Moon Knight is one of the stranger superheroes, and his relationship with violence, heroism, and the ghosts of his own misdeeds have combined to create one of Marvel’s most underrated properties. That’s sure to change with the debut of the pending TV series, but it’s easy to forget that this is a character that has been hanging around in the Marvel Universe since all the way back in 1975. Despite a fair number of solo series and guest appearances over decades, Moon Knight (aka Marc Spector) can be a hard nut to crack.
Fortunately, there are now collections that make it easy to read all of Marc Spector’s earliest stories in the same place. Moon Knight Omnibus Vol. 1 collects Moon Knight’s first appearances in Werewolf By Night, a handful of team-up issues, an offbeat collaboration with the Defenders, his short run as a back-up story in Hulk Magazine, and the first twenty issues of his 1980 solo run. Though it introduces Marc Spector as a guest star to other heroes, this trade proves that his early days can be read as a surprisingly linear character arc.
Werewolf by Moon Knight
In his debut in Werewolf By Night #32, Moon Knight is a remorseless mercenary who uses silver knuckles to beat Jack Russell brutally while he’s in his wolf form. He is cruel and swift, and shows no sympathy whatsoever to the struggling werewolf. By the next issue, Moon Knight realizes that he’s essentially been duped into believing Russell deserved whatever he got, and rather than cashing in, he chooses to help Russell flee. It would be a stretch to say that they go their separate ways as friends, but Spector’s complicated nature would go on to be a definitive character trait. It’s no surprise that Moon Knight quickly returned after this highly memorable debut.
In The Defenders #47-51, Spector is a side character at best, but he manages to bring a bit of an edge to an otherwise underwhelming story about Scorpio. His efficiency is obvious in contrast to the volatile and sometimes ineffective Defenders (though they are too busy antagonizing the Hulk to notice). Moon Knight’s team-ups with Spider-Man are a bit low on that classic charisma, but they’re still campy fun, and they show how he is developing into a wild card that plays by his own rules.
The Moon Knight series establishes Moon Knight’s origin and tells us how he met his girlfriend (eventual wife, and someday ex-wife) Marlene Alraune. Much of Spector’s fortune came from his work as a ruthless mercenary who partnered with Raoul Bushman, a man destined to become one of his major recurring villains. Raoul immediately crosses a moral event horizon and uses his metal teeth to kill an archeologist, Peter Alraune. Spector barely manages to send Marlene away to safety, but quickly ends up back in battle with Raoul when he catches him slaughtering innocent villagers. Spector nearly dies wandering through the desert after being beaten, and only revives after being laid out in front of an idol of the god Khonshu. This spurs him to fight for justice in service to Khonshu.
Friends of Moon Knight
One thing the original Moon Knight series achieved was establishing his supporting cast. His longtime confidante Frenchie is given a greater role in his story than initially thought as we discover that they worked together alongside Bushman. Frenchie is Spector’s most trusted friend, and he helps both him and Marlene throughout his these early adventures.
Marlene’s role in these stories is genuinely weird for a few reasons, but she’s a fun character. It becomes difficult to parse what the specific appeal of dating Moon Knight actually is at various points in the series, but their banter can be enjoyable. The sexism of genre storytelling in this era is far from absent in Moon Knight, but Marlene is a profoundly loyal and capable person who saves Marc’s life on more than one occasion, so her competence and agency is never in question. Meanwhile, the restaurant manager Gena Landers, another of Spector’s informants, is easily the best character in the series. Her managing a diner in the Marvel Universe could be the backdrop for a comic series I would read, but this story is fine, too.
As Spector’s creator (along with Dan Perlin), Doug Moench wrote a significant portion of the early Moon Knight stories. Moench would use his knack for moody monologues that sound like they came right out of a De Niro film to bring us a lengthy run on Batman years later. Indeed, Moon Knight has often been compared to Batman, but he has more in common with DC’s other brooding vigilante, The Question. Denny O’Neil served as editor for much of Moon Knight’s original run, and it bears a creative similarity to his run on The Question that began in 1987. The grim street fights and pulp hero machismo of the two characters is incredibly similar, but each of them would ultimately go in different directions. While The Question focused its attention on local political corruption, the Moon Knight series was more about Marc overcoming his personal demons while fighting strange foes and establishing his various alter egos.
This was prior to artist Bill Sienkiewicz’s groundbreaking work on The Demon Bear Saga, and even longer before his eventual move towards creator-owned independent books with the delirious Stray Toasters and more. At this time, Sienkiewicz was just another promising artist whose style was heavily impacted by Neal Adams. Yet this era visually builds an incredible bridge between his early days as a Marvel fill-in artist to the legendary creator we know him as today. The dynamic action sequences and the aptitude for building tension over several pages is an immediate draw to Sienkiewicz’s take on Moon Knight, and his stylish character design and tendency towards exaggerated emotion help bring a sense of the fantastic to a book that is at times too rooted in the gritty pseudo-realism of the era.
Sienkiewicz improves when he switches to doing his own inks some issues into this run, and this rapidly changes his style to something more unique, calling to mind Ralph Steadman more than anyone specifically tied to the comics world. In the meantime, his Moon Knight just works, and remains one of the definitive visual takes on the character. The letterers and colorists change around frequently, but the primary players were Joe Rosen and Bob Sharen, respectively. Rosen goes from total restraint to wild, popping letters with ease, and Sharen’s bright color choices bring an element of the surreal to Sienkiewicz’s gritty, pulpy pages. The look of the series is a huge part of what makes it such a visually seamless run, and it can’t be undersold as one of the great draws of this collection.
By the Knight of the Moon
Marc Spector’s transition from guest to solo star was a surprisingly fast one. His crossovers with the superheroes are fun and campy while his own series delves into a moody vibe that bears as much resemblance to a noir film as it does to a spy thriller while keeping both feet firmly planted in the greater world of Marvel heroes. As first appearances go, it would be difficult to outdo Moon Knight’s unforgettable brawl in Werewolf By Night, and his solo adventures make for a mostly entertaining follow-up.
Like so many comics, the original Moon Knight series is a bit of a product of its time, bridging the gap between detective novels and early 1980s action films. This mix of vibes usually works, though dated views on gender politics and race certainly weigh down the story at times. The action sequences are to die for, and the fast-paced jaunts through a seedy underworld make for a compelling read.