One of the joys of the MCU Disney+ Originals is the potential for a landslide of reprints and collections featuring the series’ protagonists. It’s a marketing synergy push in both the lead-up and aftermath of each series, an archivist collector’s heaven of quality paperbacks and hardcovers. These, along with the occasional new ongoing series, are meant to drum up not just a substantial presence of the character to draw in new fans but to raise appreciation for the work put into those characters in the past. For She-Hulk, for instance, it’s meant reprints of classic and contemporary omnibuses, plus her first entry in the Epic Collection.
Similarly, Moon Knight has gotten Complete Collections of every major series of the last twenty years (minus, of course, the volume tied to a problematic creator). Further, Moon Knight’s three out-of-print Epic Collections—which were, for a period, going for three times their cover price on the secondary market—got new printings, ensuring new fans a chance to start from the beginning.
Butcher’s Moon, out this week, is the character’s first new Epic Collection in four years, and it’s noteworthy in that it’s the first volume in which Doug Moench, the writer most associated with the character up to this point, has zero presence.
If you’ve ever looked into the behind-the-scenes happenings of 1980s Marvel Comics, you might suspect why Moench left not only Moon Knight but the company as a whole. The phrase “creative differences with Jim Shooter” appear frequently in reports of the era, and those differences pushed Moench over to DC in 1983, leaving Moon Knight in the hands of new talent.
Moench’s Moon Knight had lived in an experimental space — it was one of the few Marvel books that only sold at “specialty shops? (which later became known as “comic book stores”), targeting a “more sophisticated audience”. It dealt with more mature themes rendered gloomily by visual dynamo Bill Sienkiewicz. By being in those specialty stores, these boundary-pushing stories could avoid the grasping hands of children expecting bright colors at the traditional newsstand.
One might expect that this did not mean that Moon Knight was a particularly accessible or vital character in the Marvel Universe. Editorial likely felt that he should step out of the shady shops and into view. Which meant moving him into an all-ages membership position in Steve Englehart and Al Milgrom’s West Coast Avengers. . . and creating a tidied, ostensibly streamlined status quo in 1985’s Moon Knight: Fist of Khonshu, which attempted to keep the character’s adult themes.
Thus began the beginning of the Moon Knight curse that I’ve written about before, in which each successive Moon Knight title decides to woefully ignore vast swaths of established behavior, plot points, and supporting cast members. Khonshu attempts to simplify the character by dropping the confusing alternate personalities of Jake Lockley and Steven Grant, then recomplicates everything by giving Moon Knight magical powers and visions projected to him by mysterious monks. Previous Moon Knight titles had left Khonshu a question mark: had Khonshu made Moon Knight, or had Marc Spector’s mental illness simply needed Khonshu as a jumping-off point?
Fist of Khonshu, quite messily, throws all of that intriguing mystery away, only for its concepts to be completely discarded themselves in Marc Spector: Moon Knight. The longest-running series to date, Marc Spector casts Moon Knight as a sort of snide Batman. Like Bruce Wayne, Marc owns a business with his name on it, and ignores the fiscal concerns of profit margins and audits thereof; he’s got a mansion lair and a potential sidekick. Longtime BFF Frenchie assumes the role of Alfred if Alfred also flew the Batcopter and lugged around automatic rifles.
Unlike Batman, Moon Knight had a girlfriend, made terrible jokes, and employed a woman whose entire job appeared to be performing housekeeping tasks while wearing a bikini.
This is the Moon Knight that assimilated himself, in the 1990s, into the Marvel Universe as a whole; in Butcher’s Moon, Spider-Man makes a meaningless cameo, and Black Cat gets a two-issue appointment as a minor distraction. At the end of the book, Brother Voodoo shows up for a zombie-themed adventure. Moon Knight was finally coming home.
With neglected continuity, inconsistent tone, and disposable supporting cast and villains, Butcher’s Moon illustrates all the problems that still mar Moon Knight stories, 30 years later. You don’t need to read Butcher’s Moon to understand Jed MacKay, Alessandro Cappuccio, and Rachelle Rosenberg’s brilliant current run on Moon Knight, and nothing in this volume is pertinent to the Moon Knight television show.
None of that means that these are bad comics; quite the opposite. There is nary a page in here where the reader isn’t having fun, isn’t propelled to go wherever it is that Moon Knight is going. It’s just that they’re trying to figure him out the through each story.
It is a compelling piece of the baffling larger puzzle that is Moon Knight—a character never quite reconciled with himself whose inconsistent narrative might be read as an inconsistent mind. It’s an important transition from creator-driven experiment to major-market homogeneity.
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