Today, Spencer and Michael are discussing Moon Knight 4, originally released July 6, 2016
Spencer: In a solo superhero title, it’s usually a given that the book will focus on the title character. They generally drive the action, and thanks to internal monologues, we often know what they’re thinking as well. In many ways, the audience views the story through that title character’s point of view, but in Jeff Lemire, Greg Smallwood, and Jordie Bellaire’s Moon Knight, that statement is far more literal — we see the world just as Moon Knight himself sees it, and like our Mr. Knight, we have no way of telling what’s real and what isn’t, nor any way to control how we perceive this world. Just as the creative team dictates the reader’s experience, the people around Marc Spektor seem to have complete control of the world he inhabits, and that goes for friend and foe alike.
The first example of that comes early in the issue. Moon Knight and his friends have escaped the “mental hospital” where they’d been imprisoned, only to be immediately accosted by a cop (who is eventually revealed to be the crocodile-headed Sobek, if Marc’s visions are to be believed) who wonders why they’re out in such a fierce storm.
This storm doesn’t seem to exist at all until the cop mentions it — neither the cop’s casual “yeah, damn near tsunami out here” nor Gena’s equally casual “I’m getting soaked” sound like the words of people actually caught outside in a storm of that magnitude. The cop being Sobek would explain that — it looks like his very suggestion that there’s a storm willed the storm into being. Even Marc’s perspective — which, until that point, was supposedly tuned into the “reality” of Seth’s invasion — suddenly shifts to the version of reality suggested by Sobek.
At first, there’s a fairly simple explanation: the invasion Marc sees is real, while the more “normal” events are illusions pushed by Seth’s lackies. This seems to be proven almost immediately after the page I just posted: Sobek kills Frenchie, and once Knight takes down Sobek, Gena is suddenly on his wavelength, able to see reality the same way Mr. Knight does. At face value, that certainly suggests that Seth’s invasion is the “real” version of events, but as the issue goes on, small clues start to suggest that perhaps this isn’t the case.
First of all, there’s Gena’s Diner, which conveniently appears out of nowhere when it’s needed the most. Sure, it’s a feasible, if unlikely, sequence of events, but at least to me, it certainly feels like some outside force is manipulating Marc’s journey. It could (subconsciously) be Gena herself, but Gena’s suggestion that this was her “role” in Marc’s story suggests that Seth or Khonshu may be playing some sort of role in moving the story along (speaking of which: Khonshu makes an appearance simply to remind Marc that he has no agency in this fight — he is a pawn of Khonshu, plain and simple).
Then there’s Marlene, who is such an enigmatic, angelic presence that I often wonder if she herself is real (while all the former inmates are wearing white, she’s the one who most stands out — and blends into the gutters — the same way Moon Knight himself does).
Again, it’s Marlene’s suggestion about the pyramid that tunes Marc into its presence; much like the rainstorm, it’s almost like she wills it (or at least its importance) into existence.
None of this feels “real.” The city is abandoned, and characters and situations just seem to drift in and out of the narrative on a whim. This feels like a dream, and Greg Smallwood and Jordie Bellaire’s artwork adds to that dreamlike atmosphere — panels “float” in the middle of the page, leading to vast gutters, and the lack of borders on these panels leads them to bleed right into those gutters.
All of this suggests, at least to me, that none of what Marc sees here is actually real, or at least, none of it is the full truth. Whether they mean to or not, the characters around Marc are manipulating the way he views the world through their every word and action. I have to wonder if this is, in some way, a metaphor for Marc’s mental illness (his brain is scrambling his senses and the input he should be receiving from the outside world), but it seems too early to fully form a theory about that quite yet.
What I do know is that there’s one character who’s perspective we’ve yet to truly see: Marc’s. That’s where that final twist comes in.
This is a brilliant way to once again upend Marc’s world and throw both Marc and the readers’ assumptions of what’s real for a loop (if the more subtle clues hadn’t already done it), yet despite it all, the appearance of this second Moon Knight could just end up actually revealing more truth than obscuring it. After all, if Marc’s reality is being manipulated by the people around him — if he relies on these people to build his reality — than who better to show him what he’s actually seeing than another version of himself?
Yeah, it’s a lot of conjecture, but this title feels built to feed questions and conjecture. At times it’s frustrating — it’s hard to analyze and talk about this title when I still have so little idea of what’s “real” or not — but Lemire’s characters are grounded enough, and the world Smallwood and Bellaire have created is appealing enough, to keep this title engaging even at its most enigmatic. Michael, what do you say: do you have any idea what’s really going on here? Does anyone?
Michael: No one has any idea what’s really going on here Spencer, not even Lemire, Smallwood and Bellaire – we’re ALL HALLUCINATING. Seeing as how Moon Knight 4 is Part 4 of 5 of “Welcome to New Egypt,” we’ll probably get some more definitive answers in the following issue.
I enjoyed the issue very much but I especially love a reveal like the one at the end of Moon Knight 4 – who doesn’t love baseless speculation? As Spencer noted, we can all tell that there is a mystery behind what’s real and what’s not, but we can’t pinpoint what that is just yet. If the events leading to and following Marc’s escape from the hospital are the machinations of a larger force like Khonshu or Seth, then that same force is likely responsible for the mysterious second Moon Knight at the end of the issue. The more traditionally-dressed Moon Knight could be an agent the gods meant to test (or defeat) our suit and tie Moon Knight or it could be the psychological battle of Moon Knight vs. Marc Spector. The latter example really makes me think of the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Perchance to Dream,” where Mad Hatter provides a fantasy world for Bruce Wayne, but in the end, Bruce must embrace the truth by defeating “Batman.” The delight of our confusion on what is real comes down to what I find so interesting about the character of Moon Knight: he’s a character whose problems are both psychological and supernatural. Instead of simply having a Fight Club identity dilemma we have a fantastical element surrounding it that makes it even more surreal.
Like Spencer said, the star of Moon Knight is (unsurprisingly) Moon Knight – the struggles and enemies to overcome are his alone. I found myself feeling for all of the people that Moon Knight has left in his wake thus far, friends especially. Since they escaped from the hospital, Crawley sacrificed his soul for his friends and now Frenchie dies in the scuffle with the Sobek cop. While the hero losing people along the way isn’t anything new, Lemire certainly made me feel those losses. Their sacrifices are simultaneously honorable and a little frightening. On the one hand they are completely willing to die to help their friend along the way, but on the other hand they are dying on behalf of a man who may or may not be hallucinating everything. Yes, everyone (including Gena) comes around to seeing things Marc’s way, but as I questioned the reality of it all I reevaluated those deaths.
With bodies piling up on both sides I can’t blame Gena for wanting to stay at her diner, away from all of the trouble. Frenchie and Crawley knew what they were getting into, but this isn’t Gena’s fight. Since we’re dealing in traditional Egyptian myth, it’s possible that Gena’s diner could be a mirage – a brief pause in the action before a big showdown. I think that Gena has her own reality the same as Marc, except hers is the simplicity of pancakes and coffee.
The artwork of Greg Smallwood and Jordie Bellaire continues to impress me. I don’t care how many times they play with the visual motif of Moon Knight’s white costume bleeding into the gutters, I’ll still think its damn cool. My favorite image of Moon Knight 4 takes place on the very first page.
Realistically this is a pretty standard page – a full page panel of our heroes standing tall, intercut with an establishing shot. The lack of hard, black borders between panels makes it stand out so much more. The white gutters flow from Moon Knight as if a vision of what lies ahead for them is being projected from his chest. It’s pretty remarkable that one little change can make something that much more interesting to look at – remove those traditional barriers and I get a whole different interpretation. Keep on innovating and confusing me Moon Knight, I’m all for it.
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