MARVEL KNIGHTS 20TH #1: TALES OF THE PAST FORGOTTEN

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As we join together to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the launch of the Marvel Knights imprint, we find a lost and confused Matthew Murdock clinging to the grave of the dearly departed Karen Page. Matt doesn't know why he is there, however, as we are introduced to a world in which the prominent characters involved with Marvel Knights over the years appear to have lost their memories and the world at large has forgotten them as well.

Matt is approached by Frank Castle, who has had a similar experience but was "awoken" by Bruce Banner. Banner appears to be being fed information regarding the identities of the forgotten by The Hulk, although the source of his information is not yet fully revealed. Matt regains his memories, but unfortunately, the world around him still has not, including his closest friend and confidant, Foggy Nelson. As more characters are awakened, ghosts from Matt's past begin to close in our hero, lost in a world where heroes are not what they appear.

Review
Marvel Knights launched 20 years ago under Joe Quesada as an imprint of Marvel where stories could occur in relative isolation, with slightly darker themes, but still rooted in the main Marvel universe (Earth 616). Launching initially with Daredevil, Punisher, Inhumans, and Black Panther, Marvel Knights quickly became a space for top-level talent to explore innovative and avant-garde storytelling within the mainstream Marvel universe. I remember the era clearly and dove deep into these stories as a young man. Ennis and Dillon’s take on Punisher pushed the character to the next level after decades stagnant. The outline to the blockbuster Black Panther film can be found in Priest and Mark Texeira’s run on the character. The work of Kevin Smith, Joe Quesada, David Mack, Alex Maleev, and Brian Michael Bendis would forever reframe Daredevil and his extended cast in the same way Frank Miller accomplished over a decade previous. Bruce Jones reminded us that a monster lives inside Bruce Banner. Even Neil Gaiman would get in on the action with his critically acclaimed reimagining of the Marvel universe in 1602. And there were countless others.
Eventually, Marvel Knights strayed away from sustained storytelling in favor of self-contained mini-series and one-shots and the establishment of the MAX imprint for mature readers savaged the Marvel Knights stable of characters, not in a bad way necessarily, but certainly in a definitive way. Here we are, two decades removed, and here is Donny Cates, right on time, to remind us of what made this imprint so special in the first place.

What Cates has done here that is so remarkable to me is that he has captured the nuance of these characters as they existed during their Marvel Knights tenures. We see a Banner haunted by the monster within. We see Matt as a pain-junkie. We see a world of tarnished heroes– Knights in slightly rusty armor, doing their best to get through today with little to no care about what fresh hell tomorrow may bring. Cates crafts a love-letter to a bygone era here, and takes extra care in the details.

The art style is distinctly Travel Foreman in design and conception. If you are already a fan of Foreman, you will love it, but if you aren’t, the art may be an issue for you. I’m still conflicted about how clean the work is for a work of this nature, given the history of Marvel Knights and how much the imprint pushed boundaries artistically over the years, but it is not a totally unsuitable style. It is also not without some striking punctuation marks throughout, most notably this beautiful splash page of Matt regaining his memories. The use of the concentric circles zooming in from a macro view of Matt’s life, in the context of the brief appearance by Bullseye, seemed an excellent touch given the nature of the relationship between the two.


Final Thoughts
In a crowded market during a crowded release week, it's very possible for this issue to slip under your radar. Don't let that happen. It's time to dig out those old Marvel Knights comics and celebrate!
 
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