Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: Alex Maleev
Colors by: Matt Hollingsworth
Lettering by: VC’s Cory Petit
Cover by: Alex Maleev
Bendis’s reboot of Moon Knight is a off-beat superhero book that is hard to nail-down. You can draw some similarities to Image’s 2009 Cowboy Ninja Viking (a comic by A.J. Lieberman and Riley Rossmo), but it doesn’t get much beyond surface detail. Marc Spector (aka Moon Knight) and Duncan both have 3 personalities. While Duncan had a cowboy, ninja, and viking running around his head; Spector has Captain America, Spider-Man, and Wolverine. The personalities in Moon Knight speak with color coded speech balloons (Capt. America is blue, Spider-Man is Red, Wolverine is Yellow), akin to how Cowboy Ninja Viking had their icons (a katana for the ninja, a gun for the cowboy, and an axe for the viking). However that’s where the likeness ends as each series varies in plot, tone, and complexity. Those comparisons aside, Moon Knight is unlike any comic I have read.
The plot is new-school noir with a dash of Sybil and a Hollywood twist. Marc Spector moves to LA to work on some TV show about his adventures as Moon Knight called “Legends of the Khonshu”. On one of his patrols as Moon Knight he intercepts the delivery of a Ultron robot body (a seed for the upcoming Ultron War?) and decides to try to find the kingpin of LA and shut him down. He’s losing his shit and seeing things. Visions of Captain America, Spider-Man and Wolverine show up to give him advice along the way. Spector teams up with Daredevil’s ex-girlfriend Echo, and ex-SHIELD agent Buck Lime as his R&D weapons guy (like Q from James Bond) as he fumbles around LA’s underworld. While the plot may seem like standard comic book fare, it’s really the nuanced decompressed approach that Bendis takes to the narrative that makes this a worthwhile read. He takes Moon Knight, a long-lost character that basically nobody cares about anymore, and gives him some real depth, personality and charm. Marc Spector is a flawed hero, arguably one of the most flawed ones in the Marvel Universe because of his history with schizophrenia, demon possession, multiple personalities and blood lust. Bendis makes small moments matter. He brings out the more humanistic qualities of Moon Knights faults. The kind of thing a reader can connect to. Spector is an eccentric outsider that’s self-conscious about being a d-listed super hero. He’s brash and makes hasty decisions leaving him prone to easy mistakes. He tries to be a cad, like Tony Stark, but just ends up kind of being a crappy flirt and having a lot more heart than you’d think. He’s kind of funny in a pathetic sort of way. In short, Marc Spector fails more than he succeeds, and is a lovable loser trying to redeem himself and pull out of a downward spiral. He’s that crazy underdog that you can’t help rooting for.
Last issue we learned that Count Nefaria (an old X-men and Avengers villain) turns out to be the LA kingpin and are left with a cliffhanger showdown. Issue 9 opens with a B-Story flashback to a scene with Buck Lime from a week ago. Marc basically tell’s him that he wants weapons like Captain America, Spider-Man, and Wolverine (a shield, web-shooters, and claws). The whole issue cross-cuts between the B-story of how his weapons get engineered and the present battle with Count Nefaria. He uses these weapons to narrowly escape powerful attacks and throw Nefaria off his game. Meanwhile, Marc Spector’s personalities start to bicker and fight as combat between Nefaria, Moon Knight, and Echo intensifies. Captain America think he should call in the Avengers and get out of there, Spider-Man is smart ass about the whole affair, and Wolverine just wants to kill Nefaria. The issues climaxes with a critical injury and Spector’s mind going haywire. Captain America, Spider-Man and Wolverine fight to the death inside his head and he begins to unravel. Just as things start to really get interesting it concludes with one mother of a cliffhanger. I was left a bit gobsmacked by it to tell you the truth, but am reluctant to spoil it. This is the strength of decompressed storytelling. By the building up small scenes and cross-cutting with action like an editor you can really drive the narrative to a dizzying climax and make it feel as if you just watched a crucial episode of a TV show. Like the episode right before a season finale. The only thing I think we are missing from Bendis is perhaps some big set-piece that really screams Los Angeles. How about a fight scene at Mann’s Chinese Theater where Moon Knight can’t tell between the dressed-up characters and his visions. Or Explosions on Hollywood & Vine; Spector having duel in the Viper Room; A chase scene through a full crowd at Venice Beach; An escape through the LA River. You get the idea. Moon Knight is in LA, let’s fuck it up.
Alex Maleev’s art on this is very textural, almost like something you would see coming out of a figure drawing class. There’s a rough, expressionistic and somewhat scratchy quality to his inked brush work, which contrast to some of the smooth fine lines that are penned in the background. He doesn’t shy away from logotypes or typesetting in signage, giving credibility to even the most mundane scene. Also I got to say that I like that Maleev got away from the heavy use of photo references like he was using on Spiderwoman. He relied on it so much that they gave credit to the model he used for Jessica Drew and it distracted format he content of the story. It’s still apparent that references are used, but they are much more loosely interpreted. Matt Hollingsworth, who also worked with Maleev on Spiderwoman, colors in a way that pops off the page and makes LA feel like the neon-soaked broken playground that it is. It’s the coloring that really sets the mood and atmosphere for the comic. This issue is more about the night and royal blue tones are used in the same way the movie Heat was color graded with cool tones for night. Hollingsworth helps the separation that Maleev creates between the layers of foreground and background, and knockouts the inked lines where appropriate with a color overlay. Special effects radiate subtly, and are not overly photoshopped. The panels are richer for it. The cover, which is all Maleev, is striking in its color and design. It’s a blue-man Spector with yellow eyes, tearing through his Moon Knight cloak on a textured painted background. It’s stark design that possibly alludes to Spector shedding some of the baggage of his personalities.
Bendis puts Moon Knight on overdrive and sends his ass over-the-edge. Whether he lands or even come out the other side is up in the air. Literally anything could happen. That’s what great about this series. It’s an unpredictable wild ride with a fractured super-hero that’s falling apart. This series was a slow-burn to start with and now it finally has the momentum and interest to be truly great. I’m hooked and somehow I care about Moon Knight now. Making Spector vulnerable and crazy worked. He’s a good guy and I hope he pull his shit together. I’m curious to see what happens next.
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