EXCLUSIVE: Warren Ellis Gets "Really Weird" with "Moon Knight"

Warren Ellis is one of the most high-profile comic book writers of the past two decades -- "Transmetropolitan," "Planetary" and "The Authority" stand as some of the most celebrated comics works of the modern era, and his stories have been adapted into the films "Iron Man 3" and "Red" -- but he hasn't been quite as regular of a fixture in the industry in recent years, as he's focused on work like his novels "Gun Machine" and "Crooked Little Vein," plus a non-fiction book out this year.

He's maintained his presence at Marvel Comics with gigs like a six-issue "Secret Avengers" stint in 2011, the "Avengers: Endless Wartime" original graphic novel and co-writing four issues of "Avengers Assemble" with Kelly Sue DeConnick, but March sees his first ongoing series debut at the publisher in years: A new volume of "Moon Knight," illustrated by line artist Declan Shalvey and colorist Jordie Bellaire, who recently teamed on "Deadpool."

Marvel has launched multiple "Moon Knight" series in recent years, and Ellis tells CBR News that his take is "Planetary"-esque in that he's "scraping back the accumulated barnacles" on Marc Spector, the mentally fragile vigilante first introduced by Doug Moench and Don Perlin in 1975. CBR's full interview with Ellis follows.

CBR News: Warren, after a quiet couple years for you with comic books in general, the past few months have seen multiple Marvel releases -- the "Avengers: Endless Wartime" OGN, co-writing "Avengers Assemble" with Kelly Sue DeConnick and now "Moon Knight," your first monthly series launch at the publisher in years. What's motivated shifting part of your focus back to work-for-hire comics? And since your recent Marvel works have all been finite projects, are you potentially considering a more long-term run on "Moon Knight"? 

Warren Ellis: I was pretty much done with my end of "Endless Wartime" about a year ago, I think. And I'm wrapping up the script for "Moon Knight" #4 this week. I like to do a gig for Marvel once a year or so, and this fits right in with that. My end of "Avengers Assemble" has been minimal, just doing development and breakdowns for Kel, so it doesn't really count: that book is still very strongly Kelly Sue, and my part of that is just carpentry.

So it's not a case of shifting focus. I like to keep my relationship with Marvel alive, and this is this year's gig. All my Marvel work is finite. I honestly haven't decided how long I'll stay on the book yet.

You stated in a previous interview that your version of Moon Knight "unifies all the previous takes, making the character whole." Given the character's complex history, how challenging was it to get to the character's central appeal?

Ellis, Shalvey & Bellaire Put a New Face on "Moon Knight"

Part of what I do for Marvel is that "Planetary"-like process of scraping back the accumulated barnacles on a property in order to show what excited people about it in the first place. With "Moon Knight," that was an easy thing: the redemptive arc, the multiple facets of the character, the intervention of ancient gods, and madness. There was one line I came up with that married all that up in a way that made sense to me and provided a sense of forward motion, so I just rolled with it.

You've mentioned "weird crime" as being a major element in your "Moon Knight" series. What's been enjoyable about expressing that aspect of the book within the setting of the Marvel Universe (seemingly an ideal place for weird crime to happen)?

You can get really weird. Also, you can provide, as an entire plotline, the sentence "punching ghosts" and nobody really bats an eyelid. Today's job is "mushroom dream attack." I get paid for this, you know.

Since this series sees Moon Knight relocating back to New York City -- home of the vast majority of Marvel's superheroes -- how integrated will the book be with the broader Marvel landscape?

Right this second (issue #4) I'm more concerned with re-establishing Moon Knight as a reason to read "Moon Knight." Also, the things he is interested in dealing with are not necessarily the things other NYC characters are interested in dealing with, because he's crazy and they're not. I may eventually go to a more obvious integration, if it appeals to me, but at this moment I'm more interested in Moon Knight himself.

Based on the early art released, it's apparent that this series has a very distinct aesthetic. How important do you see the visual aspect of "Moon Knight," in the hands of Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire, to the identity of the character and series?

Vital, of course. A comics script is only ever half a piece of art. But when the office told me that Dec and Jordie were available, I jumped at the chance to work with them -- I met Dec years ago, I think in Galway, when I was being given a medal for reasons still mysterious to me -- and have written each script specifically for them. We got to talk about the look of the book, and the way we'd build pages and palettes, a lot, before I started writing properly. It's as much their project as mine; you should probably be talking to them and not me. They're doing the heavy lifting, and I've thrown them some horrible visual curveballs so far. And they're going to hate me for this issue I'm writing right now.

Warren Ellis Brings Marvel's "Moon Knight" back to NYC

Despite headlining multiple series and many high-profile creative talents working on the character, Moon Knight has had a lingering perception as an underused character and something of a hard sell. What's your approach to addressing this perception, creatively?

It gives me a great deal of space, to be honest. Lots of people like Moon Knight as an idea, if you like, and you can address the abstract notion of the character without being beholden to previous takes and continuities. At the same time, I'm aware that I can't really go to the big muscular takes of people like Charlie Huston or Brian Bendis -- those pieces have their own DNA, and people would recognize a cheap clone a mile off. My touchstone has been the original run by the character's creator, Doug Moench, through the Sienkiewicz collaborations up to the top of Kevin Nowlan's debut as artist. The process is to return to the original themes of the work and review and remix them in the light of a new decade.

"Moon Knight" #1, by Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire, debuts March 5 from Marvel Comics.

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