Finally, the Fist of Khonshu is here. Marvel’s “Moon Knight” has arrived on Disney+, and with the incredibly talented Oscar Isaac as the titular vigilante, the series is certain to dive deep into the chaotic, kaleidoscopic abyss that is the life of this mysterious hero.
And what a life it is, as the character has been subject to more change throughout its comic book history than almost any other. Over the years, writers have reinterpreted or outright retconned nearly every aspect of Moon Knight, including his ethnicity, religion, mental illness, powers, and personality (or personalities plural). Comic book characters, essentially trapped in literary soap operas that can run for decades, are updated and modernized all the time, but Moon Knight has changed so thoroughly and so often that you’d be forgiven for not having a clear idea who he actually is. Over the years, Marvel writers have made a number of claims about him only to retract them later, and that makes finding canonical facts a tough task. To help suss out the gospel truth of the man with the Midnight Mission, here are some of the ways that Marvel lied to you about Moon Knight.
He has more origins than anyone
Like almost period in Moon Knight’s life, his origins are muddled and multifaceted. His first appearance came as an antagonist in “Werewolf by Night” issue 32, released in 1972. In that story, Marc Spector is a fairly nondescript mercenary with little characterization outside of his apparent combat prowess — essentially a sterilized Deathstroke. To Spector, the Moon Knight costume was simply a gift from his employers — an all-silver outfit to help him battle Werewolf by Night.
It wasn’t until much later that the character’s story — and his many idiosyncrasies — started being fleshed out. When he received his first solo series in 1980, Spector’s story became intertwined with the real-world ancient Egyptian deity Khonshu, changing Moon Knight’s origin to include Spector’s death and resurrection beneath one of the god’s idols.
The series then continued retconning its character by gradually revealing Spector’s mental illness and, four years later, finally mentioning his Jewish heritage and rabbi father. Then over the years, his mental illness — finally labeled as dissociative identity disorder — became a side effect of his death and merger with Khonshu, was removed entirely (in Warren Ellis’ bombshell 2014 run), ceased to be an illness at all but rather a traumatic childhood brain injury as a result of Nazi abuse, and then (in the same issue, mind you) possibly just a condition inherited from his father.
He’s powerless … until he isn’t
Canonically, Moon Knight has no superpowers. But he’s repeatedly wielded various superpowers anyway — just one example of how canon is a relatively meaningless word to a character who may very well be the most unreliable narrator in comics history.
Some major issues with assessing Spector’s powers are that he himself is rarely confident enough to assess them; even when he does, he may be operating on incorrect evidence; and regardless, he has every reason to lie about their true nature to protect himself. For example, he has claimed that Khonshu remolded his brain into “a god’s weapon,” which may an accurate appraisal — scans have confirmed his brain is unique and it may very well grant him god-given powers — but the street-level, nocturnal vigilante frequently attempts to cultivate fear and mystique. Calling his brain “a god’s weapon” may simply be his version of Batman calling himself “the night.”
Further muddying the waters, multiple writers have given Spector undeniable, canonical powers, which successive writers have been forced to explain away with some version of “Khonshu took them away.” On top of that, he has died and been resurrected multiple times, possibly confirming a supernatural power of immortality, but again, the phenomenon can be explained away rationally — this time, by the infamously loose relationship that comics have with death and resurrection.
Khonshu was an actual deity worshipped in ancient Egypt. Though the spelling of his name is debatable — variants include Chonshu, Chons, Khons, Khensu, and more — and though he may have been just an extension of fellow moon god Thoth, he was nonetheless real to the Egyptians. The same can’t always be said for Spector, who in certain incarnations acts as the god’s red right hand, in others actively opposes the god, and still in others outright denies his existence.
Khonshu’s first appearance in Marvel Comics came in 1980, during the first issue of “Moon Knight” Vol. One, a full eight years after Spector’s first outing as Moon Knight. Even once the deity entered the Marvel canon, his existence was never assured for long. Multiple comic runs hinted at the possibility that Khonshu may just be a product of Spector’s mental health issues — including his first stint with the Avengers, in “From the Dead,” and in the pages of “Punisher.” Then there are the aforementioned periods in which Khonshu is an objective reality witnessed by more than just Spector, such as the “Age of Khonshu” event. Marvel, or at least some of its writers, can’t decide what’s true when it comes to Khonshu.
What is a moon, anyway?
During his tenure as writer for the main “Avengers” series, Jason Aaron has never shied away from retconning characters and events if he deems the outcome worth it. In fact, one of his most popular additions to canon was the “Avengers of 1,000,000 BC.” team, a group of gods and primeval forces that protected Earth a million years ago — and in the case of a young Odin and Phoenix Force, occasionally made out. However, one of Aaron’s ideas proved less popular, and it involved Moon Knight.
During the “Age of Khonshu” event, an extra Khonshu-empowered Moon Knight took on the Avengers and, for a time, stood as the clear victor. The extra power granted from Khonshu gave Specter a number of new abilities, the relevant one here being lunakinesis — the ability to control moons. This came in handy when Spector took on Thor, as Aaron retconned Mjolnir’s famously tough source metal, Uru, into a type of moon rock. Thus, Spector was able to steal control of the mighty hammer and win the battle, though not without cost: A multitude of fan posts, across a number of forums, found fans voicing their disapproval of the sudden change.
His mental health comes and goes
As far back as his first starring series in the early ’80s, Spector was referred to as “schizophrenic,” with the outdated term eventually replaced by the more accurate and accepted dissociative identity disorder (aka DID). But it isn’t just the terminology that has evolved — the type of disorder, its cause, the date of its first appearance, and even its very existence have all evolved as well.
In his first appearance, Spector has no apparent mental issues, nor are any mentioned. His first series retconned in multiple personalities, and from there, writers have had a field day playing with the concepts and their existence. To Charlie Huston, Spector may be indistinguishable from magic, akin to the MCU Thor’s explanation of science and magic. To Warren Ellis, Spector’s DID might be his mind’s attempt to rationalize its colonization by an otherworldly consciousness. To writers Jeff Lemire and Max Bemis, Spector’s DID may be the result of childhood trauma, an inherited condition, or a combination of both. The truth of Spector’s mental state is still an unsolved puzzle.
A one-man army … of many
Moon Knight is a one-man army, an isolated vigilante confined to the fringe, a lone shepherd tending to the hapless, unaware flock of his nocturnal church: the Midnight Mission. He is vengeance, he’s the night, he’s the Fist of Khonshu, the deity’s sole, chosen avatar on Earth, forever cursed with an eccentricity and prophesy all his own — Spector can never be close to anyone because there is no one like Spector. Though all of those statements are true of the Moon Knight in certain runs, just as many other runs prove them all false.
For a solo hero, Moon Knight sure has been on a lot of teams — in the last couple of decades, he’s willingly joined Tony Stark’s group of registered heroes, Doctor Strange’s Midnight Sons, the Secret Avengers, Heroes for Hire, and the Defenders. On top of that, he’s led the Cult of Khonshu and founded his own church, the aforementioned Midnight Mission. Before that, Spector spent a few years as part of the West Coast Avengers, as well as the better part of the ’80s and ’90s teaming up with every hero on the block. Even in his first appearance, instead of killing the Werewolf by Night as he was hired to, Spector ended up pairing up with the monster against his employers.
Street-level vigilante or cosmic titan?
Nearly every aspect of Moon Knight’s character fluctuates often and dramatically, so it’s no surprise that the style and scale of his adventures fluctuate too. At his core, Moon Knight is a street-level hero, prowling the streets of New York City by night, battling crooks with martial arts and simple melee weapons. Even in the majority of his team-ups, Moon Knight remains grounded in smaller stakes (pun intended, given all the vampires he fights), mainly allying with fellow street-level heroes like Spider-Man, Punisher, Luke Cage, and the Black Cat.
But Moon Knight has another side. When he’s more directly in Khonshu’s control, or fighting alongside one of the Avengers teams, he enters a far different world — many of them, in fact. He was one of the heroes to take part in the intergalactic events of 1992’s “Infinity War” and 2018’s “Infinity Wars.” He has time-traveled on multiple occasions, like his trip to the ancient homeland of Conan the Barbarian in 2019’s “Serpent War.” During “Age of Khonshu,” he even gained the powers of the Iron Fist, Doctor Strange, Ghost Rider, Thor, and the Phoenix Force, all in an effort to fight Marvel’s literal Devil, Mephisto. The shift in setting and tone between Moon Knight stories can be intense, but can also lead to some top-tier moments.
He dies a lot
Comics characters die constantly. They’re also resurrected a lot. For Moon Knight, death and resurrection are so commonplace that his backstory has been altered to explain their frequency — though more accurately, Spector’s resurrections and the divine magic that enable them represent a kind of existential chicken and the egg scenario.
Sometimes, Spector explains away his resurrections simply and cryptically, such as his undeniably cool explanation in the first issue of “From the Dead”: “I’ve died before. It was boring, so I stood up.” Other explanations may be just as cryptic, but at least show Spector earnestly trying to answer the question of his potential immortality. In the first issue of the 2021 “Moon Knight” series, after listing the three deaths he can remember, Spector is asked simply, “Can you die?” His response is equally simple: “I don’t know.” Moon Knight might be effectively immortal, wielding the assurance of resurrection by Khonshu should he ever fall, but neither Spector — nor, perhaps, Marvel Comics in general — knows for sure just yet.
A Jewish icon … or not
When Marc Spector was introduced, no mention was made of his ethnicity or heritage. That slate stayed blank for the next eight years, as the character appeared in cameos across the Marvel publishing lineup. This continued even after Spector finally received his own series in 1980. It wasn’t until 1984, in “Moon Knight” issue 37, that writer Alan Zelenetz revealed Spector to be Jewish. Across three issues, Alan Zelenetz made him the son of a Rabbi who fled Europe during the advance of Hitler’s forces. After that, however, Spector’s Jewish history took a back seat for a long time. Given how little his ethnicity and religion were mentioned over the next three decades, it would be more appropriate to say that they were stuffed in the trunk, rather than riding the back seat.
It wasn’t until the 2010s, under writers like Jeff Lemire, Max Bemis, and Jed MacKay, that Moon Knight comics started exploring Spector’s Jewish heritage again. Bemis, for one, made it a central part of his character and backstory — establishing Spector’s childhood run-in with a Nazi and subsequent trauma. Others, like MacKay, use the dichotomy between Spector’s Jewish upbringing and present devotion to Khonshu to create an interesting psychological tension, suggesting that Spector’s history with Judaism might deserve more attention from future storytellers.
He’s not just Batman — or maybe he is
Whatever you do, do not call Moon Knight a Batman ripoff. Of course, if you did, you would be far from the first. The comparison dates back at least as far as 1979’s “Hulk Magazine” issue 13, in which a mini-story introduced the character ahead of his upcoming solo series. In the feature, Moon Knight is drawn much like a Batman in white, lives (one of his lives) as a wealthy playboy, operates out of a high-tech cave, and uses an array of fancy gadgets to fight crime as a vigilante. It’s safe to say that in 1979, the comparisons between Batman and Moon Knight were at least somewhat warranted.
But luckily for Spector and the wealth of great stories he would star in later, the comparisons essentially end there. The two cowled crusaders differ wildly in their origins, powers, tactics, morals, mental health, wealth, status within their respective universes, and of course whether or not they are possessed by an ancient Egyptian moon god who may or may not have altered their mind. Regardless of how different the two characters have become, writers have had to address the criticism frequently over the years, and even the mighty Marvel Cinematic Universe altered aspects of their Moon Knight to keep any perceived likenesses to a minimum. Of course, as any comics fan knows, there are plenty of obvious parallels between numerous Marvel and DC characters; if the enduring popularity of both vigilantes tells us anything, it’s that audiences are always hungry for tales of justice dispensed under the cover of night.