Review: 'Moon Knight #4' journeys into nightmares, and makes dreams come true

A comic review article by: Jamil Scalese

I have a love/hate relationship with hyperbole. I think it's far too simple to label something best, or worst, or horrendous, or flawless, or abysmal, or excellent, or failure, or perfect. It's this type of language that flood places like Facebook, reddit and Twitter various other social media forums and generally anywhere where the public-at-large can make unedited, uninformed comments.

On the other hand hyperbole can help get a point across, and it allows the user to employ colorful language to do so. It's a tool of expression to achieve affect and effect. I think in the current state of things, where everyone seems to be trying to one up the next guy, it's very easy to only operate in the extremes of the barometer. As a human who attempts to be moderate, sometimes to my detriment, I very rarely dub anything best or worst. The amount of three-star ratings I've given here at Comics Bulletin point to a pattern.

So when I reached the back cover of Moon Knight #4 I had to pause and think: "Is this really the best single issue I've read this year?" because that's the sentiment my brain was screaming. "This comic is awesome, Jamil", my brain said me. "It's simple yet vast, succinct but layered with visual elements that'd give any comic book fan pause!"

My brain agrees with Brian Wood, "There's literally nothing wrong with this book."

And that's what constitutes a perfect score.

As per above, I don't dole out too many five star ratings but it's nigh impossible for me to find flaws with the current edition of Moon Knight from Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire. It was apparent from the first issue that there was a special feel to this newest iteration of Marc Spector's crime fighting identity. Moon Knight proclaimed it's diverse, special status the first time the Bellaire-colored hero graced the page, contrasting his brightly flat white tones on top of a dark, dreamy background. As I put it to another CB writer in an e-mail when it debuted: "I never gave a fuck about the character until that moment."

 

Consistently a fringe character that routinely weaves his way into the bigger Marvel picture Moon Knight is tricky, both for creators and fans. His big hook is that he's "insane", and much like by longtime fictional boytoy Deadpool that translates into a multitude of interprations as society's definition of insanity grows with time and study. Warren Ellis doesn't focus on the split personalities or the apparent death wish too much, instead he narrows in on the detail that this guy, a one-time mercenary and current millionaire, was resurrected by an Egyptian god, a kooky quirk by its lonesome. The focus to the occult and supernatural has refreshed the character in a manner that separates him from the rest of the Marvel lineup. As Ellis puts it:

 "The job has been, simply, reactivating Moon Knight as a productive property for the Marvel IP library."

That's a little cut-and-dry, but it's so very Warren Ellis-like and thus appropriate.

Moon Knight #4 is, plainly, a gorgeous issue that emphasizes everything great about the run. This issue's story starts when Spector is summoned by a dead friend's former colleague to investigate a strange occurrence of shared nightmares between his patients. Moon Knight digs into the phenomenon by inducing sleep and finds himself in a bizarre, unrelenting dream world that houses a creepy secret.

Ellis' script lays down a battlefield for Shalvey and Bellaire to demonstrate their firepower. This comic is beautifully queasy. I've long stated that Shalvey is an uber-talented artist on the rise and he makes me look smart here.  He's always shown an aptitude for the dark, strange and the weird but in this title, and specifically this issue, he brandishes his skill in telling a story. The second half of the issue is lax on text but still, it's the stronger half. The amount of detail and thought put into page comes across cleanly as Moon Knight moves flawlessly across and panels. Shalvey's method is at times demure and unfettered and he balances that with a commendable amount of realization, that is, getting in there and adding tedious detail that give the title a haunting flavor that sticks with you.

Of course the book's secret weapon is Jordie Bellaire, who recently revealed she colored seventeen books in a month last year. Either incredible worth ethic or an incredible cost-of-living make a person do that but either way it's fair to say she's one of the best colorists in the medium right now. The title operates in shady places but it's the contrasts to that darkness that makes this a must-read. I was left silent, mouth agape when this story took its psychedelic turn at the midpoint.

Truthfully, there are many books out there with terse, astonishing writing and transcendent art, and many of them get the praise they've earned. What really makes me gush most about Moon Knight is that it's the best one-and-done ongoing since pre-New 52 Jonah Hex. The single-issue storytelling method is a dying art in the medium, and when it comes to indefinite series its nearly extinct. Yeah, yeah, there are some very legit business reasons to make everything into long arcs and it play the "sustain game" with trades and graphic novels and such, but even as a lover of serialized stories I feel there is plentiful merit in an episodic format too. The script writing of Warren Ellis on this book proves that things can feel cohesive and autonomous while still delivering payoff early. You hear that, Hickman? You hear that?!!

I want more comics like this. I need more comics like this. It's so hard to judge the quality of a work when you're reading it bit by bit.

This run is ending at #6 and the bulk of the comics community is actively mourning that loss, but maybe, just maybe, this can serve as the start of a new format for superhero (and similar) franchises. We already know the basics of these characters, and most of the popular ones have been around for decades. There's been a rise of anthology titles recently (i.e. Savage Hulk; Savage Wolverine) and it might be appropriate to dub Moon Knight something between that and an ongoing. Whatever you want to call the arrangement, it's works magically here.

Is it the best comic I've read all year? I have a hard time saying definitely, but it's surely operating in a class of its own. Smart, simple and fantastically progressive there is no reason to avoid Moon Knight, it might be redefining artistic success in the genre.

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