Watchmen at Thirty, Pt. 8: Old Ghosts

Pt. 8:

"You're alone in the valley of the shadow, Rorschach, where your past has a long reach and between you and it there's one crummy lock."

The eighth chapter of Watchmen opens up with Hollis Mason calling Sally Jupiter long distance from New York ("Calling California is expensive," laments Hollis. "That's Nixonomics. We're all feeling the pinch," replies Sally) to discuss the newspaper reports of their proteges rescuing people from a tenement fire, as seen last issue. It's Halloween, and Hollis is readying his place for trick or treaters. 

The opening has a bit of the fearful symmetry we've come to expect from the series with the ending, where Hollis "faces his final fate, a random victim of the violence plaguing society (he’s actually killed because the street gang confuses him with the Nite Owl who was involved with violence at the prison riots, so Dreiberg is directly to blame for his mentor’s death, though he never realizes his role in the whole thing)." 

This inner flashback to his prime fighting days is very cinematic. As is its unfortunate conclusion:
Old ghosts indeed.

The quote above is from Tim Callahan's Alan Moore reread over at Tor. Here's another one that aptly describes things this time around:

"It’s the issue with the most different things going on, and Moore and Gibbons deftly cut between the scenes and settings cinematically, without lingering on clever transitions as they used before. No this is where Watchmen starts feeling more like a traditional superhero comic, just moreso, with more plot, more extreme characterizations, and plenty of the kind of recurring background symbolism that makes the texture of Watchmen feel so complete."

Outside of some interludes with the newsstand and the Black Freighter, the rest of the issue is devoted to discussion and execution of busting Rorschach out of prison. 

But more on that in the Rorschach part of the program. Chapter 8 gives us our first, cryptic glimpse of the island project.

Max Shea's disappearance is the focus of this installment's backpage notes.

This backpages text is from the New Frontiersman, the Watchmen's world's version of the John Birch Society's New American, Rorschach's favorite magazine.  

It's much more than an insert-right-wing-conspiracy-rag-here gag, though; it's a pivotal part of the whole meta-narrative of Watchmen. As is The Black Freighter.

But! A few rivers left to cross before we get there

In the meantime:

Rorschach is perhaps at his most traditionally bad-ass in this issue, exuding cool and calm while turning the tables against everything thrown at him. Laurie gives him some grief about not being grateful enough, but that's the funny thing - he was already completely ahead of the game before they even showed up to rescue him. 

A word on the Motion Picture Comic art this time around: it's not great. Looks and feels hurried in many places, not the carefully consideration of the previous chapters. 

The more I look at this, the more its simplicity works for me, so maybe I'm off on this. I turn the question over to you - does the above distill or obscure the original panel:

The story ends with a cliffhanger for Chapter Nine, another nod in the direction of traditional comic book storytelling. (More old ghosts.)

And that's where we'll pick up next time.



Seven Moon Knight Stories

Growing up, Moon Knight (V1) was never my favorite series nor my favorite character, but my brother loved it, so I made a point of getting to know it. I'm glad this was the case, as it's a title I've returned to every so often and always find much to admire. I enjoy it more now than many of the titles I enjoyed more at the time. 

Although he's had many series over the years, Moon Knight's very much a second-tier character of the Marvel Universe, and his wiki illustrates the fate of second-tier * characters in the Marvel Universe pretty well: every couple of years, ditch everything about the character and start from scratch. And when it doesn't work, do it again. (Then have him join the Avengers.) 

* And even some of the first-tier ones, for that matter. Strange state of affairs. Ersatz on every loudspeaker.

There's a certain poetic justice to Moon Knight's post-V1 adventures being defined by endless re-definition, as one of the selling points of the character when he first appeared was that he was a "multiple personality:" Marc Spector, ex-mercenary-for-hire, Stephen Grant, millionaire something-or-other, and Jake Lockley, taxi hack and patron of greasy spoons.

He wasn't actually a multiple personality, although he did "go native" a few times in his alter egos. As Doug Moench explained to Comic Foundry:

"Each one was selected for (different) reasons. The cab driver - I needed someone on the street who could pick up tips, find out what the underworld was up to. The mercenary - that gave him his background and his ability to do globetrotting adventure stories that I wanted to do time to time. And then who pays for all of this? A millionaire with a base to put his helicopter and all that other stuff."

(If you want the complete story, here's the definitive essay of the character's 70s adventures from Moon Knight V1 #18: 

Feel free to skip to the short version, below, but it's here whenever you want or need it.
Some early art by Gene Colan.)

Shorter version: over the course of appearances in Marvel Spotlight, Spectacular Spider-Man, and the Hulk magazine, the version of the character that would appear in Moon Knight V1 slowly congealed. And V1 by Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz (mostly) is the only Moon Knight I care about. I'm sure some of the later stories are fine and all, especially given some of the talent that worked on them, but you can't just keep rebooting a character and slapping the same name on him and expect me to care.  

Well, sure you can. But who cares? I know what I know, I blog how I blog. I don't quibble, just describing my position.

I can't include all the Sienkiewicz MK art I want to include without pushing an already-jampacked post into the realm of way-too-damn-long. Suffice it to say: a) the man's work is genius, b) what begins as a Neal Adams homage becomes something else entirely over the course of his run on the book. He didn't do every issue, but his art design for the title in general was then and is now amazing stuff. And c) when I think of comic book covers of the Bronze Age, it's Moon Knight I think of. Here's a few.

When the series went Direct Market Only (a big deal in those days) it had both these lovely wraparound covers
or these great back cover ads for the mayhem to come next month.

We'll see even more of my favorite covers when we get to the Seven Essential Stories, but first, the bullet-points. (Robocop announcer voice) Moon Knight! Who is he? What is he? We've covered the multiple secret identities aspect already. Here's all you need to know:

- Armed with truncheon, throwing crescents, gliding cape, and grappling hook (standard 1970s fare.)

- Brought back from the dead in the tomb of Khonshu, ancient Egyptian god of vengeance and the moon.

As a result: very superstitious.
(Always needs a little time to get it together again in the wake of Khonshu-smashing.)

- Ethnic sidekick ("Frenchie"), who pilots the Moon Copter through NYC. 

"Zee pipes... hold on to zee pipes!"

- Marlena, hot girlfriend usually waiting back at the mansion in some state of undress, wanting to talk about their goddamn relationship.

There's plenty I'm leaving out (Bushman, Gena, Crawley, the staff at the mansion, Detective Flint) but them's the broad strokes. As the character's undergone so many reboots, it's possible someone only familiar with a different version could read the above and not recognize anything but the costume. That's a shame to me. It's even possible this original iteration of the character might trigger the triggerable. (Cultural appropriation! Klan-ish costume! Moon Privilege! Witchcraft! Okay maybe not that last one.) Which is also a shame.

The work was never a best-seller, but within the industry, Moon Knight was greatly admired. Dick Giordano heard that Moench badly wanted to leave Marvel * and took him to lunch to offer him Batman. And that was that. Moench followed many of his friends who'd already jumped ship to DC, and Moon Knight got the ax

* Mainly, he wanted a boss who wasn't Jim Shooter.

I like Moench's other stuff just fine, but for me, his high water mark is always going to be Moon Knight. And so without further ado:

There's some talk of a Moon Knight Netflix show. I don't know if it'll actually happen, but if it does, it likely won't feature any of the below. But let's say there was one and let's further say they put me in charge. Let's assume (on the Daredevil model) a 13-episode season and let's further assume a Pilot (probably a mash-up of Moon Knight #1 and #3) that isn't covered below (and a late-season follow-up combining issues 9 and 10. Sidenote: the supermegamonkey-folk at those links don't seem to like Moon Knight as much as I do, but so it goes.) Just for grins, I'll include where each of the below falls in this fictional season overseen by the DSO.  


Scarlet only appears in two issues, #14 and #24. In the first, she is a former nun lured into a bad marriage who watches her son Joe turn to a life of crime. When her husband is killed during a botched hold-up, the money is never recovered, and Joe thinks his mother has it stashed away. Years later, he escapes from prison to reclaim the phantom money, and when he shoots Moon Knight as he tries to stop him from killing her, Scarlet shoots him dead. Moon Knight, shaken by both his gunshot wound and John Lennon's death (I'm serious) lets her go.

When she re-appears ten issues later, she's transformed into a scarlet avenger of the night who kills with a crossbow those villains beyond the reach of the law. It's the ol' who would you rather have on the street, hero, so-and-so or me? conundrum. After one last kill she hints she's all done with her mission, and again Moon Knight lets her go. 

For TV show: Both stories could be compressed into one episode with judicious use of flashbacks. I think this would work well towards the end of the season, say S1, E09.


Not much to this one, (MK #15) but it's got a lot of personality. Moon Knight's buddy/ protector on the force (Lt. Flint) has a new partner, who is secretly a xenophobic racist loner / would-be assassin who dresses his pet rats in Army Surplus gear and finds disturbing silver linings in Hitler memorabilia. Also: he wears a full-body rat costume when he brings his ineffective brand of assassination pain to political rallies.


What's not to like? I'll tell you one thing - it makes better fiction for the early '80s than electoral non-fiction in 2016. Be honest, if you saw "Nazi-collecting Rat-man shoots at (whomever) tackled by moon-vigilante" trending, would it surprise you? Or even stand out against everything else we have to deal with?

For TV show: For all of the above reasons, I think this works best up front. S1, E2. Let the viewers know what they're in for.


"They're howling and screaming for good reason...
Thanks to a dime story werewolf,
the city of Chicago has gone mad." 

The Werewolf in question is just a guy in a wolf mask, not an actual lycanthrope. He’s released a powerful hallucinogen and threatens to dose the entire city unless he gets what he wants: millions of goddamn dollars.

I'm a sucker for any Chicago-goes-crazy story. Or any that echo the whole Chicago ’68 craziness. This one doesn’t explicitly, except it takes a 60s trope ("the Yippies are going to pour LSD in the water supply!") and throws our Khonshu-addled hero into the mix, where, naturally, he gets dosed and thinks he’s fighting aliens on the moon. (Hence those two awesome-awesome-awesome covers above). Close enough to project a cornucopia of 60s Armageddon onto things. 

But the real drama happens when Marlena receives a heavy dose and decides Moon Knight must die.

Moon Knight recovers - as does Marlena - and the city is saved, though, at the cost of one helicopter ("zee chopper... she looks quite beyond repair, non?"), much civil unrest, and Lake Shore Drive's temporary embodiment of its initials.

For TV show: Another that could be condensed into one full-throttle episode. A good mid-season "Dude, you got to check out this how" contender. S1, e05. 


Issue #26 is probably the most recognizable "Sienkiewicz-style" story in MK. If you picked up the first couple of issues where he was doing a recognizable though no less impressive Neal Adams pastiche, then this, you'd be forgiven for assuming these had to be two completely different artists. 

More poetry than prose, the story flips back and forth between Moon Knight on patrol, an aggressive rock show, and a man who reads his father's obituary in the paper. The man runs to the church funeral parlor where his casket lies, punching dozens of citizens on the way and the priest, too, once he gets there. As this happens, we see what appear to be drawings the man made as a child, depicting an oversized bully beating a young child, and a bloody, broken drum.

Moon Knight arrives and, unable to stop the man from harming himself and others, subdues him with his fists. Problem solved... so why does it feel like a failure?

Says its author:

"That was supposed to be a seven-page backup story. So I did a plot that would fit in seven pages, and Bill went nuts. He blew up all these giant panels and extended the thing. I said, 'Well, jeez, I don’t know. This is an oddball, child abuse story. Not the usual type of plot. It’s this one-note type of thing. Jazz improvisation, whatever you want to call it. But if the editors don’t care that you turned this seven-page story into 25, that’s OK with me.' Luckily they were screwing up on deadlines and they had no choice but to accept what he turned in.

The response was just unbelievable. Jeez. I had no idea. And I can say this because Bill said it in a different interview - he made it public. The reason he told me he went so crazy on the book (was) because he was abused as a child. It was his way of working out these demons. He said he felt so much better by the time he was done and he was more proud of that than anything else in his career."

There's an issue of Animal Man back when Grant Morrison was on the book that is similar to this story. Animal Man gets the drop on a villain and then realizes said villain is mentally disturbed. Before he can stop it, another hero arrives and resolves the situation in the traditional way, i.e. he pummels him into unconscious. At the end everyone's standing around and the guy says "What? I beat the bad guy, right?" or something like that.

It's not a bad story, but it's so on-the-nose. I much prefer the collage-of-pain-and-paint-splatter that Sienkiewicz painfully brought to the page here.

For TV show: Definitely penultimate episode of the season.


Moon Knight #25 is a double-sized extravaganza detailing the rise and fall of one Carson Knowles, a Vietnam vet who survives his tour of duty only to return to a world destroyed.

His family, gone.
His job, gone.
His fellow citizens, unsympathetic.

Penniless and bereft of hope, the final straw comes when he brutally subdues some street punk who tries to mug him. He sees a picture of Moon Knight on a nearby newspaper and decides enough's enough - he's going to reclaim his place in the world, vigilante-style:

Ergo, Black Spectre.

The rest of the issue is devoted to Carson Knowles running for mayor while Black Spectre brutally silences his opponents and enemies. When Moon Knight tries to stop him, he is beaten - soundly - and left for dead. The city turns on MK as Black Spectre's star rises, leading to an all-out knock-down bloody battle atop city hall. 

For TV Show: Definitely the season-ending two-parter. Moon Knight had a pretty good rogues' gallery. Black Spectre, Bushman, the Midnight Man - all very original, even if they followed the traditional villain-undone-by-ego sort of deal. As a kid, the power of this issue convinced me not only that Black Spectre was Moon Knight's greatest foe (despite only appearing in this one issue of V1) but that he'd be a big deal in the wider Marvel Universe. I stopped collecting Marvel, though, before he was ever brought back in a later Moon Knight story.

Perhaps the most original of all MK's villains, though, is coming up next.


Marlena's brother is a doctor who administered an experimental drug on a patient, Robert Markham, with a unique chromosonal disease. Instead of curing him, it cursed Markham to a lifetime of no-sleep, and subsequent madness. His undischarged dreams become "ebon energies" that he can manipulate and wield as weapons.

In another's hands, this would be a perfectly fine superheroic saga, well-written and dramatic and paced well. It's essential mainly for Sienkiewicz's visual storytelling, which transforms the whole living nightmare/weirdness concept into something much, much more. I didn't want to get carried away with screencaps - the whole damn things is worthy of inclusion. 

I'll settle just for this dream sequence as a representative example. It showcases none of the great (and surreal) action between Morpheus and Moon Knight, but it perhaps speaks for itself.

For TV Show: The Morpheus saga takes place in MK #12 and #23. It opens with Markham attacking Marlena's brother (Peter) and placing him in a coma and ends with Peter's death. These could probably be compartmentalized into one episode, or two episodes at either end of the season. Not a two-parter, though - that'd be Peter-endangerment-overkill.  

And finally:


Moon Knight comes full circle round to where he all began, battling Jack Russell aka The Werewolf. (Not the Great White singer).

For TV Show: I'll do this one up-front. This has to be the sweeps week two-parter, billed as "the event of the century" or something. 

When a Satanic cult (and you almost always have me at "when a Satanic cult...") wants to capture the Werewolf and perform a spell making him Satan's emissary on Earth ("The Beast of the Apocalypse") - thus securing for all time the prestige of the cult's leader Belial - Russell makes a beeline for the man he once fought as foe but now calls friend: Moon Knight. 

The story is narrated in captions by the Werewolf, which lends an interesting perspective on things. The cult has been tracking him via a microchip in his head, which Moon Knight has removed. But before that happens, they are both taken captive by the cult and must fight their way out. Moon Knight lays a trap, and Russell allows himself to be kidnapped -

whereupon a post-hypnotic suggestion allows him to fight side-by-side with Moon Knight. The Werewolf throws Belial off the roof and escapes into the night as the rest of the cultists are rounded up by Detective Flint and the gang.

This is perhaps another that is sold primarily via the art, but the writing is definitely cool. It's a cool idea for both a werewolf story and a superhero story. 

Well, there we have it - seven essential stories from the first run of Moon Knight's adventures. Moench went off to DC, and Bill Sienkiewicz did New Mutants for a few years and Elektra: Assassin before following him across town for a new (and violent) take on The Shadow. Plus plenty of other stuff, not least of which his aborted collaboration with Alan Moore, Big Numbers

All of which is worth checking out, of course, but for my money, the Moench/Sienkiewicz Moon Knight casts the longest shadow of all.