This is a nice-looking Moon Knight comic. Mike Deodato, Jr.’s work suits this story perfectly, as he uses heavy shadows and skewed page layouts to create a sense of despair and dread beneath the streets of New York. The featured tale in “Moon Knight” #20 is a story about men and beasts underground, and it’s one of the best jobs Deodato has done in a while. Unlike his recent “Thunderbolts” work, it doesn’t over-rely on celebrity casting. Sure, Robert Rodriguez-favorite Danny Trejo makes an appearance here, but not as a main character. It’s not nearly as annoyingly off-putting as Deodato’s use of Tommy Lee Jones for Norman Osborn. So the photo reference doesn’t get in the way of the storytelling, and Deodato does a nice job balancing mood and mystery with action and excitement.
The plot isn’t bad either. Basically, it’s a flashback to 1994, to a hitherto-untold story about the time Jack Russell (a.k.a. Werewolf by Night) was part of a seedy underworld werewolf fighting ring and Moon Knight swooped in to bust it up. Over the years, we’ve all seen the classic story about the gladiators fighting for their lives — whether it be in ancient Rome or in the bowels of the big, uncaring city — and that’s what we get here. Except it’s mixed with elements of the dog-fighting genre, and the genre of the superhero-who’s-just-as-screwed-up-as-the-monsters-he-fights. All of which is well and good. The concept works. The imagery of giant werewolves fighting each other — that works too. But this story tries so hard to be hard-boiled and tough that it falls into disappointing cliche.
The dialogue tries to be terse and impactful, but it reads more like a parody of a Clint Eastwood movie. Take, for example, this repetitive exchange between Moon Knight and the detective investigating a series of strange deaths:
Detective: . . . you do have a history with wild dogs.
Moon Knight: I don’t know a thing about wild dogs.
Or, even worse, Moon Knight’s internal monologue as he realizes that there’s almost no way to stop the rampaging lycanthrope: “And then it hits you. The only way to beat an animal. . . is to become one.” Cue his savage beatdown of the werewolf, with accompanying sound effect: “SWOOMP.” Then, more monologue: “But I am not an animal.”
Okay, we get it. He’s conflicted and he’s got issues. But Benson’s dialogue reads like so much third-rate Mickey Spillane by way of Frank Miller.
The purpose of the flashback with the werewolf pit-fighting, which takes up the bulk of the issue, is to show how tough Moon Knight once was and to emphasize the idea that he won’t allow himself to be trapped. He will always be ready to fight back, even when the combined forces of the Initiative are on his tail. Okay, that’s fine. But did anyone think that Moon Knight was going to just give up? That he was just going to say, “you know what? I’m sick of fighting and I’ll retire to the country.” Since the character is a firmly established mental case/hardass, there’s not much need to remind the reader that he’s a guy who won’t give up.
So that means the issue was just an excuse to show a lot of huge werewolves fighting each other. That isn’t such a bad reason for a comic to exist, if that’s all you’re looking for.
“Moon Knight” #20 also comes with two full-length reprint stories, showcasing the two-part story from “Werewolf by Night” in which Moon Knight first appeared. You get dozens of pages of Doug Moench and Don Perlin Bronze Age goodness that are ridiculously goofy but no less classic because of their goofiness. The Moon Knight in those reprints bears only a superficial resemblance to the character in this series — he was much more straightforward in those days, much more of a one-note mercenary. But the presence of those stories shows how far the character has come, and how much the darkness has overtaken him. They also remind us how unthreatening Don Perlin’s Werewolf by Night really was. Compared to Deodato’s version, he was just a scruffy little puppy.
This comic has a lot going on, and even if Benson’s script falls short more often than not, there are a few Deodato images that make it worth a glance. If you decide to buy it, at least you get a lot of pages for your four bucks.