In Jeff Lemire and Greg Smallwood’s “Moon Knight” #3, Marc Spector succeeds in leading an asylum breakout. As in the previous two installments of the “Welcome to New Egypt” storyline, Lemire carefully maintains the uncertainty about whether Marc is insane or whether he’s being gaslighted into believing that he is.
In “Moon Knight” #3, the doctor and the orderlies feel innocent and normal in one moment, and sinister in the next. Are they well-intentioned real people, or the gods and monsters that Marc sees? Even Marc’s allies are divided on that point. Gena’s dry remarks in particular seem so concrete and sane that it’s hard to doubt what she sees. Smallwood reinforces the mental split by giving Dr. Emmet the head of Ammut but the body and clothes of a normal woman. Lemire’s double reality even allows for a touch of humor when he makes Anubis, traditionally a psychopomp, into a subway car driver.
For all its mythological and psychological trappings, this issue’s plot is almost absurdly simple: Marc and his friends succeed in getting outside the walls of the asylum. They go from Point A to Point B. What gives this short journey both meaning and menace, however, is inside Marc’s head.
The uncertainty and incongruity of the two different realities is disorienting. It’s this feeling of unease that powers the suspense and the action. Lemire finally addresses the big question directly but neither tables it nor resolves it, depending on the reader’s take. Marc asks Khonshu about reality and madness and he gets an elliptical answer: it doesn’t matter. Or, put another way, both realities might be valid, but Marc is assured that his “madness” and his instincts will not steer him wrong.
Smallwood’s art manages to meld Ancient Egypt and the New York subway system, keeping both realities convincing. He maintains a high pitch of dramatic tension on each page. His gutters are unusually large, and his page compositions use negative space in daring ways. A lack of panel borders gives the huge orange block letters of a “Krack” sound effect more impact. In the first double-page spread, the panels look like plates shifting right, and the action carries an extra sense of inevitability about it, like it’s sliding, slipping or falling towards the menacing cropped outline of Dr. Emmet’s curves in the bottom of the centerfold.
Bellaire does a splendid job of playing up contrasts in her color work, making Smallwood’s artwork look even more vivid and confident. She wisely leaves a lot of the stark black and white intact, particularly for Marc’s conversation with Khonshu. Early on, her complementary accent colors of crimson, red and acid green reinforce the tension of the fight scene. Later on, warm yellows and oranges evoke Egypt and the sun, before the palette shifts into celestial violets and pinks. The last pages’ murky greens reinforce Smallwood’s startling landscape of sand, skyscrapers and a pyramid.
Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey’s successful run on “Moon Knight” was like fast-paced action film with trappings of detective fiction and the supernatural. Lemire and Smallwood’s take on Marc Spector’s role in the world is slower, less steady, dreamier and scarier. Together with Bellaire, they’ve made a very strong impression in only three issues.