Between Marvel’s big Netflix deal bringing four street-level heroes to the small screen, and the announcement that superstar writer Warren Ellis would be tackling a new, weird, crime-focused Moon Knight series, now seems like a great time to revisit the mercenary-turned vigilante Marc Spector.
Or is that Jake Lockley? Or Steven Grant?
It’s complicated. You see, Moon Knight isn’t just a white-clad Batman ripoff by way of Mack Bolan; he’s also one of the trickiest characters in Marvel’s stable to get a new reader’s head around. Ellis promises to embrace that weirdness with the character’s new ongoing in March, but why don’t we take a look at this street-level superhero who spends as much time battling his personal demons as he does doling out disproportionate justice to the street criminals of the Marvel Universe.
8. Marc Spector: Werewolf Hunter
The character made his debut all the way back in 1975’s Werewolf by Night #32, written by writer Doug Moench and writer Don Perlin as a heavy for the shirt-phobic lycanthrope Jack Russell.
With his deadly silver crescent blades, Moon Knight was tasked with killing the roaming wolf-man at the behest of the already sinister-sounding Committee.
It would take a few years, but Moon Knight and the Werewolf by Night would meet again in Moon Knight Vol. 4, #20, and our hero would yet again regret choosing the very fur-unfriendly white for his costume.
7. The Batman Effect, or There’s a Reason He’s Always Dressed In White
…I don’t wear white to hide myself, I wear it so they’ll see me coming. So they know who it is, ’cause when they see white it doesn’t matter how good a target I am. Their hands shake so bad, they couldn’t hit the moon.
Moon Knight Vol. 4, #1
This quote comes to us by way of writer Charlie Huston, who was responsible for the incredibly dark take on the character launched in the middle of Marvel’s Civil War. The relaunch was largely about drawing together a lot of the disparate elements of the character’s mythology while also – it seemed at the time – making him more than just an almost-Batman.
The thing is, Huston ended up cribbing one of the more notable quirks of Batman’s own unique design, specifically the Caped Crusader’s on-again, off-again yellow chest insignia. Some writers have suggested that the yellow insignia was used to draw enemy fire towards Batman’s heavily-armored torso (instead of at his head or extremities).
While it feels like no one has actually thought about how gross a white costume will look after about an hour leaping off the sooty rooftops of New York, Huston imagines that a grimy Moon Knight will nonetheless be a terrifying vision for any mugger or two-bit thug unlucky enough to cross his path. He won’t just draw their fire, he’ll scare the water out of ’em.
6. The Lone Team Player
You can’t be a loner forever, right? Listen, I was one of those people who embraced the idea of Spider-Man joining the Avengers in the wake of Civil War. But there’s something odd about a nut like Moon Knight answering the Avengers signal or whatever to team up and punch Kang the Conqueror a couple of good times.
Like Daredevil or the Punisher, Moon Knight’s a street-level character ripe for team-ups but anathema to the idea of being part of an actual team. Yet that hasn’t stopped him from earning membership to every group from the West Coast Avengers to the Secret Avengers to the Defenders.
Sure, part of the pitch for Marc Spector’s joining Captain America and crew on the Secret Avengers roster was as a path to redemption for his past misdeeds, but anyone in superhero HR could see that adding Moon Knight to the mix was simply a sure recipe for disaster.
5. The Mark of the Moon Knight
When I called out Daredevil and the Punisher in the last entry, it was because Moon Knight sits somewhere in between those two on the spectrum of hero-on-criminal violence. While the Punisher is willing to pull the trigger (and set up the trip mine or toss someone to a polar bear), Daredevil occupies a more challenging space – a hero ambivalent about his own violent actions (which ultimately make his life more difficult).
By contrast, depending on who’s in the driver’s seat – more on that later – Moon Knight has no problem maiming or crippling his enemies. It’s his supporting cast that has to deal with his… extreme justice.
Consider one of his more recent innovations: carving crescents into the foreheads of repeat offenders, marking them not only as criminals but as victims of Moon Knight’s rage. This icky twist on his M.O. is pretty much in line with this character never really being sure there isn’t a line he’s willing to cross in order to serve his own unique sense of justice.
4. The Batman Effect 2, or Look at Those Wonderful Toys
Look, he’s not Batman, but he does a terrific impersonation. Besides using moon-shaped throwing knives (Batarangs), enlisting the aid of a more mature, European backup man (Frenchie, Alfred), hanging out in his own cave, and working alongside a costumed sidekick, the two characters are very, very different.
Oh, yeah, and Moon Knight also has a helicopter shaped like a crescent and I’m pretty sure he’s running around as I type this yelling “I am the night!”
3. Praise Khonshu!
A lot of pieces on Moon Knight will focus on his Jewish heritage (his father was a rabbi), but as far as the character’s religion goes, he acknowledges only one true crazy and vengeful god: that’d be Khonshu, the Egyptian moon god in whose service Moon Knight has operated for most of his career.
Did I mention Khonshu is a blood god? And kind of a nagging one at that? While early appearances had Khonshu serve the kind of supernatural mentor function of the long line of Phantoms or the Ancient One for Dr. Strange, helping center our hero and washing off the corruption of the modern world, Khonshu has had an increasingly toxic effect on Marc Spector, and if Marc won’t commit violence on the god’s behalf, Khonshu will find someone who will.
2. That Time He Cut Off His Nemesis’ Face
It wasn’t enough that Moon Knight was scarring repeat offenders out there on the street – when it came to his personal big bad, our unstable hero was out to make a statement.
In what’s clearly a deliberate riff on a similar scene in the Bendis-written Daredevil from a few years back – you know, where DD carved an actual bullseye in Bullseye’s noggin* – writer Charlie Huston takes things a step farther, having Moon Knight make his nemesis’ warpaint permanent.
It gets real in Moon Knight Vol. 4, #6, when we learn one of the reasons behind Marc’s continued retreat from crimefighting and the world was his last, bruising battle with archenemy and former merc, Bushmaster. Bushmaster’s whole visual schtick was a skull tattoo of a skull outlined by red ink on his face.
Beaten, bloodied, and having no more of it, Moon Knight cuts off Bushmaster’s face, thus ending the villain’s need to ever use Chapstick again.
* Todd McFarlane would do something similar in Spawn when his demonic hero met the ailing assassin and Youngblood member Chapel for the first time since the Chapel, you know, killed poor old Al. Or so we thought until a temporary falling out with Rob Liefeld required a quick retcon.
1. Identity Crisis
What started out as one of the character’s cooler traits – his ability to move seamlessly between several identities – has proven, in recent years, to be one of his greatest weaknesses, as Moon Knight struggles at any given time to know exactly who he is.
It’s not enough that Moon Knight has a single alter ego: he has three. Not only is the tortured Marc Spector knocking around in there, but also his billionaire cover identity Steven Grant, as well as the one-time cabbie Jake Lockley. Taking a page from the gritty yet sophisticated soldier of fortune paperbacks of the 70’s, in his early solo appearances Marc was was written as a man who could jump back and forth between the worlds of the rich and powerful, gun-toting badasses, and street-prowling avengers.
Sure, other heroes have multiple personas they use to fight crime, but in Moon Knight’s case, these additional personalities have a tendency to assume control and wreak havoc on the hero’s personal life. Basically, at any given time, it’s hard to tell which personality will wrest control and which version of Moon Knight will be dominant.
It’s not enough that Marc has the voice of a dead Egyptian deity in his head all day – he’s also plagued by his dueling cover identities, each of which wants to live their own lives.
Fun fact: over in the Ultimate universe, Brian Michael Bendis played around with Spector’s dissociative personality disorder, again giving the vigilante three identities – this time in the forms of two men and one tough-talking little girl. Bendis would do something similar in his 2011 series which saw the hero creating personas based on Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Captain America to help guide his crimefighting mission.
Previously by Charles Webb