Marvel recently released Moon Knight Vol.1: From The Dead, collecting the first six issues of writer Warren Ellis and artist Declan Shalvey’s run on their newly launched Moon Knight ongoing series. As it turns out, it also collects the entirety of Ellis and Shalvey’s run on their newly launched Moon Knight ongoing series, as the pair left the book after those six issues.
Under most circumstances, creators departing almost as soon as they started would be a pretty clear sign that something was wrong behind the scenes, and would, in general, be regarded as a very bad thing. And Ellis and Shalvey leaving the book so soon is a bad thing, if only because they did such terrific work on it.
As odd as it may seem, they’re not leaving any story business unfinished, and the trade reads complete as is — there’s no cliffhanger at the end, no dangling plotlines, no characters in the lurch. That’s because Ellis didn’t write the book as if it were an open-ended, superhero serial narrative, but approached each of those six issues as a done-in-one, complete story. In all honesty, Ellis and Shalvey could have quit after three issues, or two or one, and Moon Knight would still read as a complete narrative with a beginning, middle and end.
In trade format, with the six stories read back to back, Ellis and Shalvey’s Mooon Knight is more like a short-story collection than a graphic novel … or graphic novella. It’s a pretty great way to structure a comic book, really, and it fulfills the oft-cited, perhaps semi-apocryphal maxim of Stan Lee’s, that every comic book is someone’s first. Ellis and Shalvey’s Moon Knight was basically six first issues, and, perhaps future issues will be as well, depending on whether the creators who follow them decide to stick with the format and aesthetic.
Which might not be a bad idea, really, given that Marvel has tried just about everything with the character, including having its most popular writer Brian Michael Bendis launch a series in which Moon Knight developed a very marketable kind of multiple-personality disorder, believing he was always teaming up with Spider-Man, Wolverine and Captain America. That only lasted about twice as long as Ellis and Shalvey’s run.
The first issue, which I discussed here when it first came out, featured Moon Knight wearing his mask with a nice, sharp white suit, looking like a cross between an old pulp hero and a luchador movie star. Arriving at a crime scene in a self-driving white limousine, he offers his services to the police and takes down a psychotic killer using only speed, style and sparkling conversation. A graceful denouement provides the series’ premise: Moon Knight is the self-appointed guardian of those who travel by night, and, this being the Marvel Universe’s New York City, he’s got a lot to guard against.
In the second issue, we see Moon Knight in another new costume, this one closer to his superheroic garb, but with a more striking design. Here he functions a bit more like the Batman analogue he evolved into over the years, wearing a cape and cowl and using hight-tech gadgets to fight crime. A beautifully structured comic, it deals with a killer targeting eight victims, each shown on a single panel of an eight-panel grid on the first page, with a panel being subtracted with each page as one of them is killed, the white space eating the hit list down to almost nothing.
In the third, he fights the ghosts of a punk-rock gang, donning a new costume of mummy wrappings and bones that allows him to punch ghosts to death. In the fourth, he investigates mysterious goings-on at a sleep research facility, and discovers a devious murder that continues to corrupt the world around him, in a story filled with strange, unsettling, semi-psychedelic art.
In the fifth, he fights his way up five floors of an abandoned house filled with action movie-style criminals to rescue a kidnap victim. And in the sixth, he gets an archenemy, whom he defeats almost immediately because of a peculiar, particular strength he has. This is the only story that deals much with the character’s past, albeit in an easily accessible, everything-you-need-to-know-is-on-the-page way.
In addition to the formalism evident in the construction of each story’s scripting, layout and final art, and the simple but infinitely flexible “defender of those who travel by night” premise, this run of stories is set apart from other runs on the character by the remove built-in. Readers aren’t necessarily privy to Moon Knight’s thoughts or perspective; this isn’t a drama starring Marc Spector, but rather a series of highly imaginative genre-hybrid crime stories that Moon Knight tackles.
It’s a shame Ellis and Shalvey have left, because based on the evidence in this slim volume, it seems like they could do this sort of thing forever, and it would be forever entertaining. On the other hand, this frees the pair to pursue other characters, other comics, other work, rather than riding the hamster wheel of a monthly superhero serial.
Was their run on Moon Knight short? Certainly. Was it too short? Not at all.
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