Streaming Soon, It’s ‘Moon Knight,’ Marvel’s Depiction of Mental Illness
The trailer boasts all of the elements of the Marvel superhero title, but can it measure up to the comic?
Anticipation is building for the new “Moon Knight” miniseries starring Oscar Isaac that streams in March on Disney+. The trailer boasts all of the elements of the Marvel superhero title, but can it measure up to the comic?
Simply put, this is a superhero who suffers from a mental illness.
Created by writer Doug Moench, Moon Knight is Marc Spector, the son of a rabbi and a Holocaust survivor who is raised in an Orthodox Jewish family in Chicago. Spector suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder, or multiple personalities.
According to Psychology Today, Dissociative Identity Disorder is “a rare condition in which two or more distinct identities, or personality states, are present in — and alternately take control of — an individual.” Those who have it can suffer from hallucinations.
Moon Knight has had various personalities over the years, the most ingenious of which appeared in the 2012 limited series by Brian Michael Bendis, one of the superstar writers of modern comics, and illustrator Alex Maleev. A new, deluxe paperback edition drops on Tuesday.
The 2012 series was subtle, memorably drawn, and depicted mental illness in a way that connected not only with people with Dissociative Identity Disorder but with anyone who’s ever fantasized about being a superhero.
Mr. Bendis, the winner of five Eisner awards — the Oscars of comics — recast Moon Knight’s personalities as a trio of Marvel A-listers: Captain America, Spider-Man, and Wolverine. Spector finds the head of an Ultron robot, a weapon with potentially earth-shattering power — as seems true of all Marvel weapons. He is advised to turn it over to stronger, more mentally stable heroes who can handle it.
Instead, Spector decides to go it alone.
In order to combat the enemy, a powerhouse named Count Nefaria, Moon Knight creates imitation weapons meant to work like the real things: Captain America’s shield, Spider-Man’s webbing, Wolverine’s claws. Spector is in fact adopting some of the world’s greatest heroes as his multiple personalities — thoughhe ersatz weapons he devises don’t function quite as well, putting his life in serious danger. It’s a classic example of what the Jungians call “animus integration,” collecting powerful male energy.
Spector is doing what every comic book kid has always done: pretending he is a high-flying star of the Marvel universe.
Along the way, “Moon Knight” depicts people with mental health challenges as brave and able to use the challenges they face to their own advantage.
When Spector discovers a genuine danger, he begins to have real interactions with the actual heroes. Or does he? When are the characters real and when are they not? As the character says in the trailer for the new series, “I can’t tell the difference between my dream life and real life.”
When it finally comes to a face-to-face confrontation with Count Nefaria, Moon Knight’s appropriated powers fail. But because he had called the real Avengers, he is saved in the end. As Count Nefaria is dragging a beaten and broken Moon Knight through a parking lot, the heroes that Spector has been talking to in his chemically imbalanced mind actually appear. “You see them too, right?” Moon Knight asks Nefaria.
It’s a touching and powerful line, reflecting the fantastic hope we put in heroes to help us in our ordinary lives — and who sometimes do come through.