Today, Drew and Michael are discussing Moon Knight 6, originally released September 7th, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Drew: Unreliable narrators abound in postmodern fiction. Often, their unreliability reveals something important about the narrator — their fears, their ego, their obliviousness — but sometimes, it reveals more about their situation. Perhaps they’re dreaming, or on drugs, or experiencing a psychotic break — whatever the case, we understand that the events of the story may not be exactly what they seem, but precisely what that means about the narrator isn’t necessarily clear. It’s a device that runs the risk of turning into an unfollowable mishmash, but when done well — as it is in Moon Knight 6 — it can reveal surprising connections as disparate elements resonate with some shared (but perhaps unknown) meaning.
The provenance of this narrative couldn’t be more obscure. In issue 5, Marc “died” in what may have itself been a dream, which caused a kind of splintering of reality. In one reality, drawn by Wilfredo Torres, Marc is now Steven Grant, producer of Marvel’s latest film: Moon Knight. He’s this reality’s Kevin Feige, working behind the scenes to craft Marvel’s films into a coherent universe. He’s disillusioned that the Moon Knight film, originally envisioned as a meditation on identity and mental illness, has devolved into standard superhero genericness. Writer Jeff Lemire may be couching his greatest fears about this series (as well as his greatest criticisms about the Marvel Cinematic Universe), but the structure reveals his commitment to those complex themes. Grant is undergoing his own identity crisis of sorts, first as he considers firing his director to take over the Moon Knight film himself, and later as he literally becomes other people.
The first of those “other people” is Jake Lockley, a cab driver with deep connections to the criminal underworld. We’re never told explicitly that Lockley exists in a different time, but under the pencil of Francesco Francavilla, Lockley’s New York takes on a decidedly ’70s vibe. Gone are the clean lines and modern set-dressings of Torres’ Manhattan, replaced with neon lights and inky black shadows. Just look at the way the two artists draw what we might understand to be the same taxi:
These characters live in different worlds, even as they seemingly overlap in that cab ride. Lockley is undergoing his own identity crisis, as Crawley reminds him of the escape that they made from the hospital, calling Lockley “Marc.” Confused, Lockley vows to “get to the bottom of this” by taking on the mantle of Moon Knight. Grant isn’t the only one undergoing an identity crisis.
It’s here that it might be worth taking a history lesson of sorts. Steven Grant and Jake Lockley were both aliases for Marc Spector way back in the earliest days of Moon Knight. That is to say, they were once all the same person. Now, Marc Spector is a temperamental actor in Grant’s latest film, and Lockley is a cabbie that happens to give Grant a ride home from the set in this issue. They are clearly established as entirely separate people, with apparently entirely separate perceptions of reality, yet they are somehow also one in the same. Using Alan Moore-style match-cuts, Grant flashes into the consciousness of Lockley and back again, and then finally, to Marc Spector, a fighter pilot battling “Space Wolves” on the moon.
That final reality is drawn by James Stokoe, who lends vibrant textures to its sci-fi setting. We don’t spend very much time in this reality, but Stokoe’s style — apparently influenced by Moebius and Akira in equal degrees — deserves mention.
Or maybe I just really like it. Either way, I’m thrilled Marvel continues to find work for Stokoe — he really deserves as big an audience as he can get.
Exactly how these realities interact isn’t quite clear. Marlene explains to Grant that they’re simply hallucinations that occur when he neglects to take his medications. But, of course, the situation is much more complicated than that. Grant seems to exist in a version of our world, where Marvel heroes are simply comic book characters that can be turned into multimillion-dollar film franchises. He knows Mark Spector, and he’s just an actor who plays Moon Knight on screen. Lockley, on the other hand, seems to exist within the Marvel Universe, though perhaps not as we know it. Lockley is Moon Knight, and his dialogue suggests that his alter egos may also include Grant (and perhaps Marc Spector, though he never identifies as such in this issue). Finally, there’s the Marc Spector we meet on the moon. To him, Moon Knight is is call sign. Moon Knight features in their realities, but none quite as we’ve known him over the past five issues. Moreover, none of their realities quite jibe with the Marvel Universe as we recognize it today.
Which I suppose brings us back to the (perhaps delusional) event that sparked off these fractured realities: Marc’s apparent suicide. We may not be able to fully understand what this all means to Marc until we know his fate, but that uncertainty may be exactly what this arc is all about. Whatever glimpses of Marc Spector we get in this issue are not the one we know, forcing us to consider who he really is. That seems to be the question going forward, and I can’t wait to see where we go from here.
Michael, there’s so much to talk about in this issue, I feel like I barely scratched the surface. How do you feel about the way these different artists’ styles convey these different realities. Oh, and how did you feel about that shade Lemire casually threw on Ant-Man as a bit of exposition?
Michael: I’m a big fan of that kind of talking out of turn when it comes to comics vs movies. I only wish that the writers at DC would throw the same kind of shade towards the awful movies their employers crap out, but they’re company men to an excruciating extent. Marlene tries to set Steven’s mind at ease by relating the Moon Knight movie’s mediocre potential to Ant-Man, which was “huge overseas.” It’s a spot-on mockery of the kind of frustrating studio logic that exists in our real world. In that same panel Marlene goes on to further encourage Steven to “take control,” not allowing Marc Spector’s “tantrums” to ruin everything. In this instance Marlene is of course talking about Marc Spector the actor, but it’s quite possible that she could also be talking about one of the three identities that Moon Knight has been shifting between.
I’m prone to agree with Drew: these fractured realities were brought on by Marc’s suicide at the end of Moon Knight 5. Marc Spector flung himself to his death because he was tired of being Khonshu’s puppet; he took his destiny into his own hands. A life without Khonshu or Moon Knight (more or less) gives Steven Grant the life of movie producer. Marlene talks about Marc Spector as a problem that Steven shouldn’t have to deal with. In a way it seems to me like she’s encouraging Steven to excise Marc Spector from the picture altogether. This line of suggestive behavior change reminds me of the early issues of this current Moon Knight series where Marc’s therapists were trying to convince him that his identity as Moon Knight was just a delusion. If there is a through line from Marc Spector in the psychiatric hospital to the powerful movie producer Steven Grant, it’s that certain people around him are trying to suppress or get rid of the Moon Knight identity.
I think on a subconscious level Steven wants to get rid of Moon Knight as well. There’s a great moment of mirroring where Francesco Francavilla draws Jake Lockley open his trunk looking at his Moon Knight costume and Wilfredo Torres has Steven looking at his white sports coat. It isn’t stated anywhere, but I got the sense that Steven resented that coat for some reason. Steven doesn’t get rid of Moon Knight/Marc Spector in this issue, but he does get rid of the director. He wants the (former) director, Marlene and us to know that he’s in charge. While he’s slipping between different realities and identities he’s trying to hold onto some form of control in a life that’s becoming more and more complicated.
There’s a lot of mirroring and echoes from what we’ve seen thus far in Moon Knight in the first chapter of Jeff Lemire’s second arc “Incarnations.” Once again we have Crawley remind Moon Knight (this time Jake Lockley) of his recent adventures as an agent of Khonshu. At Steven’s fundraiser at Mercy Hospital we are reintroduced to the talkative twosome of Bobby and Billy, this time as waiters – or perhaps they still work for the hospital but also hand out hors d’oeuvres. And though it takes place in the sci-fi Moon Knight patrol reality, Frenchie still functions as Moon Knight’s call to action as he did when they were trapped in the mental hospital.
While there are those specific familiar echoes that are most definitely meant to trigger our memories, “Incarnations” is not merely a reincarnation of “Welcome to New Egypt.” While Marc and the Moon Knight gang were trying to escape the mental hospital in the first five issues of Moon Knight it was always pretty clear who was trying to help Moon Knight and who was trying to work against him/suppress the Moon Knight identity. Though I laid out a few examples where I believe Marlene is trying to get Steven to let go of Moon Knight, she doesn’t seem to have steady convictions or memories throughout Moon Knight 6. Near the end of the issue Marlene reveals/reminds Steven that it was his idea to hold the fundraiser at Mercy Hospital because he used to be a patient there. Earlier however Steven tries to explain to Marlene about his flash to Jake Lockley land and how a man told him he used to be in an insane asylum. Her response? “You’re scaring me, Steven.” True, she does advise him to take his meds, but she never simply says “well you were in an insane asylum Steven.” Moon Knight is fluctuating between identities and realities, and those realities themselves seem to have very fluid continuity – like the way facts and truths change within a dream without question.
OR maybe I’m full of it! I’ll give Lemire and crew this much: even when I don’t anticipate having a lot to say about an issue of Moon Knight, I end up having a lot to say. Perhaps they’re just theories but with the story we’ve been presented, following a theory down a rabbit hole is a very easy thing to do. I wonder how this series will do overseas?
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