When Moon Knight first appeared in his own comic in 1981, he didn’t make much of an impact in the Marvel Universe or with sales of his title. With most fans having grown up on much more mainstream comic book fare, this character probably came as something of a shock to them. The stories were dark, but the art of Bill Sienkiewicz really made the comic feel as if it were a horror title rather than something about a superhero (which made sense, since Moon Knight first appeared in Werewolf by Night). There weren’t many crossovers with other Marvel heroes, either. It felt as if Moon Knight were living in his own self-contained world.
After the series was cancelled, Marvel tried to make Moon Knight more mainstream and added him to the roster of the West Coast Avengers. At this point, he became far less gritty. He was given an Egyptian theme and reworked to become more mainstream. It didn’t work, and the character was relegated to punchline status. And, unfortunately, that is probably how most fans view him.
On the surface, the character can seem like a cheap imitation of the Dark Knight, with someone having substituted moon imagery for bats. But there’s far more to him than Mooncopters and crescent-shaped throwing stars.
Yes, there are plenty of similarities between the two characters. Both men, in their civilian lives, are billionaires who own their own corporations and use the profits to fund their war against criminals. Both have alter egos as caped vigilantes who fight crime by night and have trained endlessly to hone their skills. Both have vehicles, weapons, and dozens of other gadgets branded with their symbol.
In the hands of less talented writers, Moon Knight turns into a de facto Batman, turning up in his moon-themed jet to save the day. But that’s not who Moon Knight is, and there are many reasons why the characters are not the same. Here are some of the big ones:
He’s Got a Bad Reputation
Unlike Batman, Moon Knight isn’t universally respected by his fellow heroes. In fact, other characters in the Marvel Universe are extremely wary of him. He’s been a member of the Avengers in its various incarnations but has been asked to leave the team on a few occasions. During the Civil War storyline, Tony Stark was actually afraid that if he arrested Spector that he would have a psychotic break. That sort of mistrust doesn’t exactly help with team-building.
When the fate of the DC Universe is threatened, people call Batman. When the Marvel Universe is threatened, people are hoping Moon Knight doesn’t show up and complicate matters.
He’s Tied to the Supernatural
Moon Knight has close ties to Khonshu, the Egyptian god of the moon. What that relationship is has changed over the years. Depending on the writer, Marc Spector (Moon Knight’s alter ego) is either possessed by Khonshu or is the god’s living embodiment.
Also, his strength has been shown to wax and wane with the lunar cycle, a result of having been bitten by a werewolf early in his career. And for the record, the werewolf was a guy named Jack Russell. Seriously. That was really the name of the guy that turned into a mythical wild dog.
Marc Spector (Moon Knight’s alter ego) was a hired gun who turned against his fellow mercenaries and tried to protect a group of archaeologists the men had been sent to rob and kill. Because of this betrayal, the others gunned down Spector and left him to die in the middle of the desert. As fate would have it, this all took place near the temple of Khonshu, Egyptian god of the moon. The archaeologists he’d just saved took Spector’s seemingly lifeless body and laid it near the altar in the temple. Marc was then resurrected and pledged to be the “Fist” of Khonshu, the god’s warrior of vengeance here on Earth. That’s right: He came back from the dead.
Batman’s story begins in an alley outside a theater, when Bruce Wayne’s parents are gunned down in front of him. The boy swears vengeance and spends his inheritance training and turning himself into the Dark Knight. By real-world standards, it’s not really the picture of well adjusted individual.
But Moon Knight’s story makes Mr. Wayne look like the picture of mental health. Marc Spector was supposedly killed out in the Egyptian desert by his former teammates. Was he really dead and resurrected by supernatural forces? Was he simply unconscious, woke up, and mistakenly attributed the whole situation to the supernatural after seeing the statue of Khonshu? Maybe he’s just a lunatic who has convinced himself that he’s got a bond with Khonshu as a way to justify his actions.
He’s Not Sure of Who He Really Is
The simple explanation of Moon Knight is that he’s a guy named Marc Spector who dresses up in a costume to fight crime. However, things are never simple when it comes to Moon Knight. When he first gave up his mercenary days and moved back to New York City, Spector took on the identity Steven Grant, a billionaire playboy, in order to distance himself from his criminal past. But he also pretended to be Jake Lockley, a cab driver, so that he could stay close to the activity out on the streets of NYC. And somewhere along the way, the line starts to blur between these identities, making for a very unstable hero.
In more recent stories by Warren Ellis, he took on yet another persona: Mr. Knight, a consultant to the NYPD. The All-New, All-Different reboot in Marvel Comics has just cut right to the chase— it has Marc Spector wake up in a mental hospital with no recollection of who he is or how he ended up there. Seems about right.
There’s being brave and then there’s not being afraid because you don’t give a crap about your own safety. Moon Knight falls into the latter category. He’s brash to the point of insanity. While Batman uses a dark costume and keeps to the shadows when hunting his enemies, the Fist of Khonshu acts like a man who’s lost his damn mind (and likely has). He wears white. Bright white, standing out against the night sky, reflecting any light, daring criminals to take a shot at him. Yes, he wears body armor, but that’s still the behavior of a madman. He (or at least one of his personalities) doesn’t care what kind of danger he’s facing. It’s no wonder that his fellow heroes don’t really trust him. He’s a tremendous asset, but also a big wild card.
And that’s Moon Knight. Once you move past the kitschy moon-based weapons and vehicles, Moon Knight is actually a pretty cool character with quite a bit of depth.
There’s an Internet meme that says “Always be yourself. Unless you can be Batman. Then always be Batman.” Comic book fans love Batman. We’d all love to be Batman. So why is it that so many people hate Moon Knight, a character that on the surface, pays tribute to the Caped Crusader?