Even if episode 2 of Moon Knight, much like its premiere, is still frustratingly vague about what exactly its story is about, the series is slowly revealing more compelling shades to its protagonist.
The second episode, “Summon the Suit,” tells us a little more about the voices in Steven Grant’s (Oscar Isaac) head: There’s Marc Spector, who serves the Egyptian moon god Khonshu (who also has a presence in Steven’s mind), and that service involves a white superhero costume that magically appears when Marc does vigilante business. However, this week’s Moon Knight once again shows Steven resisting Marc’s presence. So when Steven tries to summon his alter ego’s powerful suit, it looks quite different, and like an actual suit. It’s a good joke, yet I am outraged.
First, let’s talk about why the joke is good. As far as Marvel Comics characters go, Moon Knight is complicated even by the medium’s generous standards. Over the years the character has gone by various outfits and personas as he’s gone from one creative team to the next. This means this new TV version of Moon Knight has a lot of knotty stuff to pull from, and a good way to nod toward that messy history without actually untangling it is to just wink at it and move on. It’s classic MCU.
In that sense, the new suit is a sight gag: Steven Grant has never seen the suit Marc Spector wears when fighting the supernatural jackal monsters Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke) sends after him. So he just conjures up a dapper suit that, in keeping with Khonshu’s consistent brand identity, is all white and comes with a hood.
The problem — and again, this is a fannish indulgence — is that what it’s slyly joking at is so goddamn cool. Cool in a way that the show might ultimately struggle to improve on.
Some history: Moon Knight’s three-piece look first appeared in 2011’s Secret Avengers #19 by Warren Ellis and Michael Lark. Secret Avengers under Ellis was a spy book, and Moon Knight was on a Bond-esque mission, thus he wore a suit, with a mask for when he had to be truly anonymous. It was a fun, silly idea, and didn’t really amount to anything afterward.
Flash forward to 2014, and Ellis was in charge of revamping Moon Knight’s solo comic along with artist Declan Shalvey and colorist Jordie Bellaire. Across six issues, the trio completely revamped the character, giving him a mission statement (“the protector of those who travel at night”) and an M.O. that saw the Moon Knight superhero identity manifest in different ways.
This is where the suit returns: as “Mr. Knight,” the persona Moon Knight adopts when acting as a protector of night travelers. It’s who he is when he has to talk to cops.
Or when, like in Moon Knight #5, he has to rescue a girl from an entire tenement full of gangsters.
As far as action comics go, Moon Knight #5 is a masterpiece. It’s The Raid in 20 pages, with Shalvey and Bellaire pulling out all the stops, depicting Mr. Knight with his sleeves up and batons out (a look this week’s Moon Knight episode directly references) as he cleans house in a nigh-wordless issue. And yes, while it’s always best for new adaptations to deliver their own spin on their source material, a baller fight sequence is the sort of thing that would only be better on screen.
What we get in “Summon the Suit” is a little more generic. Steven is now aware of Marc — and, to a lesser extent, Khonshu — but in denial of their existence. The episode continues to lean on the Memento energy of the first, with Steven and the audience unaware of the full picture, although with the knowledge that Marc, forced to the margins, does know what’s going on. In his absence, Arthur gives his version of the story, after his goons kidnap Steven. He’s built a commune for the disenfranchised where folks help each other turn their lives around, and it all seems quite nice until Steven finds out they all ascribe to a Minority Report approach to justice.
They all get along because Arthur, in his devotion to Ammit, has judged them all for their supposed crimes past and future. In a great moment, Steven rejects this as madness, is forced to fight for his life from another jackal monster, and finally summons the suit.
It’s not nearly as cool as the comic book fight in that suit, mostly because Steven is incompetent and pretty trash at fighting. It’s another stalling tactic, one that’s eventually futile because Steven eventually has to let Marc take over (in the proper Moon Knight costume) to make quick work of the jackal.
Maybe there’s hope for some good action on this show (Moon Knight does impale a jackal on a spike in this episode) but there’s no telling where the line is for violence in the Disney Plus era of Marvel TV. Moon Knight’s structure, while clever and fun, also makes it hard to have faith (in Khonshu) in this regard. While Steven’s rejection of Marc is understandable on a story level, two episodes in I’m hoping we’re mostly done with being limited to his perspective. I want to have faith in Khonshu, but it’s hard when Moon Knight keeps cutting away every time its protagonist is about to do something cool.