If you’re looking for the closest thing Marvel has to an equivalent of Batman, then Moon Knight would be it.
There are some striking similarities between the two characters, even though Batman was first created 37 years before Moon Knight in 1975 – the wealth, the gadgets, the machinery and the multiple identities that bind them ... but also separate them.
While Batman is propelled by discipline and drive, Moon Knight is defined by another “D” – Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).
I have always had a soft spot for Moon Knight since reading his first appearance in the pages of Werewolf By Knight (WBK) #32. Initially cast as a villain/mercenary who captured the Werewolf for the “Committee”, a change of heart saw Moon Knight releasing his captive and becoming an instant hero. While the two-issue appearance in WBK were eye openers, the wow factor really came in Defenders (Vol.1) #48 when Moon Knight escaped Scorpio’s (of the Zodiac) death trap by using ... a can of beer!
Alas, after almost four decades, the character has hardly made any progress, stuck in limbo as he drifts between reality and twisted fantasy, courtesy of having an Egyptian god stuck in his head. That doesn’t change the fact that Moon Knight is a thought-provoking character that makes him one of comics’ most complex figures.
Moon Knight was co-created by Doug Moench and Don Perlin as a stand-in villain for WBK but the impact generated in his two-issue appearance was so strong that it attracted the attention of Marvel editors. Marv Wolfman and the late Len Wein then gave him a series of outings, in Marvel Spotlight #28 and #29, Spectacular Spider-Man #22 and #23, Marvel Two-In-One #52, and a temporary induction into the Defenders #47–#51.
While these appearances were not strong enough to warrant a regular title, Moon Knight’s slow drip into the Marvel universe continued with a backup strip in Hulk! Magazine (#11–#15, #17-#18 and #20), which saw the character first drawn by his “best” artist Bill Sienkiewicz.
After five years of “squatting” in other characters’ titles, Moon Knight was finally rewarded with his own series and the most suitable creative team to chart his fortunes: Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz. The creative duo’s first order of business was to reward Moon Knight and fans with a complete origin story.
Meet Marc Spector, the son of a Jewish-American rabbi, a heavyweight boxer, an ex-Marine, and a mercenary. Spector actually died during a mercenary mission in Egypt, when he went against the wishes of his employer, Raoul Bushman, who till today stands out as Moon Knight’s biggest nemesis.
Spector disagreed with Bushman’s ruthless treatment of innocent parties, especially American archaeologist Dr Peter Alraune. For his insubordination, Spector was beaten up and left for dead in the desert. Spector’s battered body was found by some Egyptians and carried into a temple. There, Khonshu, the Egyptian Moon God, resurrects him and gives Spector a second chance at life by becoming his avatar on Earth. Post-resurrection, Spector’s first mission was to hunt down Bushman and avenge the death of Alraune for his daughter (Marlene), whom Spector had fallen in love with.
With help from Marlene and a French pilot, Jean-Paul DuChamp aka “Frenchie”, Spector uses his mercenary-earned wealth to set up a new base back in the United States, where Bushman its rumoured to be now located. To aid in his search, Spector creates two other identities: millionaire entrepreneur Steven Grant and cab driver Jake Lockley. Through these two separate identities, Spector is able to connect with different levels of society to gather the necessary intel for him to be a bona fide crime fighter.
He eventually gets his revenge over Bushman, defeating the villain within the first issue while still paving the way for future rematches.
Moon Knight’s first of his seven – yes, seven – series lasted just 38 issues, which is an achievement by today’s standards. Apart from Sienkiewicz’s broody, unique illustrations, the series is also remembered for being a pioneering experiment in Marvel’s distribution strategy, which saw certain titles being exclusively sold at comics speciality stores – a move that backfired and expedited this title’s demise
The Konshu influence
Take two of Moon Knight’s career started and ended even more disastrously. Ditching the multiple identities, the supporting team and the nifty moon-themed arsenal, this Fist of Khonshu era was 100% focused on his role as Khonshu’s avatar.
One interesting revelation from this six-issue mini-series was that it diagnosed Moon Knight’s schizophrenia triggered by the stress of maintaining various identities.
Moon Knight later continues his “avatar role” in the pages of West Coast Avengers, develops a relationship with Tigra, but eventually dies. But guess what? He is resurrected by Khonshu again!
Acknowledging that they ODed on the Khonshu-influence the last round, Marvel brought back the original Moon Knight, together with some key enhancements. From introducing a new sidekick (Midnight) to upgrading his Kevlar costume with adamantium armour, this series of 60 issues was well occupied by the appearances of key Marvel characters such as the Avengers, New Warriors, Punisher, Spider-Man and even Doctor Doom.
Alas, weak scripting made the entire series rather forgettable. For the record, Moon Knight “dies” (again) in the last issue.... Well, no prizes for guessing who resurrects him (again).
A 2006 revamp by Charlie Huston and David Finch featured Spector being crippled after a brutal battle with Bushman. Abandoned in every sense, Spector has no choice but to rebuild his “collaboration” with Khonshu.
The focus throughout these 30 issues is on Spector’s mental instability. Compounding matters is Khonshu’s role switching from protector to protagonist, making this series and the ensuing Vengeance Of Moon Knight series very deep dives into Spector’s psyche.
Bendis and Ellis
After years of diagnosing and dissecting Moon Knight’s mental instability and schizophrenia, it took Brian Michael Bendis to spin Moon Knight’s health ailments into something positive.
Ironically, the positive comes in the form of more multiple personalities, with Spector having three imaginary super friends (ie Spidey, Cap America and Wolverine) to keep his sanity in check. Courtesy of these “friends” watching over him, Spector relocates to Hollywood and becomes the creator/director of a TV show based on his own superheroics called Legends Of Khonshu.
While Bendis’s work on the Moon Knight from 2011 to 2012 set a solid foundation for future stories, Warren Ellis took it to another level. Stripping out decades of layers on which the Moon Knight mythos was forged, Ellis reinvented the Moon Knight as ... Mr Knight, a new persona for Spector to help him, um, control the other personas.
The latest diagnosis here is that Spector doesn’t have DID after all but something even worse: his mind had been “colonised” by Khonshu and he has brain damage.
All in all, the 17 issues here have added a new dimension to Spector’s state of mind and the state of play between him and Khonshu, setting up the tempo for Jeff Lemire’s mind-boggling take on the Moon Knight, which we reckon is one of 2017's best comics.
In his recent run on the title, Lemire took us into the deepest psyche of Marc Spector, as he grapples between reality and Khonshu’s twisted fantasy. Is he actually the Moon Knight? Is he actually a psychiatric patient whose delusion of being a superhero is a form of escapism? Or is he once again a pawn in Khonshu’s game?
Lemire masterfully infuses core elements of Moon Knight’s mythos into this complex plot. From his encounter with Bushman to his love for Marlene and his bond with the original supporting crew, what was supposedly a confusing journey ends up becoming a nostalgic trip down memory lane.
If you have followed the Moon Knight from the beginning, Lemire’s run is somewhat of a tribute-of-sorts and would perfectly double as a TV series script. If you haven’t read Moon Knight before, go read Lemire’s ongoing series. It’s really, really good.