Max Bemis’s dive into Moon Knight’s mental state is at once thrilling, thought-provoking and heartbreaking.
Moon Knight is a unique character in the pantheon of Marvel superheroes in that in a sense, his power comes from his weakness — he suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder, believing himself to actually be comprised of three different men: Marc Spector, Steven Grant, and Jake Lockley. A positive exploration of mental illness is both necessary and fascinating, making Moon Knight one of the more interesting characters coming out of Marvel Comics.
Which is why there aren’t many people I’d be more excited to see tackle Moon Knight than writer Max Bemis. As the frontman for the emo band Say Anything, Bemis has been up front about his mental illness — he says of the band’s breakthrough 2004 release …Is a Real Boy, “the whole album was a journey of being insane.” Bemis suffered a mental breakdown during the release of the album, and his subsequent musical releases have explored the human condition with a type of self-aware levity that has made him a star. He even took this concept to comics in 2013, with the release of BOOM! Studios’ Polarity.
After Jeff Lemire’s universally acclaimed run with the character, Bemis takes a methodical approach in re-introducing us to Moon Knight. The first chapter of this story hardly features him at all, instead focusing on the backstory and frame of mind of a mysterious man who, as psychiatrist Dr. Emmet points out, is not unlike Marc Spector in many ways. This bi-polar patient, known only as Patient 86, suffered a mental breakdown after seemingly impossibly burning fellow soldiers in an Army incident, leading him to believe himself to be the Sun King.
When we do finally get to meet Moon Knight, we do so in an inventive way: witnessing his alter-egos — Marc Spector, Steven Grant and Jacke Lockley — arguing with one another, literally duking it out in a boxing match inside Spector’s mind. Bemis and artist Jacen Burrows do an excellent job separating Spector’s frenetic internal monologue with what’s actually happening around him, displaying his other personalities as spectral beings, observing his actions and providing commentary.
Speaking of the artwork, Burrows turns in some great work here. The art is realistic enough to not be considered cartoony, but has its own personality and flair that makes it a joy to read over these pages. Mat Lopes’ coloring is a particular highlight — in a story that deals so much with fire, the blazes burn bright with vibrant white and orange hues, really invoking violence and a sense of urgency. For flashback scenes involving Spector and Marlene, a soft, sepia tone is employed, making it feel like you’re reliving a fond memory. And though there isn’t tons of gore in the story, when there is, it’s appropriately gruesome and unnerving.
The story here is actually relatively simple, but the devil’s in the details. Moon Knight’s mental issues are not terribly common — generous estimations claim around 1% of the population is afflicted by it, though it is likely less than that — so it’s a credit to Max Bemis that he’s able to keep him so damn relatable throughout the entire story. Spector’s struggles and desire to do the right thing ground an otherwise otherworldly story, and when he says things like “my hope for a better world is my most tragic form of dissociation,” it’s enough to break your heart. But overall, the story is far from a bummer, as Bemis injects his trademark sardonic humor to keep things from getting too heavy.
All of this is despite a slow start, however. Like stated earlier, the first issue of this arc is extremely plodding, taking its sweet time to get to much of anything exciting. It ends up being completely necessary exposition, and ultimately adds to the story being told here, but that doesn’t make the first 20 pages or so somewhat of a chore to get through. The story hits the ground running from the start of the next issue, though — as soon as I saw a possessed man bleeding out of his eyeballs while saying things like “humanity is perverse” and “genocide is the comeuppance we deserve” before killing himself, I was in.
The man known as The Truth has the power to drive people mad just by touching them, causing them to see, naturally, “the truth” — which is usually hopelessness, hatred, and perversion, causing them to shout high school wisdom like “capitalism is a murder machine” and “punk is dead.” These scenes are some of Moon Knight Vol. 1’s most gruesome moments, giving the series a horror vibe at points.
My only gripe with this trade is that it feels like it wraps up a bit too conveniently, and honestly pretty quickly. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the resolution gave off an after school special, “you had it in you the whole time” vibe. It’s not a deal breaker, and certainly not enough to detract from the high quality of the rest of the book, but it’s hard not to be let down that a book of this caliber didn’t quite stick the landing.
Is it good?
Moon Knight: Legacy Vol. 1: Crazy Runs In The Family is engrossing, otherworldly, grounded, relatable, and heartbreaking. In other words, this series has it all. Max Bemis has crafted a worthy followup to Jeff Lemire’s legendary run with this enigmatic character.