Moon Knight

By | Monday, March 14, 2022 Leave a Comment
I am woefully behind on my comics reading, but I was able to cacth up yesterday on the latest Moon Knight series that started last year. It's the first new Marvel title I've picked up in about 5 years (depending a bit on how you count "new" titles) and the first Moon Knight series I've read since the '90s.

I actually first discovered the character in 1985 when his second series came out. The heavily Egyptian theme in that first issue really piqued my interest, and I not only got the six issues of that series but I went back to read the 1980 series as well. And while I didn't track the character's every subsequent appearance the way I did with the Fantastic Four, I did follow along on the subsequent three Moon Knight titles. I largely fell out of favor with what Marvel was doing as a whole around 2006, so I didn't pick up that or any of the subsequent series. All of which is to say that, going in to this newest title, I have a good grounding of who Moon Knight is but without many of the specifics from the past decade or so. I recall vaguely seeing something about the Mr. Knight character at one point, but it looked like just a new costume as far as I could tell at the time.

These first issues of the new series do a reasonably good job of catching lapsed readers up to speed. Much of the overall framing is couched (pun intended) around Moon Knight talking with a therapist who specializes in superhero issues. This serves to detail his dissociative identity disorder without trying to juggle showcasing each personality but without confusing readers. (I recall this being something of a problem in the early issues of the 1980 series. While the stories at the time treated the different personalities as simply alias identities to blend in to different social settings, the reasoning for that wasn't made very clear, I felt. That is, they did say clearly "he uses different identities to blend in to different social settings" but why he needed that at all didn't really make sense. The later extension of giving him dissociative identity disorder -- referred to as multiple personality disorder at the time -- made more sense. Regardless, the character's regularly switching identities in the 1980 series was not handled particularly well, I thought, in part because there seemed to be a need to use all four identities in every issue.) Here, we don't see the Jack Lockley or Steven Grant personalities at all, and the Marc Spector identity only shows up for a page or so.

While the new series does seem to try to explore Moon Knight's mental state, the action portions of each issue are more skewed towards the supernatural. During the 1989 series, I felt things got a little too far removed from that. Certainly by the time they gave him full-on armor. But that actually speaks to Moon Knight's overall problem.

The problem Marvel has long had with Moon Knight is that they don't really know what to do with him. Ever time I see the character, they're taking a totally different approach. (And judging from the recaps this new title has provided, it looks like that had continued after I stopped paying attention.) They've been able to "get away" with it because they introduced the dissociative identity disorder fairly early on and they can explain away huge discrpencies in character with that. But that also means that they've almost started fresh with every new Moon Knight story, so there's less consistency and it's harder to draw on a returning fan base. Now, to be fair, if they had landed on something that really clicked, they would more than likely keep rolling with that and it's only because nothing has really resonated with fans that they keep trying new approaches.

I know this is hardly a hot take. I'm by no means the first person to point out Marvel doesn't know what to do with Moon Knight -- people have been saying that since the 1970s, when his very first story was substantially retconned in his second story. There was some element of making sure to distuinguish him from Batman at one point, but that was largely addressed with the first issue of the 1980 series. But, still, here we are almost a full half-century from the character's debut, and Marvel still hasn't quite landed anything that's taken root. Even with the gold mine of an opportunity they scored when they added his multiple personalities. I'm remined of a critque one of my graphic design professors gave me on a project back in school: "This is a million dollar idea, but you're not doing anything with it!"

Honestly, I have no idea if the current series will work or not; I'm a terrible judge of what other people might like or latch on to. Will it be bouyed by the upcoming Disney+ television series with Oscar Isaac? Or will that show take a different approach that audiences prefer? And if so, will Marvel switch over to that? Unlike many of the characters in the Marvel Universe, Moon Knight really isn't chained down* by decades of continuity; just throw out an all-but-brand-new character and say he just developed another personality, maybe providing a short backstory of how after a few issues.

* Yes, I did choose that cover above specifically in order to drop the "chained down" metaphor here.
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