[30 July 2014]
PopMatters Comics Editor
It feels like something of a false dawn now (and not for the obvious reasons), that shake-up that happened in the wake of Shadowland—the shake-up that was supposed to reorganize all the street-level/solo heroes in the Marvel Universe after Daredevil built a Kingdom of Evil in NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen. Something of a false dawn now, because reading Marvel’s newest invigoration of its solo heroes—Iron Fist, Punisher, All New Ghost Rider, Elektra, Black Widow, even Daredevil (although, to be fair, Daredevil did come much, much earlier a soft reboot that happened almost immediately when that first wave of soft reboots hit more or less a year after Shadowland)—it’s beginning to feel like a genuine, all-out reinvigoration. Like something essential to blocking the flow of popculture has finally crumpled and given way to a raging torrent.
In a strange twist, it’s once again Moon Knight that I feel most hopeful about, as a title, through the entire re-up. But this time round, it’s not exactly the same sense of wonder that gets me there. And not at all the fact that as problematic a hero as Moon Knight may well be, that I always seem to end up rooting for him.
I really liked Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s Moon Knight all the way back to three summers ago, in the full bloom 2011. It had a popcorny-hopeful quality to it, when it began, but even as it morphed throughout its 12-month long run, I still really liked it, pretty much because my sensibility morphed a little along with it. But Moon Knight, the Moon Knight of back then, wasn’t a project equal in scope to Bendis and Maleev’s first team-up, Daredevil. It was smaller, more compact but far from sleeker or more stripped-down.
The Moon Knight of the summer of 2011, had this insanely mellowed Joss Whedon feel to it. I don’t mean that as a backhanded compliment, but a genuine one. Within the space of a few opening issues, Marc Spector (Moon Knight’s primary alter ego, because, y’know, he had three not counting the superhero aspect), had set himself up in Hollywood as show-runner on, would you believe it “Moon Knight the TV Show,” had a plucky assistant who would cover for him when he needed to escape work, had a not-quite-disgraced former-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent assisting him with tech, had a retooled psychosis which saw him manifest Captain America, Wolverine and Spider-man as allies rather than the Moon God Khonshu, and had an unseen new mastermind villain calling himself the Kingpin of LA.
Just that set-up felt Buffy the Vampire Slayer good. And after the gut-wrenching, anxiety-ridden delights that were neonoir novelist Charlie Huston’s run on the title, followed by Entourage-writer Doug Benson’s run, followed by transmedia writer and crime novelist par excellence Gregg Hurwitz’s sublime Vengeance of the Moon Knight in which Moon Knight swore off killing, embraced punishment, and instead confronted the craziest collection of rogues since Batman’s original launch of the Joker, Two-Face, Catwoman, the Riddler, et. al.
Right now though, I’ve been relishing in “Scarlet” for the past few weeks, Moon Knight #5. And generally in what British writer Warren Ellis has been doing with the character since the relaunch’s first issue. There’s something pinpoint about these issues, something surgical—instantaneous single-shots that happen at the precise moment you before you fall down. It’s the kind of writing that Ellis pioneered a decade or more ago in the pages of Fell and elsewhere (most notably Planetary), something like a direct injection. But this issue, “Scarlet,” absolutely breaks the mold.
“Scarlet” wanders into Tarantino territory. Moon Knight #5 is a testament to the surrealization (not a word, do not use as one) of violence. This isn’t the fraught masculinities-under-fire on display each week in Ray Donovan, this issue’s closer to the primal underneath that Ann Biderman’s magnificently sleek exterior conceals. This issue is nothing but wall-to-wall beating up bad guys almost from page one, exactly like those old side-screen scrollers (remember Bad Dudes, or better yet, Kung Fu?). And yet, underneath that all, you get to some kind of heart for Moon Knight, something that Moon Knight’s About capital ay. Beyond the things that he does like dressing up like the moon or killing bad guys (is he killing bad guys in Ellis’s version? It doesn’t seem like it, seems like Hurwitz’s change to the character has been grandfathered in), there’s something like a raison d’être forming around Ellis’s Moon Knight, a new high concept, the possibility of Moon Knight becoming a genre.
And in a single blow, we’re living in exciting times again. Like when Frank Miller helmed Daredevil, or Bob Layton on Iron Man or indeed, Warren Ellis on the Thunderbolts. A time when the debate who’s running the show, the publisher or the writer, hadn’t yet been definitively settled. And for bringing this new kind of energy into monthly comicbooks, Ellis and series regular artist Declan Shalvey deserve kudos.
“I’m the one you see coming,” Mr. Knight says in the pages of “Scarlet.” Is he speaking about his honoring the precepts of a long-dead moon god, or about Ellis’s unique reinvigoration?