Moon Knight: City of the Dead #1
THE DEBUT OF THE NEW SCARLET SCARAB! When a young runaway is attacked by a gang of death cultists, he is left barely alive outside the Midnight Mission. But Marc Spector made a vow long ago to defend the travelers of the night…and as long as a spark of life remains, his mission isn’t over yet. Follow Moon Knight on his most harrowing adventure yet, as the Fist of Khonshu journeys far beyond the land of the living—and battles across the mind-bending underworld known as the City of the Dead!
Warning: This review contains spoilers for Moon Knight #19-25
Moon Knight: City of the Dead #1 – written by David Pepose with pencils by Marcelo Ferreira, inks by Jay Leisten, colors from Rachelle Rosenberg, and letters by VC’s Cory Petit – serves as an interlude to the main Moon Knight series, taking place sometime after issue #19. That issue featured a twist on existing Moon Knight lore, with Khonshu’s ability to resurrect avatars gone due to his imprisonment.
Marc is continuing to protect the night’s travels, this time taking a young kid under the Midnight Mission’s creed. The kid is targeted by a death cult called the Sons of the Jackal that worships Anubis, the Egyptian god of death. Their machinations for the boy lead Moon Knight to Duat, the city of the dead, a metaphysical realm influenced by every inhabitant’s mind.
As Moon Knight investigates Jackal’s plans and the city warps around him, the book’s other big hook comes into play; the introduction of Layla El-Faouly’s Scarlet Scarab. Layla made a quick appearance in last week’s Moon Knight #25, and the flashback from that issue that revealed Layla’s death plays a role in this reunion. With much to still be revealed and the city of the dead illusionary elements, the reveal is a fascinating hook that ties both titles’ past, present, and future.
Pepose’s script immediately aligns with the main Moon Knight title, capturing the guilt-ridden but forward-focused Spector established in Jed MacKay’s run. The opening bit of the issue is Moon Knight in his element, hunting criminals and protecting the innocent in the streets of New York. Pepose gives confidence to the plot as he tackles the quintessential aspect of the moon-themed vigilante. This and then the book’s supernatural elements are bridged with a scene between Badar/Hunter’s Moon, the other fist of Khonshu introduced early in the main book.
The conversation between the two perfectly illustrates Pepose’s ability to hone into the specific voice of a book and its characters and then add a new spin to them. The tension between the two is palpable, even as they work to fulfill a unified mission based on the tenets of Khonshu. Even as Badar agrees to help, the distrust in Marc’s mental state is evident in the proceedings. Badar sees through Spector’s bluster and defensive quipping but trusts the hero. It’s a small moment that showcases an understanding of the established voices of these characters.
After this beat, Badar performs the ritual that sends Moon Knight to Duat, and the book shifts gears. It goes from a street-level superhero story to something closer to urban fantasy, blending the noir elements with the mythological look at the afterlife. Pepose’s scripting understands that shift in tone and plays it up when needed, working the tropes and affectations of the opening half into the supernatural angle. That melding of fantasy and vigilante action ensures that the mythological elements are more grounded, but the crime elements feel more out of the ordinary.
Much of that delineation comes thanks to the book’s palette from the leading Moon Knight colorist. Rosenberg brings the typical mystical sheen to Moon Knight’s costume in the issue, and the half set in New York feels in line with the hues seen in a typical issue of the run. Once the book crosses into Duat, the book takes on a new palette of ethereal reds and blues, echoing the main title’s flirtations with more otherworldly visuals. Here, the coloring emphasizes the mythical setting and puts the reader on edge thanks to the stark contrast to the more restrained look of New York.
The coloring works hand in hand with the art for the issue, as Ferreira brings a different but familiar energy to the miniseries. The pencils are more grounded than Alessandro Cappuccio’s or Federico Sabbatini’s hyper-stylized artwork, which both exaggerate shadows and figures. Here, Ferreira channels linework that is just as kinetic in the action and expression in emotion but feels a bit more concrete in how it depicts character and setting.
It’s a solid choice that allows Duat’s mythical elements to deliver excellent thrills. As the world and mystery of the book create purposeful confusion, a more interpretive art style could have pushed the reader toward the direction of incoherence. One page, in particular, stands out in balancing coherent action and visual spectacle. It features Moon Knight battling the magically roided-out Sons of the Jackal as reality shifts. Ferreira illustrates this by breaking panel boundaries, shattering like cracked bricks as Moon Knight is thrown from scene to scene. In one panel, the background is the Jackals’ hideout; a punch sends the vigilante to a moment of his past before another break in the panel leads to the street of Duat.
Much of the clarity in this scene and the rest of the book also comes thanks to Leisten’s inks. With such a focus on the ever-changing, chaotic nature of the city of the dead, it would be easy for the visuals to become muddy and hard to follow. Instead, Leisten brings clarity through solid and straightforward lines that become invisible in the book’s flow but ensure no issue following along the page. The fight scene above is a perfect example of this craft on display, as the linework makes the figures clear from beat to beat.
It’s a sequence that doesn’t as flash as moments like Moon Knight’s initial journey into the realm of the dead or the later fights. Still, it does an excellent job of synthesizing the book’s various artistic and narrative frameworks. Everything from the shifts in the genre to twisting reality and even the change in coloring is all on display now and works like a calling card for the issue. As the issue dives deeper into the slippery illusions of Duat, the clarity established in this scene ensures the mystery of Lyla’s appearance is a compelling twist.
The only real issue with this debut is the lettering for Moon Knight’s narration, a faint green coloring that can sometimes be difficult on the page. It feels like the decision is to mirror the current Moon Knight costume’s luster in the flagship book and this spinoff, but the color doesn’t translate well to the text boxes and words. It’s a little nitpick, but with such a strong focus on the interiority of Marc’s reaction to the ever-changing Duat, clarity needs to be precise.
The opening stage in Moon Knight’s adventure in the City of the Dead is an excellent debut, delivering what feels like three books in one while still feeling cohesive with the main Moon Knight title. The writing captures the tone and voice of the flagship book but brings a new energy thanks to the overtly supernatural premise of traveling to the afterlife. The book’s coloring picks up on that hook and delivers two distinct palette’s; feeling in line with the established hues and then exceeding expectations in the back half.
The art for the issue packs a punch thanks to its balance of clarity and kinetic action, ensuring that there’s a weight to the action and emotion even as the world shifts around the characters. It makes for an excellent showcase of the strong pairing of gritty street-level action and high-concept mythical elements. Fans of the main Moon Knight book will want to pick this up immediately, and those not reading either will want to check out this fascinating exploration of the character and the elements that intersect to make Moon Knight such a unique character in the fabric of the Marvel universe.
Moon Knight: City of the Dead #1: Knockin’ On Duat’s Door
- Writing - 10/1010/10
- Storyline - 10/1010/10
- Art - 10/1010/10
- Color - 10/1010/10
- Cover Art - 10/1010/10
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