Best Shots Advance Review: MOON KNIGHT #1

"Moon Knight #1" preview
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Moon Knight #1
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Greg Smallwood and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

It’s not paranoia if they’re really after you.

Credit: Marvel Comics

For years, Marvel has toyed off and on with the ongoing psychoses of Marc Spector, the Fist of Khonshu, the white-clad vigilante known as Moon Knight. Yet in this latest installment — the character’s third debut issue in five years — writer Jeff Lemire joins returning artist Greg Smallwood to dive deep into the mind of Marc Spector, evoking the kind of madhouse drama of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest more than traditional superheroics. While it’s unclear if Lemire’s story will have the staying power to succeed or not, Smallwood and colorist Jordie Bellaire turn in some potent artwork to hook in new and returning readers.

Given Lemire’s history writing dark and twisted characters from books ranging from Sweet Tooth to Animal Man, watching him tackle the slipping and sliding world of Marc Spector’s thoughts makes for a great introduction to this book, particularly because Smallwood and Bellaire take the ball and run with it. The first few pages in particular have a rough inking and color style in the vein of seminal Moon Knight artist Bill Sienkiewicz, showing a dream-like — or is it nightmarish? — version of an Egyptian temple, cut by negative space and Spector’s white hospital robes.

Credit: Marvel Comics

And this is the part where I make an apology. I remember when Brian Wood and Smallwood took over Moon Knight from the dream team of Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey, and I commented that Smallwood “had the bad luck of filling some very big shoes.” So it’s to his credit and Lemire’s that this time, Smallwood is making this series all his own, with some particularly beautiful — and sometimes terrifying — imagery, from a page where his panels are whittled down to an exclamation point, or the frightening realization that Marc stole a pen from his therapist’s office, beautifully punctuated as a spot of blood red amidst Bellaire’s cool blues and whites. Even Cory Petit’s sharp lettering for Khonshu’s call is a great visual in a book that’s all about disorienting readers and keeping them on their toes.

Credit: Marvel Comics

That disorientation winds up being both Moon Knight’s edge and potentially its downfall. Lemire is working on some pretty well-worn tropes from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, particularly the idea of sadistic orderlies keeping the misunderstood heroes under their thumb. There is, however, a great nugget of characterization to Lemire’s premise, as he casually drops in inmates from Marc’s past — namely, with a character with a psychological history as troubling as Moon Knight’s, can we really believe any of it to be real? Given that the character has been around since the ‘80s, though, it’s easy to power through any doubt Marc might be having, and once we do see this truly scary Moon Knight in action, the ending falls a bit flat. There’s clearly something going on — otherwise, there is no series — and the truth behind Marc’s illusions doesn’t quite live up to the sort of existential dread Lemire, Smallwood and Bellaire have been building up.

Marvel has been doubling down on Moon Knight for years now, perhaps in part because of the popularity of its other street-level characters in multimedia — but even when they’ve put A-list writers like Brian Michael Bendis on the title, something’s kept Marc Spector from really catching on fire. (Even Warren Ellis’s acclaimed run only lasted six issues!) And so the question of Jeff Lemire and Greg Smallwood’s new take on Moon Knight isn’t so much panache or execution as much as it is staying power — especially since they’ve seemed to burn through most of their marketing hook by the end of the first issue. At this point, whether or not Moon Knight has more legs beyond the obvious elevator pitch remains to be seen.

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