Moon Knight: A guide to Marvel's violent, mentally unstable and morally ambiguous 'anti-hero'
Violent, mentally unstable and morally ambiguous, Moon Knight doesn’t really fit the classic image of a hero | From our #HeroesAndVillains series
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A martial arts expert with a (usually) vast fortune, an arsenal of themed gadgets, a lot of emotional baggage and a thirst for justice or at the very least, vengeance… sound like someone you know? But unlike a certain crime-fighting billionaire orphan, this knight makes no attempt to make an ally of the darkness. As a matter of fact, Marc Spector, as his alter ego Moon Knight, does the exact opposite.
“I don't wear white to hide myself. I wear it so they'll see me coming. So they'll know who it is.” — Moon Knight
Violent, mentally unstable and morally ambiguous, Moon Knight doesn’t really fit the classic image of a hero. An opinion that many of the Marvel heroes he’s interacted with over the years seem to share. An Anti-hero then? Well yes, but that term is over-used. Han Solo is considered an anti-hero because of his lovable-rogue shtick. Moon Knight is a revenant, an avatar of divine retribution, an aspect of vengeance… Moon Knight was the kind of anti-hero who carved the face off of his nemesis before killing him. A disposition that could explain why he and Frank Castle aka The Punisher would get along rather well.
I should emphasise that this is how Moon Knight used to be. Recent publications have portrayed Spector working hard to deliver the same amount of justice with a greatly reduced body count. While things don’t always go to plan, Moon Knight has managed to shift public perception to the point that most now see him as a real superhero; and not a mentally ill mass-murderer whose actions reduce crime by coincidence.
Origin and Powers
Created by Doug Moench and Don Perlin in 1975 in a publication titled Werewolf By Night, Moon Knight was originally cast as a repentant villain in service to a shadowy organisation calling themselves ‘The Committee’, who hunted down and captured series protagonist Jacob Rusell only to betray his employers and free Rusell and his captured friends.
Once it was decided that Moon Knight was going to be a joining Marvel’s publication roster as a hero, his origin was reconceptualised and this event was retconned to indicate that Moon Knight and his allies had infiltrated the Committee in order to destroy it from within.
Marc Spector, now a United States Marine, spent three years on active duty before being dishonourably discharged for insubordination. The CIA was happy to overlook his erratic behaviour given his skills and offered him a place within the Special Activities Division. After leaving the CIA Marc knew that a man of his skills, training and psyche profile have few options when it comes to civilian work.
Along with a former contact, veteran pilot Jean-Paul “Frenchie” Du Champ, Marc decided to explore opportunities as Soldiers-Of-Fortune. However, his career as a mercenary came to an end in Egypt, when his unit leader, the famously vicious, Raoul Bushman (aka Raul Bushman), decided to betray their employers and steal the treasure and artefacts they were hired to guard. Confronting Raoul in single combat, Marc was brutally defeated and left for dead.
On the verge of death, Marc was visited by the spirit of Khonshu, the Egyptian God of the Moon… and of vengeance. Khonshu offers to restore him to life but in exchange demands that Marc serves as his avatar on Earth. Naturally, Marc accepts and adopts the title of Moon Knight. Spector then confronts Bushman again, killing him and then returning to the United States with Frenchie and Marlene Alraune, the daughter of Peter Alraune, whom Bushman had betrayed.
Spector is a talented hand to hand combatant and is highly proficient with a variety of firearms, although as Moon Knight he doesn’t often engage in ranged combat beyond the use of crescent-shaped throwing discs. He’s an expert detective and interrogator and also a talented pilot.
In terms of superpowers, Moon Knight is quite limited, comparable to Marvel’s ‘street level’ heroes such as The Defenders (Daredevil, Iron Fist etc). Moon Knight’s superhuman powers include super-strength, durability and resilience. Additionally, as a positive by-product of his compromised mental health, he is resistant to psionic attacks and telepathic probing.
The extent of Moon Knights powers wax and wane with the phases of the Moon, with him being at his most powerful during a full moon. That said, at his strongest, Spector can supposedly lift around two tons, about the weight of a premium sedan, which is not particularly impressive within the superhero community.
However, these superhuman abilities are dependent on Khonshu’s favour and several publications have seen Spector running afoul of the enigmatic Egyptian deity. As a result, it can be difficult to determine the limits of his abilities from one story to another.
Allies and adversaries
Moon Knight, through his various alter-egos, maintains a reasonably effective network of contacts and informants. Beyond that, he has also occasionally found it necessary, or at least convenient, to team up with a variety of heroes over the years.
Initially, the ‘Team’ consisted only of his former comrade in arms ‘Frenchie’ as his pilot and Marlene, who served as an informant with whom Marc has had an on-again, off-again relationship with since he rescued her from Egypt. Jeff Wilde (Midnight) the son of one of Moon Knight’s early villains also unexpectedly joined the team as Spector’s sidekick until he was later killed in action.
Moon Knight was also a member of the West Coast Avengers for some time and while not always seeing eye to eye with Steve Rogers, was recruited by him to his ‘Secret Avengers’ team following H.A.M.M.E.R. being disbanded and the abolition of the Superhuman Registration Act.
Finally, we have Moon Knight’s divine patron, Khonshu, the mysterious God of the Moon who resurrected him (twice) and from whom Moon Knight derives his superhuman abilities. You wouldn’t guess it from looking at him, but Khonshu, who usually chooses the form of a dust and cob-web covered man in a suit with a bird skull for a head, is generally considered a (mostly) benevolent God.
The question of whether Khonshu is real or a figment of Spector’s imagination has been raised several times, but current interpretations tend to agree that while Spector may be crazy, Khonshu is real and Marc is the executor of his will.
As one of the few heroes whose powers confine them mostly to low-level conflicts but whose origins bridge over to the mystic and cosmic realms of the Marvel Universe, Moon Knight has an extremely eclectic rogues’ gallery. Over the years Moon Knight has fought common thugs, mercenaries, werewolves, aliens, ghosts and Gods such as Seth and Ra (or their mortal incarnations at any rate).
Like in any good superhero story, the most dangerous villains are those who are in essence a dark reflection of themselves. A resurrected Raoul Bushman, a deranged veteran calling himself Black Spectre and Shadow Knight, a former member of The Committee who claims to be Marc’s brother Randall Spector, are among the most prominent villains across Moon Knight’s publication history. These characters serve as an antithesis to Spector and their return in various storylines force him to constantly confront a past that he would rather forget.
Character and Philosophy
Since his introduction, Moon Knight’s story arc has been quite a roller coaster. This is likely reflective of the fragile nature of Marc Spector’s psyche as various aspects of his consciousness vie for control. Alter egos such as millionaire entrepreneur Steven Grant and hard-boiled cab driver Jake Lockley were created as a means for Spector to gather information and develop contacts across various strata of society. However, these aliases quickly took on lives of their own.
The Steven Grant persona grew in strength until at one point it became the dominant personality for a period of time. As Jake Lockley, he was even able to reconcile his relationship with Marlene and father a child with her while keeping it a secret from Spector and his other identities.
As of issue #194, Marc Spector’s alter egos are said to exist as the result of childhood trauma (being hunted by an anti-Semite serial killer and former Nazi no less). But they don’t meaningfully impact Marc’s life until his mercenary days are over and so I’ve chosen to stick with the original timeline for their introduction.
The will of Khonshu also plays a major role in how Moon Knight behaves. Early adventures show a character driven by vengeance, often killing, without hesitation, anyone he deems worthy of retribution. However, over time Spector rebels against Khonshu; and while he continues to fight crime, resolves only to kill as a last resort.
Taken as a whole, Moon Knight’s character has transitioned from Chaotic Neutral/Good to Lawful Good over the years. This transition is further enforced by the development of a new alter-ego named Mr Knight, who, rather than being a vigilante, actually works with the police department, providing pro-bono consultation, intelligence and analysis services… though he has no trouble getting his white gloves dirty from time to time.
As you might expect in a comic starring a character with dissociative identity disorder, the key theme of Moon Knight is the exploration of identity and the self. Often Moon Knight’s stories focus just as much on Marc’s tormented psyche and the ‘enemy within’ as it does on his battles with more corporeal threats in the real world. In more recent publications such as 2016’s ‘Lunatic’, it is left up to the reader to interpret what events from the entire series of Moon Knight, if any, are real. While the events following ‘Lunatic’ supposedly bring Spector’s mental illness to an end, it’s too early to determine whether this resolution will last for long.
The Fist Of Khonshu
I have always been a fan of unreliable narrators as a storytelling device and there’s no narrator more unreliable than a man whose grasp on reality is tenuous at best. As a result, we are often left unable to objectively trust what we see, which can make re-reading issues to try to find hidden details and catch minor inconsistencies a very rewarding experience.
What Moon Knight lacks in amazing superpowers and interesting villains, it makes up for with interesting storytelling. His interactions with Khonshu, often cryptic and unsettling, stick with you long after you stop reading. Spector’s lack of powers compared to some of his foes ratchets up the danger and makes every fight one that he could lose. I like my invincible heroes as much as the next man, but for me, the heroes who need to struggle for every victory are the ones I am probably more interested to read about.
Moon Knight’s issue numbering online is a bit confusing, but all of the titles recommended below are available on the Marvel Digital Store. These are some of Moon Knight’s best story arcs and will tell you everything you need to know about the character and supporting cast if you’ve never read any of the character’s comics until now.
Moon Knight (2006-2009)
Vol 1: The Bottom
Vol 2: Midnight Sun
Vol 3: God & Country
Vol 4: The Death of Marc Spector
Vol 5: Down South
Vengeance of the Moon Knight (2009-2010)
Vol 1: Shock and Awe
Vol 2: Killed, Not Dead
Moon Knight (2014-2015)
Vol 1: From The Dead
Vol 2: Dead Will Rise
Vol 3: In The Night
Moon Knight (2016-2017)
Vol 1: Lunatic
Vol 2: Reincarnations
Vol 3: Birth and Death
See more from the series here.
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