Moon Knight 3

moon knight 3Today, Spencer and Drew are discussing Moon Knight 3, originally released May 7th, 2014.

Spencer: I’ve always struggled with ambiguity; as a child I was more concerned with knowing the “correct” answer or meaning of something than finding my own interpretations, and though I’ve mostly moved past this due to growing up, becoming (slightly) more emotionally stable, and especially due to my writing here, occasionally I still come across a piece of work that’s so ambiguous that I just have trouble dealing with it. Moon Knight is one of those books; it’s so opaque that any number of possible meanings could be applied to its story, leading me to wonder if there’s actually any meaning at all.

The actual plot of Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire’s Moon Knight 3 is deceptively simple: Ghost-Punks are terrorizing the city, and when Moon Knight tries to take them down, he can’t even touch them! The skeleton-bird creature (Is this an incarnation of Khonshu? A hallucination? One of Spector’s alternate personalities?) reminds Spector that he has Egyptian artifacts that would allow him to touch the ghosts. Moon Knight armors up, finds the ghosts, destroys one, and follows the rest to their hideout. There he discovers that those four punks were killed by a fellow gang-member facing a pang of conscience.

The killer has a music box, likely a childhood gift from his mother, reminding him that he’s “good”, and Spector dumps it into the ocean, which struck me as a particularly ambiguous action. It could be Moon Knight’s way of honoring a violent punk who could no longer ignore his conscience, or it could be a way of putting the guy’s spirit to rest, but that second reading doesn’t quite hold up because we never see his ghost, only the spirits of his victims; strangely enough, his spirit is the only one that seems to be at peace. The Ghost-Punks themselves are a loose end; Spector points out that punk gangs are old fashioned, so why did they wait until now to resurface if they’ve probably been dead for years and years? Moreover, Moon Knight only destroys one, and he leaves the others hiding in a closet; even if they’re too scared of him to attack the city again, they’re still just kind of there, not defeated, not at peace, just Ghost-Punks Spector stuffed in a closet and forgot about.

Perhaps I’m thinking about the actual specifics of the plot too much, though; it seems obvious that Ellis’ interest doesn’t lie in the plot as much as the themes carrying it, and as always, he allows Shalvey and Bellaire to do most of the heavy lifting in this regard. Shalvey’s incredibly clear style makes the intricate design of Moon Knight’s new armor shine without ever letting it become too complicated, and Bellaire’s colors are especially rich, bringing a remarkable amount of depth to the world that just makes Moon Knight’s lack of depth and color stand out even more.

c'mon Spector, no wearing white after labor day!We’ve spent a lot of time talking about what Moon Knight’s impeccably white uniform means, but I doubt we’ve even come close to saying everything there is to say about it. We’ve discussed how (like in this image) Spector’s uniform makes him stand-out, sets him apart as something separate from the rest of the world he inhabits; we’ve also pointed out how it connects Moon Knight to the gutter, the very same gutter we saw as a representation of death in issue 2. This issue takes all of those ideas and makes them obvious, using them to draw a solid comparison between Moon Knight and the Ghost-Punks:

Punk's not dead, it's UNdeadWhen Spector and the ghosts clash the background fades away completely, becoming nothing but sparks of green and white. Moon Knight is just as supernatural, just as much an otherworldly force as the ghosts themselves, and his collection of Egyptian artifacts that allows him to touch the ghosts (he should have just found a Silph Scope) further shows that Spector has an inherent connection with death in one way or another.

What am I supposed to do with this information, though? I’ve known that Moon Knight has some sort of connection with death for a while now, and while this issue certainly reinforces that, it doesn’t really use that information to further explore Moon Knight as a character, and the link between Spector and the Ghost-Punks also feels like a narrative dead-end; I can see that they reflect each other somehow, but again, I’m not sure what that means for Moon Knight as a character.

I have a feeling that this is probably more my fault than the book’s itself, but there’s just so much going on here that I’m paralyzed by the possibilities, and more than a little frustrated by my inability to draw any solid conclusions out of the information presented. I certainly don’t dislike Moon Knight; the one-and-done stories are refreshing and usually clever, and Ellis knows when to step aside and let Shalvey and Bellaire’s gorgeous work carry the story, but this might not be the most optimal title for my particular reading style.

Drew, this does strike me as being right up your alley, though. Were you able to draw any sort of conclusions from the points I raised, or did you run into some narrative frustrations yourself — or perhaps you have your own observations I overlooked completely?

Drew: Spencer, you know me so well. I hate to turn this into an essay on why I like ambiguity so much, but as someone who enjoys cloud-watching and staring at the ocean, I can tell you that I’m not particularly daunted by the absence of artistic intention. That said, I actually think what’s so intimidating about this issue in particular is that it seems to be overloaded with intention. Ellis, Shalvey, and Bellaire all find themselves adding touches of specificity to what has heretofore been a remarkably ambiguous series.

Take the gang, for example. Spektor mentions that the idea of a punk gang is “kind of vintage,” but even without the nod, the image of a violent, thematically costumed gang roving the streets of New York is enough to evoke The Warriors. Of course, there also were punk gangs at some point, which may make the message on the music box all the more significant.

Johnny B. GoodeThe choice of name and imperative to “be good” almost certainly seems designed to evoke “Johnny B. Goode”, as if Johnny’s crisis of conscience were as much about Rock’n’Roll philosophy as it is about morality (note the “History of Punk” book amongst the wreckage where Moon Knight finds the bodies). It’s an absurd idea, but it gives power to the idea of the music box as a totem of values. Music pangs our nostalgia in the way few things can, so whether that box is playing Brahms or Berry doesn’t really matter — it represents some piece of Johnny’s innocence that he regretted losing.

In its own way, the art begins to shade in more specifics as well. I’ve already referenced Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics when formulating my readings of the first two issues, but it’s newly significant here. McCloud suggests that the axis of abstraction — from pure representation through cartooniness, all the way to language — is one of the key considerations of comics. Representation, he argued, fixes meaning, where abstraction leaves much of that meaning in the mind of the audience. In that way, all of the extra details of Moon Knight’s ghost-punching suit seems intended to fix his meaning. Perhaps more important to our discussion, it makes Moon Knight specifically not us. McCloud also points out that the more abstracted a face becomes, the more people it can be said to represent, suggesting that a less abstracted, more detailed rendering of Moon Knight more firmly “others” him.

Then again, Bellaire’s color work has always made Spector otherworldly. Here, however, we see a breach of the white and black rule, as the ghosts draw blood.

There Will B. BloodeDoes this bloodying humanize him in a way that makes him more relatable, or in a way that makes him more specifically an individual who is not us? It certainly breaks the illusion that he is of the gutter (or of death, as Spencer pointed out) — for all his magic and pristine whiteness, he’s still just a man under that mask.

For me, the real magic of the issue is that scene with Khonshu (and Spencer, I think the question of whether that’s really a manifestation of Spector’s psychosis will be central to this series), which is tantalizingly rendered in grayscale, with the notable exception of the blood. The Moon Knight uniform is still strictly black and white (again, with the exception of the blood), but everything else — Spector’s skin, Khonshu, the other two men shown in that scene — is awash in cool grays. My read is that that scene takes place in Spector’s head, as the very next scene finds color creeping back in, suggesting that these harsh black and whites only exist on the page — we’re quick to find the gray area once it enters the realm of the mind.

Ultimately, that ambiguity is still the thesis statement of this series, this issue just went about evoking it in surprisingly specific ways. Three issues in, and this series has already established itself as one of the most rewarding, dense reads out there. Every line, every panel, every gutter, every bleed is pregnant with meaning. We may not always be able to unpack the meaning of that meaning, but it’s always fun to try.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

7 comments on “Moon Knight 3

  1. I was looking forward to your review of this. While reading MK #3 for the third time, I realized that this comic was why I haven’t volunteered to be a guest writer on this site. I feel I should volunteer; I have opinions, I like sharing my opinions, and I like writing. However, this comic left me speechless (wordless? Typeless?).

    The scene where MK is getting his butt kicked by the ghosts, leaving splatters of blood on his dented car is so damned GORGEOUS that I don’t have anything to say other than, “HOLY SHIT LOOK AT THAT! JUST LOOK! I DON’T CARE WHAT IT MEANS, JUST FREAKING LOOK AT IT!!!!”

    His external/internal realization that he has the ability to do it (a metaphor for those of us that aren’t crazy, that we fail to realize the tools we have been given or are around us?), his discovery of the ease of victory and the seeming pain of victory (or at least the lack of joy), how do we relate to this? Should we relate to it? It’s all so beautifully created that I’m not really yet able to sit back and think about a meaning to it.

    It’s sitting on my end table, waiting to be read again. This isn’t like other superhero comics for me. I want to be Spider-Man, Batman, The Flash (really, I do. I aggravated hundreds of spiders while growing up, hoping to get bitten and get spider-powers). However, I don’t want to be Moon Knight, it seems like a terrible existence. But oh so freaking beautiful to watch.

    • No joke: it can be incredibly hard to say anything intelligent about a comic you absolutely love. We spent the better part of a year either ignoring Saga completely, or admitting that we didn’t have much to say about it, we liked it so much. Still, forcing myself to consider why a comic works so well (or, on the flip side, doesn’t work at all) has been one of the most rewarding parts of writing here. I’d encourage you to guest write with us at least once (though, admittedly, I encourage literally everyone I know to guest write with us), because I do think it’s a valuable experience. Obviously, we care a lot about the opinions folks express in the comments, too, but I know building those opinions into an expanded essay can really help me digest a comic more completely.

    • I perfectly see what you mean, because I went through the same feelings: I tried to write a post about “A River Runs Through It” innumerous times and then I gave up, because I understood that the absolute perfection of that movie cannot be expressed in words.

    • I completely agree with both of you, Kaif and Drew — writing about your favorite books can sometimes be the hardest job of all, and when I wrote about Saga specifically I too struggled finding coherent ways to praise it.

      Kaif, I do implore you to guest write with us someday; you can give us your preference of titles to write about, meaning you can stick to a book you’d feel comfortable talking about. That’s always a huge help!

      But I do agree with Drew that writing about deep books I might not normally read or think too much about has really helped evolve the way I look at comics, and I get a lot more out of the books I dig into while writing here. New Avengers isn’t my favorite book, for example, but it’s probably the book I have the most fun writing about, because it can sometimes be frustrating on the first read but there’s always so much lurking under the surface to dig my teeth into if I just put out the effort.

  2. I think the totally episodic nature of the series also goes a long way toward utilizing the form of comics to express ambiguity. Drew, you talked about a lot about ambiguity on the page — in terms of design and gutters and the space between panels — but there’s also a lot ambiguity between the stories. None of these issues seems to have an effect on the other two (other than, of course, our understanding of the character and his world). In a continuing I-don’t-totally-know-what-to-do-with-that theme, I don’t totally know what to do with that, but it is cool.

  3. I have to admit, I did get a little bit of a spy vs spy vibe for a minute and was glad a dark version of him didn’t come and drop a safe on his head or something.

  4. Drew, I love your mentions of the punk rock morality, and I wish I had thought to write about that a little haha. My musical taste pretty largely revolves around, if not the punk these guys would have listened to, then the various subgenres that have evolved out of it in the last thirtysome years, but somehow I’ve found myself a little niche of sensitive late 90’s emo kids that always makes me forget that my music is based in such a violent past. I love the aggression of punk, but at the same time, like, my favorite singer once tweeted “being nice is punk as fuck” and that kind of seems to be the philosophy with the music-friends I hang with and the bands I enjoy. There’s a lot I like about early punk, including the style (even if I could never pull it off), but I’m glad we’ve evolved past that in at least SOME ways (I nearly died in a mosh pit once, but we didn’t go ransack the city afterward haha).

    I think there’s always been differences and debates about the philosophy of a punk rock lifestyle; it’s always had the fiercest gatekeepers outside of comics itself who say that punk has to be a certain way and punk fans have to be a certain way, but at the same time, the whole point of punk has always been individualism and not following the crowds, so personally I’ve always thought there was a huge contradiction in the heart of the genre, and apparently many others have too. This is a long way of saying: No, I don’t think it’s strange to say there may be some “punk rock philosophy” backing the shooter’s decision; in fact, I think it seems pretty likely.

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