The newest Marvel Cinematic Universe series on Disney+, Moon Knight, boasts unparalleled talent. With award-winning actors Oscar Isaac and Ethan Hawke in leading roles, and beloved indie-horror filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead (Synchronic is on Netflix—check it out when you get a chance) directing two episodes, the series promises to be distinctive.
But the character on which the show is based has far less name recognition. Moon Knight is, at best, a C-level Marvel superhero. Although he’s had many solo series since 1980, none of them have lasted more than 40 issues. Moon Knight serves only a supporting role in company-wide crossovers and his short tenure in the Avengers was with the West Coast team.
And yet, Moon Knight is one of the most interesting Marvel superheroes, and one with a rabid cult following, thanks to his strange origin. Created by writer Doug Moench and artist Don Perlin, Moon Knight is the soldier of fortune Marc Spector. And also millionaire playboy Steven Grant. And also hard-luck cabbie Jake Lockley.
Spector has multiple personality disorder (sometimes incorrectly referred to as “schizophrenia” in early stories), but that doesn’t prevent him from becoming an agent of the Egyptian moon god Khonshu. As the Fist of Khonshu, Moon Knight defends those who travel under the moon, aided by his high-tech weaponry and mystical powers.
The Moon Knight series will certainly give us an interesting take on the hero, but there’s no way that six episodes can capture the variety and complexity of the character (which is why we’re also hopeful that his journey will continue in the MCU for years to come). To get all the multiple approaches to the hero with multiple personalities, check out these comics.
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“The Stalker Called Moon Knight” (Werewolf by Night #32-33)
Moon Knight burst onto the scene in 1975’s Werewolf by Night #32, written by Doug Moench, drawn by Don Perlin, inked by Howie Perlin, colored by Phil Rachelson, and lettered by Ray Holloway. In a two-part adventure that continues into Werewolf by Night #33, Moon Knight appears as a mercenary hired by a shadowy group called The Committee, charged with capturing the book’s lycanthrope protagonist, Jack Russell. Although he has a change of heart toward the end of the story and joins Russell against The Committee, Moon Knight is very much an anti-hero here, a cynical rogue who fights in service of the almighty dollar.
Over the next five years, Moon Knight guest stars in comics throughout the Marvel Universe, often alongside established heroes like Daredevil and Spider-Man. Even when other writers take over, Moench remains the chief creative force behind Moon Knight, using these guest appearances and solo backup stories to flesh the character out. It’s here where we first meet Spector’s other personalities, Steven Grant and Jake Lockley, as well as his supporting cast: pilot/aide-de-camp Frenchie, Grant’s butler Samuels and his girlfriend Marlene Arlaune, and Lockley’s waitress pal Gena Landers.
“The Macabre Moon Knight!” (Moon Knight vol. 1 #1-5)
After years of playing backup, Moon Knight finally got his own series in 1980. The first issue of the series, written by Moench and drawn by legendary horror artist Bill Sienkiewicz (with inks by Frank Springer, colors by Bob Sharen, and letters by Tom Orzechowski), begins with a soft-reboot, cleaning up past inconsistencies.
The first issue describes the death of soldier of fortune Marc Spector at the hands of his boss, the ruthless Bushmaster. After being revived by the Egyptian god Khonshu, Spector becomes the Moon Knight and takes revenge on Bushmaster. In the issues that follow, Spector’s alternate Grant and Lockley identities manifest as he takes on both street-level villains and mystical monsters. In Moon Knight #3, Moench and Sienkiewicz introduce Anton Mogart aka Midnight Man, a master thief and frequent Moon Knight antagonist, who will play an important role in the Disney+ show.
“When Ghosts Can Die, Even Gods Must Fear!” West Coast Avengers #41
Although he’s definitely more of a loner, Moon Knight does occasionally team up with others. One of his earliest appearances was alongside the odd-ball group The Defenders, and he later joins Captain America’s Secret Avengers. But after Hawkeye is sent back to ancient Egypt and comes face-to-face with Khonshu, Moon Knight is sent by his god to join the West Coast Avengers in the present.
Despite spending 20 issues on the team, Moon Knight never truly fit in with his fellow superheroes. His habit of consulting Khonshu made the other Avengers write him off as a religious zealot and he even joins a splinter group when the main Avengers impose a “no killing” rule. Although Al Milgrom penciled all of Moon Knight’s West Coast Avengers adventures, several different writers worked on the book during this time, resulting in some odd characterizations. In his final outing with the team, it’s revealed that Khonshu had possessed Moon Knight to get a closer look at the Avengers. Having been satisfied, Khonshu releases Spector, and Moon Knight leaves the team for good.
“Hero for Hire” (Marvel Knights #11-14)
The second important Moon Knight team-up occurred several years later, as part of the Marvel Knights imprint. The imprint relaunched characters such as Daredevil and the Punisher, making them harder-edged street-level characters separate from the rest of the Marvel Universe. The comic book series Marvel Knights put these characters into a pseudo-team, alongside Black Widow, Shang-Chi, and the duo Cloak and Dagger. Moon Knight is a late addition, coming in to subsidize the team and provide them with a base, eventually hiring Luke Cage as a new member.
In many ways, the series–written by Chuck Dixon, penciled by Ed Barreto, inked by Nelson DeCastro, colored by Dave Kemp, and lettered by Richard Starkings and Jason Levine–feels out of step with previous takes on Moon Knight. Barreto and DeCastro prefer bold superhero action instead of the moody drama of the Moench/Sienkiewicz years, and a (for some reason blonde) Moon Knight is simply Marc Spector, his Steven Grant identity only alluded to. But this series does showcase Moon Knight’s impressive array of equipment and gadgets, including his moon-copter, and also the way other Marvel heroes consider him to be a nuisance.
“The Bottom” (Moon Knight Vol. 5 #1-6)
Between his first appearance in Werewolf by Night and the debut of his own series, Moon Knight’s solo adventures were published in the magazines The Hulk! and Marvel Premier. The magazine format allowed Marvel to cater to a young adult crowd, and these Moon Knight stories featured more sex and violence than one finds in mainstream comics from the 70s. After years of being a secondary hero or a mystical figure, Moon Knight regained his glitterier edge in Moon Knight vol 5.
The series brings back many characters from the first Moon Knight comic, including Grant’s butler Samuel, Lockley’s homeless friend Crawley, Frenchy, and even Bushman and the Committee. But crime novelist Charlie Huston filters the story through a noir lens, telling a tale about a mentally and physically broken Marc Spector’s quest for redemption in the eyes of Khonshu. Artist David Finch, inker Danny Miki, colorist Frank D’Armata, and letterer Joe Caramanga ratchet up the gore and violence, with vibrant splashes of blood spilling against dramatic greys and blacks. This series is not the easiest read in the world, but it may be the most honest depiction of Moon Knight.
“Moon Knight by Bendis and Maleev” (Moon Knight Vol 6, #1 – 12)
On the exact opposite end of the spectrum is the 6th volume of Moon Knight, written by Brian Michael Bendis, drawn by Alex Maleev, colored by Matthew Wilson, and lettered by Cory Petit. This series makes Marc Spector into a successful Hollywood producer and makes Moon Knight into an Avenger. Well, sort of. Instead of Jake Lockley and Steven Grant, Spector’s alternate personalities are Avengers Captain America, Spider-Man, and Wolverine.
Where Bendis and Maleev excelled in grounded crime drama during their run on Daredevil, their Moon Knight is an incredibly compelling take on superhero fiction. Despite being fully ensconced in the world of superheroes, with guest appearances by Ultron and Bullseye, this version of Moon Knight seems to take place in its own corner of the Marvel Universe. And with Echo aka Maya Lopez (played by Alaqua Cox in the recent Hawkeye Disney+ show), this comic is the perfect pick for anyone excited about the upcoming Moon Knight show.
“From the Dead” (Moon Knight Vol 7 #1-6)
Perhaps my favorite Moon Knight series, the seventh volume by Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey embraces the character’s inconsistent past. This version of Moon Knight is a certifiable oddity, a man who wears white because he wants his enemies to see him coming. But at the same time, this is the most balanced take on Moon Knight. Spector regularly sees a therapist and communes in his memory palace with Lockley, Grant, and Khonshu. This series also separates Moon Knight’s heroic persona into two halves: the traditional hero Moon Knight and the dapper detective Mr. Knight.
But the real standout here is the art from Shalvey, coloring from Jordie Bellaire, and letterer from Chris Eliopoulos. Vast splash pages layout Mr. Knight methodically moving through a crime scene. Bellaire’s deft use of coloring contrasts mellow blues and grays with vibrant reds and greens to communicate changes in Spector’s perception, while the lettering by Eliopoulos makes Khonshu feel truly otherworldly. For those who want a series that captures everything great about the character, without overwhelming the reader with backstory, Moon Knight Vol 7 is the best choice.
“Welcome to New Egypt” (Moon Knight Vol. 8, #1 – 5)
Moon Knight has always been a strange character, but none of the series have fully embraced his lunacy like the eighth volume by Jeff Lemire and Greg Smallwood. In “Welcome to New Egypt,” Spector learns that he is a patient in a mental institution, where he’s been institutionalized along with Marleen, Frenchy, Crowley, and Gena. His adventures as Moon Knight, including those in all previous series, may have been hallucinations.
For most of Moon Knight’s existence, the character’s mental state has been a gimmick, something to set him apart from other superheroes. But Lemire takes uses the condition as a storytelling conceit and a way to look at the nature of heroism. Smallwood’s page layouts play with the readers’ perceptions, forcing us to constantly question the reality of the story. The colors by Jordie Bellaire and letters by Cory Petit turn superhero tropes inside out, reimagining superheroes as a necessary fantasy against the difficulties of everyday life.
Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 18: Ultimate Knights
These days it’s best known as the series that gave us Miles Morales, but the Ultimate Marvel Universe was a revolutionary idea back in the early 2000s. By re-starting from scratch the stories of Spider-Man and other Marvel heroes, comics became not only accessible to new readers but writers such as Brian Michael Bendis could reimagine their favorite characters. When the Ultimate version of Moon Knight initially appeared in 2005’s Ultimate Spider-Man #79, he was the butt of Spidey’s joke, a crazy person whose multiple personalities irritated other heroes.
But with the “Ultimate Knights” storyline, Bendis took Moon Knight in new directions. As part of a team conveyed to take down the Kingpin of Crime, Spector developed a new personality, Wilson Fisk’s enforcer Ronin. More than just a trial run for his later work on Moon Knight Vol 6, Bendis makes the Ultimate Moon Knight the ultimate superhero with a double life. Combined with the classical superhero art from penciler Mark Bagley, inker Drew Hennessy, and colorist Justin Porter, along with Cory Petit’s distinctive letters, the Ultimate Moon Knight is superhero storytelling taken to its logical end.
Avengers by Jason Aaron Vol. 7: The Age of Khonshu
As we’ve already seen, Moon Knight doesn’t always play well with the other superheroes in the Marvel Universe. Writer Jason Aaron puts that to good use when he pits Moon Knight against the Avengers for the storyline “The Age of Khonshu.” Worried that the satanic Mephisto will conquer the world, Khonshu sends Moon Knight to gather the essences of the Avengers. But when Khonshu gets enough power to defeat Mephisto, the Egyptian god decides the best way to save the world is to conqueror it, causing a crisis of faith in Moon Knight.
With the dynamic artwork of Javier Garrón, the vibrant colors of Jason Keith, and the distinctive letters of Cory Petit, “The Age of Khonshu” is blockbuster superhero comics at their best. As he defeats the strongest Avengers like Black Panther and Thor, and even takes the Phoenix force to become the Fist of the Phoenix, Moon Knight establishes himself as one of the most powerful heroes in the Marvel Universe. But Aaron and his collaborators never let us forget that Moon Knight fights for good in his unique and unusual way, making him one of comics’ most interesting superheroes.
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