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Moon Knight: The Death of Marc Spector

(Marvel; US: Jun 2009)

Reading Charlie Huston’s reboot of the Moon Knight character in early 2006 would prove demanding on many levels. At first glance, the pairing of novelist Huston with artist David Finch, seemed to make for a complex, rigid and difficult comics. The story of ‘The Bottom’ was progressed through three loosely-connected platforms; cinematic visuals, rarefied dialogue between characters and a terse ‘voiceover’ from the lead in the form of caption boxes. What seemed to rescue the first issue, and provide a reconciliation of the story with the medium of comics, was Huston’s brutal characterization of Moon Knight Marc Spector’s savagery.


But far from presenting an impoverished cinema or a garish prose ‘picture-book’, Huston and Finch’s Moon Knight would already by the second issue be revealed as a radical new form of comics. A visceral comics. Protagonist Marc Spector’s savagery would prove nothing more than a gateway for readers to access these comics themselves. With ‘Glories such as these’, the initial storyarc’s closing chapter, the cinematic panning, the pseudo-staccato voiceover and the complex near-abstruse inter-character dialogue all serve a purpose. Huston was telling a story about bodies, and with it comes a clear logic of violence.


For Huston’s vision of Moon Knight it would prove necessary that dialogue between characters appear as ornate, even deceptive. The world of Huston’s Moon Knight is an essay in the futility of words and even more so the their capacity to misdirect from the honesty and openness of action. Even the pseudo-cinematic panning makes sense in this setting of ultra-violence. The clumsy approximation of a camera’s fluid panning movements, emphasizes the moments of physical exchange. Finch’s long-shots, tilts and pans provide readers with a visual paradox. In at first thinking of these panels as a clumsy attempt a film, the audience must grapple with the idea of what this kind of comics can never be. That sense of loss experienced by the reader endures, fueling the emotional core of the story: the still fierce and proud heart of an athlete beating in a body that is now beginning to wear down.


It would not be unfair to draw a comparison between the Moon Knight of Huston and Finch and filmmaker Darren Aronofsky’s 2008 offering The Wrestler. In both pieces, the lead characters’ central conflicts lie mastering broken bodies that become a visual metaphor for their psychic degeneration. In developing his vision of Moon Knight, Huston relies more heavily on the character’s supernatural roots than previous writers have. Spector finds himself not only in spiritual morass of self-loathing, but also the avatar of a bloodthirsty Egyptian god of Vengeance. Not unlike Michael Moorcock’s Elric, Spector is both loathing and desirous of the power granted him in his role as vengeful emissary.


Huston crafts almost the perfect Moon Knight, then. He offers a reliance on physicality rather than thought or emotion. He portrays Spector as being in the throes of self-destruction; a downward-spiral begun after a vicious assault on his body. And a Moon Knight in the ethical (and eventually psychical) turmoil of reveling in a power of which he is ultimately distrustful. This is also a Moon Knight that has been perfectly timed. By 2006 it had been seven years since the demise of Marc Spector at the end of the longest-running Moon Knight title, Marc Spector: Moon Knight. The character had receded from the mainstream of the popular imagination, and was prime for a re-launch.


Working with writer Mike Benson, artist Mark Texeira (who was responsible for penciling duties on ‘High Strangeness’, a brief but unsuccessful attempt at resurrecting Moon Knight in late 1999), provides an engaging palette of classic Moon Knight visualizations. It is the kind of comics that readers of Moon Knight from the 1980’s would recall fondly. Characters appear ‘half-masked’; while out of costume one side of their face bears their superhero mask. Villains’ maniacal rage come to be clearly depicted in translucent heads hovering above them as they sit at boardroom tables.


Benson himself is not without recourse to re-evoking old tropes. The final conflict between Spector and Bullseye seems reminiscent of the latter’s ongoing battles with Daredevil. ‘The Death of Marc Spector’ is an unresolved theme from earlier series featuring the character, most notably Marc Spector: Moon Knight. This time however, the ‘death’ of Spector refers simply to Moon Knight’s cessation of the Marc Spector secret identity one of three he created for himself, rather than a physical death as in previous titles. And finally the necessary rejection of Moon Knight’s superhero registration card recalls the hero burning his Avengers’ membership card after discovering he had been duped by his supernatural patron.


Despite being incredibly easy to read, and self-contained in the sense that any knowledge of Marvel goings-on that might affect the character appear within the book’s pages, The Death Of Marc Spector seems lacking. The nature of Spector having ‘defeated’ his supernatural patron and having ‘freed’ himself from that influence offers a remarkable narrative opportunity for either exploring or refuting the notion of ‘character-as-destiny’. Yet this thread remains largely unused. Beyond such criticism of characterization however, is the overriding question of ‘Why?’. Huston offered a glimpse into no longer defeated by the almost mandatory exploration of the character’s history. Yet the new creative team seems to supplant the leap forward offered by Huston.

Rating:

AB-, ENTJ, PhD: shathley Q is deeply moved by the emotional connection we build with our perpetual fictions, and hopes to answer for that somehow, somehow. He holds a Doctorate in Literary and Cultural Theory. His writings have appeared in Joss Whedon: the Complete Companion and Ages of Heroes, Eras of Men, as well as regularly on PopMatters. Like a kid in a china shop, he microblogs as @uuizardry on Twitter. Or hit him up directly on shathleyq@popmatters.com.


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