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365 Reasons to Love Comics #259

by  in Comic News Comment
365 Reasons to Love Comics #259

You’d have to be crazy not to love this Reason!

9/16/07

259.  Moon Knight.

Yeah, okay.  I have an inordinate love of Moon Knight.  Moon Knight, Dazzler, Psylocke, and Looker – why can’t they all star in a comic together?  That would be awesome.

Oh, but this is about Marc Spector, the craziest superhero not named Frank Castle.  Moon Knight debuted back in 1975 in Werewolf by Night #32, as a mercenary hired by some shadowy group called the Committee to bag Jack Russell.  After a few years banging around the Marvel Universe, he got his own title, written by his creator, the as-yet-not-paranoid Doug Moench and some Neal Adams rip-off named Bill Sienkiewicz.

On the surface, the early series reads like a standard action-adventure story – Marc Spector, a mercenary, has an epiphany and decides to fight bad guys.  Using a fortune he accumulated during his mercenary days, he sets up shop on Long Island with a comely lass and an old friend and flies into New York nightly to kick ass.  Not too memorable, but Moench did some very interesting things with the character himself to make it much deeper than that.

First, the epiphany.  Spector is left to die in an Egyptian tomb, and he is “resurrected” by an ancient deity, Khonshu.  Or so he believes, which is all that matters.  He pledges his life to Khonshu, and this becomes a feature throughout the book, as Spector’s relationship with his god has colored the way he views his mission.  Second, and perhaps more brilliantly, Moench created different personae for Spector.  The rich guy who lived in the mansion was Steven Grant.  Jake Lockley was a cab driver who scoured the streets for information on bad guys.  Moon Knight, of course, doled out the punishment.  Marc Spector was buried deep inside, because he represented the evil past.  Moench often played with this early in the series, but later on it began to take on much more of a mental illness aspect.  It’s a brilliant idea, because in a world where people dress up as costumed adventurers and create one alias, why not have more?

As the series progressed, Sienkiewicz’s art became more and more distinctive, and Moench’s stories began to reflect that.  Although the first dozen or so are decent, only when Sienkiewicz began to experiment more did it push Moench, and Moon Knight became a truly great comic book.  The stories became less of a world-wide adventure and focused much more on gritty urban dramas, with slashers stalking the night, Marc Spector’s brother showing up causing havoc, a mayoral candidate who almost destroys our hero, and Scarlet Fasinera, a widow of a crime boss who hunts down her own son.  Moench also brought in Morpheus, a creepy villain who could no longer sleep but could manipulate dreams, which allowed Sienkiewicz to go a bit nuts with the art.  Finally, Moon Knight battled Jack Russell, the werewolf, one more time, but after that, Sienkiewicz left the book.  Moench went on for a few more issues, with Kevin Nowlan doing some nice interiors, but the book died with issue #38.

Moon Knight showed up in a mini-series in 1985 (or maybe it was a six-issue ongoing that got canceled) before getting another ongoing in 1989.  This lasted 60 issues, but never really had the impact that the earlier series did.  It ended with some of the most godawful ugly issues ever printed, as Stephen Platt drew five or six of the stories leading to Moon Knight’s death in issue #60.  The issues will burn your eyes if you ever see them, I promise.  Seriously, check out this cover, and remember the entire book looked like this:

Moench brought Moon Knight back to life in a late-Nineties mini-series drawn by Tommy Lee Edwards, and then followed up with another mini a year later with Mark Texeira on art.  By this time, Moench was seeing aliens everywhere, so of course Moon Knight would have to deal with them.  Finally, Marvel gave Moon Knight yet another ongoing in 2006, written by Charlie Huston and drawn for a while by David Finch, who eventually left the book, rumor has it, because there wasn’t enough action in the book.  This latest series is apparently universally reviled by anyone who has any taste, but I think it’s great.  Huston (and now Mike Benson, who took over the writing with issue #14) have brought back the insanity of Marc Spector, which is part of why the character was so neat in the first place.  The book is amazingly violent for a non-MAX book, but the writers do a good job showing that Spector is indeed crazy and the consequences of this violence are more far-reaching than he knows.  I hope the book survives, but who knows if it will.

So why is Moon Knight a reason to love comics?  Well, Moench made him much more than a Batman knock-off, which is how a lot of people describe him.  He’s a man with a checkered past trying to make amends, he’s a man with a unique view of religion and how it affects him, and he’s a man with multiple personalities who, during his best series (the first and the latest one), struggles with this and walks a fine line between rationality and insanity.  Batman may act insane a lot, but there’s never any doubt about his mental state because DC won’t allow it.  Moon Knight is so far down in the pecking order that Marvel allows writers to examine the weirdness inherent among the pervert suit crowd.  Moon Knight isn’t Marc Spector’s “alter ego,” he’s just one facet of a fractured personality.  This makes a good Moon Knight story more interesting than that of a generic superhero, because the threat of a breakdown is always there.  Plus, we’ve seen how closely his identity is tied to his devotion to Khonshu, which adds another layer of tension to the stories.  Moench mined that, and Huston and Benson are doing it too.  Mainstream comics often don’t get as deep into the psychosis of superheroes as Moon Knight does, and that’s a pretty cool thing.

One final note about the first series: it was one of the titles that Marvel moved to direct distribution, bypassing newstands.  This was a big deal back in 1981, and it allowed Moench to be a little freer with his subject matter, as Marvel didn’t worry that some uptight mom was going to freak out when she read Johnny’s funny book.  Ultimately, the experiment didn’t work too well, but it was the first step toward making comics for more mature audiences, and that’s not a bad thing at all.  Let’s celebrate Moon Knight, then, instead of decrying him!

Hit up Wikipedia for more, if you’re interested.  You can also buy the two Essential volumes, which cover the early appearances of the character and the Moench-Sienkiewicz issues of the ongoing.  Nothing else is really essential, after that.

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