July 21, 2024

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Noteworthy Issues: Moon Knight #1 (November 1980)

Marvel's merc-turned-vigilante graduated to his own solo series.

Moon Knight is, for many comics fans, a somewhat recognizable hero in the Marvel Universe, but he is probably better known for how he has multiple personality disorder than any particular storyline or villain that he might have.  Regardless, with a live action take on the character coming in a few short weeks from Disney+, how about I take a look at the first issue of his first solo series?

Issue: Moon Knight #1, November 1980

Writer: Doug Moench

Artist:  Bill Sienkiewicz

The plot: Marc Spector, mercenary-turned-vigilante, recounts his origin story before going off to find the man who made him what he is, the terrorist Bushman!

Commentary:  Back in my college days, I was dating someone who, like me, loved comics, and I loaned her a few things.  One was one of my all-time favorite series, John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake’s 90s run on The Spectre.  At a certain point, my friend found an ad Marvel put together for a new Moon Knight mini-series, and she assumed given the character’s general appearance he was a Spectre rip-off.  I told her he was more of a Batman rip-off, and neither of us read the book anyway.  The writer for it was Doug Moench, and I had read a lot of his Batman work and wasn’t a fan.

So, you can imagine my general disappointment to see Moench was writing this first issue too.  Sure, Bill Sienkiewicz’s artwork makes up for a lot, but it was still Moench’s writing.

However, I was pleasantly surprised.  Moench’s writing actually fit the book.  Sure, it was a lot wordier than what I might prefer today, and a lot more melodramatic besides, but that actually fit into what a lot of Marvel books were like at that time.  Moench’s Batman run often featured heavily a character that, for one reason or another, annoyed me more than anything else, and it could have been a longstanding Batman-related character like Tim Drake or even the Joker, but something about the way Moench wrote them bothered me.  I didn’t get that impression here, perhaps because I was thinking of it as something from an 80s Marvel book and not a mid-to-late 90s DC book.

It is also probably worth noting that this was not Moon Knight’s first appearance.  He had appeared as an initially antagonistic role in a Werewolf by Night two-parter, also written by Moench, and various other guest appearances must have suggested the character had enough of a fanbase to justify giving him a solo series.  I haven’t read those earlier appearances, at least not yet, but as for this one, it’s not bad.  The issue opens with what is essentially Moon Knight’s origin story.  He was once Marc Spector, mercenary, riding as second-in-command to a terrorist named Bushman somewhere in Africa.  Bushman, a man who tattooed his face to resemble a skull and had replaced his teeth with pointy steel ones, is probably the biggest weakness here as he comes across as over the top and perhaps a wee bit of a racist caricature.  Let’s just say I think I know why the guy isn’t going to be on the Disney+ series.  Likewise, Spector is riding with this guy and doesn’t know how evil he is until he cuts down a few harmless civilians while doing what the 80s imagined terrorism was, i.e. just hurt and kill a lot of people for no reason.  That was Cobra Commander and a host of other 80s cartoon villains.  Heck, that was Red Claw on Batman the Animated Series.  Why should a terrorist have a motive?  Isn’t just killing people enough?

Regardless, Bushman hears word of an archeologist who found a lost Egyptian tomb far further south than one should be, and he really wants the gold that is no doubt buried there.  Spector, with a friendly pilot/stereotype named Frenchie, do their best to warn the archeologist, but the man is killed instead while his beautiful adult daughter Marlene ends up falling for Spector despite his being part of Bushman’s gang.  Spector, badly wounded trying to stop Bushman, is taken to the tomb by Marlene where he somehow comes back, and, taking a white cloth, dispenses justice on Bushman and decides to become a hero with three distinct personas:  Marc Spector, the mercenary; Steven Grant, millionaire investor living out of Long Island; and Jake Lockley, cab driver who gets the dirt on the underworld.

And then Bushman returns in the present, dealing drugs out of New York City, prompting a return visit where only Marlene’s intervention stops Moon Knight from killing Bushman.

So, really, good start here.  Sienkiewicz’s art makes for a lot of good, moody shots and angles, often involving moon symbols and iconography.  Given his pure white costume, Moon Knight stands out in any scene he’s in, and his head-to-toe costume makes him somehow both distinctive and menacing at the same time.  Furthermore, Moon Knight doesn’t seem to have qualms about dispensing lethal force on his adversaries.  True, Marlene stops him just short of killing Bushman, but lesser henchmen and the like are not so lucky.

But what about the multiple personalities?  That seems to be something of an act, or at least a persona he adopts depending on the situation he’s in.  Funny thing is, even Marlene and Frenchie refer to him by the name of whatever persona he’s using as opposed to, you know, his real name.  But it does seem to be something Spector can control as he consciously adopts a different persona based on the situation he’s in.  It’s weird, possibly unnecessary, but no more so than any time Batman went out as “Matches Malone”.  There’s already a strong, Batman-esque vibe off Moon Knight, so adding that facet somehow makes him more and less unique at the same time.

As it is, I think for the first time ever, I am curious to see where Doug Moench took something.

Grade:  B+