With Moon Knight arriving in Disney+ in a few weeks, another aspect of the Fist of Khonshu is coming with him: Mr. Knight! It’s even a big part of the show’s marketing! This shouldn’t surprise anybody familiar with the character (though I admit I was pleasantly surprised myself): despite it being quite a recent creation, Marc Spector’s “Mr. Knight” guise has become so deeply ingrained in the Moon Knight mythos that it’d be difficult to imagine a Moon Knight story without it anymore. Interestingly enough, those recent runs of Moon Knight comics are the ones we’re dealing with in today’s Omnibussin’ (synergy!), as—despite their definitive reinvention of the character and obvious influence on the adaptation—none of them have been turned into Marvel omnibuses.
Previously: Omnibussin: Moon Knight, Mapped Right!
The Bronze Age material has already been collected this way, or soon will be; I already covered Moon Knight’s 90s resurgence in my previous column; and the 2000s titles are also about to be released as a single omnibus. The only yet unaccounted for ‘phase’ of the Moon Knight would be the 2010s, which consist of the 2011 run by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev, with Matt Wilson and Matt Hollingsworth; the 2014 series introducing Mr. Knight by a succession of writers and artists, including Warren Ellis and Declan Shelvey, Brian Wood and Greg Smallwood, Jordie Belaire, and Cullen Bunn with Ron Ackins, and Germán Peralta; the 2016 title by Jeff Lemire with returning artists Greg Smallwood and Jordie Belaire, with Francesco Francavilla, Wilfredo Torres, and James Stokoe; and the 2017 legacy title by Max Bemis, Jacen Burrows, and Paul Davidson.
It should be noted that, of these, Moon Knight by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev and Moon Knight by Lemire & Smallwood exist as oversized hardcovers, which are omnibuses in all but name, but they are long out of print and not likely to return except as parts of a larger omnibus (or, as it has also been known to happen, rebranded as an omnibus with the same contents.)
If you’re familiar with these 2010s stories, what’s immediately obvious is that Bendis and Maleev’s 2011 run is the odd one out: it precedes the creation of Mr. Knight; it features a purposefully uncharacteristic Moon Knight story set in Hollywood involving the likes of Ultron and Count Nefaria; and it has a —let’s say— “unique” take on Marc Spector’s Dissociative Identity Disorder. Granted, the depiction of Marc’s DID has always varied wildly, not only as the understanding of the disorder has evolved but also depending on the interests of the writer. For example, a question as seemingly simple as “Is Moon Knight one of Spector’s DID alters (formerly “multiple personalities”), or is it just the usual costumed vigilante alter ego?” has different answers subject to who’s writing the character at the time. Despite the inconsistency, there are commonalities, such as Khonshu and its relationship (or lack thereof) with Spector’s DID, the Steven Grant and Jake Lockley alters, and that these are “personalities” Spector is taking on, whether he knows it or not.
So, when Bendis’s Marc starts hallucinating the presence of Captain America, Spider-Man, and Wolverine as schizophrenic episodes, well… it’s fair to say that’s not how Marc’s disorder usually presents itself. This, incidentally, makes it frustrating whenever I see this run being recommended specifically in preparation for the Moon Knight show, as this is very much not what Moon Knight is usually like or about. Make no mistake: there is a lot to appreciate here, especially in the return of Bendis and Maleev’s storied artistic collaboration, and there is nothing wrong with a character going through an unconventional adventure, but this is certainly not a Moon Knight you’ll recognize in the Disney+ show or the current comic by Jed Mackay and Alessandro Cappuccio.
The approach taken by Warren Ellis and Declan Shelvey in the 2014 relaunch couldn’t be more different: instead of a grand adventure outside of Spector’s usual haunts, you’ll find a six-part anthology of one-issue adventures set in a particularly grim New York City infested not only by the usual criminality but by the supernatural. Spector faces these threats with a new weapon in his arsenal: a vigilante persona that’s (only slightly) less flashy than Moon Knight—Mr. Knight.
Why did this work so well? There is a lot new here, both in the artistic approach to how a Moon Knight story should work and in the depiction of Marc Spector and the Egyptian God Khonshu. But, unlike the previous run, it also feels familiar. You will find Spector struggling with his disorder, his penchant for violence, and with the God that chose him instead of the other way around; this is essentially classic Moon Knight, but finally truly evolved into the 21st century. And each issue will give you a new villain and situation that must be faced by Mr. Knight (and Moon Knight too, don’t worry!): a SHIELD supersoldier; ghosts; a gang of kidnappers in a condemned building that allows Shelvey to give us a very The Raid-like extended fight sequence; and, believe it or not, fungi.
Ultimately, however, much of the success of this run must be attributed to Mr. Knight’s simple yet excellent design by Declan Shelvey, who is also responsible for the striking new appearance of Khonshu: instead of a traditional Egyptian statue, Khonshu appears as a bird skull in a white suit like Mr. Knight’s—which is also how the Moon God will (mostly) look like in the show.
After their six issues together, the title continues under a different creative team but a largely unchanged premise, especially under Cullen Bunn, Ron Ackins and Germán Peralta. Before that, though, Brian Wood and Greg Smallwood thread more of a continuing storyline through their issues. Neither of these runs is quite as compelling as Ellis and Shelvey’s, but Smallwood’s art is so eye-catching that I can’t be surprised he returned for the next series. Speaking of which…
This 2016 title is, in my view, the finest Moon Knight story ever told, not in small part thanks to Greg Smallwood’s painterly artwork with Jordie Bellaire’s colors. But Jeff Lemire doesn’t take a back seat: this is the first truly considerate and knowledgeable examination of Marc’s DID, wrapped in a plot of (literally) godly proportions. The psyches of Steven Grant and Jake Lockley are also delved into for the first time in many years; and, though I disagree with the role Lemire sees Lockley as serving for Marc, there is no denying the writer considered it all with great care.
This tale even sees the return of classic Moon Knight characters Marlene, Frenchie, Gina, and Crawley… though you will probably be surprised by the role they will play in this tale. If I seem a bit cagey it’s because I am; more so than any other Moon Knight story here, I’m hesitant to spoil the many surprises Lemire and Smallwood concocted for readers. If I had to recommend a single Moon Knight comic for a newbie to read, this would be it. If I had to recommend a single Moon Knight comic for someone already well-versed in the character, this would also be it. This is it!
The issue with the Lemire & Smallwood run being “it” is that whoever had to come after them would find themselves in a kind of impossible situation; they can try and imitate the preceding definitive take and (probably) fall short, or do their own thing and (even more likely) be rejected. I think that’s one of those “no-win scenarios” Captain Kirk doesn’t believe in. But I do.
Faced with this conundrum, it must be said Max Bemis, Jacen Burrows, and Paul Davidson acquitted themselves well. They could’ve done a hell of a lot worse, that’s for sure. Bemis went for the “do his own thing” approach, bringing a lot of new ideas to Moon Knight’s world, from Ra and Sun King to the Truth, alongside a returning (yet disappointing) Bushman, and Marlene bringing live-changing news to her old flame. Sadly all these elements don’t quite jell together in the end, which means the quality of this run is best measured in its potential rather than its actuality.
The second arc in the run, with Davidson on art duties, is the most notorious, as Bemis decided to provide Marc’s DID with its own origin story. It may sound ridiculous, but it’s a laudable effort: in the overwhelming majority of cases, this disorder is believed to be caused by childhood trauma, usually abuse of some kind, and the initial alters are thought to serve the function of compartmentalizing the trauma so that the child can survive it (they often take the roles of protectors or caretakers.) Until this point in publication history, Marc did not have such childhood trauma in his past; in fact, this is pointed out by a psychiatrist in the Ellis/Shelvey run as a way to disprove that diagnosis. Therefore, I believe grounding Spector’s DID in the reality of the disorder was something that needed to happen. I’m just not sure about the way Bemis tackled it.
There is no denying that the new childhood backstory Bemis gives Marc is traumatic. God no. It’s in fact so traumatic that it can become difficult to read through. This is not the place to get into the specifics of it, and I’m probably not the most suitable person to do so either, so let’s just leave it at this: it involves the Holocaust, religious trauma, Nazis, sadism, and dehumanization. Honestly, at the end of the day, I’m not sure what to think about this arc: on the one hand, it’s the most prominent story of Marc as a Jew, by far, and it’s written by a Jewish man; on the other hand, this is accomplished by tapping into the Jewish trauma of the Shoah, with its evils revisited on a new generation. It gets quite specific and ugly. And it’s meant to be ugly, I understand—we are meant to read it uncomfortably. But, when dealing with issues these dead serious, the writer better execute to perfection, or the point of it all could get a little messy… and it does get a little messy.
You may have noticed this is a pretty diverse set of runs, with no coherent throughline. Essentially, I see three ways of “omnibussin” them. Considering the unique and standalone nature of the Bendis/Maleev run, and that it precedes the “Mr. Knight” era unlike the rest of these comics, the obvious way to go would be to merely reprint the Moon Knight by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev OHC (ideally rebranding it as an omnibus), and publishing a new post-Mr. Knight omnibus, containing Moon Knight (2014) #1-17, Moon Knight (2016) #1-14, and Moon Knight (2017) #188-200 (don’t worry, there aren’t hundreds of missing issues; in 2017 every book returned to “legacy” numbering, adding up all previous runs to get a big “legacy” number.) To this I would also add Moon Knight Annual 2019: though a standalone story, it’s part of a series of “Acts of Evil” annuals Marvel did that year with the premise of pitting a character against an unlikely villain (in this case, Kang). This omnibus would be around 1000 pages, which is the perfect size for the format.
The second option is almost as apparent: the 2017 Bemis title and the 2019 annual have little to no “Mr. Knight” in them (despite coming after its creation, unlike the Bendis and Maleev run), and, perhaps more relevantly, they’re less critically acclaimed than everything that came before in that decade, so Marvel could just ignore it all and publish a single omnibus with the most beloved stories of the era, Mr. Knight or not: Bendis and Maleev’s 2011 run, the 2014 one that spawned Mr. Knight, and finally Lemire and Smallwood’s 2016 story. This would be around 950 pages, incidentally. However, I would never opt for leaving an entire run hanging, especially one that would never receive the oversized hardcover treatment, precisely because of its lack of popularity.
The third and final alternative is the simplest and bluntest, but I also believe it to be the best: collect everything in a single volume. Admittedly, that’s rather an anticlimax for a column all about thoughtfully planning and predicting the specific contents of omnibuses but, at the end of the day, I can’t help but see it as the correct choice, as it doesn’t leave anything hanging. I would tentatively title this volume Moon Knight: Mr. Knight Omnibus, despite the precedent set by Moon Knight by Huston, Benson & Hurwitz Omnibus, as there are too many notable writers and artists to list on the title and, honestly, I wouldn’t expect (or want) Marvel to market a book with the names of Ellis and Wood, two men famously accused of repeated sexual misconduct by several different women.
Authored by Brian Michael Bendis with Alex Maleev, Warren Ellis with Declan Shelvey, Brian Wood with Greg Smallwood, Cullen Bunn with Ron Ackins and Germán Peralta, Jeff Lemire with Greg Smallwood, Francesco Francavilla, Wilfredo Torres, and James Stokoe, and Max Bemis with Jacen Burrows and Paul Davidson, this omnibus would contain the following, in reading order:
Moon Knight (2011) #1-12 (270 pages), Moon Knight (2014) #1-17 (360 pages), Moon Knight (2016) #1-14 (316 pages), Moon Knight (2017) #188-200 (299 pages), and Moon Knight Annual 2019 (31 pages). That would make it a minimum of 1276 pages, which would leave it around 1300 pages, more or less, once we account for credits, introductions, extras, and the like.
Although this would be among the heftier omnibuses published by Marvel, it wouldn’t be unprecedented by any means: there are many as large as this would be or even larger still, two dozen of which sit around the 1300-page mark also, such as X-Men/Avengers: Onslaught, Spider-Man by Roger Stern, or Avengers by Kurt Busiek & George Pérez Vol. 2. Still, if Marvel decided a more manageable size was best, I already delineated the obvious way to go: reprinting and rebranding the Bendis/Maleev OHC, and collecting the rest in a single volume. However, considering the motley of contents we will be able to find in the packed Moon Knight by Huston, Benson & Hurwitz Omnibus, as well as other recent non-Moon Knight collections following the same pattern, I would count on Marvel going for the most comprehensive and completionist option.
That’s it for today! If it wasn’t clear, this would be an omnibus I would pick up in a heartbeat was it to exist. Even the least successful comics in it have interesting ideas or beautiful art in them. And the best of these stories aren’t just some of Moon Knight’s finest, but amongst the best Marvel has to offer. If you have any favorite run of other characters which would necessitate several omnibuses, or you would like to know more concerning a character or team that may be coming to the MCU, don’t hesitate to leave your suggestions below and I will do my best to create the most fitting (sadly hypothetical) omnibuses about them that I can manage.
Meanwhile, until next time…