Marvel Explained is our ongoing series where we delve into the latest Marvel shows, movies, trailers, comics, and news stories to divine the franchise’s future. This entry examines Moon Knight and how he functions as Marvel’s Batman, a caped crusader with no delusions regarding his fractured sanity.
Every few years, in the comics, Bruce Wayne questions his sanity. The vengeance quest is never satiated. As hard as he tries, Gotham City remains a cesspool of crime and depravity. Is he making a difference? Does he wear the mask to protect others, or just himself? What does he owe that sobbing boy in the alley and the dead parents at his feet?
These questions are at the center of such classic comics as The Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke, Batman: Ego, and several others. Each one comes to some conclusion, satisfying the reader so they can keep coming back for more, their faith in the Dark Knight restored. It’s the effort that matters. Despair is the only failure.
Faith and the terror that comes with its loss haunts another costumed vigilante at a different publishing house. It’s a character that snarky people (myself definitely included) have flippantly referred to as Marvel’s Batman, and he will very shortly make his splash debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe via Disney+.
Moon Knight first appeared in the pages of Marvel’s Werewolf by Night #32, written by Doug Moench and penciled by Don Perlin. This was 36 years after DC Comics premiered Gotham’s winged avenger. Since 1972, the character has had nine different solo series, none lasting more than a few years. The longest comic run was Marc Spector: Moon Knight and it ran from 1989 to 1994. For whatever reason, this angry goofball cannot maintain a readership.
The Disney+ series could change that, and if it doesn’t, the current ongoing run by writer Jed MacKay, artist Alessandro Cappuccio, colorist Rachelle Rosenberg, and letterer Corry Petit absolutely should. Their book is the best comic out there for curious new readers. It establishes Moon Knight’s particular vibe quickly, looks absolutely smashing, and is not weighed down by certain elements that make older stories awkward for 2022 readers.
Moon Knight suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Batman comics often question whether Bruce Wayne or the Dark Knight is driving the bus. Well, Moon Knight comics actually bounce between multiple personalities, including mercenary Marc Spector, billionaire Steven Grant, street smart cabbie Jake Lockley, superhero consultant Mr. Knight, and more. And, oh yeah, he follows the orders of Khonshu, the Egyptian moon god.
Cheeky comparisons to Batman stem from their similar fashion statements, the cape and cowl wardrobe, although Moon Knight wraps himself in white because he wants his enemies to see him coming. No shadow-skulking for this guy. Both characters deck themselves in gadgets and vehicles using bottomless wealth. They’ve also got a cadre of followers who lend assistance when required.
Batman is no stranger to the supernatural, even if the movies tend to stay far away from clay monsters and Lazarus pits, but Moon Knight soaks in the bizarre. The spooky is impossible to shake when you spring from Marvel’s weirdo ’70s werewolf title and when the character holding your leash is a vengeful deity. As a result, Moon Knight comics are frequently populated by vampires, ghouls, and vermin.
The current MacKay and Cappuccio comic puts all those beasties out there in the first few issues. Mr. Knight tags a certain corner of his city with his crescent moon sigil, marking it safe for night travelers. He then establishes his Mission, a sanctuary where his neighbors can reach him for assistance. When some bloodsuckers abduct and transform his citizens into vamps, he slaughters the perpetrators. He lets the newly transformed walk away, going so far as making the newborn vampire Reese his executive receptionist.
Batman doesn’t kill (well, he’s usually written as not a killer, but some creators have pushed him over that moral edge). But Moon Knight has few qualms in that regard. Marc Spector made a living trading lives for dollars. As MacKay explains it, he did grow a conscience in the desert and turned on his fellow murderous mercs. They killed him, and Khonshu brought him back to serve as his Fist.
Bruce Wayne and Marc Spector both struggle with their violent pursuits. In Batman: Ego, Wayne must confront his ideology after the Joker kills yet another batch of innocents. How many will continue to die because he refuses to escort the Joker into oblivion? Not to forget those other psycho killers: Riddler, Scarecrow, Penguin, Killer Croc, etc. The thought renders his psyche in half, and writer/artist Darwyn Cooke spends the rest of the book answering for Bruce Wayne’s inaction.
To kill or not to kill is not the question for Moon Knight. He works for a god, and gods cast judgment. He does very much worry about his sanity. And so do the Avengers. A little while back, Khonshu attempted to take over the planet, and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes barely survived the assault, leaving the moon god imprisoned in Asgard’s dungeon. With Moon Knight still operating as Khonshu’s Fist, the Avengers are worried for and about Marc Spector. They assign Dr. Sterman as his psychologist, reporting directly to Doctor Strange and Captain America.
Jed MacKay’s Moon Knight is less concerned with the character’s DID. Mr. Knight’s relationship with Khonshu — and how contact with such an immense power might alter his biology and perception — does ring alarm. In addition, MacKay introduces another Fist of Khonshu: the left Fist, the Hunter’s Moon. Marc Spector’s religion contains many acolytes, and he can no longer assume the flock carries the same goals as he does. Like his mind, his church is divided.
When reading Batman comics, you should always be a little worried for Bruce Wayne. He and you should perpetually reevaluate his motives and methods. The same is true for Moon Knight, cranked to 11. He’s an unreliable narrator, often undercut by his brain and the snobby godhead who recruited him for a crusade. His heroics rest on whether he saves more than he destroys and whether you agree with the finality in which he protects his Mission.
Massaging a character’s unease for the readership is challenging. It’s why Batman comics can only question Bruce Wayne’s purpose every few years, and it might be why Moon Knight’s following waxes and wanes. It’s not fun.
Werewolves are fun. Vampires are fun. Throw enough onto the pages, and they might get us through the heavier subject strangling Moon Knight’s narrative.
The shattered human in the white costume is never at peace; he’s in a constant confrontation with his psyche, always doubting. As one of his readers, the fear of self is the appeal. Am I the me I want to be? Do I have control over that me? How are outside forces steering my path? How can I reclaim control of my destiny? The battle only ends when you’re dead.
Again, not fun. But helpful? Certainly relatable. Your battle with you is never over until it’s over.