Aspects and Alters - Psychology, the Hero’s Journey and the descent into hell in Moon Knight - Part Two
In the second issue Spector finally meets Frenchie in the hospital, his longtime friend and co-pilot. He is the last ally of Marc to be revealed and this marks the beginning of what Campbell calls the Initiation sequence, whereby the protagonist will face a number of tasks and trials with the assistance of others.
As before, this passage into a new phase of the journey is preceded by Marc being strapped to the shock therapy table once again, the panels moving downward in exclamation once more. He awakens, in full costume, kneeling before Khonshu. Initially, Marc is unable to communicate with Khonshu and this small detail plays again into the idea of a circular, reflective narrative. Later, when we see Marc’s first run in with Khonshu in the desert Marc misunderstands the deity. This recurrence, along with their physical positioning within the panel, suggests Marc and Khonshu have never been completely aligned.
The circular motif present in the visuals of the story is also reflective of the structure of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. This is almost always displayed on a circular diagram, something that implied repetition and a protagonist constantly having to learn new things, acquire new boons and go on new quests. This is something we see with Marc himself as he goes through a kind of ‘mini-journey’ each issue, getting closer to the final truth with each attempt.
These attempts fit with a macro-structure facsimile of Campbell’s ideas that occurs across the entire run.
It’s revealed during this issue the dream-space Marc is sharing with Khonshu is somewhere called ‘the othervoid’, a place beyond time and space. According to Timothy Leary’s ideas about ego-death, there couldn’t be a better place for Marc to reach some kind of inner peace. He stated that ego-death was an idea of transcendence “beyond words, beyond space-time, beyond self”.
As Marc and his allies escape, they head down this time instead of up. They descend the stairs and arrive in the cold, grey subways - a mirror of the beginning of the previous issue where Marc arrived here alone.
The next part of the story involves Marc gradually losing these allies (Frenchie falls in battle, Crawley sacrifices his soul, etc.) This tallies with thoughts Leary had about LSD and its role in ego-death. He argued the drug stripped away the ego’s defenses and it could be argued this is what’s happening here as Marc loses all of his allies bar one. He doesn’t know it yet, but this battle is one that’s only going to be won by him alone.
This is reinforced with Marc’s conversation with Khonshu in the toilet (tiled half in red) as he tells Marc he will need to ‘lose a lot more’ in the way of friends and allies before this over.
This is immediately juxtaposed with the awakening of Marlene before she and Marc head out with her to the giant pyramid that towers above the New York skyline.
This double page splash shows Marc and Marlene looking up to the pyramid’s peak and preparing for an ascent, again as the panels descend in size. This contradiction, like the other sequences earlier, plays into the warring and contradictory nature of Marc’s mind. All is not at peace yet, there is still dissonance here.
As they ascend they are met with perhaps our first true ‘Threshold Guardian’, the old version of Moon Knight standing guard and ready to fight. These guardians were another aspect of Campbell’s monomyth, standing at the edge of a new way of understanding for the protagonist and had to be beaten before new knowledge was gained.
The pair tussle almost immediately with Marc taking a moon-shaped crescent dart and stabbing this Moon Knight in the gut. The placement of this attack is the same as the wound Marc clutches in the opening scene of Issue #1, hinting that Marc is actively hurting himself with his current actions.
It also acts as a precursor for what comes next, a stretch of story where Marc’s personality and mind is shattered into his various identities and he enters into conflict with them, attempting to reconcile them all, with each one of them acting as a threshold guardian into themselves.
In DID theory the various identities are often called alters or ego states. Some argue these two terms signify very different things. They argue ego states are an ‘organized system of behaviour and experience whose elements are bound together by some common principle’ whereas alters ‘have their own identities, involving a centre of initiative and experience, they have a characteristic self representation, which may be different from how the patient is generally seen or perceived’. On those definitions it’s clear that Steven Grant, Jake Lockley, etc. are alters rather than ego states.
As Marc steps through the door inside the pyramid we are introduced to a new alter - a literal Moon Knight, protecting the Earth and lunar landscape from a horde of werewolves, all beautifully rendered by James Stokoe’s scratchy, kinetic artwork. He also brings in the colour red to highlight danger as the hordes chase the Moon Knight towards another door.
Those with DID are said to switch identities when threatened psychosocially. Here, the threat is imagined, but no less real to Marc and he heads through the door and into another alter - the Hollywood bigwig, Steven Grant. The art switches up again, morphing into a classic style by Wilfredo Torres with lush, rich colours by Michael Garland.
Here Grant/Spector are met by Marlene, completely cloaked in red, acting as a herald to warn Marc about his pursuers as he runs through another (red) door into a third identity - Jake Lockley.
Lockley’s world is drenched in sleaze, beautifully brought to life by Francesco Francavilla’s art and noir-ish colours that give the world a neon glow. But, it’s only a brief stop, as Marc’s pursuers continue their chase, prompting Marc to come full circle and escape through another door that leads him back to where he started once again - the pyramid.
Here he comes face to face with the Moon Knight he stabbed in the gut before entering the pyramid. He unmasks to reveal…Khonshu! The mirroring of the wound as discussed earlier suggests Khonshu is very much a part of Marc and vice versa. They are inextricably linked.
Marc, having none of this, begins another descent, this time throwing himself off the side of the pyramid. The panels decrease in size, as before, but this time the page ends not with a close up on Marc or black, but a shot of happier times as Marc jokes with all of the allies he has now lost. This is coloured in the same diffuse style as the other ‘flashes’ of the past and due to its placement it suggests it is a place Marc desperately wants to return to.
As he lies battered and bloodied at the foot of the pyramid he suddenly awakes to find himself in the shoes of Steven Grant, wholly accepting of this reality and his placement in it. Marc is hiding, deluding himself once again. More tests are on their way.