“Moon Knight” #6 is Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire’s best issue to date.
The opening scene is near-perfect, opening with a joke hook and then a mission briefing that feels like a real conversation instead of an information dump. Ellis’ work here is heavy on text but manages to be graceful, and he’s well-supported by Shalvey’s facial expressions and body language, particularly the arrogant grin on Dr. Skelton’s face and Spector’s hawklike forward-tipping sitting posture. Spector’s riposte, “I am. I am precisely qualified. Dreamers are people who travel at night. That is my specialist subject.” is Moon Knight in a nutshell.
It also helps that Ellis’ dialogue is sharp and vivid, from the punchline of “Odinfries” on the first page to use of words like “cryptococcus” for specificity of imagery and scale. Although it’s full of bizarre imagery, “Moon Knight” #6 is accessible for new readers. It’s a self-contained mystery about a sleep research project and the revelation at the end is satisfying. Although the window dressing is strange and seemingly vast, the tale ends the way that a classic whodunit wraps up, with a neat resolution and sense of justice.
Ellis’ storytelling is remarkably compact and efficient, and his prose has a distinctive manic energy and sharpness. He’s exploring some of the same landscape and mythology as Vertigo titles from the 1990s, particularly including Alan Moore’s “Swamp Thing,” Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman”, and Grant Morrison’s “The Invisibles.” Dreams, myth and the unconscious run through all of them. However, Ellis doesn’t take these themes as seriously, losing some of the moodiness for action scenes and dark humor. His Moon Knight is part Shamanic Dream Warrior, part Batman-like combination of detective and vigilante. Lightness and Darkness balance each other, and the character design matches this too.
Shalvey’s gotten much well-deserved praise for his work on “Moon Knight.” From the first page to the last, his background details and sense of design are rich and pleasing. Both his compositions and his linework have excellent dramatic tension. Shalvey and Bellaire’s artistic teamwork is also superb, with Moon Knight always rendered in sharp contrasts of chiaroscuro while everything else around him is softened by color and shading. It gives the character a mythic quality visually and reinforces how Spector is set apart from the world he protects.
Bellaire is conscious of narrative progression, coloring the tangible world in brownish neutrals before Marc falls asleep and enters a crazy neon landscape that is half outer-space, half lush vegetal and fungal swamp, and then turning back to browns and a sickly green for the concluding action. The solid four pages of silence in the dream world are both splendid and self-indulgent, although Shavley’s gimmick of the crescent moons inserted into the panel shapes is a bit much. The noiseless action also deliberately changes up the pacing and further builds up the unique supernatural world that Ellis, Shalvey and Bellaire have created so rapidly. The world-building pace and style are reminiscent of Brandon Graham’s work on “Prophet,” but “Moon Knight” is anchored by a linear storyline and wit instead of building up massive onion layers of complexity.
The current opening run of “Moon Knight” has been a critical success, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a pity that Shavley and Ellis are leaving the series soon, after issue #6, but they’ve already managed to make what is old new again.