Magneto and Moon Knight #1 are outstanding intros to Marvel antiheroes

Magneto and Moon Knight #1 are outstanding intros to Marvel antiheroes

Each week, Big Issues focuses on newly released comic-book issues of significance. This week, they are Magneto #1, written by Cullen Bunn (The Sixth Gun, Fearless Defenders) with art by Gabriel Hernandez Walta (Astonishing X-Men, Thunderbolts) and Jordie Bellaire (Pretty Deadly, Nowhere Men), and Moon Knight #1, written by Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan, Fell) with art by Declan Shalvey (Venom, Deadpool) and Bellaire. These first issues deliver engaging stories with distinctive artwork, making them excellent introductions to two of Marvel’s darkest heroes. (Warning: spoilers ahead.)

March is a huge month for All-New Marvel Now!, featuring the debuts of 10 new #1 issues (six new series and four relaunched titles), and if this first week of launches is any indication, it’s going to be a very good month for Marvel fans. Jason Latour and Mahmud Asrar’s Wolverine & The X-Men #1 is a fun, energetic debut that continues the great work done by writer Jason Aaron in the book’s previous volume, and the first issues of the two new ongoings debuting this week, Magneto and Moon Knight, do magnificent work building excitement for the series’ futures. Those latter two titles are especially remarkable for how they evoke a tense, moody atmosphere appropriate for their antihero leads, offering immersive reading experiences that steadily build intensity.

For the covers of Magneto and Moon Knight #1, Marvel takes a simple and direct approach, zooming in on the lead characters’ faces to create striking images reflecting the tone of the interior contents. Paolo Rivera’s cover for Magneto strips down the character and covers his head in strings of barbed wire that create the outline of his classic helmet, delivering a full mug shot of a character who is vulnerable but still frightening, with gray eyes glaring straight toward the reader and challenging them to enter his story. Declan Shalvey’s Moon Knight cover is far more graphic and conceptual, showing the top half of the vigilante’s white masked head peeking up from the massive logo, a high-contrast visual with an air of mystery that immediately grabs attention.

Within Magneto, the dominance of aggression over vulnerability exhibited by the cover is a major theme. The story by Cullen Bunn follows a weakened Master Of Magnetism on a solo journey to make individuals pay for crimes against mutantkind, and the character’s diminished power doesn’t make him any less of a threat. It just forces him to find different ways to be terrifying. In the opening pages of Magneto #1, that involves pulling the fillings from the mouth of a doctor who donates to anti-mutant organizations and replacing them with road signs that puncture his skull and kill him, a haunting visual realized by artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta and colorist Jordie Bellaire. The bright red street blockades behind the kneeling dead man cut through the drab grays and browns of the surrounding environment to heighten the effect of the image, and Bellaire uses a restrained color palette for most of the issue to give those flashes of color more impact.

Uncanny X-Men writer Brian Michael Bendis originally pitched the Magneto ongoing series as an expansion of the scene in X-Men: First Class that showed Erik Lehnsherr hunting down Nazis and killing them in cold blood, a moment that encapsulates the mix of righteous fury and superpowered badassery that characterizes Magneto. Bunn’s script depicts a man who is aware that he’s not as strong as he used to be but won’t let that stand in his way, and although he’s forced to operate under the radar, he still has the mindset of a man who views himself as the strongest of his species. The narration outlines Magneto’s complicated past and his present desire to negotiate all his former identities, helping the reader understand the motivation behind his gruesome actions.

Magneto’s chilling determination comes through in Walta’s interpretation of the character, with his furrowed brow and permanent scowl, and when Magneto finally lets loose his power in the final pages, the carnage is overwhelming. The artist’s stark, scratchy style brings gritty realism to the small-town locales Magneto finds himself in, and his layouts for the first three-quarters of the issue emphasize a sense of quiet stillness that explodes into bloody chaos for the story’s final moments. In a clever use of coloring, Bellaire’s bright blue hue used in the flashback scene before the filling replacement returns when Magneto walks into a police station to murder a mutant-killer held in custody; small blue boxes zoom in on the pieces of metal in the building that Magneto will use to tear the place apart, and the earlier use of bright blue builds up tension when the color reappears. Jordie Bellaire is the common thread between Magneto and Moon Knight, and her colors not only add depth and texture to the linework, but also mark changes in tone and environmental ambiance.

Moon Knight is Warren Ellis’ triumphant return to ongoing comics after taking a break to focus on his prose career, combining the urban weirdness of his Image series Fell with the unconventional superhero storytelling of his recent Secret Avengers run. He has the unenviable task of streamlining decades of complicated Moon Knight continuity, and he does astounding work using the character’s established history to pave a new path for the damaged vigilante’s future. A former mercenary who was killed during a rare moment of benevolence in Egypt, Marc Spector was revived under the statue of the deity Khonshu, taking on the aspect of the moon god to fight crime back home. He also went insane, developing multiple personalities over time including millionaire Steven Grant, taxi driver Jake Lockley, and, in his last ongoing series by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev, superheroes Spider-Man, Captain America, and Wolverine. All of this is recapped in the first issue’s opening pages, but by the end of the issue, Ellis adds a new wrinkle to the character that explains those multiple personalities with a supernatural twist.

From the character’s first appearance, it’s clear that this is going to be a much different take on Moon Knight. Rather than donning his traditional superhero costume, Marc Spector walks around this issue wearing a mask, three-piece suit, and loafers, all completely devoid of color. Shalvey uses gray washes throughout the issue to create a lush environment around Moon Knight, but the only texturing on the character comes courtesy of severe black inks on his all-white costume. It’s an ingenious visual decision by Shalvey and Bellaire, turning Moon Knight into a vacuum that makes him the focal of every panel he appears in.

Most of this first issue, titled “Slasher,” follows Moon Knight as he helps the NYPD investigate a string of murders involving strongmen that are ambushed in tight areas and then have vital organs cut away. Spector’s business attire allows him to interact with the police, who refer to him as “Mr. Knight” when he’s not in his superhero costume, and Ellis uses “Mr. Knight’s” interactions with the cops to show off the character’s investigative skills and his cool demeanor. When one of the police officers points out that the hero’s white clothing means the perp will see him coming, “Mr. Knight” replies: “That’s the part I like.”

The case leads Spector into the deep underground network of tunnels beneath Manhattan, where he finds the mutilated S.H.I.E.L.D. agent responsible for the crimes. The man was abandoned after getting caught in an IED attack and has become a monstrous patchwork of machinery and stolen body parts in hopes of returning to his former position when he’s complete. It’s the kind of warped plot one would expect from Ellis, and Declan Shalvey proves that he’s the perfect artist to realize it with his grisly depiction of the villain. When the hero confronts the deformed S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, his all-white appearance has an added benefit, working with the blue background and red coloring of the agent to add political subtext to the scene. The man was abandoned by his country after nearly dying in service of it, and he ultimately meets his demise during a sequence bathed in patriotic red, white, and blue.

While the New York City action is entertaining, this first issue really takes off in its final pages, where Ellis reveals that there’s more to Marc Spector’s fractured mental state than dissociative identity disorder. During a visit to a doctor located in the middle of a breathtakingly detailed mountain landscape, Spector learns that he doesn’t have DID, but is instead suffering from significant brain damage caused by the different aspects of Khonshu: Pathfinder, Embracer, Defender, Watcher of overnight travelers, and The One Who Lives On Hearts. His brain cycles through those aspects, and in an effort to define what is happening, his mind assigns the aforementioned multiple identities to each aspect. “You’re not insane,” the doctor says. “Your brain has been colonized by an ancient consciousness from beyond space-time.” A hauntingly beautiful splash page accompanies that explanation, showing Spector falling on a wave of skulls while Khonshu’s beaked visage looms behind him. (That beak is also an integral part of Shalvey’s spectacular costume design that will appear in the series’ third issue.)

Moon Knight is one of Marvel’s slickest recent debuts, from the writing to the art to the lettering by Chris Eliopoulos, whose use of Futura font for narration and captions gives the text a more modern look than the usual superhero fare. Eliminating boxes for the narration and captions also helps integrate the lettering into the artwork, making it an important part of the design rather than an element added in post-production. That level of craft and care is evident in both first issues of Magneto and Moon Knight, two extraordinary debuts that assure the best is still to come.

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