Moon Knight: Identity & Perception of Reality

The cover of Moon Knight Issue #1 (2016) by Jeff Lemire and art by Greg Smallwood.

Moon Knight has been a comicbook that I only found out about recently. I knew Moon Knight as a character of course, but I never really read any of his stories. And yet, through a twist of fate you might say, I read the new run from Jeff Lemire and art by Greg Smallwood and I was completely in awe with what they have done. This is the reason I decided Moon Knight Issue #1 (2016) to be my first entry in this blog.

For all of you out there that you are not familiar with Moon Knight, he is another masked vigilante in Hell’s Kitchen (much like Daredevil and Spiderman), but his suffering and constant battle with mental illness makes Moon Knight one of a kind. Moon Knight was created by Doug Moench and Don Perlin in 1975. Moon Knight (or as he is commonly known, Marc Spector) acts like an avatar for the Egyptian God, Khonshu, and he was a mercenary before becoming an unconventional superhero, one that is not afraid to kill. (Beware! Spoilers ahead!)

Cut to 2016 and Lemire’s narrative for Moon Knight. Marc Spector finds himself under a starry night in front of an ancient Egyptian temple. A voice is calling him to walk into the temple. As he is walking slowly inside, Marc says towards the voice that he feels ill, and the voice, the voice of Khonshu, responds to him that he is dying. Suffering, pain and death will begin a new cycle for Marc, according to Khonshu. But before Marc enters this new life he has to remember his past: Moon Knight, the masked vigilante, Marc Spector, Jake Lockley, a cab driver, and Steven Grant, a millionaire. Different personalities, different realities.

Marc Spector’s perception of reality is shattered and incoherent. Back from his vision of the temple and Khonshu, Marc finds himself stranded in a mental health institute with two rather angry male nurses hitting him and injecting him with a tranquilizer. Once he wakes up, he is tied and getting ready to experience a form of ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy) treatment. The very fact that Lemire decided to include a form of ECT treatment intensifies Marc’s confusion, since we do know that a side effect of this treatment is the loss of memories of a few months before and after each treatment. Marc’s condition (Dissociative Identity Disorder), according to a woman who appears to be his doctor, has led him to that institution since he was 12 years old. In his journals, Marc created all these different personalities. These lives that he could escape to when he couldn’t cope with his life.

These realities, though, that should be an aftereffect of his mental health issues, seem and feel like an absolute truth. On the contrary, what should be normal (the life in a mental health institute) is a façade of something way more sinister. Marc is fading in and out of different realities, different lives. Other patients, his former friends, trigger these flashes. One of the patients, Bertrand Crawley, asks Marc what does he really see, what does he really think that place is.

Marc created for himself, with the help of a pen he stole and his white bed sheets, Moon Knight’s costume and once he wore the mask with the crescent on his forehead he was finally able to see the reality of that place. Moon Knight started running up the stairs while he heard once again the voice of Khonshu telling him that he was trapped, he was in a tomb. Once Moon Knight reached the top, what he saw was not New York’s skyline. He saw New York drowned in an ocean of sand, flying Anubis-like guardians, and a colossal pyramid right in the center of the city. For Marc that was the perceived reality he held to be true. The mask shredded the web of lies and false perceptions, but once the guards-nurses overpowered him and removed it, he reverted back to his previous conception of reality, one that never felt true. No more he could see the true face of the guards nor the giant pyramid in the middle of New York.

Apart from the fascinating story Lemire created and the truly inspirational artwork from Smallwood, there are many reasons why anyone can fall in love with the current Moon Knight run. The sensitive and inclusive way they approach mental health issues as well as their phenomenal depiction of the said issues as an integral part of the storyline is really what drawn me into this comicbook. Marc may suffer and doubt about his world, but he shows tremendous courage and never shies away from confronting head on the difficulties he faces. It is nice to see that they overcame the clichés that usually plague the depiction of mental health issues and the people who have to face them.

Moon Knight’s structure is something I have never had the chance to see in any other comicbook. Lemire was able to establish a central narrative that moves the story forward, but he does not insists on introducing a world that is not confined to Marc’s senses. Throughout the current run we cannot find an objective reality, but we get to experience reality as Marc/Moon Knight/Jake/Steven perceives it every time. We only get scrambles of a main narrative that is transcendentally true. Every other perception of reality we get through Marc’s senses should be considered true as long as he perceives it that way. The interconnected identities of Marc Spector shatter the notion of an objectively perceived reality and we have to ask whether that subdues to some form of relativism.

I would say that this is not necessary. What Lemire seems to imply, if I understood him correctly, is that there is an objective world around us, but Marc’s point of view and perception is ever-changing due to his situation. Marc’s perception of reality is certainly not the objective reality all the times, yet we seem to have hints that there is actually one (remembering Crawley’s question about what he really sees in the hospital; what he sees without the drugs in his system and-we later find out-without the protection of the intertwined identities). A reality that even Moon Knight gets the chance to perceive. Marc’s perception of the objective reality is fleeting, constantly shifting and changing due to his different identities, product of his D.I.D., and other aspects of the story. And this is the reason why Lemire’s story (accompanied with Smallwood’s artwork) intensifies a sense of constant uncertainty (and even fear) not only for the main character, but for the readers as well. Neither of us (Moon Knight and readers alike) cannot hold on to a world that exists outside of our perception. So, I do not believe that Marc is living a relative world, a world that is dependent of his (or anyone else’s as a matter of fact) perception.

The creative team behind the current Moon Knight run has succeeded in offering us a glimpse in the mind of a tormented superhero. A superhero that his trial and tribulations not only derive from mortal enemies, but his own mind as well. His very perception of reality is fractured, but he is continuously trying to hold on to these fragments of the objective reality, while fighting for his life. He is fighting demons both from the inside and the outside. Whether he is going to be successful or not may not be the most important aspect of the story. Marc’s real victory is the fact that he is trying to make sense of his incredible life and stand up for himself and his friends no matter of the difficulties he has to face.

I hope I did not tire you!
I would love to read your thoughts on that subject!


2 Replies to “Moon Knight: Identity & Perception of Reality”

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comment (philosophy majors unite)! I think that the current run of Moon Knight has been truly exceptional!
      I really do believe that comic books (as well as other forms of art) can be a great field of philosophical discussion!
      Moon Knight’s perception of identity and reality offer a fantastic opportunity for a discussion on the nature of reality (what is real?) and also the relationship between this reality and the observer!

      Liked by 1 person

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