One of the more remarkable series relaunches Marvel has put out in the past year has been the most recent volume of Moon Knight. Since the 2007 series written by Charlie Huston, the character has gradually worked his way out of obscurity and into the limelight over several relaunched series and guest roles in books such as the 2010 volume of Secret Avengers. With the launch of the latest series, initially helmed by Warren Ellis with illustrations by Declan Shalvey, the character and comic have taken on a life of their own, beginning a narrative format unlike anything seen in Marvel’s other books.
Throughout the series’ run, each issue has featured single-shot, episodic stories told with uniquely cinematic narratives. This creative approach has made for one of the most consistently compelling and artful superhero books on shelves, detailing stories of crime, horror and international intrigue. With the introduction of writer Cullen Bunn and artist Ron Ackins on issue #13, the tone of the series has harkened back to the gothic aura of Moon Knight’s earliest adventures in the 80s: as a stalwart crusader against the things that go bump in the night. With issue #17, Moon Knight’s journey, and faith, reach an apex.
The issue begins in the aftermath of the events of the past few issues, during which Moon Knight has discovered that he may not be the only avatar of the Egyptian Moon deity, Khonshu, and that the others are not quite as humanitarian. The story opens outside a sketchy-looking shelter, where homeless men and women are being corralled inside. One of the homeless, an elderly man in a long white beard, is shown around the shelter by one of the administrators. The old man begins to noticed odd occurrences throughout the shelter, including residents being assigned designated panhandling spots and prepped with weapons for more “aggressive methods” of income. The old man is then shown down into the basement, where human sacrifices are being performed in a Church to Khonshu.
The old man reveals himself to be Moon Knight in disguise, who quickly dispatches the executioners. Before Moon Knight can throttle the tour guide for the convent’s blasphemy of Khonshu, he is then informed by some well-dressed attendees that he’s been expected. Moon Knight is shown to an elevator, which takes him up to a penthouse. There, he encounters a blue-skinned woman draped in moon-styled jewelry and attire. The woman declares that Moon Knight, as a fellow servant of Khonshu, is both her brother and husband. Moon Knight accuses the woman of defiling the ways of Khonshu, for which she laughs at him for his naivety, declaring that Khonshu’s whims change “like the phases of the moon”.
The exchange brings to a head an intriguing recurrent theme throughout the various Moon Knight series: crisis of faith. Unlike a character like Matt Murdock, who’s Catholic faith is more of a moral grounding than a dedicated devotion, Moon Knight views himself as a true representative of Khonshu on Earth, even referring to himself as a priest in Cullen’s earlier issues. Even so, he is regularly, directly at odds with Khonshu, who in the past has also shown disappointment with Moon Knight for his increased leniency with evildoers (he is no longer, for example, mutilating and killing them like in Huston’s series).
Whether or not Khonsu is actually present or a figment of Moon Knight’s fragmented psyche remains unclear, but his faith in the symbol and image of Khonsu is definite. At the same time, despite his threats to disregard or abandon Khonsu in his pursuit of justice, Moon Knight maintains a wishful belief in the deity who supposedly saved his life, regularly returning to his service.
The complications of Moon Knight’s faith are seen in this scene. Moon Knight accuses the woman of perverting Khonshu’s ways, declaring that if he’s wrong Khonshu will stop him from defeating her. When he is initially felled by the woman, he expresses his disappointment by declaring to Khonsu, “this isn’t you.” He declares once more, “If I’m right, stay my hand.” He finds the strength to fight, defeating the woman in one blow. Whether or not he is always in agreement with Khonshu, Moon Knight shows his want to believe in his God as a savior and figure of justice.
Whether or not he is truly given strength from Khonshu or he just believes so is not entirely clear in the scene, nor has it been throughout the character’s history, and shows the depths of his belief. Despite his disputes with the moon god, whether or not Moon Knight is capable of pursuing justice without his faith or Khonshu’s presence is a worthwhile question.
After the woman is defeated, she asks Moon Knight how he can be so narrow minded, and whether or not both of their gods can coexist. Moon Knight shows no pity, instead setting fire to the building. Outside, the residents and attendees of the building are released from what appears to be mind control, and Moon Knight is seem stumbling down the alleyway, with Khonshu at his aid.
Despite the simplicity of the issue’s final scenes, the interactions leave much to examine in view of the fight as not just one of will and strength, but of faiths. It’s a depth that the series has become known for over its seventeen issues, and Cullen successfully continues the trend set by Ellis and Wood. While the art by Ackins doesn’t measure to that of Shalvey, and looks a little indefinite in some of its outlines, it still manages to skillfully portray environments and faces with the proper eeriness the series has pursued, including within the first few pages perhaps the most unnerving false smile ever drawn in a comic.
Marvel has yet to reveal the plans for Moon Knight post “Secret Wars”, if any, but here’s hoping this series doesn’t go away, as it has set an excellent example for comics.