This is the second Christmas-themed Marvel comic I’ve reviewed this week, and I think it makes sense to compare the two of them. Jason Aaron’s “Punisher Max X-Mas Special” #1 dealt with a relatively silent, murderous vigilante. So does this comic. The Punisher story incorporated a kind of holiday spirit within its cynical shell. So does “Moon Knight: Silent Knight” #1. Both comics look great. Both comics are one-shots which work more effectively that their respective ongoing series.
So what makes them different, and what makes this comic not quite as good as the Punisher one? It all comes down to tone.
Now let me just clarify: “Moon Knight: Silent Knight” #1 is a good comic. I’ve read about 80% of the “Moon Knight” issues released in the past two years, and this is the best of the lot. But where Jason Aaron’s Punisher comic revels in its own excesses as it provides a Biblical subtext, Peter Milligan’s Moon Knight comic addresses the notion of despair. We’re not talking about a holiday dream deferred here; we’re talking the painful realization that the fantasy can never become the reality, as Marc Spector’s demons will never give him a chance at a normal life. It’s certainly a more serious comic than the Punisher one, but its minimalistic approach doesn’t give you quite as much bang for your buck (pun totally intended).
Yet the minimalism works for this story, as does Laurence Campbell’s art. I don’t know if you’ve seen Campbell’s work, but he’s popped up in the Marvel Universe a few times in the past couple of years, and he works in what you might term the Michael Lark/Alex Maleev school. He might be better than both of them. I know that’s a strong opinion, but he has the gritty realism of Maleev and the fluidity of Lark, and that’s a potent combination. He’s certainly the best artist to work on this incarnation of Moon Knight, and his style perfectly meshes with Milligan’s somber narrative.
This story is predicated on emotional moments and a tragic sense of loss, so I don’t want to outline too many plot points which would undercut the thematic resonance, but the gist of the story is this: Moon Knight, haunted by Khonshu (who appears as a gruesome Christmas elf, much to Moon Knight’s disdain), allows himself a moment of sentimentality, and more than a few people pay the price. It’s an action comic that keeps almost all the action off-panel. We see the effects of the violence, but we don’t see how it happens. And that’s an approach that fits this story well. But, because of that choice, it doesn’t quite have the visceral power of the Punisher holiday special. It’s more subtle this way, though, and if you’re looking for a quiet, meditative Moon Knight story, this is the one for you.
As quiet and understated as this story is, Milligan and Campbell measure it off with great care, and it’s definitely the best Moon Knight story I’ve read in a long time.