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Who is Moon Knight and what are his powers?

Moon Knight
(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Marvel Studios' latest leading man may be a familiar face in front of the camera, with Marvel Studios now having officially confirmed Oscar Isaac as the actor who will play Moon Knight on Disney Plus' 2022 streaming show. But on the comic book page, the mystical Moon Knight – a.k.a. Marc Spector (among other aliases he's used) – is a lesser-known character with an offbeat history and an even more unsettling origin that could shake things up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Answering the question of 'Who is Moon Knight?' is a bit like putting together a puzzle – something the hero himself has even struggled with over the years. Sometimes compared to DC's Batman as an urban vigilante of the night, Moon Knight is also one of the Marvel Universe's most visible heroes to live with mental illness, a sanctified avenger for an ancient god, and even, at times, a stone-cold killer.

Moon Knight

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

He's also got a complicated history with Earth's Mightiest Heroes, the Avengers – including the recent comic book storyline 'Age of Khonshu' that could even put Moon Knight on the path to actually being the MCU's next big villain.

You read that right.

Fortunately, we here at Newsarama have all the pieces to form a clear picture of everything you need to know about who Moon Knight is and how he fits into the Marvel Universe before Isaac potentially dons his white cape and cowl.

Who is 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 escaped, 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.

Moon Knight

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

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 archaeological 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.

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.

Moon Knight

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

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 which surface at different times, 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.

In one of his most recent incarnations, Moon Knight has often used the alias Mr. Knight – a suit-wearing, street-level vigilante, who sometimes trades places with Moon Knight proper, who uses hi-tech weaponry to fight crime. 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

(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 hypnotize people with the 'voice of Khonshu,' and commune with the spirit world - even once guiding Black Panther in the Wakandan realm of the dead.

Moon Knight

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

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).

Most 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 Avengers: Enter the Phoenix.

How does Moon Knight fit into the Marvel Universe?

Moon Knight

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

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 Secret Avengers.

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 we said, 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.

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.

Moon Knight

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

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.

How could Moon Knight fit into the MCU?

Moon Knight

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

For one thing, Moon Knight's debut may provide a doorway to another, more supernatural corner of the Marvel Universe. Somewhere in the shadows, past Doctor Strange's magical world lies Marvel's horror wing – a creepy, ghastly place where characters like the aforementioned Werewolf By Night, Blade, and even timeless villains like Dracula cross paths with superheroes like Moon Knight and the Avengers.

On that note, Moon Knight could be one of the MCU's darkest, deepest stories yet, with Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige stating at 2019's D23 Expo that Disney Plus's Moon Knight series would delve directly into the questions around Marc Spector's mental state, and the presence of Khonshu.

"Marc Spector - he was a mercenary, he was left for dead in the Egyptian desert. Now he may or may not be infused with powers from Khonshu the moon god - or he may just be crazy," Feige stated at the time. "It's something very unique and exciting for us."

And there's no ignoring Marvel Studios' caption with their confirmation of Oscar Isaac as Marc Spector, which reads "We are Moon Knight," implying that the multiple personalities he lives with may be on display in the show.

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Moon Knight even 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.

Time – and perhaps the phases of the moon – will tell. 

Moon Knight is coming back to comic books this summer, ahead of his Disney Plus show.

George Marston

Newsarama staff writer who learned to read from comic books and hasn’t shut up about them since.