Moon Knight Is Marvel's First Openly Jewish Superhero

"Moon Knight" just dropped its fifth installment, "Asylum," which also happens to be the show's best episode yet. The Disney+ series has just one episode left of its first (and possibly only) season, and where Marc Spector (Oscar Isaac) winds up is anybody's guess. There are several aspects of the Marvel Comics character that fans worried would be improperly adapted for the MCU, most prominently Marc's mental health issues and his Jewish background, neither of which have been portrayed with much consistency in the comics. The character's book has restarted so many times with so many different creative teams, each with new ideas of who Marc Spector is exactly. As for the Disney+ series, Marvel was dealing with a largely blank slate, adapting a character that was mostly unknown to general audiences. This gave the writers quite a bit of freedom in how to render him.

Marc's mental health has been portrayed differently depending on who's writing the story. Over the years, Marc has been shown to have multiple personality disorder (now clinically known as dissociative identity disorder or DID), straight-up brain damage due to his mind being colonized by a god, or even no mental illnesses at all, just personalities created in an effort to maintain his superhero secret identity and help him fight crime. Similarly, Marc's Jewish background has been a part of his history in the comics to varying degrees, depending on which "Moon Knight" run you read.

There aren't a ton of Jewish characters in Marvel Comics. The one I always identified with most growing up was Kitty Pryde from "X-Men." As a fellow curly-haired Jewish girl, I could relate. There are others too, from Magneto to Ben Grimm, aka "The Thing" — who, by the way, sends Marc an annual Hanukkah card. Kate Bishop was shown to have a menorah in "Hawkeye," but the Christmas-set series didn't give any real details on the subject. While religion has largely been a topic skirted by the Marvel Cinematic Universe, "Asylum" does touch on Marc's Jewish heritage. Whether or not a Jewish actor should've been hired to play Marc is a different issue altogether. Admittedly, I love Isaac so much in this role that I can't imagine anyone else bringing Marc or Steven to life the way that he has. Beware, "Moon Knight" episode 5 spoilers follow!

Did Moon Knight's creators intend for him to be Jewish?

Created by Doug Moench and Don Perlin in 1975, Moon Knight wasn't initially meant to be a Jewish superhero. Moench liked to name characters after people he knew and Marc Spector was no exception. The writer explained on Comic Foundry (via CBR) that Spector was named for a Manhattan comic shop employee. It's kind of mind-blowing that a name like Marc Spector wasn't dreamt up on purpose for the white-clad vigilante. However, it wasn't until later that Moench learned Spector was a Jewish name and that the employee was in fact Jewish. So, the character's heritage was actually a complete accident.

This aspect of "Moon Knight" wasn't really explored until Alan Zelenetz wrote about Marc being the son of rabbi and Holocaust survivor, Elias Spector. In the years since, some writers have chosen for his heritage to take a backseat, while others have made it central to the character, to varying degrees of success. The current excellent run by Jed Mackay and Alessandro Cappuccio has somewhat returned it to the forefront.

When discussing his father with his therapist, Marc describes him as a peaceful man who abhorred violence and reveals this caused him to feel his father was "a weak man serving an indifferent god." He also explains this is part of why he so readily chose to accept the offer of a god who spoke directly to him rather than continue to serve the one who had "let terrible things happen to his people." However, his therapist rightly points out that Khonshu's offer was Marc's only chance to survive, further illustrating the dichotomy within Marc Spector.

A person of contradictions, but aren't we all?

Marc Spector is a man of many contradictions, not least of which include being the son of a rabbi who grew up to serve an Egyptian deity. "Moon Knight" episode 5 finally addresses Marc's heritage by showing what is clearly a Jewish upbringing, including his family sitting shiva, both for his younger brother and then again for his mother. Shiva is the way that Jewish people mourn the dead. It's a weeklong period beginning immediately after burial while there is undoubtedly a great deal of sadness and grief. There is also a lot of good food and fond memories to be shared by friends and family. It's a lovely way of celebrating a life, as well as taking much-needed time to actively grieve. Death is something that we, as a society, are given very little opportunity to actually process, so time dedicated to grieving is invaluable.

Both scenes in "Asylum" are absolutely heartbreaking, first with Marc's mother blaming him for his brother's death, and then his inability to enter his former home to sit shiva for her after she passes years later. The way "Moon Knight" unfolds these memories is gut-wrenching, illuminating Marc's current circumstances by showing us what has brought him to this point. 

Plenty of viewers are hoping to see this aspect of themselves accurately depicted (or depicted at all) onscreen. Perhaps for some, this brief glimpse of Judaism won't be enough, which is a perspective I completely understand. I, however, found it to be just right. Moon Knight is a Jewish superhero, but he is generally not defined by his Judaism, so showing it as merely part of a whole person made sense to me.

Losing my religion

Perhaps my reaction also stems from the fact that while I was raised Jewish, I have had a very complex relationship both with my own heritage and Judaism in general. Honestly, some of my reasons for this are somewhat similar to the doubts Marc laid out in the comics, though I have not chosen to turn to another religion in its place. I'm sure Marc throwing his yarmulke (or kippah) down outside when he cannot bear to sit shiva for his mother will understandably alarm some. The head covering is never supposed to touch the ground. However, as someone who has both dealt with my own rather severe mental health struggles as well as the death of several loved ones I never thought I'd be able to survive the loss of, this felt natural to me.

In that moment, Marc isn't thinking about what he's doing. He's utterly lost, a man who cannot face what he's done or where he's been, to the degree that Steven has to come handle it for him — or not handle it, as the case may be. Marc's emotional breakdown outside is even pointed to as the moment that the walls between his personalities began to crumble. I say this with the hope of offending no one, but for me, that moment was about the inexorable pull of grief, and who among us can think straight in those instances? I also find it fascinating that the series chose to address Marc's Jewishness in the same episode in which he is being guided into an Egyptian version of the afterlife. It's a strange paradox that I think really works in the context of the show.

I really appreciate this representation of Judaism, such as it is. It's not a simple portrayal of a man who happens to be Jewish, but of someone whose feelings on the matter are complicated. Religion is a thorny issue, so obviously, people will have all sorts of valid reactions to this episode, but this is mine. 

Marc is a fully formed character

I was quite anxious about how much care would be taken in portraying Marc's mental health in "Moon Knight" and I did wonder how his Jewish heritage would make it into the MCU. While the show hasn't always worked for me (I'm looking at you, episode 3), on the whole, I think Marvel has done a great job. My final feelings about the series will likely rest on how things wrap up, but the character work has been incredibly strong thus far. As a big fan of the comics, I've had to reconcile what I wanted out of a "Moon Knight" series with what we actually got, which has ultimately helped me chill out and just enjoy this show.

There could be more memories from Marc's childhood highlighting his Jewish upbringing worked into the final episode, but if "Asylum" is as deep as Marvel chooses to go, I appreciate the effort. Shiva is something rarely portrayed in film and television, and it was a comfort to witness not only its inclusion but also the intense emotions accompanying it. If I have one complaint, it might be that I wish a little more depth had been given to Marc's mother, but the episode couldn't fit in everything. What I love is that all these conflicting aspects of Marc only serve to make him feel more real. I already related to the character, in large part due to his issues with mental illness, but this episode only served to make me love him that much more.