentials, it probably has to do with the fact that I usually prioritize reading books in color before ones in B&W (when they were originally printed in color, that is).

Moon Knight has always looked interesting though, especially the Sienkiewicz pages. I'm still not sure whether those were originally published in color or in B&W...but either way, they look really, really good in the Essential format.

11:18 AM  
Blogger Raoul said...

Moon Knight was a color book, but Hulk! Magazine was black and white, so those pages should look about the same. I always find it weird, though, that original black-and-white pages in Essentials look darker than those that were printed in color. It's the case here and in Essential Tomb of Dracula 4 and something else ... it's almost looks like they were scanned from off-white pages.

In any event, if you have any interest in the Sienkiewicz pages, I'd suggest starting with Moon Knight #1; it won't take as long (only ten issues), and the story is better at that point as well.

12:06 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home