I grew up on Moon Knight comics. In fact, I have a Moon Knight bust on my work desk next to a photo of my wife. So, it will probably come as no surprise that when I found out that Disney+ and Marvel were moving ahead with a Moon Knight series my level of stoked was off all of the charts.
Throw in the fact that the great Oscar Isaac was picked to play the title character, and the wonderful Ethan Hawke his adversary…well, my mind was abuzz at what it might look like.
The lore of the character known as Moon Knight has known multiple iterations since his introduction in the comic Werewolf by Night in 1975. Most aficionados will agree that the high point of the comic is the legendary Bill Sienkewicz era that began in 1980. Before that point, Moon Knight was often derided as a Batman clone—just with more than one alter ego.
The Batman comparisons are most relevant to Moon Knight’s alter ego Steven Grant, the millionaire playboy/crime fighter by night. But then there was also cabbie Jake Lockley, who was Moon Knight’s ear to the street. And finally, Moon Knight’s true identity, Marc Spector: a former mercenary who broke with his group in Egypt when its brutality went too far.
For his defiance, Spector was beaten and left for dead under a statue of the god Khonshu, and by the light of the silvery moon, he was brought back to life and imbued with enhanced skills and abilities.
This may all sound very silly (it’s a comic book after all), but Sienkewicz’s pulpy yet elegant artistic style—and the implication that Spector might actually be insane—set Moon Knight apart from Batman and made the character a beloved cult figure. Despite Moon Knight’s rabid following, the print runs were rather short—none of them going beyond a 60th issue. Later iterations of the character concentrate more on his psychology, positing him as a hero rather inconveniently afflicted with schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder (now called dissociative identity disorder). This is the take 2022’s Moon Knight seizes upon.
In this series, Oscar Isaac—at least so far—is not the millionaire Steven Grant. He is a mild-mannered London-based museum employee Steven Grant, who has an extraordinary grasp of Egyptian artifacts and history. He also seems to suffer from fugue states, doesn’t remember who he asks out on dates, and has to chain his leg to his bedpost at night to keep himself from wandering outside and doing things he has no memory of when he wakes.
Because of his constant phasing in and out of reality, the hero and the audience are left unaware of events that have come to pass and see only the consequences or aftermath of violent events (such as Grant waking up in a field with a dislocated jaw, or suddenly finding six dead men at his feet with no memory of how any of it happened). This version of Moon Knight chooses to introduce Grant as a full-on victim of his disorder without knowledge of his additional personality, or, in the early going, any control over it.
The debut episode is more interested in building character than setting up the plot, which has something to do with cult leader Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke) who wakes every morning, crushes up some glass and pours it into his shoes before putting his bare feet in them and going about his day. (I gotta say, the discomfort of watching Hawke perform this ritual is up there with his barbed wire chest wrap in First Reformed). Grant is somehow in possession of a golden scarab that Harrow desires for reasons unknown, but despite threats to his life and his own desire to turn the artifact over, Grant cannot physically force himself to do so. There’s a humorous scene in which Grant desperately tries to relinquish the scarab while losing control over his body (in a manner that would not be out of place in Jim Carrey’s The Mask) all while hearing the relentless insults of a disembodied voice (played by F. Murray Abraham) commanding him to keep the scarab.
All of this leads up to a finale of Grant being chased through the British Museum by what may be a monster incarnation of Anubis and finally coming face to face with his split personality, Marc Spector, in a bathroom mirror while waiting for the creature to bust through the door.
“I can save us,” Marc tells him. And then with some rather deft editing we see—but don’t exactly see—the battle between Grant/Spector and the savage beast. When the camera finally exposes the battle’s conclusion, we see Moon Knight, from a distance, beating his adversary to a pulp. Then he turns, in full Moon Knight costume, and walks toward the camera as if he is about to enter your room.
I don’t mind telling you, the impact of that moment had this former comic book geek’s arm hair standing on end.
It’s hard to know where Moon Knight is going to go next, but I can safely say that based on the first episode, this is the most unusual Marvel-based product I have seen since Wanda/Vision.
As such, the series’ take on this rather complicated hero is more comedic than that of the Moon Knight comics, at least based on episode one—I think personally, I would have preferred a Moon Knight more Dark Knight and less Knight Light—but who knows what the rest of the series has in store.
To put it not all that mildly: this show is bonkers.
And I am here for it.