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Essential Moon Knight, vol. 1 2006 (SC TPB) 500+ pgs.

cover by SienkiewiczWritten by Doug Moench, with Bill Mantlo, Steve Grant. Illustrated by Bill Sienkiewicz, Don Perlin, Gene Colan, others.
Black & White. Letters: various.

Reprinting: Werewolf by Night #32-33, Marvel Spotlight (1st series) #28-29, Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #22-23, Marvel Team-Up Annual #4, Marvel Two-in-One #53, The Hulk Magazine (the Moon Knight back-up stories) #11-15, 17, 18, 20, Marvel Preview (the Moon Knight lead story) #21, Moon Knight (1st series) #1-10

Rating: * * * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: various

Re-reviewed: Jan. 2014

Published by Marvel Comics

Moon Knight -- not quite an A-list property, but more successful, off and on, than many -- has undergone a few reinterpretations over the years.

He was introduced in a couple of issues of Werewolf by Night as a mercenary hired to hunt down the titular lupine anti-hero and, in the process, was bitten by the werewolf, gaining slight powers during the nocturnal hours. He then drifted about the Marvel Universe, morphing into a bit of a Batman-wannabe. He was a big cloak, night-time hero who was wealthy and lived in a mansion -- but he was given some interesting quirks as elements of The Shadow were worked into the mix. Instead of just being a man alone, he had assistants, some front and centre -- Frenchie, the pilot who flew his moon-copter and, to some extent, Marlene, his live-in girlfriend (this being more conservative times, they had different bedrooms) -- some more peripheral, such as the homeless informant Crawlie, and the diner owner, Gena and her teenage sons. He also had an array of aliases. Though born Marc Spector (mercenary), his primary alter ego was millionaire Steven Grant, but he was also fond of becoming cabbie Jake Lockley. And the notion that the array of alter egos began to fray at his identity was an undercurrent as the stories progressed. Along the way, Moon Knight's origin was revamped, later stories having it be that he had already embarked on his super hero career prior to the Werewolf by Night story.

His full, "authentic" origin was finally told in the first issue of his own monthly comic.

So this Essential volume (#1) collects a vast array of material in economic black and white conveniently between one cover -- a lot of Essential volumes just collect a chronological run of a series, but this brings together various comics that might otherwise be hard to trackdown without a checklist. It doesn't just reprint the first ten issues of his first solo series, but many of his prior appearances, from some (though not all) guest appearances, to his solo back up series in the pages of the Hulk tabloid magazine ("back up" stories that were, themselves, often 20 pages or so).

When I first reviewed this I had some, though not all, of these comics in my collection -- but I'm now (slightly) re-writing this review since I've subsequently read even more of the old issues, so that I have read most of the comics collected here. And -- heck -- the fact that in my youth I collected the first ten issues of Moon Knight's comic when I collected very few comics regularly (except to follow a particular story arc to its conclusion) obviously indicates I kind of liked 'em.

Doug Moench created the character and served as the guiding force for much of his early run (including almost all the issues here). Moench's one of those writers I tend to have mixed feelings about, his work often seeming as though he's trying to infuse his stories with deeper meaning and themes...even as his execution could be clumsy. Still, the character seemed to fire something inside him, particularly as he developed the property (this and Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu among Moench's creative peaks).

Moon Knight was more than a little like Batman (Moench even has Moon Knight settle on his costumed identity after an epiphany seeing the statue of the Egyptian god Khonshu...just as Batman had an epiphany on seeing a bat). But, as mentioned, this was a clever re-working of Batman themes, not a shameless carbon copy (and the influence flowed both ways, as Batman's mid-'80s dart-like batrangs were clearly borrowed from Moon Knight's crescent darts). And for a character whose origin involved a werewolf, Moench clearly wanted to move the character away from the fantasy/sci-fi. Few of Moon Knight's early adversaries were costumed, let alone super powered. And this too added to the flavour. This is obvious almost from the start, with Moon Knight's initial solo adventure (a two-issue story in Marvel Spotlight, in which most of the character's traits are already in place) involving him getting embroiled in an assassination attempt involving municipal politics (though with a decidely pulp-fiction extravagance of a costumed villain with pet alligators!)

Moench also liked to cram a lot in. The first six issues of his solo series are all self-contained tell-it-in-one stories, and are effective because of that.

(Interestingly, despite the Batman-Moon Knight parallels, and Moench having written for both, I'd argue his Moon Knight stories were superior, and more original, than his Bat-scripts).

Aiding Moench immeasurable was Bill Sienkiewicz, who came on board part way through the Hulk back up series and continued into the self-titled series. Sienkiewicz would later evolve a very stylized art style, but during these issues he worked in a Neal Adams style of semi-realist faces and lithe, sinewy bodies (at the time, comics legend Adams remarked in an interview that newer readers assumed he was imitating Sienkiewicz!). Sienkiewicz's art could be a bit uneven at times, sometimes his choice of composition not the most effective, and his effectiveness influenced by the inkers (he was often his best inker) -- all comments that could be levelled at Adams, come to think of it. But there's little doubt that Sienkiewicz's presence definitely enhanced the stories, lending them a sense of atmosphere and sophistication (and, of course, further enforced the Batman connection, as Adams had drawn some memorable Batman stories years earlier!)

The result is a largely effective run of tales. Sure, for all Moench's aspirations to write "smart" scripts, there were plenty of awkward bits, implausibilities. But he does a good job with his cast, over time fleshing them out and making their relationships and interaction part of the show, from Moon Knight himself to supporting characters like Gena and her kids, giving the series a roundedness (and gentle humour) that a lot of super hero comics lacked.

I mentioned the character evolved a bit over these issues, with Moench even re-writing his origin story; moving from the "fantasy" of werewolves and guest starring with other super heroes, to more "real world" adventures, slightly isolated from other super heroes (without being a separate reality) where even Moon Knight's werewolf acquired nocturnal strength was dropped from the character, making him just a "normal" man.

And the changes continued long after. Although Moon Knight's origins were (retroactively) tied into Khonshu, even suggesting at times that he put a little too much superstitious stock in the connection (in one story here, a villain steals his statue of Khonshu in order to throw him off psychologically), later scribes seemed to take that supernatural aspect far more seriously than did Moench. In later years Marvel revived Moon Knight as part of a dark n' gritty trend (and dropped the supporting cast that was so much a part of the old stories) to the point where Moon Knight was basically a homicidal psychopath (though then later writers tried to back pedal from that characterization a bit).

I received an e-mail from someone who defined the difference between Batman and Moon Knight as being Batman was about justice, first, vengeance, second, whereas Moon Knight was about vengeance. And reading some of the ad blurbs for that later revival, emphasizing the series' (and character's) violence and brutality...it hardly sounds like the same character Moench was writing about.

For all MK's mercenary origins, and the fact that the characters were not adverse to using lethal force (Frenchie and Marlene getting into a few shoot outs), in general Moon Knight was a traditional, level-headed super hero, who tended not to kill (in one story, even specifically observing that he's not "bloodthirsty"). In other words, I would argue: No. Moon Knight (as conceived by Moench) was never supposed to be a brutal anti-hero all about "vengeance."

And the overall result is generally quite strong. Among the highlights are "The Mind Thieves", the 40 page Marvel Preview epic -- the only story here originally published in black & white so loses the least reprinted in this Essential volume (though, conversely, Marvel Preview was published outside the Comics Code and I suspect a panel or two will get -- minor -- touch ups for inclusion in this more general readership collection -- though maybe not). That story, by Moench and Sienkiewicz, explores some of Moon Knight's mercenary background (and borrows from some real world scandals) in a story involving rogue CIA experiments that takes MK from New York, to Montreal, to Paris. Other high points: a tense, dark two-part thriller from the Hulk run set mainly in one night as Moon Knight hunts a serial killer; the first issue of his monthly comic; the creepy "Ghost Story" from #5; the off beat voodoo tale from #6; and the two two-parters from 7-8 and 9-10. Even the Spider-Man team up from Peter Parker and the original Marvel Spotlight story are decent romps.

For all my harping on the Batman connection (and which I stand by), in other ways, these earlier Moon Knight tales carved out his own, distinctive corner of the Marvel U. Particularly with Sienkiewicz providing the art, there was a mood and sophistication at times, a colourful cast of characters and a nice sense of the story rooted in a world a step closer to our own than that inhabited by Captain America or the X-Men.

Cover price: ___


Moon Knight: Countdown to Dark 2010 (SC TPB) 148 pages

coverWritten by Doug Moench. Pencils by Bill Sienkiewicz. Inkers: Bob MacLeod, Klaus Janson, others.
Colours/letters: various.

Reprinting: The Moon Knight Stories from The Hulk (magazine) #13-15, 18-20, Marvel Preview #21

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Reviewed: Jan. 2014

Published by Marvel Comics

In many ways Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz are the defining, seminal team on the Moon Knight. Moench had actually created the character and was the chief writer for a number of years, while Sienkiewicz illustrated the first couple of dozen issues of his original solo series, adding a lot of mood and personality to the series -- while also, arguably, making more explicit Moon Knight's position in the Marvel Universe as a kind of Batman figure by virtue of the fact that Sienkiewicz was heavily evocative of iconic Batman artist, Neal Adams. Moon Knight, like Batman, is a rich millionaire who prowled the night as a big-cape spooky figure, making use of gadgets and vehicles -- the chief difference being Moon Knight had assistants like Frenchie and Marlene (though Batman had Robin and Alfred, too).

Yet the Moench/Sienkiewicz collaboration began even before Moon Knight #1 -- Sienkiewicz having joined Moench shortly into a run of Moon Knight stories that were running as a back up in the tabloid-size Hulk magazine (back-up tales that were, themselves, 20 pages or so!) culminating in Moon Knight's (then) largest single-issue story with the lead spot in the magazine-sized Marvel Preview #21.

Presumably seeing these as slightly "lost" stories -- or harder to trackdown -- Marvel already collected them once in the Moon Knight: Special Edition, a three issue mini-series on heavy, expensive paper. And then re-collected them as a complete volume (though, funnily -- they've yet to bother collecting the actual self-titled Moon Knight comics they preceded, other than in the omnibus Essential Moon Knight reviewed above).

At first you might question whether it was worth it -- partly because Sienkiewicz came on board in the middle of a story. The first issue is confusing, as the plot has already started. Though it does open with a character being briefed on Moon Knight, conveniently summarizing the character and his background for new readers. As well, Sienkiewicz' art isn't him at his best -- indeed, it may be among his earliest professional work. Oh, it's certainly okay -- just the composition and storytelling isn't tops. And the inking by Joe Rubinstein and Bob MacLeod -- though fine inkers in general -- maybe bleeds some of the mystery and atmosphere out of the pencils by virtue of giving too solid a finish to the art.

Yet that turns out to just be a shakedown cruise, as it were.

Because the rest of the collection is actually pretty good. And it also reflects an appealing diversity of tales. Those opening two-issues are a straight adventure-thriller, involving Moon Knight getting involved with nuclear terrorists, and reflect what would be a signature of Moench's vision for Moon Knight -- namely making him seem a little more grounded than other super heroes. More like James Bond in a costume, or a private eye, battling killers and terrorists, rather than a super hero fighting colourful super villains. The next two tales (or rather a two-chapter tale from Hulk #15) is more quirky and light-hearted, with MacLeod's inks meshing more effectively, and guest starring the Hulk in a rare concession to the super hero oeuvre. This then is followed by a dark two-parter involving a serial killer on the streets of New York, that connects back to Moon Knight's own past, for a suitably tense and exciting story taking place mainly over one night. This is followed a one of those introspective day/night-in-the-life sort of tales (y'know, where there's no overridding plot but it's about the character prowling the city, getting embroiled in minor incidents).

While the Marvel Preview story is more like an espionage thriller -- with aspects of Gothic horror. A memorable tale that takes Moon Knight from New York, to Canada, to France -- and tying back into his mercenary past. It was originally published in black and white, but was coloured when reprinted in Moon Knight: Special Edition. Marvel Preview was also published outside the Comics Code, and there was some slight mature subject matter (including minor nudity) -- panels I expected would be doctored, but actually remained intact for the Moon Knight: Special Edition and, I'm guessing, for this collection (this is a review based on those earlier comics, not the collection itself).

Throughout the visuals take on different flavours thanks to different inkers -- Klaus Janson, for example, inking the serial killer story to good effect (this when Janson was still showing more respect for the penciller's lines while still bringing his own unique atmosphere).

The title of this collection is taken from one of the issues, but why it was chosen I'm not sure. Maybe just because it sounds cool. Maybe because, as a run of stories that would lead to Moon Knight's first self-titled comic, they could be seen as a countdown to his own series.

The other possibility is that the Marvel editors wanted to play into later incarnations of Moon Knight. In more recent years, Moon Knight has become part of (or a victim to) the "dark n' gritty" style that occasionally washes through comicdom like periodic plagues. At one point he was such a violent, brutal "hero" he made the Punisher seem like a liberal. So they might have chosen the title to imply this progression toward darkness was there from the beginning.

But I would argue it wasn't.

Yes, Moench's Moon Knight was, in his way, a slightly grittier hero than many super-folk, as befits a man whose background was as a soldier-of-fortune, and whose opponents, as mentioned, were often less "fanciful" than Spider-Man's rogues gallery. Though Moon Knight himself rarely used lethal force, occasionally Frenchie and Marlene would get into shoot-outs.

But Moon Knight was never intended to be the homicidal psychopath later writers made him. Indeed, in one issue here a character specifically points out that Moon Knight doesn't want to kill anyone. I'm not going to argue the vices or virtues of the psycho-killer Moon Knight vs. the Batman-in-white Moon Knight -- in a medium like comics, characters are constantly re-imagined and reinvented by new editorial regimes, and to exploit market trends. But what I will say is that to those fans who insist the violent Moon Knight is the "real" character and that anyone who disagrees doesn't understand the character -- no. You can argue which version you prefer, certainly, but the "real" character is the more level-headed one Moench and Sienkiewicz were presenting back in the 1980s -- if only because Moench created the character to begin with!

Despite an uneven start, this proves an enjoyable collection, benefitting from a certain variety in the tone of the stories.

Cover price: ___


cover by CowanMoon Knight: Divided We Fall 1992 (SC GN) 48 pages

Written by Bruce Jones. Pencils by Denys Cowan. Inks by Tom Palmer, Mike Manley.
Colours: Noelle Giddings. Letters: Ken Lopez. Editors: Joey Cavalieri, Danny Fingeroth.

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Published by Marvel Comics

I don't know the history of this Moon Knight graphic novel (or prestige format special, if you don't wanna be pretentious -- ie: square spine, no ads, heavy paper) as it was published in 1992 but set in the mid-1980s. So was this just the political era they wanted to set it in...or had the script been sitting on a shelf for a while?

I'm not sure writer Bruce Jones had tackled MK before, but he does so in such a way that indicates he understands the basics of the concept...while maybe is fuzzy on the specifics. I mean, shouldn't Frenchie sound, y'know, French? And why does Marlene refer to Moon Knight as "Marc" when she tended to prefer to think of him as his "Steven" persona? Even some of the visuals are curious -- arch foe Bushman had his face tattooed with a white pattern to evoke a human skull...here, though still with tattoo markings, they aren't white, kind of losing the imagery (he also has dreadlocks?!?)

Still, some of that is nitpicking as Jones at least offers a story that stands alone -- no asterixed footnotes, no referencing past continuity. Even Bushman's presence as an old foe...well, you don't need to know more than that he's an old foe (which is stated). So it's a good read for those unfamiliar with Moon Knight. At the same time, those wholly unfamiliar with the character might close the book still lacking a sense of the mythos. No use is made of (or reference to) MK's use of multiple aliases -- Marc, Steven and Jake -- which is surely one of the things that made the character distinct from other heroes (here he is always just called Marc). Nor do any of the secondary supporting characters make appearances (Crawlie, Gena, etc.). At one point a character asks MK how he earns a living...but it's never answered for those as don't know (he's a Bruce Wayne-style millionaire)

But even if a long time fan might quibble about some of the details, and a completely new reader might come away still not fully appreciating the character's history, it works more than it doesn't as a decent, stand alone Moon Knight tale for both camps. Jones does seem to understand the basic flavour fuelling the character -- at least the early issues by Doug Moench. And that is to tug the series a bit away from comic book action and super villains. So the plot here is almost more a suspense-thriller than a four colour action romp, and is basically Moon Knight does "The Manchurian Candidate".

The premise is that Moon Knight has a bit of a falling out with partner Frenchie and girlfriend Marlene. Taking advantage of this schism, a rogue CIA operative brainwashes the two into being assassins at a high profile political summit -- all co-masterminded by Bushman. And though there is action and such hi-jinks, the story is more inclined toward talky and a deliberate unfolding of the story -- a story which maybe isn't that complex, but nonetheless is paced out well with little scenes, comfortably justifying its 46 pages. In fact, give credit where it's due. I've often complained that comics aren't very good at employing guest star characters (unlike TV) and here there are no significant characters (barely even any speaking parts!) outside of MK, Marlene, Frenchie, Bushman and the CIA guy -- for a 46 page story! -- yet it works, the very limited cast maybe instilling an extra element of focus and intimacy to the proceedings.

There are some awkward bits -- even the opening schism seems a bit contrived (and a little too convenient for the villains' plan). Indeed how the division is maintained is also a bit contrived (was MK always this abrasive?) But Jones delivers a story which, even if a lot of it is talking heads, carries you along from page to page, its very low key-ness precisely what cranks up the tension. Even blatantly manipulative scenes -- like a scene where Moon Knight is toying with eavesdropping on his erstwhile friends, unaware the villains are plotting on the other end of the listening device. It does create genuine suspense as Moon Knight reaches to activate the listening device, drops his hand, reaches again. As I say: blatantly manipulative. But effective.

Artist Denys Cowan I have mixed emotions about, sort of liking his edgy style and presentation...and sort of finding his art can be just too raw and rough -- deliberately so, his style prone too jerky figures and excess lines as if inked directly from rough sketches as opposed to polished finished work. There is an element of his work that evokes Bill Sienkiewicz who, if Moon Knight had a "classic" artist, would be that guy. Indeed, one could argue that Cowan's style actually evokes the direction Sienkiewicz's art went in his post-Moon Knight years. As such, just as Jones' script captures the ambience of a Moench-era Moon Knight script, Cowan's art has echoes of Sienkiewicz, again making for a Moon Knight story that, even if the minutia can seem a bit off, in other ways evokes the character quite well (at least, as he was back then as opposed to the hyper-violent version Marvel is currently marketing to the kids circa the late 2000s). And Cowan's art, along with Noelle Giddings' sombre colours, suits the noirish tone of the story.

Though a problem with Cowan's visuals is that they can be confusing. There's a scene at the beginning where Moon Knight breaks up a gang only to find it's a trap, where you aren't sure if the thugs he dropped down among are supposed to be people...or mannequins (one has no face, the other a detailed face). And there are a few bits where the storytelling, even the talking heads bits, are confusing in how Cowan has staged the visuals.

There's also an opening sequence with a few panels that seem ripped off from the classic Dark Knight Returns (as Moon Knight pulls a thug through the floor) -- talk about chutzpa!

Ultimately, as a 46 page Moon Knight graphic novel, "Divided We Fall" works more than it doesn't, using moments of sometimes low key suspense to ratchet up the tension, making for an appealing mix of super hero action with a more grounded suspense-thriller.

Original cover price: $4.95 USA


Vengeance of The Moon Knight: Shock and Awe 2010 (SC TPB) 148 pages

coverWritten by Gregg Hurwitz. Pencils by Jerome Opena. Inks by Opena, Jay Leisten.
Colours: Paul Mounts, Dan Brown. Letters: Joe Caramagna. Editors: Axel Alonso.

Reprinting: Vengeance of the Moon Knight #1-6 (1989) with covers

Rating: * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Reviewed: Jan, 2011

Published by Marvel Comics

Mildly suggested for mature readers

Moon Knight's been around since the late 1970s, being cancelled, then revived, often with some new spin on the property...even as core aspects remain intact. He was revived in the 2000s as a particularly dark and violent version of the character, unstable and dealing vengeance on criminals with a bloodiness that only the Punisher could admire. Personally I had next to no interest in reading such hyper-violent excesses (what can I say? I'm not 14 years old). But whether as a result of a creative decision, or simply sales slumping, after a few dozen issues of that, that comic was cancelled, and then re-started as Vengeance of the Moon Knight...an odd name as it's real point is to move past the ultra-violent psycho theme.

The premise here is Moon Knight has finally reclaimed his sanity and wants to reclaim his place as a super hero in good standing -- tough to do when even the good guys figure you're an out of control psycho. He returns to New York and, after stopping a bank robbery, even the cops are surprised that he accomplished it without any killing, maiming or mutilating. The old Moon Knight is back! Well, with a few alterations to his costume (it's bullet proof) and gadgets (guns that fire bolo-type things). But if you squint your eyes, it certainly evokes the character of old.

Of course, even if this new/old Moon Knight sticks, we're still saddled with an era of the character where he was a brutal psycho. Yet all that's supposed to be shrugged off as the moral equivalent of a bad hair day?

Anyway, so Moon Knight is now basically a good guy -- but still haunted by the Egyptian god of vengeance that first inspired him. Khonshu literally sitting on his shoulder, egging him on to return to his brutal recent past. Moon Knight reconnects with old friends like Marlene and Frenchie -- even informer Crawley (strangely drawn to look about forty years younger than he did in the old stories!)

The result is a suitable beginning to a new series, with Moon Knight returning to New York, essentially reborn. And with some of the needed backstory concisely provided by an introductory blurb. Even as other aspects relate to on going stuff in all Marvel's titles -- but that's pretty minor, just in a few lines and panels. Though it does help to at least have enough familiarity with Moon Knight that when Marlene or Frenchie show up, you know who they are. Frenchie is both on crutches and, apparently, gay, these days -- even odder, he's apparently a TV-approved homosexual, hanging out with gay friends at chic art galleries, trading bitchy quips...riiight, 'cause scratch below the surface of any gay soldier-of-fortune and a "Will and Grace" supporting character will emerge.

It's good to see MK back as an old school good guy. Despite the enhancements to his accoutrements, it's easy to see this guy as the old Moon Knight, and nice Marlene and Frenchie, etc. are still around. Hurwitz's dialogue is nice enough, his Moon Knight a likeable hero. And the art by Jerome Opena is, at times, quite stunning. It mixes realism with a gritty sketchiness that imbues the scenes with a lot of brooding atmosphere -- or breathtaking grandeur. The opening sequence, with the bank robbery, is dramatically presented. And though I'd argue a complete stranger would probably find the story muddled, it's not too confusing for a casual fan like me. I'm familiar with the basics of the Moon Knight mythos and, if only through internet references, I have a vague knowledge of the current Marvel Universe (Norman Osborn, the Super Human Registration Act, etc.) -- and much of that is explained as you go anyway, from a flashback to Moon Knight's origins, to dialogue (and that opening blurb) that fills in other gaps. In other words, I picked up on enough to follow the story and the motivation. And so this can be read for itself alone.

Even the title cleverly plays on our expectations -- after the previous, violent Moon Knight run, the "shock and awe" would imply its military usage...but in reality, the "shock" from the characters, is in Moon Knight's newfound restraint, and the "Awe" is what he instills in those around him.

But as much as I really liked Opena's art, as much as he evinces an extraordinary amount of skill and detail that puts many of the comic book artists I grew up with to shame (something true of a lot of modern artists, who maybe are better trained than the artists of old, or better paid so they can devote more time to the work) -- sometimes the action scenes are a bit confusingly staged. And I don't know why some artists can evoke a character with ease and others can't, but even by the end of these six issues, I found myself often having trouble recognizing Moon Knight out of costume. Or Frenchie from scene-to-scene. Even Marlene -- though she was slightly easier simply because, well, she was the only woman in the comic! And that impacts on our ability to care about the characters...when we can barely recognize them!

And Hurwitz's plotting is thin. The overall arc (if it can even be called an arc) is that Moon Knight returns to town, which annoys the bad guys, who hire a guy, who resurrects Moon Knight's old foe Bushman from the dead (Moon Knight having previously killed him -- and cut off his face! -- in a particularly unstable moment). Bushman assembles an army of crazies to go an a rampage, Moon Knight fights them, Moon Knight wins. The end. As an aside, Moon Knight's long established Batman-parallels are even more explicit here, involving both the inmates from a creepy mental institution, Ravencroft -- ala Batman's Arkham -- and one of the foes is a Scarecrow garbbed figure (Marvel's Scarecrow, a minor villain, dates back decades).

You could've squeezed the whole thing into a single double-sized issue!

Multi-issue stories used to be epic sagas -- but in the modern comics era of decompression, and TPB collections, the temptation is to serialize a story over multiple issues just because you can (ironic, given the early issues of Moon Knight's first series were notable for their tight, tell-it-in-one-issue plots). And there aren't a lot of asides or sub-plots to pad things out. Even the character stuff makes pretensions to sophistication, rather than being the real thing. Moon Knight's conflicts with his inner demon, Khonshu, are kind of repetitive, not really taking us anywhere. He reunites with Marlene in one scene, then they are sleeping together in the next scene she appears in -- with no exploration of her thinking or emotions. Likewise, Frenchie rebuffs him in one scene, clearly depressed and melancholy...then shows up a few issues later to help. One can't really say any of this smacks of penetrating insight into motives and inner psyches. Even the idea that Moon Knight is going by his "Jake" name (the character having had multiple aliases -- Steve, Marc and Jake) seems pointless, as he's not actually in his "Jake Lockley" persona (the working class cabbie). It's just a name here, not an identity.

Clearly the point here was to return the character to his roots, and get away from the "brutal psycho" phase -- maybe even completely nullifying it. The resurrection of Bushman seems part of that, because he isn't resurrected as some zombie monster...but just seems to be returned to normal life, face included. It's as if he was never killed.

And as a creative decision, thinking about the character's next few decades of adventures, I can't say it's entirely wrong.

But as a story, this leaves me of two minds. It's actually a kind of fun, pleasant read (albeit, still a little dark n' gritty at times, the book still sporting a nominal "mature readers" caution -- though barely warranting it). I liked seeing a version of Moon Knight closer to the character's roots. But you can't avoid thinking how sparse is the character development and exploration. And not simply is the story thin...but it's not especially original or clever. I mean, really: old foe seeks revenge? And not even with a clever scheme, but just by unleashing a lot of anarchy? That's a plot?

The Vengeance of Moon Knight series was cancelled after only ten issues (producing a second TPB collection) and no doubt fans of the ultra violent character will see its failure as a vindication for them. But I don't think it was a kinder, gentler Moon Knight that hurt sales...but the plotting that didn't really demand a monthly visit to the comic shop.

Shock and Awe is a both atmospheric and oddly agreeable, yet a little disappointing, too.

Cover price: $15.99 USA

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