Moon Knight – explaining the powers and multiple personalities of Oscar Isaacs new MCU superhero

Moon Knight episode 5 has premiered on Disney Plus, and it brings more answers about Marc Spector and Steven Grant’s past while keeping his heroic identity waiting in the wings, with nary a sign this episode of the possible third personality that’s been hinted at in earlier episodes.

Moon Knight, AKA Steven Grant, AKA Marc Spector, AKA Jake Lockley, is one of Marvel Comics’ most unique heroes, and now that his streaming show is bringing in more and more of his mythology from comic books, some of the weirder and more supernatural aspects of his history are now on the table.

Because while Moon Knight may not be as iconic a character as Iron Man, Captain America, or Thor, he has one of Marvel’s strangest and most unsettling backgrounds as a hero. But it’s those oddball sensibilities in his comic book past that are starting to give Moon Knight a unique profile in the ever-expanding MCU – and which seem to now be coming to the forefront in his streaming series.

So just who is the comic book Moon Knight, especially in comparison to the MCU version?

Answering that question is a bit like putting together one of those 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles, and the key to the character and what makes him unique is it’s something Moon Knight struggles with himself.

Moon Knight

Moon Knight poster (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

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You might hear or read Moon Knight being referred to as Marvel’s version of DC’s Batman – AKA a wealthy businessman by day and secret urban vigilante by night – but that’s not quite right. Moon Knight is one of comics’ highest-profile characters struggling with mental illness, is a sanctified avatar for an ancient Egyptian god, and he’s sometimes even been a cold-blooded killer.

Moon Knight even has an extensive – and complicated – comic book history with the Avengers, including a recent storyline ‘Age of Khonshu (opens in new tab)‘ that opens a door to Moon Knight becoming the MCU’s next big villain.

Now it’s probably unlikely Marvel Studios courted star Oscar Issac to become a villain, and the Moon Knight head writer has even suggested the long-term plan for Moon Knight is to join the Avengers, but we’re here to explain all the possibilities.

So either way, Newsarama has gotten a head start putting together that Moon Knight jigsaw puzzle to help you see the bigger picture of who the character is and how his comic book history may inspire his MCU future.

Who is Moon Knight?

Moon Knight

Moon Knight (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

As we said, the question of ‘Who is Moon Knight?’ isn’t exactly simple – partially because even he doesn’t always know himself.

We’ll start at the beginning. Before his origin was even revealed, Moon Knight debuted as a villain in the classic ’70s Marvel horror comic Werewolf By Night as an agent of a secret organization who wanted to capture Jack Russell, the titular werewolf. But Moon Knight instead helped Russell escape, and the character eventually embarked on his own off-kilter crime-fighting adventures.

Moon Knight initially appeared in backup strips in a few existing comic books, written by Doug Moench (who had created Moon Knight alongside artist Don Perlin) and drawn by artist Bill Sienkiewicz, with the team later launching a Moon Knight ongoing series that became an early example of a comic book marketed directly to comic book specialty shops.

In this incarnation, Marc Spector is a mercenary – the son of a rabbi who ran away from home to become an adventurer. Hired to protect an archeological dig, Spector is betrayed by his employer, Raoul Bushman, and left for dead as Bushman plans to rob the excavated treasures.

Instead of dying, Spector is offered a second chance at life, along with superpowers, by the ancient Egyptian moon god Khonshu (who, in comic books, bears little resemblance to his ancient Egyptian mythological counterpart, Khonsu), depicted as the god of vengeance or justice. In exchange, Spector agrees to become Moon Knight, the earthbound agent Khonshu’s will.

Werewolf by Night #32 cover

Werewolf by Night #32 cover (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

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As Moon Knight, Spector travels to the US and uses his ill-gotten mercenary fortune to establish several new identities, including millionaire investor Steven Grant, and taxi driver Jake Lockley. Though he operates this way for years, moving across the country from New York, to his native Chicago, to Los Angeles, Moon Knight’s multiple identities eventually catch up with him, showing the first cracks in Marc Spector’s personality, and his first brushes with mental illness.

Though the nature of Marc Spector’s mental illness remains somewhat undefined thanks to pop culture and psychology evolving at different rates, Spector suffers from an identity disorder that results in multiple ‘alters’ or identities that surface at different times, and who each have different memories, knowledge, skills, and personalities. 

As such, his different identities of Marc Spector, Jake Lockley, Steven Grant, and perhaps even Moon Knight are not just guises but actual aspects of Spector’s personality and mind.

Following a dissociative episode which results in a hospital stay, Moon Knight recuperates enough to resume crimefighting, and takes up an arsenal of weapons such as crescent boomerangs, smoke bombs, and more, and even briefly takes on a sidekick named Midnight (who resurfaces years later as a villain), all while joining the West Coast Avengers, in the ’80s a new Los Angeles-based expansion of the New York City-based Avengers.

It’s during this time with the Avengers that Moon Knight first loses his connection with Khonshu along with his powers, as Khonshu abandons Spector during a fight with his rival, the ancient Egyptian serpent god Seth (or Set). Spector dies and thus begins a cycle of his own deaths and resurrections at the hand of Khonshu, often with different alters taking the dominant role in Moon Knight’s various lives.

Moon Knight

Moon Knight (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

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In one of his most recent incarnations, Moon Knight has often used the alias Mr. Knight. Created by Warren Ellis and artist Michael Lark, the ‘Mr. Knight’ version debuted in 2012’s Secret Avengers #19 (opens in new tab). Eschewing the more traditional superhero costume for a dapper business suit, a tight-fighting mask, and a pair of firearms, the more street-level pulp-inspired Mr. Knight sometimes trades places with Moon Knight proper.

Moon Knight series artist Declan Shalvey later tweaked the Mr. Knight look – trading in the two-piece suit for a three-piece, and adding additional paraphernalia including a cane, and vehicles.

However, Moon Knight’s most recent appearance may add yet another wrinkle to the story – more on that shortly.

What are Moon Knight’s powers?

Moon Knight

Moon Knight (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

As the so-called ‘Fist of Khonshu,’ Moon Knight possesses super strength that waxes and wanes with the phases of the moon, with the full moon granting him the greatest strength. Moon Knight has often lost this power, however, and thanks to Marc Spector’s mental illness, it has often been unclear whether he’s actually empowered by Khonshu at all, or if it’s all merely a delusion masking another source of super strength.

He’s also been able to perform other supernatural feats, such as hypnotizing people with the ‘voice of Khonshu,’ and communing with the spirit world – even once guiding Black Panther in the Wakandan realm of the dead.

When he’s not empowered by Khonshu – who has recently appeared in a relatively concrete way as Moon Knight’s patron deity, potentially putting to bed the question of Moon Knight’s source of power (at least on the comic book page) – Spector uses a vast arsenal of weapons ranging from a magic ankh that senses danger to crescent-shaped throwing projectiles, to smoke bombs, gliders, vehicles, and even an adamantium battle suit (always in white so, as Spector says, the bad guys see him coming).

Recently, Moon Knight received a massive power upgrade that culminated in him even briefly possessing the Phoenix Force – a cosmic entity of death and rebirth that is usually tied to the mutants of the X-Men – though he later also relinquished the power of the Phoenix, who went on to host a tournament to pick a new host in (opens in new tab)Avengers: Enter the Phoenix (opens in new tab).

Given his status as a millionaire vigilante with a vast arsenal of weapons and even occasional superpowers, Moon Knight has often been called ‘Marvel’s Batman’ – an easy comparison to see on the surface at least. As such, he’s been called up to the ranks of the Avengers a few times over the years, first as a member of the team’s West Coast division, and later as one of the covert operatives of the aforementioned Secret Avengers.

Moon Knight #1 cover

Moon Knight #1 cover (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

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He’s also got an extensive history in his own right with a rogues gallery of strange and often horror-tinged villains (including vampires and werewolves, which might make him a shoo-in to eventually crossover with Mahershala Ali’s Blade down the line). And, as mentioned, he’s even had a sidekick named Midnight who stuck around enough to have a successor and to betray Moon Knight. And the original Midnight was the son of one of Moon Knight’s earliest villains, Midnight Man (who will appear in an adapted form in the Disney Plus streaming series alongside Moon Knight).

On top of all that, Moon Knight could be a window into a different mythology that is vastly different from the Asgardian pantheon shown in the Thor films. With Khonshu comes the rest of Marvel’s connections to ancient Egyptian mythology, including the legacy of Set and the Serpent Crown, a powerful artifact that ties into the history of Atlantis and Namor, the Sub-Mariner (another classic character yet to come to the MCU).

And like we said – he’s even recently been the host of the Phoenix Force.

In fact, it’s that part that could signal a wildly different eventual MCU role for Moon Knight than what may be expected by his presumed introduction as a hero.

In the recent Avengers arc ‘Age of Khonshu,’ Moon Knight reappears as a super-powered avatar of Khonshu, leading an invasion of Earth by Khonshu’s forces. With amped-up abilities, Moon Knight takes on the entire Avengers, trapping the essence of Iron Fist and Doctor Strange in mysterious ankhs, and eventually claiming the Phoenix Force with the intent of remaking the world in Khonshu’s image – pyramids, mummies, ancient priests, and all.

In the end, Moon Knight, Khonshu, and Set – Khonshu’s rival who also wants to conquer Earth, hence Khonshu and Moon Knight’s misguided mission of conquest – are defeated, and Moon Knight releases the Phoenix Force, but not before proving he’s got the goods to take on the entire roster of the Avengers from Captain America, to Thor, to Captain Marvel, and almost win.

Sounds like a scenario that’s ripe for a movie battle, in one form or another.

Most recently, Moon Knight has been at odds with his own patron deity Khonshu, leaving him somewhat cut off from his usual supernatural roots. He’s started a new organization called the Midnight Mission which helps those in dire need of Moon Knight’s skills and guidance.

Moon Knight in the MCU – spoilers ahead for Moon Knight episode 5

Moon Knight

Moon Knight poster featuring Mr. Knight (Image credit: Marvel Studios)

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Moon Knight is now five episodes deep, and after taking its time to fully introduce Oscar Isaac’s crescent-caped vigilante, the streaming series is going headlong into the mythology of Khonshu, Marc Spector’s background as Moon Knight, and even the mystery of the eponymous hero’s fractured personalities.

After Moon Knight episode 3’s revelations about Marc Spector and his predecessor as Khonshu’s avatar Arthur Harrow and episode 4’s big climax in Ammit’s tomb, episode 5 focuses on Marc Spector and Steven Grant as they attempt to navigate the Egyptian underworld.

Stuck in what appears to be a psychiatric ward, Marc and Steven are guided through the afterlife by the hippo goddess Taweret as she attempts to determine whether the deceased Marc/Steven, apparently dead after being shot by Harrow in the previous episode, should wind up in the Egyptian afterlife’s equivalent of Heaven, or Hell.

It’s revealed that Marc created Steven to deal with an abusive and tragic childhood, with Marc being the real personality. As they reconstruct their memories, they’re also forced to fight off the souls of the damned who try to claim them for the Egyptian equivalent of Hell, with Steven falling prey to the attacks.

In the wake of Steven’s apparent end, Marc finds himself in the Egyptian Heaven, apparently dead and stuck in the afterlife – a pretty big hurdle to overcome.

All of Moon Knight’s metaphysical dealings have so far been self-contained and not leaked out into the greater MCU. And with just one episode left, that will likely remain the case. But in a greater sense, somewhere in all of these shadows, past Doctor Strange’s magical world, lies Marvel’s horror wing – a creepy, ghastly place where characters like the aforementioned Werewolf By Night (reportedly to be played by Gael García Bernal in a 2022 Disney Plus Halloween special), Blade (who made his debut, albeit offscreen, in Eternals), and even timeless villains like Dracula cross paths with superheroes like Moon Knight and the Avengers. 

And with five episodes now in the can, it seems like Moon Knight himself is leading the charge into expanding the supernatural aspects of the MCU, if not crossing over with them. 

There’s also the matter of Kit Harrington’s Dane Whitman, the future Black Knight who debuted in Eternals, and who featured in the film’s stinger scene along with the voice of none other than Mahershala Ali’s Blade – meaning the Black Knight might also have a connection to the larger supernatural wing of the MCU that’s building in Moon Knight.

Moon Knight

Moon Knight poster (Image credit: Marvel Studios)

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The potential MCU connections between the MCU’s two knights run deeper if you look closely. In Eternals, Dane Whitman is shown teaching at London’s Natural History Museum. In Moon Knight, Steve Grant starts out living in London and working as an employee in the gift shop of the British Museum, a separate London museum. Marvel’s not one for too obvious a coincidence, usually, so there’s a good chance the two characters could cross paths thanks to their shared occupations, although it’s looking unlikely to happen during the series itself. 

Perhaps a final episode post-credited scene, however?

And there are other Marvel doors Moon Knight can open in whatever the future holds for the character. 

He once went on the run from Norman Osborn’s Thunderbolts – a team of characters that have been bandied about for inclusion in the MCU for years, and who may have been set up in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, in which Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine is seemingly recruiting her own Avengers-esque team.

And again Moon Knight head writer Jeremy Slater, while admitting he doesn’t know how Moon Knight will be introduced to the wider MCU, said if it was up to him, the character would be part of the Avengers, adding, “…I think that is the goal!”

As to Moon Knight’s ultimate role in the MCU – time … and perhaps the phases of the moon … will tell.

Read up on the comic book histories of other new characters coming to the MCU, like Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, Dane Whitman-Black Knight, Jane Foster Thor, America Chavez, Blade, and Eros/Starfox.

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