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Saturday, March 12, 2022 

Film columnist covering Moon Knight history does so with predictable awkwardness

A contributor to Midwest Film Journal published a history article about Moon Knight, in anticipation of the new TV program, and while there are some impressive things said about the material up to the end of last century, it unsurprisingly becomes less challenging when he turns to what was published post-2000, when Marvel was beginning to head for self-destruct mode. The discussion includes:
Moon Knight is a superhero who, over the decades, has changed countless times as writers try to make his unwieldy premise actually work. Every major hero evolves with the times, of course, and the best of them are capable of headlining stories that run the tonal gamut while staying consistent to their premise. Spider-man grapples with responsibility, Batman grapples with loss, Daredevil grapples with guilt, Superman grapples with humanity. These are ideas that the adolescent target audience of comic books can easily latch onto and understand. Moon Knight, across his history, has not always benefited from that simplicity. Core elements of his character have remained, but every interpretation differs in both how it prioritizes the importance of those elements and where it places its moral focus.

To fully understand Moon Knight, I read the roughly 220 issues of his main series and self-titled one-shot comics published over his lifetime. Twice. It was not a difficult project. Reading 220 comics is nothing compared to, say, trying to read all of the other aforementioned heroes. The only challenge, really, was figuring out how to read the largest sustained chunk, 1989’s Marc Spector: Moon Knight series, which ran for about 60 issues and remains uncollected (c’mon, Marvel, I’d buy two Omnibus editions of that).

It’s not uncommon to hear Moon Knight — clad in white, with a big cape and a mansion full of gadgets — compared to Batman. Sometimes I’ve even read Moon Knight described as “Marvel’s Batman” by know-nothings. That’s an erasure of the character’s most interesting aspects, which so many writers have played with in interesting ways. There are certainly similarities, particularly in the creative teams, but they’re mostly in the realm of shared genre convention.
Ahem. The Epic Collection archives are getting to that point, having noticed a 4th edition collecting issues from the 1989-94 volume is in the works, so it's not going to remain uncollected for much longer. Try paying more attention to archive publications, please. As for Spector's character changing many times, here's a vital query: does this include the post-2000s material, maybe more so than what came before? Honestly, I'd rather consider it all disavowed from canon, because most of the writers since then, whom the columnist mentions further along, are overrated hacks and disrespectful of what came before. And no, Moon Knight may not be Batman, but how is it the post-2000 comics haven't erased the best parts that made the hero work? Until that can be answered, here's where the article begins to fumble regarding the pre-2000 material, when the writer brings up the early 90s series, where Chuck Dixon was one of the writers:
Although he loses the multiple identities, Spector is once again accompanied by Frenchie and Marlene, who get to play larger roles in his adventures. Marlene is frequently drawn in a cheesecake ’90s style. It ages this particular run in a very bad way. American comics didn’t improve their standard depiction of women until very recently, and while it’s not like Moench’s original run gave Marlene a ton of agency, well, she rarely showed up quite like she does in this silliness:
My my, seems we have here another somebody who couldn't resist injecting hysterical sex-negative propaganda, and pretty much refuses to recognize tongue-in-cheek visuals when he sees them. But then, this is an era where comedy's been destroyed, so you couldn't expect somebody to retain a sense of humor here either. The 90s did have its low points. But this is far from the worst thing you could find during the era.

The columnist goes on to discuss the late 2000s, and what he has to say about a volume circa 2006 is all over the place:
This is often regarded as one of the high points for the character, but I personally dislike it quite a bit. Charlie Huston and artist David Finch relaunched the character after years of absence, introducing us to a Marc Spector whose identity issues have rendered him violent and insane. The first issue opens with him ripping off Bushman’s face, and Khonshu subsequently appears to him as his faceless arch-foe for quite some time. Excessively grim.

To Huston’s credit, he incorporates a lot of Moench’s old supporting cast — including Moon Knight informers Bertrand Crawley and Gena Landers. But in classic mid-2000s extreme form, they’re all broken and traumatized. Frenchie is also back, having lost his legs; he’s also openly gay, but his boyfriend is later mutilated. Gena’s son is dead. Crawley’s alcoholism is treated much heavier. Marlene returns and leaves again, her on-and-off-again relationship with Spector increasingly complicated by his mental health issues.

Huston left halfway through the run, replaced by Mike Benson. There’s a decent Punisher crossover in there. Maybe the high point is the Civil War crossover where Captain America and Iron Man both ask Moon Knight to stay out of it because he’s too unstable and dangerous. That was a fertile era for Marvel cross-pollination, and like many books, the story actually improved thanks to the new status quo set in place after that line-wide event.

In many ways, this is the second most definitive Moon Knight run, introducing his brutality and making explicit the tragic aspects of his multiple personalities. No run after it has let those two questions slide.
First off, there's valid points to make regarding the violence and retconning Frenchie into a LGBT token, along with abuse of the other co-stars. But the writer dampens the impact when he sugarcoats Civil War. I just don't understand why quite a few of these entertainment writers keep acting like nothing was wrong with a whole multiple-issue spanning crossover with a political component (railing against the Patriot Act), serving as little more than a dismaying excuse to pit hero-versus-hero, and serve as the catalyst for putting Spider-Man into One More Day, which has only been reversed very recently, long after Spider-fans fled the stables. But then, it's the following that really compounds the vibe something's wrong, the admittal it was an unpopular take notwithstanding:
Brian Michael Bendis, one of the architects of modern Marvel, launched a 12-issue miniseries for the character in 2011 that is widely regarded as one of the worst takes on the character ever written. I think that’s a little harsh, but it’s notably odd: Rather than fighting for Khonshu while suffering from a secret identity disorder, this version of Marc Spector is living in Los Angeles, trying to produce a film about his life and fighting a criminal conspiracy alongside his Avengers buddies. One problem: Wolverine, Captain America and Spider-Man are just his new alternate identities.

It’s an odd approach that doesn’t really jibe with the previous incarnations. Then again, what is Moon Knight without idiosyncratic attempts to make the character work? Despite being unpopular, I actually enjoy it quite a bit as part of Bendis’s tenure at the company, and the art by his old partner, Alex Maleev, is gorgeous as always. This is also where Echo (who debuted in last year’s Hawkeye show on Disney+) dies in the comics for the first time.
My my, somebody's acting as apologist for Bendis, despite acknowledging it's a very bad take on the character, using an approach that's turned Marvel into an utter farce. Of course, if I noticed correctly, Elektra's been put in a story gender-swapping Daredevil of recent, so the problem continues. Yet the columnist serves as apologist for Bendis' take, which is just why he was able to get away with only so much over the past 20 years. The writer continues to talk about Warren Ellis' 2014 run:
Warren Ellis relaunched Moon Knight in a six-issue series of one-shots (which is kind of his best format, as seen in Global Frequency and Planetary) titled From the Dead. It refocuses Moon Knight’s mission as Khonshu’s “protector of those who travel at night,” a high concept that gives him a unique identity while not sacrificing his odder attributes. He has a new alter ego, Mr. Knight, who seems to feature in the forthcoming Disney+ show. The series walked back the Dissociative Identity Disorder diagnosis, which had become somewhat problematic because none of Marc Spector’s symptoms actually matched a real disorder suffered by real people. Instead, Ellis took on a typically science-fiction tack, explaining his brain was damaged when it came in contact with Khonshu and the result was the constant development of additional personalities to aid him in his quests. This has remained the operative explanation to this day. [...]

Ellis was recently rendered a persona non grata in the mainstream comics world because of how he abused his influence to lead inappropriate relationships with women he’d meet online, so it’s not really clear when this run will end up reprinted. Despite the writer’s personal transgressions, this is a great run and an essential read if you’re curious about the character … and nervous about the amount of baggage any given story might carry.

After Ellis, Brian Wood and Cullen Bunn each wrote six issues of the title before it was once again canceled at Issue #17. It’s not worth writing home about any of these.
Well at least he admits the volumes to follow are a waste of paper. But even if Ellis' deeds aren't as severe as these MSM writers are making them out to be, provided the women were legal age at the time, it's laughable how this columnist goes out of his way to sugarcoat Ellis' Moon Knight run. He then proceeds to tell:
In 2016, Jeff Lemire took over Moon Knight for a 16-issue run that serves as the best psychological deconstruction of the character ever written. Although one of the best Moon Knight series ever — touching on all past stories and ideas — it’s very much “expert-level” Moon Knight and thus not recommended as a starting point.

After Lemire, Max Bemis took the reigns in a series now referred to as Moon Knight: Legacy. This series is the one that introduced Sun King, who seems the likely villain in the Disney+ series. The first arc is OK, but for the most part, it’s a weaker run in the history of the character. Marlene is written off, having had a child with Spector’s alter Jake Lockley, who is also kind of nasty in this incarnation. It’s a shitty way to handle her character, given how essential she is to Spector’s journey. I’m hoping all of that is retconned in subsequent comics.
Gee, why not ask all the post-2000 comics be retconned away to boot? I just don't see the point, considering how nothing continued on a consistent basis. The following is also troubling:
Moon Knight had a much larger role in other series during the last half-decade, appearing as a guest star in many miniseries. Most notable is his turn as a villain in one of Jason Aaron’s stories on the main Avengers title, when the World’s Mightiest Heroes face off against an emboldened Khonshu, who wants to rule the world. Moon Knight takes down all of the Avengers singlehandedly. While dumb, it’s also pretty entertaining.
Ah, so he's also fluff-coating Aaron's volume, eh? Figures. None of these charlatans want to admit everything went downhill post-2000, courtesy of political correctness, and that's why we're at this low level of quality with everything to date. Towards the end, the writer says:
Look, I read a shitload of Moon Knight comics and wanted to write about them, OK? The thesis of this essay is that Moon Knight is a character whose fundamental premise has never been consistent, which makes him really interesting to read in total.
And this whole article's inconsistent, or just plain won't make any distinctions between pre-and-post-2000 material, or acknowledge Marvel's downfall in story merit. The failure to admit Bendis is overrated is another minus. And then:
I don’t know what Kevin Feige, Oscar Isaac and crew will do with the character. If Marvel Studios has proven anything, it knows how to take the best elements of these 80+ years of stories and distill them into their own versions. [...]
Under Feige, I'd say that's bound to change for the worse, and according to PC. In any event, seeing how Disney's going downhill these days, that's one more reason why it's pointless to give their properties an audience. And as for Marc Spector's being changed countless times, why can't they just admit such inconsistency post-2000 didn't serve the character well, and that Joe Quesada's editorial could've been another culprit in Moon Knight's collapse? The failure of these mainstream entertainment writers to admit Marvel was destroyed by PC advocates and distinguish between pre-and-post-2000 material is exactly why the problem will never be solved.

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