Drew: One of the biggest challenges in analyzing any work of art is understanding the parameters on which it should be judged. There aren’t “right” and “wrong” ways to appreciate a work of art, but it is possible to select aesthetics that are more appropriate than others. That Picasso and Da Vinci or Hemingway and Melville were working in the same medium doesn’t mean that they should (or even could) be assessed using the same metrics. We’re used to those metrics being dictated by social tastes, but there are certain works of art that seem to be defined only by internal parameters — crystalized nuggets of simplicity that belies the true complexity of the piece. My list of examples is short — I honestly can’t think of one beyond Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony — but that makes the company Moon Knight 6 occupies all the more rarified, as the issue refracts and clarifies its respective series. Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire distill their hero down to his absolute essence, only to stretch that essence out to the size of a whole issue. It’s absolutely beautiful.
The issue takes us back to issue 1, where MK has just assessed his adversary, sight-unseen. Maybe you remember the incredulous beat cop who challenged Moon Knight’s authority to fight crime? Turns out, he has a bit of an inferiority complex, so gets it in his head that he should “replace” Moon Knight. It definitely has overtones of Mark David Chapman and John Lennon, but blown up to superhero proportions, as the dejected cop attempts to off MK with car bombs, guns, and darts. As they fight, the cop reveals that he’s desperate for the love Moon Knight receives, but that’s when Moon Knight drops a bomb of his own: he doesn’t want to be loved.
I’ve long seen total emotional distance as a kind of superpower — the kind of thing virtually nobody is willing to make the sacrifice for — but one that frees people from many of the obligations, fears, and anxieties they might otherwise have. Intriguingly, while the cop professes that he wants love, he’s willing to sacrifice his wife in order to get it, which immediately frames him as Spector’s opposite — while Spector doesn’t want love, but will protect individuals, Trent kills in order to get love.
It’s those parallels/inversions that are the truly impressive part of this issue. Structurally, we’re seeing what Trent was up to throughout the run of this series. We see him interviewing folks who acknowledge hearing about Moon Knight’s return, we see his wife reading a newspaper with a “Ghost Punks” headline, we even see him visit the crime scene of the sporulated brain corpse from issue 4. More intriguingly, we see Trent attempting to follow in Spector’s footsteps — or at least his best estimation of what those footsteps might have been. “Acts alone” is his big takeaway from his investigation, but it runs entirely counter to his goal to be loved.
Trent knowingly dons the aspect of a Moon Knight adversary, seemingly to literalize his opposition to Moon Knight, but the choice of Black Spectre has unintended consequences. I’ve gone on at length about how Shalvey’s pristine white design for Moon Knight aligns Spector with the reader (at least when he’s in the suit), but there’s no parallel for black gutters. The medium simply doesn’t treat blackness as emptiness — it’s filled with ink, and therefore less open to receive our input. Intriguingly, Shalvey gives us black borders for the entire time Trent is in his Black Spectre getup, pushing us away from truly relating to him while simultaneously giving us a closer look at his psyche. It’s a fascinating move that seems to suggest that the typical white borders aren’t an assertion of our relation to Spector (they remain black even as he dominates the scene), but simply the absence of any other information. Is that what Moon Knight is? A receptacle for our innermost thoughts?
Before I disappear into blowing my own mind, I’ve got to praise Shalvey for being able to cram so much story into each panel — it’s a lot easier for the dialogue to come off as a chiseled work of near-perfection when the art is doing so much heavy lifting. I mean, just look at how clearly this panel communicates everything we need to know about Trent.
The hatred of/obsession with Moon Knight (the dart holes have multiplied considerably since last we saw the poster), his newfound physical prowess, even the apparent interest of his loved ones in Moon Knight over him — it’s all there.
Everything about this issue supports everything else about it. I’d never call any work of art perfect, but given the kind of internal parameters I talked about in the introduction, I think this issue is certainly pure. That’s not a virtue unto itself, but in the hands of a creative team like this, it is basically guaranteed to make my brain happy. Indeed, I have so much praise for this issue, I’m going to have to cut myself off here for fear of eating Patrick’s word count. Unfortunately, that means I won’t be able to praise Bellaire’s incredible color work, which I think slyly supports my reading of Trent’s use of black. Anyway, Patrick, I’ll have to leave any further mention of the colors to you.
Patrick: Bellaire’s amazing. The color journey that she takes us on in this issue is nothing short of genius. Most of Trent’s life if bathed in this cold blue light, especially when he’s in his own apartment. Even when he goes out to interview Spector’s former associates, the lighter color palette remains stubbornly muted. It’s not until Black Spectre forces the confrontation with Moon Knight that the pages become saturated with hot reds, yellows and oranges. Bellaire sets the page on fire when Trent sets off his first IED.
I love this idea that the most action packed storytelling in the issue was being saved for the very moment Moon Knight returns to the page. Drew, for me, a lot of this issue was about how we determine what a piece of art is. Six months ago, I picked up Moon Knight 1, and we talked about it based mostly on its own merits. But, as is inevitable with superheroes, we allowed the conversation to stray into what Moon Knight’s history is, and tried to piece together clues from various Wikis as to whether we’re supposed to think the character is insane or magical or both. That’s same journey Trent goes on — Shalvey makes the connection between my idle Wikiing and Trent’s early investigation explicit by showing just how inactive Trent is in front of that computer. Also, the way MK’s police file has a nice little profile pic and a list of vital stats makes the whole endeavor seem weirdly accessible to this comic book fan.
Oh the nights I’ve wasted on the New Gods Wikipedia page! Or Ra’s al Ghul! Or Green Lantern. That always feels like progress, like you’ve somehow found a shortcut to understanding the characters without having to actually experience them. Trent may have been able to memorize some details and approximate Moon Knight’s look, but he puts off actually experiencing Moon Knight until the very end of the issue. At which point, he realizes that no amount of researching and interviewing has prepared him for the visceral, light-on-copy Moon Knight justice.
In a way, this is one of those core Retcon Punch values: we don’t read comic books because we like superheroes – we read superheroes because we like comics. With TV and movie adaptations being all the rage (we did just rave about Guardians of the Galaxy), it’s easy to forget that what appears in comics is something more than source material for more spectacular (and lucrative) mediums. I have tons of gaps in my knowledge of Moon Knight, but my experience with Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellarie’s Moon Knight is unimpeachable, clean and complete. This issue is a celebration of that completion, trying together bits and pieces of its own mythology from a scant 5-issue history. It’s like that season two episode of LOST called “The Other 48 Days,” which takes place complete on-island and tracks the Tailies experience during the first month-and-a-half after the plane crash. For the first time, the show doesn’t reach out to comfortable flashbacks that borrow genre tropes from cop shows, doctor shows, etc., but instead it relies on the strength of its own world to support itself. It’s a doubling-back that reasserts how important that story was in the first place.
I’ll leave us with one last observation, but one I don’t totally know how to decode. The issue’s cover is a clear reference to the first cover in the series. In fact, it almost looks like it’s the same image, only with the mask colored in black.
The inversion of black and white is simple and evocative and easy enough for everyone reading the series to pick up on almost immediately. The second thing that struck me was how much the cover issue six looked like Batman. Specifically, I’m thinking of one of the covers to Dark Knight Returns. DKR is an amazing piece of work, but one that is much derided now for Hollywood’s over reliance on its themes for adapting Batman to the screen. That will be the book’s legacy – not how clear, clever or exciting the storytelling was on the page, but how frequently it was adapted for the screen. That sells Dark Knight Returns short, as the experience of reading it is more than simply gathering the information and affecting a specific tone. The same is true of Moon Knight; it’s not a superhero expressed in a comic book, but an expression of a superhero comic.
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?