By Steve Morris
Spoilers below, of course: we’re talking about the last issue of the run!
There are many different aspects to Moon Knight, a character who is at least three men in one, and whose story changes on the eve of a new moon. Your first encounter with the character – whether it be Charlie Huston, Ellis/Shalvey/Bellaire, Moench/Sienkiewicz or whoever else – is likely to colour your understanding of the character as a whole. Moon Knight is primed for reinvention and reincarnation, which are happily packed into the character but also available across a range of different storytellers with different agendas. You could see him as any kind of a hero, vigilante, villain or antihero depending on when you start reading him.
And if you started with the TV show then, well, the Jeff Lemire/Greg Smallwood/Jordie Bellaire/Cory Petit run is probably the one which’ll feel most natural for you.
With longtime colour artist Bellaire still onboard the series, and two artists providing script and sequences, it’s a run which plays naturally into the artistic, as it sits itself deep inside the head of Marc Spector, Moon Knight’s “primary” identity. As a character with dissociative identity disorder, Marc typically also has two other identities which come out at random times: English millionaire Steven Grant, and street-level taxi driver Jake Lockley. All three fight over control of their body, which happens to also be the vessel for an Egyptian God called Khonshu, whose powers allow them to become Moon Knight, the spirit of vengeance. That fight for control is typically the focus of modern Moon Knight stories – although Lemire elected to go in a vastly different direction, and it was by leaning on the artistry of his collaborators that he was able to bring a valuable catharsis to Marc Spector.
It’s a short run at fourteen issues, and things began in issue #1 with a dream sequence where Marc semi-revisited his origin into Moon Knight, the pages scratchmarked by Greg Smallwood to take on the impression of a B-Movie, a simulacrum of reality highlighted by Bellaire’s unearthly twilight colours. Marc is in the middle of the desert, dying, when the voice of Khonshu calls out to him.
There’s nobody else around but Marc and the voice, and he stumbles his way into a temple, somewhat aware of the re-lived reality he’s wandering through but too unfocused to really understand what’s going on. There are no panel borders, just a white space cutting through the passage of time from moment to moment. At one point Marc even grabs onto that white space as it frames a doorway around him, the environment itself providing him support only in relation to Khonshu.
On the next page Khonshu is seated, legs crossed, hands clasped together in the authoritative demeanour of a therapist. As Marc sees his godly protector, his transitions even further into the liminal space of the dream, unmoored and unconnected from everything else. Khonshu says that Marc is “nothing. Not anymore”, and prompts his ward to put on the classic Moon Knight mask, which forces all Marc’s previous memories back into his mind – at which point Marc wakes up and finds himself in a hospital ward. The following issues break Marc out of that ward, which likely doesn’t actually exist, as the series reveals that Khonshu has decided to hollow out Marc Spector entirely so he can step into Marc’s body and assume full control. After years of trying to manage Marc and the other personalities, Khonshu has decided to take things into his own hands, reverting him into a dangerous threat to our protagonist.
Considering Marc already has several lives in his mind, however, that proves to be a poor choice on the god’s part.
Cutting forward to issue #14, the final part of the run, and the artistic work changes to provide us a smoother reality which demonstrates the changed nature of Marc’s relationship to Khonshu. Here, Marc’s surroundings are crisp and fully-realised, and he’s joined by both Steven Grant and Jake Lockley as he kneels in the sand, ready for death to claim him. The white space between the panels is no longer jagged and unreliable, but are sharpened off to form neat gutters, which strengthen the feeling for readers that we’re seeing something which is real and true for Marc, rather than a forced dream of the past.
Khonshu appears in front of Marc, once again taking on a strengthened posture in front of the dying, “broken” Marc Spector. He once more patronises Marc as he offers him a second life, his shadow looming over and his body language authoritative. Yet something has changed for this second view on the Marc/Khonshu deal: this time around, Smallwood depicts Khonshu as the grainy, wiry, out of focus character, whilst Marc is fully resolved. “I will rid you of yourself” Khonshu says, whilst the comic simultaneously runs the past and the present through Marc’s mind, leading to two awakenings and a single realisation. It’s the core of the series as a whole, as our protagonist finally realises just that: he is the protagonist here.
From there onwards, the issue sets us towards a final confrontation with Khonshu, the intent being for Marc to fully take control of not just himself, but all of his selves. The flashbacks were intended to make Marc feel less-than, so Khonshu could hollow him out and take over – but instead, they quietly steeled his resolve and gave him evidence that he has always been whole, even if that means taking on the lives of four/five different people through his Dissociative Identity Disorder. Crucially, the sequence in issue #1 erases Steven and Jake from Marc’s memory, with their appearance being the nightmare which wakes him up. In issue #14, they are the soothing and calming presence which gives him the strength to stand up to Khonshu. “We’ve been here all along,” they tell him at his darkest moment. “Just rest. We’re not going anywhere”.
That’s exactly what Marc needed to realise, and the comic cleverly positions it through contrast across its first and final issues (not to mention all the stuff inbetween: I won’t go too into it, but there is a James Stokoe-drawn section of the run which is about a space war with werewolves). Marc was so drawn to the fantasy Khonshu built as his cage because it didn’t feature Steven or Jake – or even more, because it gave him the easy answer that they could go away and he’d be left “fixed”. Yet as Marc and Khonshu face off on an imagined plane of battle, Marc simply accepts his madness as a part of him, which he allows to exist inside him. Steven, Jake, Moon Knight, the werewolf-fighting astronaut – they are all meant to exist within Marc’s head. The only foreign visitor is, in fact, Khonshu, and Marc definitively expels him.
Here, Smallwood gives Marc the control, as the character stares directly at the reader and grasps the panels around him – where Khonshu’s skull head is – with each hand. Rather than the gutters being used to control Marc and shape him in the direction Khonshu wants him to walk, here they are here for Marc to get a grip on his reality, and shape it into the direction he needs it to. He accepts that he is Marc Spector; he is Steven Grant; he is Jake Lockley; and he is Moon Knight. In that acceptance, Khonshu crumbles into dust, sand flying out into the midnight skies of New York.
It’s a lovely moment for the character, which draws this story for a close. Fourteen issues and the creative team never stepped out of Marc’s head once. Neither did readers, providing us with a story which itself exists in that same liminal space that bookends Marc’s experiences throughout the run. If this was your first experience of Moon Knight, it’s an unexpected one: a hopeful future for one of Marvel’s most complex and rewarding characters.
Moon Knight #14 “Birth and Death, Part 5”
Written by Jeff Lemire
Drawn by Greg Smallwood
Coloured by Jordie Bellaire
Lettered by Cory Petit
Steve Morris runs this site! Having previously written for sites including The Beat, ComicsAlliance, CBR and The MNT, he can be found on Twitter here. He’s a bunny.
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