Review by Karl Verhoven
This collection completes the reprinting of Moon-Knight’s first series, the one that ran between 1982 and 1984, with the content continuing directly from Shadows of the Moon. It’s an up and down experience, but the peaks top anything provided in the previous two Epic Collections, with Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz’s finest work on Moon Knight and some of Kevin Nowlan’s earliest printed comics.
The opening story returns the tragic Scarlet Fascinera. “A lady who thought she might be a nun, or maybe an actress…”, runs Moench’s stylish synopsis, “and turned out to be both”. Sienkiewicz’s art generally survives transferring to black and white for the cheaper Essential Moon Knight collections, but here the colour is essential. Scarlet is designed for visual impact in red and this features some stunning pages. Sienkiewicz’s sample art is his most audacious and conceptual contribution, a beauty of a story about childhood abuse resurfacing, Moench delivering a brutal rhythm with his captions and Sienkiewicz a tour-de-force. It’s a masterpiece, genuinely worth the entire cost of the book alone. Moench’s emotional content has escalated over the series, reaching its zenith during the first three collaborations with Sienkiewicz, and the intensity is perhaps best broken by a lesser story from different creators. The art remains spectacular as Sienkiewicz completes his run, but without hitting the peak of the first stories, while Moench revisiting Moon Knight’s origin and pitting him against Werewolf by Night isn’t as satisfying.
Nowlan’s chance came via a short story, in light of subsequent work now not as impressive as it was then. However, given two powerful episodes about gangs, neighbourhood and family by Moench, he draws them beautifully, with the necessary power alongside his customary grace. A second story isn’t as refined, but still a cut above as in his final contribution Moench spotlights a slumming journalist manufacturing her piece with devastating consequences.
The final five stories have a very different tone to them. Over the first two Tony Isabella’s writing lacks the elegance or emotional subtlety of Moench’s material, and remains forever shackled for comparison. The idea of Moon Knight losing the ability to walk resonates, but it’s overwritten to the point where even Nowlan’s art can’t save it, and the X-Men and Fantastic Four in Moon Knight’s world produces a very different iteration. Doctor Strange is a better fit, but takes over Alan Zelenetz’s first story. Bo Hampton (sample right) draws the Zelenetz scripts, generally very nicely, but again in the shadow of earlier art. Zelenetz concentrates on Moon Knight’s background, both growing up as Marc Spector and his ancient Egyptian blessing or curse, heritage being a theme he would continue to explore when he wrote Moon Knight again. His stories improve on Isabella, and issued separately might be more entertaining, but come nowhere near to matching Moench’s intensity.
Most creators not otherwise mentioned work on short back-up stories, where the quality is extremely variable. It’s nice to see a few more Sienkiewicz pages, seemingly text applied to a few unused cover concepts, but little else resonates.