By Cullen Bunn, Ron Ackins, and Dan Brown
Marvel’s ongoing Moon Knight series is the best argument you can currently read for why character isn’t necessary for a comic to be good. In a lot of ways Moon Knight’s general aversion to deeper character exploration or development is one of the book’s greatest strengths. If you’re unfamiliar with Moon Knight, this is actually a very good starting point as all the pertinent information can be found on the inside cover. The comic makes the very smart decision to boil the character down to his essential definition and jettison a lot of the more problematic aspects of his character like various mental disorders.
That kind of complete redefinition of the character is par for the course with Moon Knight as he usually ends up with a new identity and focus in every new iteration. It’s not that surprising as Moon Knight’s never been a bastion of character creation, his greatest strength has always been visual design. There are a lot of characters like that, incredible unique imagery coupled with an ultimately unremarkable identity, like the Street Sharks or Spawn.
That’s why Moon Knight’s decision to mostly avoid any kind of character examination is so inspired. The comic is thoroughly aware that Moon Knight’s greatest strength is his appearance so it devotes most of its energy to visuals, mood, and atmosphere to create a thrilling and visceral experience.
Moon Knight doesn’t really sport continuity either. The general status quo is always the same, Marc Spector is an ex-marine who’s been chosen as the Earthly avatar of Egyptian moon-god Khonshu, but there aren’t any broader storylines. Instead each issue serves as a stand alone adventure with the connection being more thematic or genre oriented. This week’s installment revolves around Moon Knight infiltrating a freaky cult that’s been recruiting homeless people.
The biggest problem this issue has is in the art department unfortunately. This issue marks a changeover in talent featuring Ron Ackins on pencils though Dan Brown is still providing color work. Brown’s colors remain the highlight of the comic as well as the series overall. Very few colorists can use color to create the kind of lighting and tinting effects Brown does and his emphasis on hot neons set against drab pastels gives the proceedings a uniquely ‘80s look and vibe. Unfortunately, Ackins proves not really the right kind of artist to match Moon Knight’s particular style. He’s by no means a bad artist it’s just that his style is a bit too rubbery and crowded. A lot of his pages end up very loud even if there’s no dialogue at all. It’s a far cry from the previous issues where the emphasis was on panels that were more isolated and stripped down. The effect is that too much of this issue ends up feeling like just another action comic and a lot of the horror and urban fantasy elements are less impactful. His action beats are cartoonier and he favors a lot of empty white space that really evokes the wrong atmosphere. It’s a shame because Ackins actually is very good at making his characters appear creepy in passive poses. He does an especially good job rendering the cult leaders with very creepy frozen grins.
However, Moon Knight #17 isn’t a total loss it’s just not as strong as the series’ previous installments. The main strength of the issue comes from the series thematic through line about the nature of faith, specifically through Moon Knight’s connection to his patron God Khonshu. The multifaceted nature of Khonshu within Moon Knight’s universe has been a focus for a while now, usually emphasizing the idea that there’s a multitude of views and ideas on what Khonshu is and what he stands for. It’s a well enough explored idea just not a very complex one beyond the notion that part of faith means looking past people who appropriate or misinterpret your believes for their own ends. That focus is pushed right into the text this time around and it’s an interesting new twist, but can’t over come the artistic flaws.
Moon Knight #17 is at best a well-intentioned misfire. There’s still enough of the great series in it to be enjoyed but it’s not the same kind of dynamite storytelling that marked the previous issues. Overall the central takeaway from it is that Moon Knight was better served as an exploration of mood and atmosphere more than anything else; trying to tell stories that rose or fell on their otherworldly genre-bending artifice rather than deeper meaning or characterization. Not a horrible issue, but not one to judge the entire series on either.