Jun 16 2015

Back Panels: Moon Knight – From the Dead & Dead Will Rise

Moon Knight: From the Dead

In what we hope to be an ongoing column, we look at runs you might have missed but really should take a look at. Guest columnist Jaime Lawrence, Owner of Good Games Hurstville, catches up on one of the best comics of the last year. This is Back Panels.

Moon Knight, Vol. 1: From the DeadMoon Knight is definitely not Superman. He’s not Wolverine. He’s not Hawkeye, Deathstroke, Iron Fist, Green Arrow or even Vibe. What he is, is crazy. Not Deadpool, off-the-wall crazy — he suffers from dissociative and multiple personality disorders, he’s borderline psychopathic and he may or may not speak to an ancient Egyptian moon deity that gives him enhanced abilities. It isn’t always clear.

The character has, since his creation in 1975, been regularly reinvented and struggled to find a consistent identity and voice. His insanity leads him to a gross intolerance of his enemies. His only recurring nemesis, Bushman, died when Moon Knight carved off his face with one of his signature crescent-shaped daggers. He is a mystically-powered superhero who, oddly, uses Batman-level gadgetry to fight crime. The exact nature of his ‘powers’, or if he even has any, is unclear. Maybe he’s just a crazy, brutal person who dislikes crime. It’s not the tone that Marvel is currently seeking for it’s cinematic universe.

Despite all of this, the Marvel NOW! MOON KNIGHT series, initially by Warren Ellis (Nextwave, Transmetropolitan, Trees), then taken to new heights by Brian Wood (DMZ, X-Men, Northlanders), is probably the best series you haven’t read. Before we can tell you why (and SPOILERS: we will tell you why), you need a little more detail on who this insane, white-clad vigilante is and how he got to the point that he is in this series. This isn’t all the details, all the characters or all the events – it’s the backstory you need to understand Moon Knight.

Marc Spector was a mercenary working with a crew in Egypt that attacked an archaeological dig, When he stood up for a man murdered in cold blood by his boss, he was beaten and left for dead in the desert. Dying in the shadow of the Pyramid of Khonshu, the ancient Egyptian god of the Moon, Spector was restored to life and empowered by the god. He gained his vengeance and returned to the US, where he assumed the title of Moon Knight. Clad in Khonshu’s shroud, a bright white hooded cape (Spector calls his costume ‘vestments’), Spector begins cleaning up the streets of New York. He also creates two other identities for himself. Grant, a socialite, and Lockley, a cab driver, giving him access to all levels of society in his fight against crime. After a few years, including a stint with the West Coast Avengers, he retired. At least, that’s how it was all written in the seventies and eighties.

In 2006, Charlie Huston and David Finch relaunched Moon Knight, bringing Marc Spector out of retirement when Khonshu and Bushman return to his life. He once again becomes Moon Knight, but it is clear in this series that he is not a stable person. He talks to Khonshu, who wears Bushman’s faceless body while visiting Spector. Khonshu is not only God of the Moon, but of Vengeance, insisting that Moon Knight take the lives of criminals to slake his bloodlust.

Spector’s battle against his inner demons, multiple personalities and Khonshu ends with him going to L.A. and making a TV show based on himself. Moon Knight appeared a few more times around the Marvel Universe, notably clashing with the Norman Osborn-led Thunderbolts, but he largely lay quiet until 2014, when the character was paired with a notably cynical writer who had, many times previously, created or written unhinged and unstable characters; Warren Ellis.

Moon Knight, Vol. 2: Dead Will Rise

Ellis’ MOON KNIGHT, collected in a book titled FROM THE DEAD, establishes Moon Knight as effortlessly and often unexpectedly shifting between his multiple personalities, each of whom has different talents. Ellis’ sharp writing is supported by the excellent costume designs and illustration of Declan Shalvey. Khonshu appears and speaks to Spector, disapproving of his restraint and encouraging him to brutalise more criminals. He sometimes obliges, but often does not. All of the Ellis issues see Moon Knight dealing with street-level threats, no super-villains. The book is witty, clever and offers a picture of a damaged, deranged man who struggles to remain a vigilante at large in the modern era of cameras and internet. It’s a great read, but the best is yet to come.

Moon Knight, Vol. 2: Dead Will RiseBrain Wood’s subsequent trade, DEAD WILL RISE, sees Spector consulting a therapist, trying to regain control and understand himself. He allows her to use hypnotherapy on him and through that, she contacts Khonshu, offering herself as an instrument of vengeance not on small time criminals, but on an African warlord who slaughtered her family. She proves to Khonshu that she would make a better host and he leaves Spector, who is quickly apprehended by the authorities, powerless.

Spector’s quest to regain Khonshu’s favour is a brutal, punishing one, but it shows him to be a resourceful, intelligent, capable and heroic character. This is Moon Knight at its absolute best, a hero embracing his dark side and flaws and overcoming them in the name of justice. The bottom line is that this is superheroing from a writer at the top of his game. Greg Smallwood’s art is simple, clear and elegant, allowing the story to shine through. Brian Wood’s MOON KNIGHT needs to hit the top of your reading pile right now, if you haven’t read it. Go grab a copy and let it remind you why you love superhero comics, because even if he isn’t Superman, Green Arrow or Hawkeye, even if he is crazy and even if he doesn’t really have powers, in this book, Moon Knight is truly a hero.

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