Moon Knight: Marvel's Hero of Many Series

Feature Marc Buxton 3/5/2014 at 9:23AM

Warren Ellis' new Moon Knight series launches this week from Marvel, and it's the latest in a long history of Moon Knight ongoings!

Since Moon Knight was created by Doug Moench and Don Perlin in 1975’s Werewolf by Night #32, the Fist of Khonshu has headlined nearly a dozen titles, and swapped identities, costumes, and supporting casts. The one motif that has stayed constant with Moon Knight is the very thing that sets him apart from Batman and other caped avengers: insanity. This peek into the psyche of an individual that suffers from severe mental health issues but still fights for justice has made Moon Knight unique in Marvel’s pantheon. There have been a number of talented creators that tried to find the key to Moon Knight’s publishing success, but few have ever really managed to bring Moon Knight to mainstream success. 

Moon Knight
The Early Days and Nights
Werewolf by Night #32-33 (1975)
Marvel Spotlight #28-29 (1976)
By Doug Moench and Don Perlin

Moon Knight was introduced as a foil to Marvel’s Werewolf by Night. It all seemed very Batman, which was acceptable if Moon Knight was just going to be a supporting character in a monster book. Moon Knight’s unique look made him popular with fans so Marvel gave the vigilante his own try out in the pages of Marvel Spotlight. This time, Doug Moench and Don Perlin created distinctions between Marc Spector and Bruce Wayne. Yes, Moon Knight had the European man Friday in his right hand man Frenchie, the palatial mansion, the billions, the girls, and the gadgets, but he also had a very different method of fighting crime. Marvel Spotlight not only gave readers their first glimpse into the man behind the cowl, it revealed that Spector would also operate as a cab driver named Jake Lockley in order to get closer to the criminal elements Moon Knight was sworn to stop. Not stopping at Lockley, Spector also masqueraded as Steven Grant, millionaire playboy. This playing with identities would become a Moon Knight staple as Spector would bounce around between the three, trying to find a balance and meaning through any of them. Soon, Frenchie would be fleshed out to much more than an Alfred clone and Moon Knight’s constant love, Marlene Alraune, would be introduced to give the hero a diverse cast of players for the dramas ahead.

Moon Knight
The Magazine Era
Hulk! Magazine in issues #11–15, #17–18, and #20; Marvel Preview #21
By Doug Moench, Gene Colan, Keith Pollard, and Bill Sienkiewicz (1978-1979)

After Marvel Spotlight, Moon Knight popped around the Marvel Universe before settling into a solo feature in the back of Hulk! Magazine and his own black-and-white one shot feature in Marvel Preview. These issues’ claim to fame is the absolutely stunning art by some of the industry’s finest talents. The magazine appearances began the long association between Moon Knight and Bill Sienkiewicz, the artist that would visually inform the character for a long time to come.

Moon Knight
A Solo Series at Last!
Moon Knight #1-38 (1980-1983)
By Doug Moench, Bill Sienkiewicz, Jack C. Harris, Alan Zelenetz, Bo Hampton, Kevin Nowlan, Tony Isabella, and Richard Howell

The hero’s first solo series finally revealed Moon Knight’s origin, further removing the character from accusations that the silver caped warrior was simply a Batman clone. The monthly revealed Spector’s background as a soldier of fortune in Egypt who was left to die at the hands of his brutal enemy, The Bushman. The god Khonshu promised to bring Spector back to life if the soldier would become an avatar of vengeance in Khonshu’s name. Spector agreed and, wrapped in Khonshu’s silver raiment, eventually fiound and defeated Bushman in single combat. Meanwhile, the first issue of the new series also revealed that Spector was the son of a Rabbi, so now fans had a pagan god blessing the son of a Jewish holy man with magical life to serve as a sort of golem against crime. The mental breakdown is sort of self explanatory, yes? 

Seriously, the new Moon Knight was a celebration of comic’s sheer insanity, a chaotic melding of concepts and worlds, mythological gods combined with real world religious dogma to create a hero like no other. At this point, Bill Sienkiewicz came into his own as an artist as the book built up some critical cache. Many of the adversaries in the book, such as Cyclone, Conquer Lord, Randall, the Hatchet Man, Midnight Man, and the Committee failed to become anything more than one-off antagonists, although the book did introduce Stained Glass Scarlet, a femme fatale that should have, could have, would have become Moon Knight’s Electra. The historical importance of the title was the mood and tones that Moench, Sienkiewicz, and company set, a more mature and brooding book that targeted the adult comic buyers of the newly minted direct market.

Moon Knight
The Fist of Khonshu and the West Coast Avengers
Moon Knight Vol. 2 #1-6 (1985) 
By Alan Zelenetz, Chris Warner, Mary Jo Duffy, Jim Owsley, and Mike Beachum
West Coast Avengers #21-41 (1987-1989)
By Steve Englehart, Al Milgrom, Tom Defalco, and Tom Palmer

Moon Knight’s second, short lived title abandoned the multiple identity angle and instead, had the wealthy Marc Spector travel the world opening art galleries. While a roaming artistic vigilante does have a certain daring and originality, it wasn't the direction fans seemed to want. The new series also saw alterations to Moon Knight's perfectly designed costume adding busy visual elements such as gold braces, a belt, and a big ankh. Marc Spector soon popped up in the pages of the West Coast Avengers where the usually solo vigilante joined the team. Sadly, this alliance was marred by the fact that for most of his run with the team, Spector was possessed by the Spirit of Khonshu. This moment created a rift between Moon Knight and the Avengers and also defined the character of Khonshu for years to come. He was no longer a magnanimous god, but a cruel puppet master that saw Spector as a hapless servant. This violation further fractured Spector’s delicate psyche. Strangely, it was revealed that Khonshu possessed Spector because it was the god who wanted to join the team, not the hero.

Moon Knight
Marc Spector: Moon Knight
Marc Spector: Moon Knight #1-60 (1989-1994)
By Chuck Dixon, J. M. DeMatteis, Terry Kavanagh, Sal Velluto, Ron Garney, Gary Kwapisz, James Fry, and Stephen Platt

Moon Knight’s longest series, Marc Spector: Moon Knight ran for five years with some amazing stores by legends Chuck Dixon and J.M, DeMatteis that saw the urban hero interact with the rest of the Marvel Universe like never before. The book returned Spector to his vigilante roots, bringing the hero back to the street level mysticism that made him famous in the early 80s. The series saw the return of Bushman along with the introduction of a teen sidekick Midnight (probably not the best move for a character that was always being compared to Batman). The book fleshed out Spector, Frenchie, Marlene, and even Khonshu who was revealed to be a god of justice, not vengeance. Dixon and DeMatteis penned some of the best stories to ever grace a Moon Knight comic. Sadly, the excess of the '90s was soon to trump solid storytelling as the book was shoehorned into a number of crossovers like Acts of Vengeance and Infinity War, while countless guest-stars almost pushed Moon Knight out of his own feature. Oddly enough, it was at this time that Moon Knight would also experience its greatest sales success when newcomer Stephen Platt took over the art chores. The story was forgettable at best, but Platt’s anatomy bending style fit so perfectly into the Image generation of comics, that Moon Knight became one of the hottest titles on the market for a brief time. With Platt’s final issue, the series that started off as one of Marvel’s coolest titles devolved into a crossover laden guest-star fest that killed off Marc Spector. At this point, death was old hat for Moon Knight who would not stay in the cold grave for long.

Moon Knight
Moench Returns: Resurrection War and High Strangers
Moon Knight: Resurrection War #1-4 (1998)
By Doug Moench and Tommy Lee Edwards
Moon Knight: High Strangers By Doug Moench and Mark Texeira

Like all good mainstream superheroes, Moon Knight had to be resurrected at least once, and so he was, and happily, it was by returning creator Doug Moench who brought the wonderful strangeness back to the character in his two late '90 mini-series drawn by two of the most pitch perfect Moon Knight artists Marvel could have found. These series were a return to Moon Knight’s roots, jettisoning the baggage of the 90s of sidekicks, adamantium suits, and guest star clutter, these two throwback stories were a breath of fresh air for fans wanting to get back to the pure and unapologetic weirdness that defined Moon Knight in the early days of the character.

Moon Knight
A High Profile Update
Moon Knight Vol. 3 #1-30 (2006-2009)
By Charlie Huston, Mike Benson, David Finch, and Mico Suayan

Moon Knight had always been a fringe kind of character existing outside the flow of the Marvel Universe proper despite his brief stint as an Avenger. The 2006 relaunch was a whole different story as Marvel put a major marketing push behind the arrival of popular novelist Charlie Huston and mega-star penciller David Finch. Marvel seemed to be determined this time to force Moon Knight to work as more than just a periphery character, and boy, was it violent. The character had always been edgy, but in the first issue, Moon Knight defeats a returned Bushman by carving his face off with one of the vigilante’s crescent moon darts. An increasingly broken and unstable Spector began to view the removed visage as a spiritual guide which he believed contained the spirit of Khonshu. So yes, Moon Knight carried around a hunk of rotting skin that he thought was a god. Makes the four personality thing seems like Norman Rockwell painting, huh? The series examined Moon Knight’s role as the most unstable member of Marvel’s pantheon of heroes and often brought in other Marvel heroes with the sole purpose of telling him he was batshit. Most importantly to Moon Knight history, the book retconned Marc Spector into a Gulf War soldier. The progressive title brought in many elements from the modern Marvel Universe and, at times, delved so much into gore and violence that it bordered on parody, but the commercial push did reveal just how determined Marvel was to make this character work.

 

Moon Knight
Vengeance
Vengeance of the Moon Knight #1–10 (2009-2010)
By Gregg Hurwitz, Bill Sienkiewicz, Juan Jose Ryp, Tan Eng Huat, and Jerome Opena

A classic take on the character, Vengeance of the Moon Knight returns Marc Spector to his more heroic days by attempting to remove him from the fringes of the Marvel Universe. In this series, the vigilante tries to make amends for the face ripping carnage of the previous series by swearing to stop killing his foes. The series returns the multiple personality shtick to the forefront as Moon Knight abandons his other civilian identities in favor of Jack Lockley. This is probably the most Marvelcentric of the many Moon Knight titles as almost every issue sees the hero team with a very modernly popular Marvel character. From the Sentry, to Deadpool, to Spider-Man, the series’ aim seemed to be to return Moon Knight to his original motivations while embedding him firmly in the contemporary Marvel Universe. The book’s main villain was Norman Osborn which went a long way to give the book a more mainstream Marvel feel.

Moon Knight
Shadowland
Shadowland: Moon Knight #1-3 (2010)
By Gregg Hurwitz and Bong Dazo

The Jake Lockley experiment did not last long, as Moon Knight adopts the Spector personal once again to defeat the new villain, The Shadow Knight, who was revealed to be Mark Spector’s brother. Shadowland was a Daredevil driven event featuring Marvel’s street heroes, and the inclusion of Moon Knight solidified the character as a major player in the grittier street side of the Marvel Universe.

Moon Knight
The Big Push
Moon Knight #1-12 (2010-2012)
by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev

No matter how hard Marvel had tried, Moon Knight had never been accepted as mainstream. So in 2011, the company took its biggest talent and allowed them to try to up Moon Knight’s cache in the eyes of many fans thatwho dismissed him as a b-lister. Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev were as high a profile creative team as one could imagine. The book acted as a prelude to major events in the Marvel Universe (such as Age of Ultron) and had a very different and twistedly commercial take on the multiple personality motifs. Gone were Lockley and Grant, instead, Spector had developed a new group of multiple personalities, this time, Moon Knight took on the identities of Spider-Man, Captain America, and Wolverine...men he fought beside and admired. This new wrinkle was just what the doctor ordered for a fresh batch of Moon Knight adventures as the book gave off the vibe that the hero was a truly disturbed, but well-meaning and heroic, individual. The series also saw Spector become a Hollywood television executive, a perfect profession for a man who had such a delicate hold on sanity. When Echo, the book's romantic lead, is killed, Moon Knight’s Wolverine persona becomes dominant and "slaughters" the Cap and Spidey personas. The book only lasted about a year, though.

Marvel is now trying it again with a new title by Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey. One look at Ellis’s track record (this is a man who understands broken heroes) reveals that this could be the take on Moon Knight that finally sticks; propelling the character forward to Marvel’s many multimedia platforms. Come to think of it, wouldn’t the Fist of Khonshu just be perfect for Marvel’s street level Netflix projects?

A fan can dream.

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