When I was a kid, I delivered newspapers in the morning and put the Sunday papers together at Tony’s candy store. From the money I made, I put $5 aside every week for comic books. At the time, the cost 20 cents each, so I was reading 25 comics every week. That allowed me to read almost anything that came out. It also taught me vocabulary, pacing, foreshadowing, character development, and a love for mixing genres, as comics mixed adventure with romance with sci-fi with local coming of age with horror with mystery with suspense with supernatural, often in the same issue!
That was then, this is now. Comics are approaching $5 each and most kids get their stories online or on TV. They see the heroes I read about in big budget films and TV shows, for better or worse.
Disney+ and Marvel Studios have delivered, to varying degrees, on most of the story telling techniques and genres mentioned above, but are not known as horror houses. Or maybe they are and always have been. Let’s see.
How about horrifying heartbreak? Have either company ever killed parents in service of story? Ask Bambi, Thor, Iron Man, Dumbo, Simba, Cap, Wanda and Pietro, Cinderella, and Hawkeye.
Have they supplied suspense? Have dealt with accident tropes, as well as strangers, lies, missing people, escapes, fear inspiring revenge, sleep, and spooky treatment. Both story factories are actually experts with forest fires, pirates, ticking clocks, sleeping potions, figuring out how to handle big sisters from Hel, stampedes, mischievous half-brothers, power mongers, purple aliens, and terrorists.
Are there any creepy, powerful antagonists? Malificient. Cruella. The circus owners. Nasty step-mothers. Arrogant, jealous uncles. Corporate greed. Nazis. A god of mischief . Genocidal robots. And again, that purple alien.
Do they offer story elements that frighten both characters and audiences? See above.
So yeah, Disney+ and Marvel aren’t strangers to these story elements. So why does Moonknight feel like their first foray into true horror?
Maybe because it is really good at telling the tale offered. I suspect the keys here are the fast-paced, excellently executed combination of genre elements presented and the storytelling risks they are taking.
First, they put Oscar Issac in the lead roles. He doesn’t know how to give a less than arresting performance. And that wasn’t a typo; Isaacs plays at least four characters. Well, he plays one character with a minimum of four personalities – Steven Grant, Marc Spector, Moonknight, and Mr. Knight – as he suffers from dissociative identity disorder. And the identities are battling for dominance, often to save their shared lives. Bringing the audience in close on Steven Grant’s struggle with DID and establishing immediately that he does not understand what is happening to him, put the audience in the harrowing position of going along for his nearly insane ride.
The choice to launch this series in the midst of Steven’s struggles adds to the psychological horror feel as we are dropped into the middle of his suffering through a life in shambles. He fights to stay awake, ties himself to the bed, uses locks, chains, sand circles, and painter’s tape to confirm he hasn’t wandered in his sleep. When all of that fails, he wakes up in a variety of dangerous situations and cannot fathom how any of it has come to pass. He misses time, dates, and a weekend (egads!). And, oh yes, is being chased by ancient Egyptian gods and their servants, and an apparent cult leader. So, yeah, suspense and fear abounds.
And there be monsters. Initially, just an assortment of people who treat Steven horribly, then the more powerful and otherworldly kind. (SPOILER!) and it is only when he is cornered by jackals serving as ancient Egyptian hellhounds that he gets any answers. And those would truly freak out even the bravest among us.
Finally, his reality breaks. Or is it his allusion cracks letting a far scarier reality in? Either way, we are clearly in horror town by this point, right in time for the titular hero to make his dramatic entrance, and he’s scarier than anything we’ve seen thus far.
These are my arguments supporting the idea that Marvel has injected true horror into their universe. Yes, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. introduced us to Ghost Rider, but at the time that show “wasn’t canon.” (It is now.) And with Moonknight making his scary ass debut, fun’s being offered up with the exciting genre quality that has become Marvel’s signature style.
If you are looking to sit back with some popcorn and a cool beverage to get your entertainment on, click on over to Disney+, select Marvel, and bask in the Moonknight of it all. This is great comic bookie horror fun.