Moon Knight is a series that has experienced an ongoing revival since Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire took on six issues in 2014 and discovered a new audience for the character. For all of the excellent creative choices found in that brief run, its longest lasting legacy will be the reminder that Moon Knight is flexible -- able to be a horror comic, mystery comic, or action comic based on the whims of its creators from issue to issue. The newest iteration of the series is most decidedly a horror comic, one that leaves the superhero origins of the character barely recognizable in its debut issue.
The arrival of artist Jacen Burrows at Marvel Comics pairs perfectly with this choice of genre. Burrows has proven himself at Avatar to be a master of mood, subtle tension, and the grotesque while collaborating with Alan Moore on projects like Providence. His layouts and compositions are direct, composing a world that seems plain in order to make the revelation of the corrupt all the more disconcerting. That skill is put to excellent use in Moon Knight #188.
Much of this issue focuses on the doctor-patient relationship between minor or entirely unknown figures in Moon Knight lore. It’s the slow construction of a new threat for the character and one that when realized feels truly daunting and worth the slow build. Burrows makes that build function as he delivers small exchanges of dialogue with crystalline facial expressions capable of carrying all the intended humor or pathos within the script, and possibly more. He buries the elements of discomfort -- burn scars, strange glances, a proliferation of symbols -- in the background so that they never interrupt the normality of the story altogether. It is only in the final moments that his ability to effectively deploy gore and human tragedy on a massive scale are fully unleashed. This turn is nothing short of masterful in terms of pacing.
Burrows excellent understanding of how to deploy elements of horror on the comics page help to cover a significant issue with the scripting of Moon Knight #188 by Max Bemis. While the concept of a new antagonist is intriguing, his introduction by way of his psychologist is clumsily handled at best. The doctor, who is supposedly well respected, behaves in ways inconceivable for any mental health professional. Not only do they encourage dangerous behaviors, but describe illness in a dangerous and retrograde fashion. When the doctor states, “Marc Spector may be legally insane… but he was never crazy at all”, it shows a deep misunderstanding of the delicate subject the comic is using for entertainment from a character who ought to have no such problems. This problem is continually compounded throughout the issue, including a moment in which the doctor holds up Kurt Cobain and Ernest Hemingway, two men who took their own lives, as inspirational figures to a deeply disturbed patient. It would be laughable if it wasn’t taken so seriously.
The balance between this fundamental scripting issue and Burrows’ superb deployment of horror elements will be a deciding factor for many readers as to whether this new Moon Knight series is worth continuing. If Bemis opts to leave behind this bizarre take on mental illness in favor of horror and mythological elements, then the comic may survive an awkward first issue. Burrows strengths are on full display and there’s no cause to distract from the obviously successful elements of this debut.
Writer: Max Bemis
Artist: Jacen Burrows
Colorist: Mat Lopes
Letterer: Cory Petit