Watching "One Fish, Two Fish", episode 1 of Marvel's Moon Knight is like taking a sip of a drink expecting Mellow Yellow but tasting Mountain Dew; it isn't what you're expecting, but you're still happy. While the series is not as dark and brutal (yet) as Marvel promised, Moon Knight instead initially aims itself at the portrayal of mental illness and the pain that often comes to define our titular hero.
COMICS ORIGIN: Left for dead at the foot of an Egyptian moon god's statue, Marc Spector embraces this deity as master and becomes The Fist of Khonshu or, more commonly, Moon Knight. Spector suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) resulting in the fractured personas of Jake Lockley, Steven Grant, Marc Spector, and Mr. Knight. With such complexity behind the character, I initially felt that Marvel was going to have its hands full bringing this to life on television.
Since punching his first werewolf on the cover of Werewolf by Night #32 in 1975, (click here to read our article on Moon Knight's history) Marc Spector's struggle with mental illness and the burden of superheroism have defined his adventures into the brutally weird. With such a long and patchwork continuity, I was curious how the show would bring us into the world of the character, and was delighted to find that Moon Knight episode 1 focuses on the suffering caused by mental illness and the unraveling of a good man's mind.
I won't give too much away in terms of story; however, the first episode really impressed me by not sensationalizing the mental health aspects of the character. Without prior knowledge of Moon Knight, it may not be fully clear that DID is being represented. Rather than fetishizing it, Marvel shows us the pain this condition causes, and the ambiguity of the mental illness in this episode makes the experience relatable to anyone suffering from mental illness. This is also where lead actor Oscar Isaac shines.
One particular scene concerning steak broke my heart, as Isaac's incredible performance brought the truth of a broken man's sorrow to life. Small facial and body movements pay huge dividends in Isaac's performance, his thoughts clearly playing across his face in a tour-de-force of talent. It's the kind of talent you only see once in a blue moon. Losing days of your life, inadvertently pushing others away, waking up (hurt) in random places: these are the pains of Moon Knight. I love this grounded approach and I appreciate Isaac so much for bringing it to the screen in all its honesty.
The best aspect of this show for me thus far is the folding of the mental health elements into the overall "horror" trappings of the series. Hunted by a skull-headed god as you lose your sense of time and physical safety? Sounds like a horror to me. Seeing Khonshu in broad daylight is even more macabre, the direct light and his blatant presence made me feel that maybe even I was imagining it. I felt Steven's loneliness and fear, I felt him unraveling . . .
Moon Knight is a must watch show and now is the time to jump on it! With six episodes total and the second out tomorrow, this story is coming fast, and I personally can't wait to watch this bad moon rising. I did want to highlight the Egyptian crew members and creators employed for this project, finally taking back a character steeped in cultural appropriation. This makes Steven's job at the The British Museum so much more ironic. If you know, you know.
Please go check this show out and follow-up with episode 2 when it goes live on Disney+ tomorrow! In the meantime, I highly recommend treating yourselves to some Moon Knight backstory with a few of the story arcs listed below. Find them online or at your LOCAL COMIC BOOK SHOP!!!
By Doug Moench & Bill Sienkiewicz
By Charlie Huston & David Finch
by Jeff Lemire & Greg Smallwood
By Jason Aaron & Gerardo Zaffino
Austin Kemp read Batman #315 (Batman vs Kite Man) when he was 5 years old, and hasn't stopped reading comics since. Austin is a college writing teacher and has a masters degree in Comics Studies. Austin and his partner, Savanah, live in Massachusetts with their master, a cat named Chaplin.