Writer: Mike Benson
Artist: Mike Dedato Jnr.
Colours: Rain Beredo
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Moon Knight has been one of my favourite characters for a long, long time; it was the first comic book that I read which had a real dark, gritty, almost real-world element to it, as a hero with multiple identities and a less-than-innocent background as a mercenary (despite the many parallels with Batman, my original take on that character in my formative comic-book years was the rather camp but still fantastic TV show, rather than the revenge-fuelled Dark Knight depicted on the printed page). So I was incredibly excited by the prospect of the new Moon Knight series launched back in 2006, especially with superstar artist David Finch attached, and a writer in Charlie Huston who seemed to have a great handle on the character, albeit one new to comic book writing.
It was always pretty obvious that Finch wasn’t going to stay on long-term, and Huston always hinted that his schedule would probably only allow him to complete 12 issues, and so, as much as I really loved what the creative team were doing with this revival of the Moon Knight mythos, both in tone and storytelling, I wasn’t sure how long the series would last. But, here we are with #20, presumably still going strong, and at the holding point between the end of the last six-issue arc, and the start of the next.
On the face of it, then, this issue looks like being a fairly stand-alone fill-in story, with a guest artist and a flashback to a previous encounter with Jack Russell, aka Werewolf By Night, with whom Moon Knight has a rather significant and interwoven history – oh, and with a reprint of Moon Knight’s first encounter with Russell tagged on the end.
These sorts of things usually set my alarm bells ringing. But for starters, this is no fill-in creative team. This issue marks the first solo writing assignment for Entourage writer Mike Benson, who had been co-plotting the book along with Huston while handling the scripting duties on the last arc. While there is no getting away from the fact that this is a stand-alone story set in the past with virtually no direct ramifications on the current plot lines, Benson crafts a well paced, gritty investigative crime drama revolving around our two central protagonists, using dialogue sparingly but pointedly, and making some important insights into the character of Marc Spector. As this is set in the past, we also get to see the old team of Frenchie, Marlene and Spector re-united which is a nice nostalgic touch, and plays well against the troubled interactions between these characters in current continuity. Plot-wise, there are clichés aplenty, and this certainly isn’t this story’s strong point, but this issue is all about character and tone.
Character, tone, and spectacular artwork, that is. It is amazing the results you get when you get the right artist on the right book, and this issue is a perfect example of that. When I knew Mike Dedato Jnr was on board for this issue I was excited, especially after seeing the fantastic work he did on the mindscape scenes in X-Men: Legacy #212. His work has exactly the right dark, noir style and tone to it that is a perfect fit for this book. But Dedato even achieves on a wider storytelling perspective, particularly in an issue with few words – he makes good use of imagery, holds suspense in each frame, and handles both the superhero action and the street-level detective work with great skill. As much as I am happy with Mark Texeira as regular artist on this book, I would love to see Dedato return to these pages sometime soon.( And I don’t write this from the perspective of a particularly big Dedato fan-boy, but as I said earlier this is just about getting the right artist on the right book.)
Before actually reading this book, I half-expected to be making comments regarding the extra $1 price tag on issues like this just for a one-off story with a fairly random and needless reprint at the back. But actually, this issue really proved its worth, with 35 pages of original story plus an additional story which is actually an intrinsic part of Moon Knight’s origins. And, most importantly, the book is just plain good; a solid, well-structured crime caper with stand-out artwork. You can question the necessity of buying this issue if you are a long-time fan who already has a strong feel for Spector and his previous interactions with Jack Russell (and hence a slightly reduced rating); bar the first and last pages, this is pure flashback that doesn’t really serve to advance the ongoing story in any way. But if you want a one-off story that perfectly captures the essence of the character and this Moon Knight series in particular, then this is an excellent sampler.