This week, I finished reading through the two Epic Collections of Moon Knight, “Bad Moon Rising” and “Shadows of the Moon.” Together, they collect all of Moon Knight’s appearances (barring cameos) from his first appearance in Werewolf by Night #32 to Moon Knight vol 1 #23. And they create an intricate, expressionistic portrait of a character skirting the edge of madness.
Moon Knight was created by Doug Moench and Don Perlin as an antagonist for the main character in Werewolf by Night — and who better to be the enemy of a werewolf than a werewolf hunter? However, after his original appearance, Doug Moench tweaked his origin and his methods, changing him from a mercenary hired to hunt a werewolf into a full blown superhero who returned from the dead via the statue of the moon god Khonshu (maybe).
After his appearances in some very trippy issues of Defenders, Moon Knight began appearing as a backup feature in Hulk! magazine, which is where he was first drawn by up-and-coming artist Bill Sienkiewicz and it was a match made in Heaven. Sienkiewicz experimented more and more with format and structure, often times with the art reflecting the madness of the story itself. Once Moon Knight got his own book, he was free to experiment even more, especially with colorist Christie Scheele.
Doug Moench’s stories, meanwhile, were mainly themed around madness and, specifically, how close Moon Knight was to being mad. He switched names and personalities as quick as he switched clothes, with his partner and lover Marlene worried about “Steven” and how this was affecting him, as he kept switching lives with millionaire Steven Grant and cab-driver Jake Lockley and mercenary Marc Spector and superhero Moon Knight.
Meanwhile, the stories themselves became about madness and often used hallucinations, from “The Moon Kings,” where the villain dosed the entire city of Chicago’s water supply with LSD, to “The Dream Demon,” where the nightmarish villain Morpheus causes Moon Knight to have vivid waking nightmares.
In one story, Moon Knight’s arch-enemy Bushman steals his statue of Khonshu (which Moon Knight believes brought him back to life) and destroys it:
Left with the shattered remains of his new life, Moon Knight has to confront the fact that perhaps Khonshu didn’t bring him to life with a new purpose. And he loses it. He lives in the street for weeks, unable to cope with this knowledge. It’s only when Marlene finds him and forces him to save the city that he comes back....and then it’s revealed that the statue Bushman destroyed was a fake (or was it?).
Moench and Sienkiewicz also introduced a bevy of recurring characters that made Moon Knight’s world feel lived in, like an old ‘70s exploitation movie that keeps going and going:
In addition to Frenchie and Marlene, there was Gena, the owner and proprietor of Gena’s Diner, and Crawley, a poor old grifter who always had information to sell to Jake Lockley/Moon Knight. In terms of enemies, there was Bushman, with a skull tattooed on his face, and the Midnight Man, a thief determined to get revenge on Moon Knight, and, of course, Stained Glass Scarlet, an ex-nun turned vigilante.
Moench pulled no punches with his stories, either: there was no guarantee of a happy ending. Some ended with the bad guy escaping. Some ended with a loved one dying. In these cases, we could feel the palpable sadness through the page:
If you have any interest in Moon Knight, I highly recommend these two Epic Collections. They collect the very best of the Moench/Sienkiewicz run, as well as earlier appearances. They are beautiful and dreamlike and filled with exquisite madness.