Often dismissed as a Batman knock-off, it’d be more accurate to think of Marvel’s Moon Knight as a Batman/Hawkman knock-off hybrid – one which got dropped until it was cracked as a canopic jar on the set of Tomb Raider. Regardless, the mentally ill former mercenary who may or may not be the avatar of the Ancient Egyptian god of justice is a playground for lazy/bad writers – it must be so tempting to write him in the tediously wacky manner that has kept Deadpool in constant circulation across Marvel titles like the second coming of Cable.
With the creative duo of Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev, who elegantly handled a long and definitive run on Daredevil, and most recently their creator-owned title Scarlet, at the helm, a previously unappealing, decidedly c-list character is suddenly surrounded by a real buzz. The fans of Bendis and Maleev are indeed legion, and on this first outing for Batmoon, the pair’s usual tropes are there; panels are big on tight, film noir close-ups, the dialogue is fast and organic, and action sequences feel frantic and tense, but at first glace there’s nothing really special happening.
Based in LA, acknowledged as off the beaten track for villains who seem fixated on setting up shop in New York, the plot is dutifully established and a lot of time is given over to the necessary business of ‘positioning’ Hawkmoon in relation to other heroes – represented here by an unnecessarily belligerent caricature of Wolverine, a wisecracking cardboard cut out of Spider-Man and a painfully serious Captain America. A reasonably powerful villain is thrown in to allow us to get the measure of Moon Knight’s (refreshingly limited) abilities, and away we go: a satisfying set-up for flawed hero with a nice, self-contained, all perfectly enjoyable and pleasingly reminiscent of Daredevil.
On second read, things begin to get a lot more interesting. Consider again the cover, showing Moon Knight’s arms and the shield at his feet, and then return to the painfully over-defined Avengers (why else would one of them be Steve Rogers when he’s yet to inevitably return to the role?) who provided the initial exposition, and it appears increasingly likely that the whole exchange too place in his fractured psyche – Bendis being too skilful a writer for an ‘fuck it all’ off day where three core Avengers would travel to the West Coast purely to behave like characters in a bad fan fiction. Maybe Moon Knight’s not answering to the Avengers, maybe he has no mandate from the Avengers – but with Moon Knight taking centre stage and our view of the world passing through his lens, the guessing will all be part of the fun. Even Maleev’s sketchier, less defined art suddenly makes sense – it’s not because he’s doing it on the bus home, he’s trying to represent the worldview of someone so dramatically out of sync with the world around him that everything appears as a kinetic whirl of ill-defined shapes and movement.
Moon Knight issue 1 is either a satisfyingly mediocre set up, something about to launch into leftfield brilliance, or both – a fittingly ambiguous state for a superhero with multiple personality disorder really, isn’t it?