Serial Consumer celebrates and interrogates Evan’s relationship to franchised media and his addiction to purchasing its licensed products.
Thanks to a generous promotional decision by Disney, I watched the first two-thirds of Moon Knight’s six-episode run about a week before the show’s premiere. I love the character quite a bit, so I’m a little biased. I love the show, too, with some qualifications. The problem with receiving such a massive preview, though, is that it becomes hard to write about each episode without recognizing foreshadowing for forthcoming twists and turns, which Moon Knight has in spades. I’ll do my best not to spoil anything.
In usual Serial Consumer fashion, this is less of a plot recap, and more a collection of thoughts about the episode.
The nature of Moon Knight’s alternate personas has constantly changed over the years. They were initially disguises, easily cast aside when another writer didn’t want the burden of writing material for three different version of the protagonist. Later, they became an explicitly psychological phenomenon. These days, they’re a mixture of latent Dissociative Identity Disorder and the mythological possession of the Egyptian god Khonshu. The show does provide some answers, but as far as the first episode goes, we’re only given Steven Grant’s perspective as his unique DID introduces serious problems into his personal life.
I love the choice to start the story of Moon Knight in medias res, as it’s strongly implied that Steven’s blackouts have been happening for a long time, which means the personality of Marc Spector (and the superhero Moon Knight) have long been operating in the shadows. When Steven finds Marc’s phone in the apartment, it’s full of missed calls from Layla, as well as one from Duchamp — respective references to Marc’s mercenary partner and sidekick named Frenchie from the comics.
Key to the success for this approach is how goddamn great Oscar Isaac is as Steven, crafting a really empathetic character whom you can’t help but love. He’s not pathetic, just worn down. His enthusiasm for Egyptian mythology (simultaneously great foreshadowing, exposition and character-building) is sweet and relatable. Isaac is one of his generation’s finest actors, and his performance here covers considerable emotional ground in just 50 minutes.
Director Mohamed Diab has said he had to fight to keep the scene in which Steven misses a date and ends up ordering a steak out of frustration (despite being vegan), and I’m glad he did. It’s the first episode’s best scene, showing us how hard the blackouts have made Steven’s life while also establishing his disorder as his “curse” in the mold of superpowers getting in the way of a hero’s personal life. This isn’t a spoiler, but the resolution of this show will almost certainly have to be Steven and Marc discovering they’re stronger together rather than living separate lives in the same body. The “curse” becoming the strength is Superhero Storytelling 101. There’s never been a take on Moon Knight that makes his alter egos their own characters in quite this way, and I’m overjoyed how well it works (and continues to work in subsequent episodes).
One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s crutches is using popular music to introduce characters, which was perfected in Guardians of the Galaxy and has been pretty hit-or-miss otherwise (such as the questionably anachronistic availability of “Just a Girl” in Captain Marvel).
We get two such introductions in Moon Knight. The first, “Every Grain of Sand” by Bob Dylan, plays while we see villain Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke) practicing a painful ritual in honor of his god. Hawke reportedly chose this song and planned this scene, which immediately echoes his career-best performance in writer-director Paul Schrader’s First Reformed as a priest struggling with faith in the face of oblivion. It’s a short, effective use of the song.
The second needle drop, “A Man Without Love” by Engelbert Humperdinck, underscores the monotonous loneliness of Steven Grant, notably including the lyric “Moonlight will guide our way,” which I guess might be important or something. I liked this, too, because Moon Knight is an excellent show that actually deploys these songs effectively. It overcame my frustration with Marvel’s crutch.
‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’
Of course, there’s one more major needle-drop, and that’s the use of Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” during the first episode’s mountainside car-chase centerpiece.
Moon Knight is an inherently goofy concept and character, and I think that’s lost in a lot of recent creative runs on the comic book side of things. It’s also been reflected in the show’s marketing; even Kevin Feige has promised a more violent Disney+ show than they’ve released before. This is somewhat true, particularly as Moon Knight progresses, but the thing about Moon Knight is that he’s not just the Punisher in a white robe. He’s not Daredevil, either. There’s a great amount of variety to him and the stories he can tell, and that’s something the show understands in the way it approaches the idea of his alternate personalities.
Using “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” while Steven and his alter egos drive a cupcake van down a mountainside is an unexpected and delightful blend of violence and cheerful goofiness that just works for the character.
It works particularly well for this take on the character, too. Steven is a sweetheart frustrated by a disorder he doesn’t necessarily acknowledge he has. He may not know or understand it. We don’t know how long Marc Spector has suffered from the MCU’s version of Dissociative Identity Disorder. Has Steven lived a full life, thinking he’s the only person in his body? Regardless of the answer, it’s clear from the outset that he’s a nice, well-meaning guy. He probably listens to Wham! and sings along ironically, all alone in that apartment of his with Gus the fish. It feels right that this song plays while Marc forces Steven along on an adventure he did not choose, emphasizing the incongruity of his situation. Steven is not made for this!
We get our first glimpse of Moon Knight in costume at the end of this episode. I think it’s a great costume in large part because it does not follow the same “tactical realism” approach as most of the other costumes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s about time.
I mentioned the reference to Frenchie earlier on, but one of the classic supporting cast members from the comics appears early on, too, in a new form. The show credits the gold statue man as Crawley; in the comics, he was one of Marc’s informants and closest allies on the street. I got really excited the first time I watched this episode when I realized who that was supposed to be. One of my disappointments with the show is that there isn’t much room for Moon Knight’s oddly large and relatively mundane collection of friends and allies. That’s a valid choice, but it’s nice they’re still referenced. That said, the series has reimagined Moon Knight’s most important ally. She shows up in the next episode, and is a vast improvement over the source material.
There has been some scuttlebutt on Moon Knight character forums about Jeremy Slater (who created the TV series) claiming there aren’t any really recognizable villains to adapt. “What about Black Spectre?” fans say. And while I’d love to see live-action depictions of Bushman, Morpheus and Stained Glass Scarlet, Slater is right: This isn’t an A-list group of villains that demands translation. Many B-list Marvel heroes like Moon Knight have this problem. I don’t mind the direction taken here with Arthur Harrow, particularly because Hawke got to more or less craft the character himself. Then again, if a second season happens, I really do hope we see some stories about Steven and Marc operating at a street level and having a noir adventure with Stained Glass Scarlet. (I’m trying not to talk about anything from the next three episodes here, so let’s discuss Arthur Harrow in greater detail after next week.)
I have had a light collecting week. Two books I pre-ordered were shipped: The X-Men Volume 2 and Star Wars Epic Collection: Legacy, Vol. 4. No action figures, though.
I have a lot of trouble with these Marvel Studios shows when it comes to Serial Consumer because they don’t necessarily drive me to collect much on an episode-to-episode basis. I plan my expensive book purchases out like nine months in advance, so I know the next two will hopefully be full of new Moon Knight stuff.
When it comes to action figures? Obviously, I’m hoping for a 6” scale Moon Knight!