In preparation for the release of Marvel Studios’ new TV series “Moon Knight” (which will be streaming on Disney+ starting March 30), I’d like to give you all an introduction to this lesser-known Marvel hero. Moon Knight, a.k.a. Marc Spector, is a mercenary who experiences a near-death experience while on a mission in Egypt and is granted new life by the Egyptian moon god Khonshu. Marc then becomes the “Fist of Khonshu,” going on various heroic (and some not-so-heroic) adventures in the name of the god who saved him. In many versions of the story, Marc also suffers from dissociative identity disorder (DID), a mental illness in which one develops one or more alter personalities.
Unfortunately, superhero comics have a bad reputation of depicting mental illnesses in inaccurate and offensive ways, and Moon Knight is no exception. Some Moon Knight comics incorrectly label Marc’s illness as schizophrenia, while others depict Marc’s DID as if he can control his dissociations and pick which alter personality he’d like to become, which is an extremely inaccurate portrayal of dissociation. However, there are other Moon Knight comics that portray Marc’s mental illness in a much more realistic and positive light, namely Jeff Lemire’s run on “Moon Knight” from 2016 to 2017.
“Moon Knight” (2016-2017) by Jeff Lemire and Greg Smallwood is not only my favorite Moon Knight comic, but one of my favorite comics of all time. This is in part because the discussion of mental illness in this run of “Moon Knight” is complex, nuanced, and most importantly, hopeful. In this story, Marc Spector finds himself trapped within a mental asylum with no recollection of how he got there. Worst of all, he is told that he was never actually Moon Knight; it was all a grand delusion. But Marc can’t help but feel that there are greater supernatural forces at play, and the person messing with his mind just might be his greatest villain yet. Throughout the story, Marc is never entirely sure what is real and what is not, but he must learn to trust in himself in order to save himself and his friends. In the end, Marc understands that he will always have to live with his DID and trauma, but he learns to accept himself as he is. It is a powerful story that will resonate with anyone who may be experiencing mental illness.
Another aspect that makes Jeff Lemire’s “Moon Knight” so great is the way Egyptian mythology is incorporated into the story. Not only is the moon god Khonshu an important figure in the story, but other Egyptian deities serve as Moon Knight’s allies and rivals. Set, the Egyptian god of chaos, is a recurring villain in the “Moon Knight” comics, but surprisingly, he isn't depicted a s the kind of villain that is evil for evil’s sake as you might expect from a character that is literally the god of evil. Lemire gives new life and nuance to these familiar mythological figures, making for a story that both experienced mythology nerds and those who are new to Egyptian mythology can enjoy.
Lastly, I’d like to highlight the fantastic illustrations in “Moon Knight” (2016) that bring Marc’s story to life. The series is mostly illustrated by Greg Smallwood, who uses textured brushwork and non-traditional panel layouts to tell Marc’s story in an absolutely unique and fascinating way. Additionally, whenever Marc dissociates, the comic switches from Smallwood’s illustrations to other comic artists with vastly different art styles to reflect the way Marc’s alters perceive the world. It is an extremely unique way to tell the story that gives insight to each of the story’s point-of-view characters.
Lemire and Smallwood’s “Moon Knight” comic is something truly unlike anything else I’ve ever read. The combination of complex characters, important themes, Egyptian mythology, and amazing artwork makes for an unforgettable reading experience. This is a comic that whenever I pick it up, I can’t put it down until the very last page.
Above: A Page from "Moon Knight" illustrated by Greg Smallwood, colors by Jordie Bellaire, published by Marvel Comics.