By the end of this month, Disney and Marvel Studios will embark on their most radically different mainline MCU project with Moon Knight. The upcoming Disney+ TV series features an impressive main cast featuring Oscar Isaac (Dune, Ex Machina, the Star Wars series) as the titular nocturnal hero and Ethan Hawke (Dead Poets Society, Boyhood) as villain Arthur Harrow.
Created by comic book veterans Doug Moench and Don Perlin in 1975 for Werewolf by Night, the gritty vigilante established himself as one of Marvel Comics’ best — if underrated — street-level heroes alongside the likes of Daredevil and Spider-Man. Like the former, Moon Knight takes on darker subject matters than what the mainstream Marvel Cinematic Universe has audiences accustomed to. Though it feels like almost every upcoming MCU production gets touted as a big shake-up to the formula, the psychological nature of the superhero’s source material, on top of the talent attached to it, is what should make fans (and prospective ones) hopeful for what’s to come.
The acclaimed Daredevil series (now having completed its migration from Netflix to Disney+) was able to get away with much more due to its loose connections to the MCU, so Moon Knight could be the first litmus test for the streamer on how grounded and grim its willing to go. Marc Spector — the hero’s alter ego — suffers from a dissociative identity disorder, splitting his personality with four others. The character’s most praised comics tend to tackle themes of mental health, trauma, and the struggles of maintaining autonomy. The character’s unique personalities and experiences make for cerebral and intimate storytelling that should get fans excited for the future.
The phases of the Moon Knight
Marvel Comics’ Moon Knight begins and ends with Marc Spector. The Jewish son of a rabbi and former Marine and CIA operative turned mercenary, Spector is killed by his oldest nemesis and fellow mercenary Raoul Bushman while on a mission in Sudan, but is then suddenly revived by the ancient Egyptian god Khonshu. The comics maintained a degree of ambiguity as to whether Khonshu is real or a product of his disorder, but he’s later confirmed as a real otherworldly entity. Spector alleges that Khonshu reached out to him, and picked him as Khonshu’s avatar on Earth to become the Moon Knight. He funds his superhero career through his mercenary exploits, cultivating a group of friends and partners comprised of Jean-Paul “Frenchie” DuChamp and Marlene Alraune. Marvel Studios’ Moon Knight series will look to incorporate the Marc Spector identity, though it appears this persona will be introduced through Steven Grant.
Disney+’s Steven Grant is a mild-mannered museum gift shop employee initially unaware of his alternate personalities — including Spector and Moon Knight. In the comics, however, Grant is a billionaire business mogul who, like his other personalities, exploits his position in high-ranking social circles to gain intel for Moon Knight’s crime-fighting endeavors.
A third distinct persona that comprises Moon Knight’s complex character is Jake Lockley. Introduced early in the character’s history, Lockley is the personality with his ear the most to the ground due to his status as a New York cab driver with a variety of street-level contacts and informants. He acts as a sort of “fly on the wall,” driving around the depths of the city that the likes of Steven Grant couldn’t reach on his own.
In the vigilante realm of Marc’s complex mind is, for starters, the titular Moon Knight. Serving as the “Fist of Khonshu” means defending the innocents who travel by night from whatever dangers threaten them. Spector sees taking up the mantle of the Moon Knight as a way to atone and redeem himself from his gruesome life as a mercenary, giving himself wholly — for a time — to the Egyptian moon god. However, aside from the most recognizable identity of this superhero, the more canonically recent personality is Mr. Knight.
As opposed to the ghostly white and brooding knight motif of the traditional suit, Mr. Knight is a consultant who wears stark white business suit attire. He takes on clients to advise and assist them in their travels to complement the more “direct” ventures of Moon Knight — but he’s not afraid to get his hands bloody either. The current and acclaimed Jed Mackay run on Marvel Comics’ Moon Knight has the hero set up with a new congregation called the Midnight Mission to carry this out.
Comic book blueprints and the benefits of niche status
Taking all of this into account, the Disney+ Moon Knight series is in a uniquely advantageous position for tackling a grittier hero. The character isn’t burdened with the intensity of the mainstream spotlight like Batman or Daredevil, so creator Jeremy Slater and directing head Mohamed Diab can afford to get a bit inventive in how Moon Knight’s first live-action adaptation will proceed. There aren’t any preconceived notions, so there can be a (potential) blend of creative liberty and comic book inspiration. Starting the series from the perspective of Grant, changing his backstory, and working his way backwards in terms of learning about himself could be an intriguing plot device for newcomers and longtime fans alike.
Likewise, Ethan Hawke’s villain — the aforementioned Arthur Harrow — already poses a fascinating mystery even for comic book readers. In the source material, Harrow was an early, yet one-off villain who was a brilliant scientist that secretly conducted Nazi-Germany-era medical experiments. In the Disney+ series, however, Harrow seems to be a kind of cult leader who attempts to manipulate Steven Grant. Fans have been theorizing the possibility of him being the newer villain Sun King, which wouldn’t be the first time Marvel has mixed two characters from the comics into one.
It’s a degree of intrigue that could make excellent use of Moon Knight’s mainstream obscurity and pay off for both audiences, although the comic book faithful will certainly be looking for some tonal fidelity to some of the source materials’ greatest narrative runs. The Warren Ellis/Declan Shalvey and Moench/Bill Sienkiewicz comics are among the most notable, but a more modern great in the form of the Jeff Lemire/Greg Smallwood run is one to keep an eye out for when Moon Knight premieres — and id worth checking out for the uninitiated.
Their run is characterized by personal, point of view-driven storytelling that grips readers into feeling the uncertainty running through Spector’s mind. It begins with the protagonist throwing himself at the mercy of the manipulative Khonshu, and pays off with an immensely satisfying moment of character growth for Moon Knight. It’s arguably the perfect tale for going into the show and the questions it may ask of our protagonist. It’s an excellent rundown for everything that makes the facets of Spector’s psyche so unique in the increasingly crowded and homogenized superhero genre.
Marvel Studios’ Moon Knight premieres on March 30 on Disney+.
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