Comics Then: Moon Knight #1
I confess that last week’s Moon Knight #195 has launched me into a bit of an obsessive streak. I’ve read that particular issue several times now, and we’ll be talking about it on this week’s episode of the Comics Now podcast. But I also took advantage of my lately-neglected Marvel Unlimited subscription and started looking at earlier runs, beginning with the Moench/Sienkiewicz run that started it all. 1980’s Moon Knight #1 is a good introduction to the character—an origin story that is both fantastical and mature, both hard-to-believe and hard-to-ignore.
Marc Spector’s got blood on his hands
Long before his rebirth at the feet of the Egyptian moon-god Khonshu, Marc Spector has a crisis of identity. Second-in-command to the brutal mercenary Bushman, he has ruined lives in service of something he does not believe in. When he receives confirmation from his pal Frenchie that they are most definitely not working in service of the greater good, he makes plans to desert. But Bushman targets an archaeologist, and Marc’s moral crisis requires immediate attention. He confronts the evil warlord, but fails, and is dumped in the desert to die. And as he stumbles into the site of the archaeologist’s excavation, he does die, at the feet of a statue of Khonshu, with Marlene—daughter of the murdered archaeologist—looking on.
If you’ve been around comics long enough, and especially Batman comics (as I have), then you know Doug Moench. Moench has written quite a few stories featuring the Dark Knight, typically featuring rich—some might say melodramatic—poetic narration. His style is really a perfect fit for superhero origins in general, but for Moon Knight in particular, I found it especially appropriate. We’re talking about a man dying at the feet of an Egyptian god and being reborn in its image. This is dramatic stuff, and Moench’s words fit perfectly.
But he also does well in establishing Marc Spector’s character before the incident. Moon Knight is often compared to Batman, and there are superficial similarities; but whereas Bruce Wayne is an innocent who suffered tragedy and chose to fight instead of break, Marc Spector’s tragedy is—at least in part—of his own making. He ran with Bushman, and did unspeakable things, and though his better angels prevailed eventually, he had already earned his death at Khonshu’s feet. And his rebirth comes not by the force of his own will and extensive training, but rather by the grace of Khonshu and the acquisition of a disorder that inexplicably allows him to acquire all of the things needed by a masked, human vigilante—namely wealth, status, informants, and the preservation of his non-hero identity(ies).
Sienkiewicz is no slouch, either. I’ve only been reading comics for five years, and my experience with his work has been limited to his outstanding covers. This is the first time I’ve encountered his sequential work, and it’s quite good. His character aesthetic is fairly detailed and realistic, but—limited as he was by cheaper paper and the color process associated with it—the detail is not excessive. For me, that makes the storytelling shine through much more clearly than it does for many modern, busier artists. There’s a simplicity to each panel that makes it easy to track the action, and it makes me wish (as work from this era always does) that more creators and editors would embrace the medium afresh, and the communicative clarity that abstraction affords.
The Dark, White Knight
Moon Knight #1 is a great introduction to Marc Spector and his unique flavor of heroism. Great writing from Moench, and rock-solid visual storytelling from Sienkiewicz make for an easy read, and if this is your first foray into this crazy corner of the Marvel Universe, I suspect it won’t be your last.