First up is an introduction by yours truly!
If anything could describe the character of Moon Knight, he's that guy you meet at a high school reunion—the kid you always knew was going on to great things, because even if he didn't have high aspirations, he had everything it took to be successful. When you meet him again after all those years, you feel the burning need to ask, "Dude, what happened?" Take that any or every way you'd like. On one hand, I'd personally feel the need to ask why he couldn't have just bought a fluffy little kitten and taught it to make popular YouTube videos. Seriously, that's very therapeutic for people with mental traumas.
From day one, he simultaneously appeared to be a dark menace and the sort of fantastical hero enjoyed by the greatest of fantasists. Not surprisingly, then, his overall personality is as ambiguous as his appearance.
The fact that he has three personalities outside of the Moon Knight persona (more on that in the next section) might put off readers who don't have the mind or patience to try to get their heads around that—or maybe I mean attempted readers—but Moon Knight is one of a fraction of Marvel characters whose writers not only dare to think outside the box, but who naturally exist there. That's my kind of read!
So if you still don't know why Moon Knight isn't as huge as he ought to be, you're probably a part of that minority who really appreciate him.
Origin: In the Beginning, There was Only One Man
Moon Knight first appears in the pages of Werewolf by Night #32–33 (1975) as Jack Russell's villain-turned-ally, but we'll start with the character's actual origin, which debuted five years later in his first ongoing series. Moon Knight was Marc Spector before he became the grim specter in white that fans today know and love. Marc was born and raised in Chicago by his father Elias, a rabbi and Holocaust escapee who pressured him and his (presumably) older brother Randall toward nonviolence and religious devotion. Marc rejected his father's teachings, favoring the excitement of a life of adventure and violence.
After high school, Marc pursued a profitable career in prizefighting until he punched out his own father in the ring in front of a live audience. Elias had come to beg Marc to stop the senseless fighting. Marc enlisted with the marines the next morning, and after two tours of duty and a brief stint as a field agent for the CIA—which produced several story arcs concerning the people he worked with and against, including a titular battle against Randall—he quit to pursue a bloody career as a mercenary. Soon after, Marc joined up with Jean-Paul "Frenchie" Duchamp and Raoul Armand Bushman, forming a sort of "three musketeers" as soldiers of fortune.
It wasn't long before Marc and Frenchie realized they were working for a bona fide bloodthirsty madman, and they hatched a plan for leaving Bushman's company after they raided an archaeological dig in the Sudan (or Egypt, as per a later retcon). The site in question was a recently discovered tomb of Seti III (retconned to Seti II for historical accuracy), where the troupe found archaeologists Dr. Peter Alraune Sr. and his daughter Marlene hiding a cache of valuables. Knowing the mercenaries were after the treasure, Dr. Alraune attempted to stab Bushman in the back (literally, with a bejeweled dagger). Marc warned Bushman just in time, and to make an example for any resisters, Bushman killed Dr. Alraune by tearing out his throat with his sharpened metal teeth.
No longer able to stand Bushman's inhumane brutality, Marc chased Marlene into hiding and confronted the killer. Displeased with Marc's betrayal, Bushman beat Marc into unconsciousness and abandoned him in the middle of the desert to die in its harsh conditions, then made off with Frenchie and the treasures. Marc miraculously made his way back to the tomb's entrance, where he collapsed and died just as Marlene's assistants saw him and took him inside to safety from the raging nighttime sandstorm. Marlene realized that Marc wasn't the one who killed her father and that he tried to protect her from Bushman, thus (almost) forgiving him and mourning over his death.
Marc, Marlene, and Frenchie left the desert and returned to the states after that. Marc, with a new lease on life, strove to leave behind his dark days as a mercenary. He created three new identities for himself through which he began his vigilante career: Steven Grant, a millionaire philanthropist with informants in the highest places; Jake Lockley, a New York City cabbie with street-level informants; and Moon Knight, Marc's superhero persona.
Moon Knight's origin in Werewolf by Night was later included in the character's canon as a kind of false origin in the pages of Moon Knight #4 (Series 1, 1981), and his true origin received a mystical mini-retcon of sorts in the pages of Moon Knight: Fist of Khonshu #1 (1985, considered the second Moon Knight series). You can read all of this and more of Moon Knight's early, pre-modern adventures in the three Essential Moon Knight trade paperback omnibuses, which I shall cover next.
Review: Back to the Essentials
I personally loved the Essential Moon Knight volumes, but for newer readers, getting past the few first stories may prove a bit daunting due to the dated content and classic storytelling. I actually wasn't introduced to Moon Knight through his early adventures as reprinted in glorious black-and-white in these books, and I feel that the way I was introduced to the character and story is a much better route for modern readers to get hooked into one of the most underrated comic book personas. If you want to skip ahead to the next article for my recommendation on where to start, I wouldn't blame you. However, if you're into older comics, classical storytelling, following a character from his/her bare roots, challenging reading material, or if you're still interested after having read the rest of this article, I invite you back to my little review of the Essential books.
Essential Moon Knight Vol. 2 picks up where the first book left off and features nothing but twenty issues of the first Moon Knight series. Again, Moench and Sienkiewicz jointly authored the majority of these excellent stories, with a few exceptional guest writers and artists here and there. This volume really explores the issues that arise from Marc's schizophrenia as they affect the people around him. It also introduces a few more characters from his iconic rogues gallery, including Morpheus, Stained Glass Scarlet, the Black Spectre, and the return of the Werewolf by Night. In the upcoming Moon Knight series, Ellis highlights the weird crime aspect of his stories, and between Volumes 1 and 2, you'll find out exactly from where Ellis is drawing the weird crime influence.
In Essential Moon Knight Vol. 3, we see a brief exchange of artistic roles between Sienkiewicz and the talented Kevin Nowlan before the first Moon Knight series is brought to a close with issue #38 after a heartwarming story involving the passing of Marc's father. After that, a new, albeit short-lived series called Moon Knight: Fist of Khonshu takes center stage with an all-new creative team and a bold new direction. Things start to get supernatural for our hero as his mystical connection with Khonshu introduces him to three blind priests who play a vital, yet annoying role throughout the six-issue series. He also develops more refined supernatural abilities to replace his previous lunar phase-influenced strength and agility, which he had thought derived from injuries in his tussle with the Werewolf by Night.
Overall, the Essential collections are a must-have for die-hard Moon Knight fans. Not only do you get a majority of the classic stories, but you also get a bunch of extras, including behind-the-scenes stuff such as unused covers, newsletters from the editors to the fans, character profiles, tech and gadget blueprints, and portfolios. You can get them cheap, too, for less that $20 per book online. Sadly, there hasn't been another Essential Moon Knight book to collect those series that came between the third volume and the next series in my review. That's a lot of Moon Knight uncollected, too—there are sixty issues of Marc Spector: Moon Knight, four issues of Moon Knight: Resurrection War, and four issues of Moon Knight: High Strangers completely uncollected. I've yet to obtain the individual books of these series, nor the trade collection of Avengers: West Coast, which chronicles Moon Knight's membership with the team, so I can't personally weigh in on those.
What do you guys and gals think so far of the mysterious Moon Knight? Still want more? Got any questions or opinions you'd like to share? Leave us a comment below and check out Part 2 here!