(Note: This review is based on issues 1-6 of the series Moon Knight rather than the physical trade itself. The tradepaperback is due out October 14)
Warren Ellis is a writer whose own history is often times as odd as the stories that he tells. Renowned for his work in the 90s on titles like The Authority, Planetary, and Transmetropolitan (and all still worthy reads) he has since made an interesting habit of hoping on to books for short six to twelve issue runs before handing the reigns off to someone else, or watching the property fall into some weird oblivion (such as with Nextwave). He was also an early voice for focusing on writing comics with the tradepaperback in mind (or, even more aggressively, skipping single issues altogether and going straight to graphic novels). He has drifted away from this mentality in recent years, though he did write the Avengers: Endless Warfare graphic novel about a year back (which is best left forgotten), and started writing comics with self-contained stories. His recent Secret Avengers run followed the format, and Moon Knight is a continued expression of that shift.
The first, and only, tradepaperback of Ellis’ run contains all six issues that he penned before handing the reigns over to Brian Wood. Each issue is self-contained — though the final issue does reference back to the first — and tells a complete story from beginning to end. Some of these stories, like issue 4’s “Sleep”, are extremely trippy and give a chance for series artist Declan Shalvey to do some truly weird stuff. Other stories are more somber, like issue 2’s “Sniper”. There are no issues that fall heavily in the “miss” category as far as plotting goes (though issue 4 did lose me at times during my first read through), and all are worth reading on their own merits. They do tend to go a bit light on the actual story and rely a bit more heavily on the actual concept of the situation to get through the issue — but Ellis is one of the few writers who can pull that off. It is clear he understands the history of Moon Knight, and respects it, but he is not particularly obligated to be bound by it. For a character with as much baggage as Moon Knight I think this is a pretty good approach to go with it.
The first issue is a good opening issue that re-introduces the character of Moon Knight to New York, this time as a kind of super detective who works with the police as the enigmatic Mr. Knight. He wears a tailored white suit with a full head mask. In most books this simply would not work, but Ellis and Shalvey pull it off almost entirely through force of will. There is only the barest of nods towards actual superheroics in the issue, and the villain is creepier than he is intimidating (which actually works with the original themes of Moon Knight from back in the day). If you have read the first issue and did not like it then you probably should not proceed because it only gets weirder. If you enjoyed it then there should be no reason to not read and enjoy the next five issues. (I have a fuller review of issue #1 here).
The second issue plays a bit with page layouts, and is among my favorites of the book as a result. It opens with a series of eight-panel pages, and each panel follows a single character. The characters are dropped from the narration one by one until nothing but an empty white page remains. It is simple, but effective. The rest of the issue is Moon Knight trying to track down a sniper in the city, which provides for some of those superheroics that were missing from the first issue. Shalvey is just as good at illustrating those as he is at the more passive action from the first issue. We are also introduced to Moon Knight’s new costume, which is probably the best one he has ever had. The white and black color scheme makes for a striking look which stands out against the more muted colors of everything else. You are supposed to see Moon Knight coming for you, and there is no doubt that you will.
Following on the theme of having the right costume for the right situation, issue three introduces us to the idea of Moon Knight having an entirely different (and downright creepy) costume for dealing with spirits. For Moon Knight this makes sense, since his connection to Khonshu (an Egyptian moon god) has always been about matters of life and death. He was, after all, revived by Khonshu after being killed at the footsteps of a statue to the god. Ever since the original 70s/80s run a lot of the mystical side to Moon Knight has been dropped in favor of making him a bit more of a generic Batman clone, which is unfortunate. Ellis brings back the supernatural here in a story that really is uniquely Moon Knight’s.
Things go from creepy to surreal in the next issue as yet another aspect of Khonshu is brought to the fore. A scientist researching dreamstates contacts Moon Knight asking for help, and what follows is one trippy ride through a strange fungal-inspired hallucination across the dreamscape (fans of The Last of Us may enjoy this in particular). This really lets Shalvey go nuts with the design, and there are some very good looking pages in this issue. That said, it was a little too weird for me and I found myself flipping through it rather quickly in an effort to get to the next story. It has received high praise from other ends of the Internet, though, so take that for what it is worth.
Of all of the stories issue five is probably the most straight forward. A girl has been kidnapped, and Moon Knight rescues her. It is a series of brutal, one-sided fights as Moon Knight has to climb a broken down apartment complex filled with mobsters and druggies who want to stop him. They fail to, as you might guess. There is a certain amount of Hong Kong cinema inspiration in this issue with brutal violence and choreographed action shots, and fans of the recent movies Dredd or The Raid will probably enjoy this issue quite a bit. The art also plays to these motifs, and the longer tracking shots of Moon Knight fighting through ruffians are extremely entertaining. There might not be much depth to this issue, but it is a lot of fun.
The final issue is the linchpin to everything, and its cover (an inverse of issue 1’s) makes a subtle reference to this. While it is not necessarily what you would call the culmination of the stories, since each is self-contained and independent, it does tie things together before getting out of the way so Brian Wood can do whatever he wants with his run. This issue also finally gets around to showing us what happened to Moon Knight’s longtime cast members, Marlene and Frenchie. Both have moved on with their lives, and that is probably for the best since good things do not tend to happen to friends of superheroes. We also refer back to issue one of this series, where one of the cops who talked to Mr. Knight has decided he no longer likes being overshadowed by superheroes. While this is nothing new, the actual descent into madness is pretty convincing, and he does make for a credible threat against Moon Knight. Their fight is short, but awesome. As an endcap to Ellis’ run it works.
The days of self-contained one-off stories may be behind us, but there is still a place for them every now and again. Warren Ellis is a master storyteller in both the short form and long form formats, and this is an excellent collection showcasing the former. Even if you do not plan to continue past Ellis’ run (I do not), this collection is a fine addition to any bookshelf.