With the upcoming MCU projects on Disney+, it’s a fine time to discuss one of the most anticipated: Moon Knight. Created by Doug Moench and Don Perlin, Moon Knight is sometimes referred to as Marvel’s response to Batman. Despite any similarities, the differences make him distinct not just from the Caped Crusader, but from every superhero out there. Between his mercenary background to his Jewish heritage, his disassociative identity disorder and the surreal Egyptian mythology… Marvel was wise not to rush him to the screen.

The following compendium installments draw from all three volumes of Essential Moon Knight, which covers the initial comic series, the short-lived Fist of Khonshu run, and myriad cross-overs. Potential spoilers may follow.

From Scratch to Silver and Jet

Much like Marvel’s Punisher and the ever popular Wolverine, Moon Knight began as a villain in someone else’s series. In this case, opposite of Jack Russell in issue 32 of Werewolf by Night (August 1975). Russell’s lycanthropic rampages have drawn the attention of an unscrupulous group of businessmen referred to as the Committee, who turn to mercenary Marc Spector with the task of capturing him. Provided with a silver outfit and cape, crescent darts and cesti, Spector accepts their code name of “Moon Knight.”

With his helicopter pilot and partner Frenchie, he begins hunting the werewolf through the streets of Los Angeles. Surprisingly, Jack Russell faces defeat and capture in defiance of the “titular character always wins” stereotype. Once incarcerated, the Committee reveals their intention to use Russell as a deniable assassin. Disgusted by the revelation, Moon Knight turns on his employers by freeing the werewolf and escaping soon after.

Despite this dubious start, the character impressed editors Marv Wolfman and Len Wein enough to offer Moench and Perlin a few spotlight issues. These were likely conservative releases to “test the waters” about the Moon Knight’s longevity. And rather than begin with a proper origin story, the man clad in silver and jet be would thrown straight into the action.

Khonshu’s chosen had a long road before him…

Four-of-a-Mind Makes One-of-a-Kind

The Moon Knight made his solo debut in June of 1976, pitting him against the largely forgettable Conquer-Lord. Considering a year had passed since the character’s introduction, Moench brought his readers up to speed in a clever manner. Rather than boring narration, the writer presented Spector’s background as a slide show to the villain (and readers). Here we learn Spector’s powers might involve super strength based on moon phases, an uncertain byproduct of a werewolf’s bite through silver. And rather than simply two personas, he is several people. Aside from his mercenary and superhero namesakes, he’s also stock market millionaire Steven Grant, and taxi driver Jake Lockley. These many identities prove vital in helping Marvel’s latest superhero stand out in the great community and continuum.

Aside from his pilot Frenchie, Marc’s social circles revolve around his identities. As Lockley, he associates with diner waitress Gena Landers and the homeless Bertrand Crawley as his informants. And although she fully knows and shares in his crime fighting capers, Marlene Altraune is most formally recognized as Steven Grant’s beau. Possessing roles in both the highest and lowest economic echelons of society positions Moon Knight to investigate crime from the streets to wherever it leads. Conquer-Lord proves that point as he plots, and fails, to sabotage the mayoral election.

The Cross-Over Crusader

After his own two-part adventure, Marvel turned to their best asset to promote Moon Knight: the greater Marvel community. The enemy of the salesman is obscurity, and there is still no finer way to cross-pollinate fan bases than by using cross-overs to bring in new readers.

In the months following his spotlight debut, Moon Knight first fought then aided Spider-Man in another two-part adventure, pitting the pair against Cyclone. Afterwards, Moon Knight returned to Doug Moench’s hands for side stories beginning in The Hulk!#11, released in October of 1978. Almost all of these tales strictly involved our silver-and-jet hero, but issue #15 invoked a parallel story involving Dr. Banner. The two characters never directly meet, rather the former surveys and deals with the damage caused by the latter. Then in early 1979, Moon Knight teamed up with Ben Grimm, better known as the Thing, to take down Crossfire in a two-in-one issue.

During this time, the Crescent Crusader passed from hand to hand, and subtle evolutionary changes began. While Pencil Artists Mike Zeck and Jim Mooney stuck to the cuff-linked cape, Jim Craig and Pablo Marcos first freed it to flow, often forming crescent shapes mid-action. Editor Ralph Macchio, in an letter in Marvel Preview Moon Knight #21, claims to have been the one to make this change permanent. Writer Bill Mantlo oversaw Spider-Man call him by the peculiar nickname “White Eyes.” Likewise, Grimm would bestow him the title of “Moonie,” a contribution by writer Steven Grant. But the most significant contribution may belong to Bill Sienkiewicz, who masked MK’s hooded face in darkness save for a pair of glowing eyes. This simple, signature idea could very well have been the reason Sienkiewicz was made the regular artist for The Hulk! run after issue 13.

The Sketch Stretch

In the aforementioned The Hulk! #11 came the earliest, long-form story line starring the Moon Knight. During this run, White Eyes investigates a number of murders revolving around the theft of a missing Horus statuette. A foreign diplomat named Alphonse Leroux proves to be the culprit, raising the stakes. After selling the artifact, Leroux finances a terrorist group’s plan to steal material for nuclear weapons in order to blackmail New York. The final act reveals that plot was conceived by a swashbuckler named Lupinar, who sought revenge on society for prejudice he endured due to his hypertrichosis.

This description belies a few convoluted points and plot holes to an otherwise expansive mystery. Moon Knight was still an experiment, and the tale was a decent if rough start, complete with a few contributions worth mentioning. First, Moench set the standard by using all four of Moonie’s personas in his investigation, including a rare appearance by Marc Spector himself. In that regard, the writer succeeded in designing an important blueprint for future work. This arc also may have conceptually sparked the forthcoming Egyptian themes in Moon Knight, as the character had yet to offer an origin story.

But while the plot may have escalated nicely, it failed to establish a meaningful villain to counterbalance our hero. Or tell us much about him. But this problem would soon be rectified in a very intense fashion…

Ghosts from a Spector’s Past

In the late 70s and early 80s, slasher films ruled the box office. Taking advantage of this archetype, Moench’s contribution to The Hulk #17 took a dark road that got no brighter…

The opening panels follow a man as he ventures first to a hardware store to pick up a hatchet. A novelty shop follows, in which he buys a grotesque mask while remembering trick-or-treating in his youth. He then ventures into a porno theater to try on his purchase. After procuring a pajama set, he heads home to workout for three hours. And that night, he dons his gear in an alley… before slaughtering a nurse, his ninth, as she leaves work.

But unlike the prior murders, this one comes with a note. The contents of which frighten Marc Spector, who suspects this Hatchet-Man is an associate of his past. A former CIA agent named Rand.

The Hatchet-Man from

As he explains it, Rand had betrayed Spector and their allies for money, and in the showdown Rand was struck by a grenade. However, he had escaped hospitalization after killing Marc’s then-girlfriend, a nurse named Lisa. Marlene volunteers to act as bait to help Moon Knight capture Hatchet-Man, but things go horribly wrong when the cops interfere with their plan. Marlene is badly injured during the pursuit, and Marc swears vengeance against Randall Spector… his brother.

“That readers bear witness to another fascinating trait of Moench’s writing—recognition of social justice… a careful examination of societal ills through the eyes of the super powerless to stop them.”

What follows is a brutal chase with Loststyle flashbacks of the two playing in their youth. But again, per Marvel’s usual morality, Moon Knight cannot bring himself to kill his brother. The tale ends with Rand’s blood lust getting the better of him, and accidentally impaling himself upon a tree branch.

The drama is not quite over yet. Lamenting Marlene’s unstable condition, Moon Knight ventures from the hospital onto the streets in his grief. It was in The Hulk! #20 that readers bear witness to another fascinating trait of Moench’s writing—recognition of social justice. There are no ready villains to fight, no black-and-white problems laid bare. Plagued by guilt and self-pity, Moon Knight futilely does his best to clean up the little acts of wrong. Smashing a bottle of liquor that a night watchman imbibes. Throwing money at a man seeking sustenance in a trash can. He saves an overdosing youth who almost drowns. And his attempt to moralize to a prostitute backfires. Marlene pulls through, but it’s intriguing to see a careful examination of societal ills through the eyes of the super powerless to stop them.

Randall Spector started a trend that did not stop with his death. Readers were hungry to know more about Marc Spector’s history, and Doug Moench obliged with new surprises straight out of the former mercenary’s past. Marvel Preview Moon Knight #21, released in March 1980, again focused on assignments from Spector’s time with the agency. But it was on November 1st of 1980 that the heart of what made Moon Knight so unique was finally revealed…

An Origin of Sin

Sudan, just south of the Egyptian border. A mercenary squad under the command of the heinous Raul Bushman puts a brutal end to a rebel camp. Unimpressed with the slaughter, mercenary Marc Spector voices discontent to his friend Frenchie. The helicopter pilot brings ill tidings of his own. Having seen the underhanded dealings, Frenchie doubts that Bushman has been honest about their employers. Before the two can leave however, Bushman announces a plan to ransack a pharaoh’s tomb discovered in the nearby town of Selima.

The assault beats Selima’s militia with ease. Archaeologist Peter Alraune, fearing that the recovered artifacts will be destroyed for their gold and jewels, tries and fails to slay Bushman. Insisting that Spector has much to learn about using terror as a weapon, Bushman kills Dr. Alraune with his steel teeth. Spector consoles the dying man, and grants the doctor’s request to help his daughter Marlene escape. But as Bushman has several residents of Selima executed, Spector finally stands up to his commander… and is soundly beaten and cast into the desert. Spector collapses from the heat where he’s dragged into the pharaoh’s tomb by survivors of the massacre, including Marlene. There, he is pronounced dead and left before the vigil of a statue dedicated to Khonshu.

It could have been a simple medical error or mistake. But beneath that statue, Spector’s heart starts to beat again, and a mystery begins. The same enigma that has taunted man since the the dawn of time, the question of “Why are we here?” And the answer is bestowed upon Marc Spector, locked within his many minds. At thus, after a long road from both the future and past, the Moon Knight was truly born…

Continued in part 2.

Art by Bill Sienkiewicz and Don Perlin, original story and writing by Doug Moench. Moon Knight Vol 1, Marvel Comics is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0. All Marvel Comics characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are Trademarks & Copyright © 1941-2020 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

About James Fadeley

James is a short story author and novelist who spends way too much time playing video games. His first novel, The Gift of Hadrborg is based on The Banner Saga universe. If you think yourself insane, he can be followed on Twitter @JamesFadeley.