by Warren Ellis (Writer), Declan Shalvey (Artist), Jordie Bellaire (Colorist)
The Story: It takes a special kind of crazy to assume that a completely white suit will always stay clean while going into a sewer to fight crime.
The Review: Moon Knight is a strange character with a special history. First created as an antagonist in a Werewolf by Night comic, Marc Spector then gained a bit of a following with his own title, with Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz putting quite a lot of mythos behind his stories. Many years later, after the cancellation of said title, the character has been in the hand of many other writers, with most of them trying to bring him back, yet with a twist. Charlie Huston, Gregg Hurtwitz, Brian Michael Bendis and many others then tried to bring him back to pre-eminence, each with their own twists. Still, despite the many volumes and attempts, it seems that Marvel truly has faith in the character as he receives yet another chance in the All-New Marvel Now initiative.
Cue Warren Ellis, a celebrated writer that has done quite a lot of decidedly appreciated work in the comic medium. With a certain style that can certainly adapt itself to the adventures of Marc Spector and with yet another take on the crazed vigilante, could Ellis be the one to finally make it work?
In many respects, Ellis does manage to breathe a whole new life in the character, but also in the way he operates. The major success of the writer, though, rest in the portrayal of the titular hero himself, giving him a sharp personality. With a certain penchant for sophistication, yet not devoid of a certain edge, the more cynic qualities of Ellis writing manage to make him shine throughout the entire issue. He is charismatic, seemingly in control of the situation, yet also dangerous, making him some kind of ambiguous menace. Pushing forth the approach to ambiguity that made the character appealing in the first place, the issue does not still forget that this is as much an introduction as it is a re-introduction to just who and what Marc Spector is.
It’s in that respect that the issue also work very well, with just enough information given to old time fans that they can feel that this is not merely a continuation of what they love as it is an evolution, an adaptation of the character in its essence. The Moench, Huston, Hurwitz and Bendis era are all referenced, implementing what happened as essential to the character, yet without putting an over-emphasis on them. This is a new chapter in the saga of the Moon Knight and Ellis takes full advantage of it without pushing the past back.
However, those who are not fans might be a bit lost, making the few first pages talking about the character a tad superfluous in the whole experience. They are handled with enough clarity as to ensure the essential experience of this opening is enjoyable and concise, yet some might be a tad annoyed that there is a certain slowing down in the first few opening and closing pages of the issue.
Still, despite this potential weakness, everything that happens between those possibly weaker pages is simply captivating. Making Moon Knight the clear center of the piece, Ellis still doesn’t allow for the world, the ambiance and some supporting characters to go unnoticed. The interaction between Detective Flint, his subordinates and Marc Spector makes for some particularly interesting tidbits, with police procedurals combined with a certain weirdness that allows for a dose of super heroics that is distinct, but also familiar all the same. With Ellis focusing on a weird mystery angle, the problem with the renegade S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and his overall problem with muscled people is done with a certain nuance that allows for certain themes to resonate.
One of those, which is perhaps the more obvious one, is mental health. Moon Knight is a character that has always been associated with dissociative identity disorder, with various take on what it meant for his entourage as well as himself. Here, Ellis tackles this issue with a whole new twist, putting forth a certain theory that is not only fascinating, but also definitely fitting with the character. While the explanation of the psychiatrist near the end of the issue is one that is quite impressive in terms of concept, it’s also quite ambiguous. Is this merely something that Spector imagines? Is Khonshu real? Is it just part of a personal delusion? This approach to the mystery of the character is one that is superbly befitting, with the appeal of the character conserved without resorting to unnecessary conservatism or nostalgia that would undermine the evolution that Ellis presents here.
Much of the evolution, though, is also dealt in a literal and figurative manner with how the character deals with his environment and the threats he need to fight. With Ellis favouring a more dialogue-heavy approach to the issue, the methods of Moon Knight are also changed due to his recent changes. With the character having a decidedly more violent background in his own past as well as in past volumes, this lower emphasis on action in this issue still functions like a charm, with a focus on a certain ambiance as well as dialogue that makes this issue shine in some aspects.
It is especially the dialogue that makes this issue work. While the decidedly low amount of action may be a bother to some, it is more than compensated by the rich dialogue with important amount of characterization and wit that is genuinely fun. With just enough exposition, explanation and truly memorable line, Ellis balance well enough many aspects of the issue to allow for every of his little contributions to be worthy of the rest. With even some pages without any words whatsoever, the writer shows an understanding of the medium by letting the artists set up the mood and tone to allow them to shine as well as his reinvention.
Still, to say that Declan Shalvey shines here would be an understatement. With a superb understanding of pacing and the evolution of motion from panel to panel, the issue move at a pace that allows for everything to have its own importance. With a good focus in each panels and a attention to switching between character and ensemble, Shalvey proves that he is able to work very well with dialogue heavy scenes as well as with ambiance-relying pages. The characters are a great part of this, not only because of their calculated expressions, but also due to the fact that their movements, their positions and much of everything works very well with the progression of events, putting them as an instrumental part of the whole. Another aspect that works just as well is the environment, with Shalvey putting quite a lot of effort on the background, the setting and a rather amazing number of smaller details that allows for a certain richness in close to every panels. The page in which Moon Knight descends into the sewer, the hallucination he suffers in, the mountain in the backgrounds in the scene with the psychiatrist, the underground base, the street and everything else has its own identity, making the environment as much a player as the characters and the action.
The big star of this issue in terms of visuals, however, is Jordie Bellaire. Her colorization is simply gorgeous here, with a wide range, a tight direction and some effects that are frankly just amazing to look at. The use of darkness as a negative space in the sewers, the simple contrast of warm and cold in some key moments, the low shading and clear delimitation of her work makes the issue sing in terms of art. The best, however, is how she achieves the focus on Marc Spector himself, putting him in complete white in order to make him stand out everywhere he goes. The scenes in which Moon Knight interacts with the real world makes him a mystery, but a compelling one, as if he did not fit in anywhere he goes, making him that much more fascinating in terms of simple appearances. With plenty of her tricks on the pages, Bellaire is showing why she is a highly sought-after colorist here.
The Conclusion: As an opening issue as well as a continuation of Moon Knight’s adventures, this book does quite a lot of things right. A rich and mysterious take, a simply superb artistic direction and tons of things for newer and older fans to enjoy, this is a masterful take on the character that should please plenty of people. Heavily recommended.
-Hugo Robberts Larivière