Moon Knight has been many things over the course of his existence as a beloved Marvel character. He’s been a mercenary, a cabbie, a playboy, and the Fist of Khonshu. But is he really? Or is Marc Spector just a man trapped inside a delusion? That’s the basic premise of Moon Knight, Marvel’s attempt to bring their Egyptian-inspired vigilante back for another round. And the result is easily one of the best books Marvel’s putting out.
This relaunch of Moon Knight finds Marc Spector wake up in a mental ward after a dream where he explores the temple of Khonshu, the Egyptian god who supposedly gave him his superpowers. Amid electroshock treatment, threats from the orderlies, and forcible medication, he’s told he’s been in a mental hospital since he was 12 and everything he thinks he remembers is nothing more than a delusion. But, of course, there’s more to this story.
Lemire is on somewhat familiar territory here: There are some basic similarities between this and his work on Bloodshot Reborn, where Bloodshot is struggling with hallucinations that might be his nanites asserting themselves, or just Bloodshot losing his mind. But Spector genuinely doesn’t know what to think, and by the end of the first issue, the reader doesn’t either.
The tone of the book, though, is set beautifully by Greg Smallwood. Smallwood has been handing in superb work for years, most notably his collaboration with Jai Nitz on Dark Horse’s superb supernatural noir Dream Thief. Here, Smallwood fills his panels with detail but floats them in a stark white space that gives the book an unnerving, claustrophobic feel, further amped up by Smallwood’s judicious removal of backgrounds in some panels.
Jordie Bellaire’s coloring is similarly top-notch. Bellaire gives the book’s more fanciful moments a grainy, hazy feeling that refuses to confirm whether Spector is seeing the truth or losing his mind, while giving the mental hospital setting hard, flat, stark colors that feel all too realistic. Cory Petit even pitches in, placing the dialogue, especially the dialogue that might only be in Spector’s head, all over the panel, unrestrained by speech balloons and captions.
Whether the book can sustain its tense, sweaty atmosphere of uncertainty is an open question. But this first issue is a brilliant take on a character who’s always been questionably stable, and gives the book an almost unbearable tension you can’t miss.
Moon Knight #1 is on stands and available digitally Wednesday, April 13.