This month, Disney+, the iconic Hollywood studio’s online streaming service, offers what some might consider an interesting Passover gift. “Moon Knight,” a 6-part series, each episode of which clocks in under an hour, debuted on March 30.
New episodes of the series, which was partially filmed at Pinewood Studios in Atlanta, air each Wednesday through May 4.
“Moon Knight” is unique in being the first series from Disney’s Marvel Studios to feature a hero with supernatural powers who is identifiably Jewish. Marc Spector is a former CIA agent, military mercenary and the son of a rabbi, who suffers from a dissociative personality disorder.
This means that, in addition to being the main character, Spector has at least three other personalities, including Moon Knight, an avatar who fights for justice on behalf of Khonshu, the Egyptian god of the moon and of vengeance.
This celebration of the character’s Jewish roots coincides with a month in which a biblical Jewish hero (Moses) confronts and overcomes a pharaoh, the earthly embodiment of Egypt’s spiritual power.
The Moon Knight character was created by Doug Moench and Don Perlin in the mid-1970s for the Marvel comic book series “Werewolf by Night #32.” In the original, there is no reference to Spector’s Jewish heritage. He is given an opportunity to make up for the violence he has committed during his life by becoming the Egyptian god’s representative, protecting and defending the innocent of the world.
Moench, who wrote the original story, is said to have named his character after a friend who worked in a comic book store, with no thought given to whether he was Jewish or not. It was only a decade later, beginning with “Moon Knight #37,” that his Jewish background became part of the story.
Spector is said to be the son of a European scholar of Kabbalah, the medieval tradition of Jewish mysticism, a brilliant rabbi who settles in Chicago just before the Nazi takeover of Czechoslovakia in the late 1930s.
Later, Spector, who grows up poor and Orthodox, rejects his father’s teachings, joins the Marines and subsequently becomes a ruthless soldier-for-hire.
In the 1984 edition of the comic book, Moon Knight comes to the defense of a rabbi who is trying to rescue a Torah scroll from his burning synagogue.
In a ringing denunciation of antisemitism, Moon Knight, with a strong affirmation of his Jewish heritage, confronts the neo-Nazis who have set the building on fire.
“I belong with the decent and innocent folk who can’t find a moment’s peace, not in the streets, not in their own homes, so long as bunks like you terrorize them,” he says. “I belong with the persecuted.”
Although such a strong, direct statement of Jewish identity was rare in the comic book world, Jewish writers, artists and publishers were instrumental in creating the modern superhero.
In 1938, Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster, in reaction to the darkening cloud of fascism forming over Europe, created a caped crusader in red-and-blue tights to stand up for “truth, justice and the American way.” The character of Superman was quickly followed by Batman, Captain America and Wonder Woman.
They were the first of a long line of superhero characters who flowed from the pens of such essential Jewish American comic book creators as Bob Kane, Charlie Gaines, Stan Lee and Will Eisner.
Over the latter half of the 20th century, they would give birth to legendary characters like Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk and Iron Man, launching publishing enterprises such as DC and Marvel Comics. Today their creative legacy forms the backbone of some of the most lucrative show business franchises in Hollywood history.
So far in the Disney series, scant attention has been paid to Moon Knight’s origins. The actor who stars in the production, Oscar Isaac, was born in Guatemala. The director of four of the six episodes of the series is Mohamed Diab, from Egypt, whose latest film, made in Jordan, was a sympathetic portrait of Palestinian terrorists being held in Israeli jails.
Fans are particularly sensitive to how a character’s background are portrayed after Marvel Studios neglected to include Jewish aspects of Peter Parker (“Spider-Man”) and Pietro and Wanda Maximoff of the “Wanda Vision” series.
But “Moon Knight” head writer Jeremy Slater cautions viewers not to jump to conclusions in evaluating the series. In a Twitter message, Slater encouraged fans to keep watching.
“Preserving the character’s Jewish faith was important to our entire writing team. It’s something that definitely gets explored in later episodes,” he said.
Bob Bahr’s four-week class at The Temple in May is “Up, Up and Oy Vey: How Jews Invented The Modern Superhero and Helped Save The World.” More information at www.the-temple.org/event/mornings-with-bob-bahr1.html.
- Arts and Culture
- Bob Bahr
- The Moon Knight
- Streaming Service
- Pinewood Studios
- Marvel Studios
- Marc Spector
- Central Intelligence Agency
- jewish history
- Doug Moench
- Don Perlin
- Werewolf by Night #32
- Jewish mysticism
- Jerome Siegel
- Joe Schuster
- Bob Kane
- Charlie Gaines
- Stan Lee
- Will Eisner
- Captain America
- Wonder Woman
- Fantastic Four
- Oscar Isaac
- The Temple Atlanta