One of our earliest childhood friends was a huge Moon Knight fan, so let’s have a look at some highlights of the series from the 1980s. The first issue declares the “macabre” Moon Knight, and elements of the supernatural and spooky would remain an integral part of the character. “Macabre” may be overstating the horror element, but you know how bronze age Marvel thrived on alliteration!
The artwork is nowhere nearly as experimental as what Bill Sienkiewicz later developed for books like Elektra: Assassin. We have heard Moon Knight compared to Batman, and Sienkiewicz delivers a style that seems well-suited to attracting a Batman audience accustomed to the classic work of Neal Adams and Marshal Rogers. Sienkiewicz shows an early flair for dramatic layouts and panel shapes, as these pages show.
Doug Moench cranks up the macabre in issue #12 by introducing Morpheus, a walking nightmare with a face only his mother could love and lots of icky black goo. This otherworldly menace gives Sienkiewicz a license to get weird, with dark and dramatic renditions of creepy interiors and conflicts.
The energetically odd-shaped panels remind us of Neal Adams’ work on the X-Men during his brief stint with Roy Thomas on the title. In a 2001 interview with Comic Book Resources, Bill admitted his fascination with Adams’ style: “Studying Neal’s work… I became obsessed… and became fixated on it. It was like my intention was to be Neal… There was no one at this point saying don’t do that, you’ve got to be your own person… When I finally got started, what got me hired was the fact that I drew like Neal. Neal in fact called up Shooter and said, ‘I’ve got this kid fresh off the street and he draws like me. Is that a problem?'”
Next up, let’s have a look inside issue #15. This one is so insane: something about white supremacists breeding rats in army helmets, and then a giant talking rat-man named Xenos shows up to assassinate a politician with a gun. WHAT?
But, #15 also has some cool ‘Moon Knight Files’ that discuss his weapons and origin and his different personalities. Though not as kooky as the Badger, Moon Knight had a thing about his identity. “Shades of Moon Knight” by Doug Moench also tells us about the development of the character as a concept.
Of all the issues we’ve read of this series, #24 stands out the most in terms of art and story. Focusing Moon Knight on crime takes him out of the spandex-clad superhero vibe and gives us some powerful human drama, masterfully rendered by Sienkiewicz. Let’s just look at the opening pages from this mini-masterpiece. Sienkiewicz treats us to visually appealing ‘stained glass window’ shapes, lots of dark shadows defining people and spaces, and great depictions of Moon Knight in stark black-and-white.
Pretty awesome, huh? If the whole series had been this intense, we might have tried to fill in every issue in our set!
We also dig this illustration from a subscription ad that portrays Moon Knight in an iconic pose rendered entirely in black and white. This needs to be a poster! More dramatic black-and-white Moon Knight art appears in an ad for #25.
Before we go on, let’s pause for the sake of interested collectors. You can collect these 1980s issues very inexpensively as the single issues of Moon Knight Volume 1, or in the black and white reprint Essential Moon Knight. Essential Moon Knight covers, in three volumes, all kinds of early Moon Knight stories, the Moench run, the first six issues from the second series, and more! Don’t forget the Moon Knight Special Edition, which reprints on higher-quality paper the early back up stories from The Hulk. Now let us move forward in time to the short-lived Moon Knight Volume Two!
Marvel cancelled the title and brought it back in a second volume with a new creative team, printing “Fist of Konshu: Moon Knight” on the cover. Frankly, we don’t understand why. It doesn’t have a significantly different vibe from volume one, and it revisits the themes of ancient Egypt and Morpheus in its early issues. We get a hint that Moon Knight’s split personality and new relationship with his power source will be a focus of the series, but it isn’t all that different from before.
The Morpheus tale in #3 really is creepy, but Marvel’s “new” printing process makes the colors decidedly garish to our eyes. (We processed them here to look a little more normal.) Many books circa 1985 had this look, and we don’t like it any better now than we did then. It seemed like an attempt to move into today’s high-quality formats, but without really having a clue how that would work. Despite this harsh judgment, we dig the disturbing nightmare worlds created for some criminally insane residents of the institution! Totally twisted.
The new creative team finds its feet in the first few issues, but then the book gets passed around. In #5, Jo Duffy gives us a morally grey tale where Moon Knight may or may not be in the right when he tries to stop a murder.
Issue #6 sports one of our all-time favorite Moon Knight covers, a wonderfully painted and suitably spooky scene. James “Priest” Owsley steps in for a tale that ends our collection. Moon Knight jumps through a closed window and then hugs a crack whore before busting out of some chains in classic superhero style. All in a day’s work!
Priest gave us some memorable stories in the 80s and our favorite Black Panther story more recently before moving out of comics and on to other endeavors. We also moved on to other things besides Moon Knight at this point in our early teenage collector days. The second series was cancelled after just six issues. What was the point of the reboot? We don’t know.
But, we have always had a fondness for the character, probably because he just looks so awesome when drawn well: the white cloak, the ankh, the face shrouded in darkness. We can’t help but wish that Sienkiewicz had some day returned to the character with his more lavishly abstract style, loaded with shadows and supernatural weirdness. Moon Knight works best the farther he gets away from standard superhero fare and off into the world of madness, mystics, and dreams.