Written by Joel T. Lewis
Now that we’re four issues into Jeff Lemire’s Moon Knight run I want to talk about cliffhangers. They have been a part of how we consume stories throughout the evolution of entertainment. The serialized novels of Dickens, radio dramas, T.V. shows, and comic books are all designed to leave their audience desperate for more. But in a world of streaming-service binging and instant gratification media the cliffhanger can seem a bit trite. We hear the modern equivalent of “tune-in next week” and we sigh in frustration.
It’s hard to wait to find out what happens next when we have gotten used to a show only being interrupted by Netflix checking to see if you’ve fallen asleep. Recently even I’ve complained, rather loudly, about season finales that stop short of gratification for reasons I could only rationalize as inflated confidence in ratings. Whether that belief was founded upon fact or I just really wanted to know who Negan killed on The Walking Dead back in April I cannot honestly say but it’s how I felt.
But the cliffhanger can still be an effective plot device. When curiosity overcomes impatience and shock deflates frustration, that’s effective storytelling. Jeff Lemire accomplishes just that. There has not been a single issue of the 2016 run of Moon Knight (and I have read all 8 issues in print) where the cliffhanger has disappointed me. Issue 1 ended with Spector emerging from the confines of Ammut’s asylum to discover a New York overrun with desert sand and high-rise pyramids. Issue 2 showed us a subway car full of Mummies and issue 3 gave us a street-level view of Egyptian New York and a sky full of winged jackals. But nothing could have prepared me for the bombshell that comes on page 21 of issue no. 4.
As Marc Spector and company pass through the streets of New Egypt their numbers dwindle further as Jean-Paul is savaged by Sobek and Gena stays behind at her diner. These losses hit hard but luckily Marlene regains consciousness and gives Spector some much needed assurance. She remembers their life together, she remembers him as Moon Knight, and for the briefest moment Spector is confident in his sanity. Marlene’s memories come to life as artist Greg Smallwood masterfully recreates the cover of Marvel Preview no. 21(1980).
This panel pays homage to and validates that original cover in the same way that Marlene’s memories validate our faith in the Moon Knight narrative. We can feel safe and confident again in Moon Knight’s sanity, if only for the briefest moment. As Marlene and Spector climb the steps of the Pyramid, Spector is struck by something small, sharp, and in the shape of a crescent moon. “Who...?!” exclaims Spector as he turns to see his assailant. “I’m Moon Knight, you lunatic.” is the answer.
Now I realize that I’m beginning to sound like a broken record about how insecure I feel as a Moon Knight fan reading Lemire’s issues, but this hit me like a ton of bricks. Lemire isn’t just putting Moon Knight through the psychological wringer here, he’s doing it to the reader too. Marlene’s acknowledgement of Marc Spector as Stephan Grant and Moon Knight was a vital life raft to me in the same way it was to Spector. I could breathe again. Smallwood’s homage to a vintage cover I had seen, referencing a story I had read meant the world to me and Spector. That panel served as a canonical touchstone that validated the history of the character for me and with a deftly thrown crescent dart Lemire shattered my confidence in Moon Knight again. I was breathless, I was speechless, and I was desperate to tune in for the next adventure of Moon Knight.
Written by Joel T. Lewis
As they continue to make their escape from the nightmarish asylum, Moon Knight and company discover that the path ahead is as treacherous as the one behind. While they are being pursued by Ammut and the asylum orderlies they run head first into a New York subway car teaming with mummies. There are mummies! Coming out of subway cars! Spector is not phased as he applies the old moon fists to mummified faces allowing his group to narrowly escape. Unfortunately they can’t escape before Ammut drugs Marc Spector, taking away his ability to see Dr. Emmet as the alligator-headed god Ammut and the asylum orderlies as the jackal-headed lackeys they are. Even in his weakened state Spector is able to break free, but robbed of his visions of the “truth” Spector’s faith is shaken again.
This is the second issue in a row that Jeff Lemire examines the tumult of Spector’s psyche through a conversation between Spector and Khonshu. Spector asks, “I can’t see see the truth. Tell me Khonshu...is this all real? Or am I really just mad?” to which Khonshu offers an unexpected response, “Does it matter?” Does it matter if Marc Spector is truly mad? This is a question I have been frightened to ask myself throughout this most recent run of Moon Knight.
Can I cope with the possibility that Spector has been in a psych ward all these years and all his escapades that I’ve spent hours reading have all been fevered ravings of a damaged mind? Khonshu continues, “Does it matter if you’re mad? Your madness is your gift Marc. What will keep you alive. You need to stop fighting it. Give in to it. Let your insanity guide you. Let your madness show you the way.” As Khonshu imparts this wisdom to his disciple the following panels are illuminated where they once were pitch black. It is as if Spector’s madness has shone its light on the darkness of his sanity.
As Spector is reunited with his friends they encounter Anubis, escort of the underworld and Crawley agrees to sacrifice himself so that the others might continue on their journey. The selflessness of Crawley’s sacrifice is yet another example of the care with which Lemire has taken the reigns of the Moon Knight series. Throughout Moon Knight’s history time and again Crawley has demonstrated unexpected charity and compassion and Lemire’s portrayal of him as so selfless is wonderful to see. As Crawley follows Anubis towards judgement, Spector and the others finally emerge above ground on the streets of New Egypt, formerly New York.
I don’t want to gloss over the importance of the appearance of mummies in this issue of Moon Knight. For a character brought back to life by the grace of an Egyptian God of the Moon, Moon Knight has not spent much time fighting off what might be considered typical Egyptian foes, namely Mummies. We’ve seen monks, African warlords, crossbow temptresses, other Egyptian priests and werewolves, but very few of the undead variety have graced the pages of a Moon Knight comic. But our patience has finally paid off in a big way thanks to Jeff Lemire. There are very few things that please me the way seeing Moon Knight punch actual mummies in a comic from 2016 did. They crunch, they shatter, and they turn to dust under the barrage of fists doled out by old Moonie and it's very satisfying to follow from panel to panel.