Are Moon Knight’s superhuman abilities a gift from an Egyptian god or the product of his unstable mind? The answer is truly disturbing.
Marvel’s superhumans acquire their abilities thanks to accidents with gamma bombs, radioactive spiders, or even cosmic ray storms. Compared to all of these exotic origins, Moon Knight has a relatively tame backstory – he was Marc Spector, a mercenary left for dead while on a mission in Sudan but resurrected by the Egyptian moon god Khonshu. Chosen to be Khonshu’s avatar, Spector was gifted with superhuman strength, speed, and endurance that increased or decreased depending on the cycles of the moon.
Or was he? While Spector has undoubtedly possessed superhuman abilities in his career as a hero, the question of how he acquired his gifts was revisited several times by his comic creators. Although some attributed his strength to mystical sources, others believed Marc gained his “powers” from mental illness.
Moon Knight and Dissociative Identity Disorder
Moon Knight’s mental instability was explored in many of his early stories. While he began his life as mercenary Marc Spector, he later found reasons to adopt other identities, including wealthy playboy Steven Grant and cab driver Jake Lockley, to provide cover and aid in his activities as Moon Knight. Although this was not unlike how similar characters like DC’s Batman hid their secret identities or infiltrated the criminal underground, Moon Knight soon began developing genuine mental problems as he was unable to distinguish whether he was really Grant, Spector, or Moon Knight.
Other stories retconned Spector’s history by revealing Marc had acquired dissociative identity disorder as a boy when he discovered his neighborhood rabbi was actually a Nazi who enjoyed torturing and killing Jews (in 2018’s Moon Knight #194.) The traumatic event awakened fighting instincts in Marc, but also fractured his mind and caused him to develop alternate personalities like Steven Grant and Jake Lockley during his childhood to help him cope with the stresses of his life. These mental issues followed him into his adulthood, making it difficult for him to separate his created personas from his baseline self and resulted in him being committed to a mental health hospital. Interestingly, this is also the canonical explanation for the difference between Bruce Banner and his various Hulk personae.
Once Marc became Moon Knight, the stresses of maintaining alternate identities as a crime fighter further exacerbated his problems. At one point, Jake Lockley became the dominant personality and even fathered a child that his other identities (including Marc Spector) were unaware of. This naturally created plenty of problems in Spector’s personal life that were only complicated by his superhero activities as Moon Knight.
Superpowers from a God… or the Mind?
So, how did Spector’s mental health relate to his unusual abilities? Well, some stories have suggested that the Egyptian god Khonshu who Marc thought granted him the powers of Moon Knight was actually another hallucination created by Marc’s fractured mind. In Moon Knight #10, it’s revealed that Khonshu had been appearing before Marc well before his accident in Sudan and may have been a creation of his mind all along. This Khonshu influenced Marc’s behavior throughout his life, making him walk through a minefield while in the marines and engage in other bizarre behavior.
Of course, this being the Marvel Universe, there was always the possibility that the Khonshu Marc saw was really an Egyptian god who was not one of his other hallucinations and identities. Some stories even suggested that there were two Khonshus – a genuine god who granted Marc his abilities and a hallucination that only existed in his mind. Others, however, suggested that much of the superhuman strength, speed, and durability Marc exhibited as Moon Knight did not come from mystical sources but from his conviction that he had superpowers, causing him to manifest a degree of superhuman traits simply from his belief allowing him to push himself past any sane barrier (not unlike James McAvoy’s character Kevin Wendell Crumb from M. Night Shyamalan’s movie Split).
At a certain point, Marc actually succeeded in forging peace between his four main alternate identities (Steven Grant, Jake Lockley, Marc Spector, and Moon Knight) and “killed” a version of Khonshu that appeared before him. While this helped Moon Knight stabilize somewhat, he was not “cured” of his dissociative identity disorder but continued to have encounters with Khonshu (who may or may not be real this time). Beyond his “regular” mental issues, Marc has also hallucinated encounters with Captain America, Wolverine, and Spider-Man, using them to replace his prior personalities in Brian Michael Bendis and Alev Maleev’s Moon Knight series to the point where he thought he was Spider-Man and adopted a different fighting style and gadgets.
A Colonized Mind
The fact that Marc’s mental illness allowed him to “become” other heroes suggests it may be partly behind his abilities, but there’s a darker possible answer, and other stories have proposed a very different origin for Marc’s alternate personalities. In Moon Knight #1 by Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey, Marc is told that he doesn’t have dissociative identity disorder, but that his brain has been damaged by an otherworldly consciousness (Khonshu) that “colonized” Marc’s brain with four distinct identities to represent four aspects of the moon god’s persona – Pathfinder, Embracer, Defender, and Watcher.
This appeared to contradict Marc’s own history (and offer him more reasons to fall into madness) but as gods and otherworldly consciousnesses are a real thing in the Marvel Universe, it cannot be totally discounted either. If Marc’s apparent dissociative identity disorder is actually the result of a godlike entity restructuring his brain to allow it to exert control, then while Marc’s illness could still be expected to influence his powers, the larger truth would be that Marc’s abilities are what caused his mental illness, not the other way around.
Mental illness – particularly dissociative identity disorder – has been linked to several superhumans in the Marvel Universe. Both the Incredible Hulk and Daredevil’s enemy Typhoid Mary have manifested multiple personalities, each with unique superpowers connected to a distinctive identity. What makes Marc Spector’s case unusual is that his body appears to be that of an ordinary human, not enhanced by gamma radiation or the mutant X-gene like the other characters.
If Khonshu truly is a mental construct of Marc’s, this would indicate that Moon Knight was able to give himself superpowers simply through the power of belief alone, and the alternative – that Marc’s mind was fractured by an intrusive outside force – is horrifying in its own right. To date, the origin of Moon Knight’s powers continues to fluctuate, with different comic creators suggesting different things. As Moon Knight’s dissociative identity disorder has become as closely linked to his character as his (possibly) mystical origin, the source of his powers will likely remain as enigmatic as the character himself.
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