With Hallowe’en looming, there are some Batman posts coming up on SFP in the near future but here today, I’ll focus on one of Marvel’s versions of Batman: also, one of two mid-life milestones this year.
Incredibly, it’s forty years now since the first truly oddball addition to the Avengers since the Kooky Quartet. The bombastic Beast became a mainstay of the team for some five years.
The first mutant to leave the X-Men for another group- predating Wolverine by thirty years- the Beast was actually a strange cash-in on the Marvel horror boom of the early 70s. Undergoing self-induced mutation, Hank McCoy became an off-and -on amnesiac werewolf character, interacting with some of the X-villains for a seven-issue run in Amazing Adventures. Happily, revamped with a blue pelt, Hank detached himself from the lycanthropic brigade and went on from strength to strength with the Defenders and the first X-Factor team.
Man-Wolf was another spin on the man-into-wolf trope but I suppose Marvel’s most successful lupine title was Werewolf By Night: moving the action from Transylvania to California, Jack Russell’s adventures span off two further Avengers-to-be: Tigra the Werewoman and Moon Knight.
I only read three or four WBN stories in the 70s but I can remember being fascinated by the design of MK in Marvel Spotlight– in particular, the crescent-moon cape. I can see myself one school lunchtime, with the comic newly purchased from Craig’s newsagent, walking round the red sandstone main building of Strathaven Academy (demolished eight years ago. Sic transit gloria mundi). I really “glommed onto” MK as I had some time earlier with the Creeper (who come to think of it, reminds me a little of the Beast). I wasn’t keen on the Don Perlin art- nor Doug Moench’s dialogue- but there was something pulpy about MK that connected with the Avenger or Doc Savage ( another strip written by Moench). This was perhaps suggested by his three secret identities, whcih allowed him to move freely in all of society’s strata.
Some years later, I read part two (with its Kirby Kover) in a Marvel Grab Bag. but, in real time, I next saw Moon Knight in Defenders 50. I loved villain groups, like the Zodiac and pin-up HQ diagrams. However, MK seemed redundant in the non-team; his whole shtick was almost identical to Nighthawk, a character introduced -ironically enough- as a parody of Batman in the Avengers.
I began to realise that Marc Spector (ouch!) was being positioned as Marvel’s Batman when he graduated to his own Direct Sales comic: drawn byBill Sienkiewicz very much as an homage to Neal Adams. I only bought one issue of this fan favourite off the spinner rack in Lewis’s, on Argyle Street, in the early 80s. I was also aware from fan magazines that the hero’s role playing was linked to Multiple Personality Disorder, which was very fashionable in the 80s (cf Aurora in Alpha Flight.)
I was more interested in what Steve Englehart did with MK in West Coast Avengers in the late 80s: gradually, MK became the vessel of the Egyptian moon god Khonshu, experiencing life as a mortal in the form of Marc Spector. It’s perhaps just as well that Englehart’s plans to draft Daredevil into the Whackos never came together: the Sightless Swashbuckler would have been in the shadow of the Fist of Khonshu.
In the welter of extreeeeme!! titles of the 90s, I didn’t follow Moon Knight’s fan -favourite progress. It wasn’t until the Noughties that my waning ( pun!) interest was revived. The design of Ultimate Moon Knight in Ultimate Spider-Man is one that I almost prefer to the original. Thankfully without the chunky jewellery, it still feels like a priest’s vestments but it also has, ahem, spectral qualities.
It seems that now in mid-Middle Age, I prefer “noir” comics to the Kozmic variety. I especially enjoyed the 2011-12 Bendis title where MK’s personality disorder led him to mimic traits of his Avenger allies: Wolverine, Spidey and Cap. The series reinvigorated 60s Mafioso Count Nefaria but killed off the deaf heroine Echo rather perfunctorily.
I haven’t been following recent revivals of Moon Knight and would probably prefer to read the original Batman rather than any metatextual commentary on the Darknight Detective. However, I would recommend the Bendis/Maleev series for the blend of photorealism and expressionism.
Coming soon here or on SFP: Batman’s Ego; Col. Gumm;Hawkeye; Metal Men
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