Bendis & Maleev Reclaim the Hidden Tensions in 'Moon Knight'

All Alone: What the creative team of Bendis & Maleev effect is a subtle reclaiming of the emotional core of the Moon Knight character.

It's been a rough road to define a workable character arc for the Moon Knight character. The new creative team might just be the equal of the estimable run by crime writer Charlie Huston. That is, if writer Brian Michael Bendis has truly returned to top form.

Moon Knight #1

Publisher: Marvel
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev
Price: $3.99
Publication Date: 2011-07

By the time its second year of publication kicked off, Moon Knight was already facing An End. Issue 13, 'The Uses of Restraint' saw Marc Spector's Moon Knight enlist the aid of recurring series villain the Profile, to run psych-ops mind games on the man in charge of Spector's psychiatric evaluation. The reason behind such a complex deception? Spector was joining the Initiative, a government-sanctioned superhero program. With the broader Marvel Universe come crashing in, it was clear that the experiment begun by crime writer Charlie Huston in issue one of this fourth series of Moon Knight, was now convincingly over.

'Uses' wasn't the Moon Knight readers had come to expect over the course of the previous 12 issues, an annual and a standalone one-shot. If anything these 14 books had underlined Moon Knight's virulently independent streak. Huston took Moon Knight back to the streets. He foregrounded the character's violence and mental instability, which was a bold decision that seemed to signal Moon Knight more as an independent book, rather than one fitting in with the broader corporate sentiment of Marvel at the time.

Sure "Midnight Sun", the series' second storyarc was littered with guest appearances by other Marvel characters. Spidey had shown up, as had the Punisher, but these were more cameos than real teamwork. These characters were 'known points' to map out how very different the complex psychology of Moon Knight was... and how very much outside the mainstream of the Marvel Universe Spector stood.

Even the appearance of Cap and Iron Man in that storyarc's Civil War tie-ins seemed to underscore Moon Knight's independence. Neither Steve Rogers' Captain America nor Tony Stark's Iron Man wanted Moon Knight to join in the Civil War. He was better left out in the cold.

Charlie Huston's Moon Knight set a new standard for the character, artwork by David Finch

So in issue 13, with the change in direction and Spector actively pursuing a place in the Initiative, the Moon Knight that had been such a vibrant and canny portrayal of the character's weaknesses was over. Vengeance of the Moon Knight, the successor series that saw Gregg Hurwitz script Moon Knight on an upwards path to reclaim a place as a superhero (and disavow the bad press generated by his earlier vigilantism), lasted only ten issues.

By 'Team Player', the final issue of Vengeance, Moon Knight had once again been inducted into an Avengers team. Once more, Moon Knight was part of the mainstream of Marvel's publication stable. And once more, those same superhero codes applied.

But for that brief moment there'd always be that first amazing year of publication. Charlie Huston at the helm before Moon Knight got 'hot' enough to reintegrate into the Marvel mainstream. The Moon Knight who was that broken athlete that Mickey Rourke became for the Wrestler. The Moon Knight psychologically crippled by having torn off the face of his most vicious opponent. The Moon Knight who had been drummed out of the Marines for Conduct Unbecoming and who had never pieced his self-esteem back together.

For Charlie Huston's first year (and Duane Swierczynski's Annual, 'Date Night' and Peter Milligan's One-Shot, 'Silent Knight'), there was this sense of wrestling with the core of the character that would never be achieved again. Or would it?

Probably the most discernible shift in the early series' landscape would be the TV show. Whatever happened to the Moon Knight TV show that had been touted as early as issue 4 of Huston's run? That show was a badge of triumph for the character, and for Huston's experiment as a whole. For just that tiniest of moments, Moon Knight seemed to be able to breakout from the Marvel B-List.

Moon Knight's return to Marvel's mainstream fold however, meant that the character would have had to stand in line behind other more recognizable brands. Like Iron Man or Captain America, Spider-Man or X-Men. And without ever mentioning it again, the TV show was off the table.

So when the new creative team opens the latest Moon Knight series (the sixth, for those keeping track) with Marc Spector having becoming Executive Producer on a TV drama fictionalizing his own life, there's the sense that a gauntlet has been picked up. Of course this is exactly what's happened. The creative team of writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev have always pushed the creative envelope.


Bendis & Maleev set the tone for nearly a decade of Daredevils

Their phenomenal first year on Daredevil began in the historical shadow of 9/11. 'Underboss' saw longtime DD villain, the Kingpin of Crime subjected to an assassination attempt. And in the most unexpected of moves, the subsequent 'Out' saw the Kingpin's role as archnemesis replaced by the paparazzi and tabloids. This was audacious writing, and it paid off to the tune of Eisner awards for the book and the creative team. The narrative arcs established by Bendis and Maleev would not be fully resolved until the first storyarc of the next creative team (writer Ed Brubaker and artist Michael Lark) who took the reigns five years later in 2006.

Those first Daredevils read like Bendis still had a light in his eyes. This was before Siege. Before Avengers Disassembled, before Secret Invasion. And if there was a light in his eyes, it came from Bendis' years on independents like Image's Sam & Twitch or the unprecedented Hellspawn, the darker retelling of the (media-friendly) Image staple Spawn. Or maybe it came from his work on his creator-owned crime fiction like Jinx or Goldfish, the books that he really first found his voice as writer-artist.

Marc Spector Exec Producing a TV show based on his own fictive life is a powerful statement. Note only about the character, but about the creative team itself. 2010's Scarlet, a Bendis-Maleev creator-owned project for Marvel's Icon line failed to show Bendis' evolution as a writer as much as it did Maleev's as an artists. It prompted the wrong kinds of question. Was Bendis over the hill? Had his time spent scripting corporate-owned properties taken their toll on his primal creativity?

Are They Back In Top Form...Bendis & Maleev certainly seem to be

Those questions have been answered by a Bendis back in top form in Moon Knight. This feels like those first Daredevils again, it feels like the Bendis and Maleev at the top of their game. And it feels like Moon Knight is Moon Knight again. Like there's a credible wrestling with the character's (possible) psychosis.

This is everything we loved seeing in the pages of Daredevil. Sideline characters having Tarantino-esque conversations about the minutiae of day-to-day living. Clear solid paneling from Maleev. Vibrant, passionate renderings of the world that characters inhabit. An over-coding of dialogue that throws your mind into hyperdrive.

And this, is only the beginning.

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