"Moon Knight" #27, part two of the who-knows-how-long "Down South" arc, gives us a costumeless Moon Knight working with some bad guys in Mexico. Punisher's around, lurking on rooftops, but here's what you won't see in this issue: (a) a superhero team up in the Mighty Marvel Manner, (b) any of Marc Spector's normal accoutrements, (c) Marc Spector.
Here's what you will see: (a) Jake Lockley, (b) Mexican wrestling, (c) a rescue operation gone wrong, (d) double crosses and back stabbing, (e) grit.
Gone are the "Moon Knight" standbys, like Frenchie, hallucinations, seething anger, and despair. Instead, "Down South" gives us a dirty, Jason Aaron-style crime drama, with ink-splattered texture provided by Jefte Palo, whose work here doesn't look quite as good as it did on his short "Black Panther" run. And Mike Benson is no Jason Aaron, and he's no Ed Brubaker either, so the gritty crime elements lack a certain edge. There's a run-of-the-mill quality about the story of a thuggish good guy rescuing the mob boss's daughter, and Benson's script doesn't rise above the level of its own cliché.
It's a step up from the brooding, grotesque mockery that this comic became during the last two years, but this new, sparser, direction isn't as tight or evocative as it needs to be to work. Let me put it this way: "Moon Knight" #27 wants desperately to be Sam Peckinpah, but it just ends up being Robert Rodriguez.
Still, it's perfectly fine as a story, and the final page implies a ready-to-unleash savagery that contrasts effectively with the perfunctory snatch and grab sequences throughout the issue. What's missing is a sense of Jack Lockley as a person. Is he a fragment of the larger Marc Spector psyche? Is he really someone fundamentally different from his multiple personality counterparts? Or is he just a boring cipher? Because in this issue he seems more like the latter, and until Mike Benson defines his character more clearly, it's just another story of a down on his luck average Joe (or Jake) trying to take care of business.
The recent "Death of Marc Spector" arc cleared the way for a new kind of "Moon Knight" comic, and Mike Benson has started to take advantage of the opportunity to tell stories that feel different from the ones that came before. Unfortunately, they are just generic crime stories, and that's barely an improvement.