It’s seemingly impossible to try and re-brand a superhero after they’ve been established for several years. By that point, the status quo of that hero has been established by their creators and they’ve been ingrained into the larger universe around them. They’ve found their niche, and have adapted to fit in according to the mandates the editors have set down.
However, sometimes a certain book or character doesn’t sell as well as the company thinks it should, and a new creative team is brought in to “revamp” the design, sometimes even the very nature, of who the character is. This can be tricky at best and disastrous at worst, usually falling somewhere near either a complete redesign that takes away everything that made the character special and unique or not going far enough and feeling like the same kind of story that’s been done before. It’s a cycle that’s been seen in the many decades that the two major comic book companies, Marvel and DC, have been publishing superhero books.
Sometimes it just feels like it isn’t working. No matter what angle or creators a company brings in, some characters are just deemed “uncrackable” and fail to sell. This was seen in the character of Moon Knight, who had suffered through countless changes to try and be more marketable to fans. But even powerhouse creators like Brian Michael Bendis, who managed to make even Spider-Man’s origins feel fresh and adventurous in the pages of Ultimate Spider-Man, couldn’t bring fans to Moon Knight. Every new volume of Moon Knight’s series just felt like a rehash of old material. “He’s crazy, he dresses in white, and he’s a Batman knockoff for Marvel.” No one thought the character could amount to anything amazing.
But then Warren Ellis happened.
Coming onto a new volume of the book, Ellis, alongside artist Declan Shalvey, managed to finally do what no other writer was able to do. He made Moon Knight feel cool again. By condensing the character down to the essence of what the original creators sought to make, along with giving him a new set of fabulous duds, Ellis and Shalvey redefined the character for a new decade and made their mark on Moon Knight’s long legacy.
Ellis manages to bring his usual phenomenal work to this decades-old character by boiling down the character down to his essence. In their six-issue run on the book, both creators reintroduce Moon Knight to audiences by giving him a simple mission to follow; protect travelers of the night, at any cost. A simple premise, but one that helps to make the book feel clean and energetic, not weighted down by the years of useless baggage the character has.
Yet the legacy of Moon Knight isn’t forgotten. Ellis manages to bring several classic characters from the pathos of Moon Knight back for short cameos, even having minor characters influence stories being told. By bringing these characters back, Ellis is showing his care for the legacy by not completely tearing down what came before, but also forging new paths for them to venture on. On top of this, Ellis even acknowledges some of the failed reboots that have taken place over the years, yet doesn’t linger on them. Within the first three pages of the first issue, readers have been caught up with all the developments over the years. They don’t need to be addressed anymore, because the current issues don’t rely on them to be entertaining. All the reader has to do is sit back and let the adventure happen before their eyes.
Ellis also manages to define his run on the character by telling simple, action-oriented tales as opposed to a longer, denser arc. By having each issue stand as a one-and-done tale, Ellis managed to craft a book that could have been just as fun to read in single issues as opposed to a collection. Most writers for comics today lean towards writing for collections, believing the experience of reading a whole arc in one sitting will be as fun as reading it in single issues. While sometimes this can be true, it takes away from the fun of serialized storytelling that comics are. Ellis brings this fun center-stage, by telling strange and ridiculous tales that feel both supernaturally eerie and realistically gritty.
This can be seen in one of the most surreal issues on the run. Moon Knight, being told of an ailment harming patients in a sleep study, goes to the building housing these people to investigate. While there, he makes himself fall asleep to investigate the worlds and enemies that are haunting the laboratory. By putting himself under, he “can get a good look at them,” and a good look he gets. Thrown into a wonderland of madness and mushrooms, Moon Knight flails about in the dream world to try and find the mysterious foe that is causing so much pain to these people. It’s a strange and unnerving world, and one that is perfectly rendered by artist Shalvey and colorist Jordie Bellaire.
The art manages to both live up to, and sometimes exceed the wonder of the writing that Ellis presents to the reader. Shalvey’s style feels both realistic and cartooney at the same time, making him perfect to draw comics. His Moon Knight, right from the very first page, feels ultra-cool and extremely deadly. Shalvey draws him as if he were depicting James Bond, with Moon Knight carrying himself with enough confidence that it puts his foes on edge.
From the initial issue, which sees Moon Knight descending into the catacombs of New York City to find a serial killer, to the final issue where Moon Knight must face his new arch-nemesis, Ellis and Shalvey are a nearly perfect creative team. They both know how to make a story feel compelling and never slow or uninteresting. It helps that each issue can stand on its own, but without both creators here, the book may have felt flat and dull. It shows their skills as a team that Ellis can present a script that is, in essence, one long fight scene almost devoid of any words, and Shalvey can make it feel like a pulse-pounding film. It’s a skill few creators have, and few creative teams ever reach. So it says something that these two could reach this level in only six issues.
Six issues were all that readers got on this run, but what a fantastic six issues they were. This collection has all six inside, but very little else. Beyond a collection of variant covers, there isn’t much in the way of bonus material for this collection. It’s a shame too, since it would have been interesting to see Shalvey’s designs for Moon Knight’s new look, or some of Ellis’ script pages for some of the more surreal issues. Yet Marvel sometimes releases this material in deluxe hardcover volumes, so we may yet see this material. Until then, though, the content of each issue collected in this graphic novel is well-worth the cover price.
Sometimes characters need to be changed to meet audience demands, or to update themselves for changing times. These revamps can sometimes work, but only if they strike the right balance between bringing new material to the character and honoring what came before. Ellis and Shalvey manage to pull this off in amazing fashion with the latest volume of Moon Knight, presented in this collection of six issues. You can’t keep a good character down forever, and this graphic novel proves it. As Mr. Knight would say, “I’ve died before. It was boring, so I stood up.”