Sep 16, 2019

First Appearance Flashback: Moon Knight

It’s always interesting to look at a character’s first appearance and see what aspects of that character were in place from the very beginning.  Batman was famously machine-gunning vampires and executing criminals in his early appearances, while Spider-Man debuted basically as the same character we know and love today.

With that in mind, this ongoing series will be taking a look at the first appearances of notable comic book characters, to see how they hold up with the modern-day depictions.  First up is the upcoming star of a Disney Plus television show, Moon Knight.

First Appearance Flashback: Moon Knight
Ben Smith

I’m not going to go into the full details, but once upon a time comic books were considered to be very bad for kids.  So bad that comic book companies self-censored their content by establishing the Comics Code Authority.  It was the code’s job to ensure comics were not too scary or stimulating, and so one of the many rules under the code was that no werewolves or other horrific characters could appear.

Following the success of Stan Lee and Marvel publishing a Spider-Man story without the approval of the Comics Code, about the dangers of drugs, the Code was revised to be less restrictive.  Thus, the ‘70s saw the launch of several horror comics with a superhero twist, like Tomb of Dracula and Werewolf by Night. The latter featured a, surprise, werewolf by the name of Jack Russell (that name is a little on the nose, I know).  Jack was in conflict with a shadowy organization named The Committee, which is where Moon Knight gets involved. Werewolf by Night #32 was released in 1975, written by Doug Moench, with art by Don Perlin.

The story begins mid-fight between Jack and this new Moon Knight character.  Moon Knight would later regularly be compared to Batman.  Like Batman, Moon Knight has several identity-themed throwing devices.  Unlike Batman, Moon Knight’s crescent-darts are depicted as far more deadly.

As Jack fights for his life, he flashes back to recent events in his life, to when he discovered that he had seriously wounded his best friend while he was a werewolf.  He returns home from that hospital visit to meet Moon Knight, who we learn in a different flashback (within this flashback) was hired by The Committee to capture Jack Russell.

Marc Spector is a highly-decorated mercenary with several dangerous combat tours on his resume.  The Committee gives him the Moon Knight costume and pays him to capture Jack.

We then return to the current flashback, where Jack escapes from Moon Knight, but before he can get too far, the moon causes him to wolf out once again. Moon Knight tracks him down thanks to his sidekick Frenchie and his helicopter, and we are now caught all the way up to the beginning scene of the comic.

While the werewolf tries desperately to fight back against the ruthless Moon Knight, Frenchie kidnaps Jack’s sister and friend, presumably to use as leverage.  It ends up being unnecessary, as Moon Knight manages to successfully subdue and capture the werewolf.

The story is continued in the next issue, but since this isn’t second appearance flashback, you’ll have to seek out that comic on your own, via your device of choice. (Pssst, here's Marvel Unlimited.)

What aged the best?

Moon Knight’s costume has mostly remained the same since this first appearance, with the all-white color scheme and hood making him instantly unique.  His real name, Marc Spector, and background as a mercenary have remained as well.  Frenchie is still his partner in most incarnations.  Helicopter would also be Moon Knight’s standard mode of transportation, though it would evolve into a mooncopter later on.  His ruthless fighting style would become even more pronounced over time.

What’s aged the worst?

The involvement of the Committee in creating the Moon Knight costume and identity would later be retconned.  Moon Knight would evolve into a heroic figure, an agent of vengeance, in subsequent appearances, not a hired mercenary.  Moench and legendary artist Bill Seinkiewicz would eventually give him a better origin as “the fist of Khonshu” as well as reveal he has a multiple personality disorder. In this first costume design, his cape is attached to his forearm gauntlets.

Overall, the costume, name, and background were in place from the very beginning.  If I had to guess, Moon Knight was created to be an one-time antagonist for Jack Russell, perhaps with the hope of him becoming a reoccurring villain or sometimes ally.  However, they did far too good a job designing that costume for him to be relegated to that status.

The common perception of Moon Knight as “Marvel’s Batman” has consistently managed to attract a higher level of talent than a character of his status would probably otherwise demand, to include Charlie Huston, David Finch, Brian Michael Bendis, and Warren Ellis.

Personally, I believe he is one of the most consistently entertaining characters Marvel has, and it all began in an obscure horror comic about a werewolf.  You can never predict what will happen in comics.

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