FIRST ISSUE: RETURN OF MOON KNIGHT
An admirable first issue must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue must avoid being so mysterious as to be cryptic or incomprehensible. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode”—that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue.
Moon Knight is another on-again off-again second-or-third-tier Marvel character. And he, like Black Panther, is back again for another try, written by Jeff Lemire and drawn by Greg Smallwood. A movie is probably in the offing.
In his civilian guise, Marc Spector was at first a mercenary, who stumbles upon an archaeological dig where the Egyptian moon god Khonshu is unearthed. Trying unsuccessfully to avenge the murder of one of the archaeologists, Spector is left to die in the desert but is found by roaming Egyptians who carry him to their temple, where Khonshu appears to him in a vision, offering him a second chance at life if he becomes the god’s avatar on Earth. Spector returns to the U.S. and decides to fight crime and assumes a couple of alternative identities: to separate himself from his mercenary past, he takes the name Steven Grant, who is a millionaire (Spector having invested his savings accumulated while a mercenary); to keep in touch with the street and crime, he becomes a taxi-cab driver named Jake Lockley. And that’s the beginning of the troubles.
From the alternative identities, Spector understandably develops a multiple personality disorder and other symptoms of mental instability. And he’s been killed a few times. All of which comes to a head in Lemire’s debut issue: Lemire “embraces that aspect of the character,” said Sean Edgar in Playboy’s May issue.
The entire first issue is devoted to depicting Spector’s struggles in a mental hospital, where he’s brutalized by a couple of attendants, Bob and Billy, as he attempts to convince them that he isn’t mad. Two or three incidents of this sort constitute the complete episodes in this issue — and they convince us, almost, that Spector isn’t quite sane. Bob and Billy are sadistic, but we can’t tell whether that’s a fact or Spector’s delusion.
Said Lemire: “He’s the only superhero who overtly addresses schizophrenia and multiple personalities. When most superheroes were created, mental illness was seen as a weakness, a flaw, whereas now, people are much more aware that the brain, just like any part of your body, is something that can be sick and treated.”
In his mind, Spector appeals to Khonshu, but by the end of this first issue, he is no longer convinced that the Moon Knight is real or that the adventures he remembers actually happened. Since we know there is a Moon Knight who has had crime-fighting adventures, we’re on the affirmative side of the dispute in Spector’s mind. And we probably have hopes that he’ll re-establish his sanity in future issues.
With all Spector’s mental hangups, I suppose this means there’ll be no fisticuffs in the this evolution of Moon Knight. But we will be treated to the inventive artwork of Smallwood, who, in this debut issue, draws in two different styles and varies page layout dramatically. Wide page margins, for example, give the visuals an suitably antiseptic clinical feel.
I’ll be back — for the pictures alone if necessary; but Lemire’s agenda is provocative, too, and I’m interested to see where he goes with a deranged (maybe) superhero, suffering from all the mental problems you’d expect him to have.
For more tedious detail in appreciating this Moon Knight, hi thee to the Usual Place, RCHarvey.com, and Rants & Raves Archives, Opus 351.