Aspects and Alters – Psychology, the Hero’s Journey and the descent into hell in Moon Knight – Part Three
This phase of Marc’s journey seems to align with Campbell’s idea of the ‘road of trials’:
“Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials. This is a favorite phase of the myth-adventure. It has produced a world literature of miraculous tests and ordeals. The hero is covertly aided by the advice, amulets, and secret agents of the supernatural helper whom he met before his entrance into this region. Or it may be that he here discovers for the first time that there is a benign power everywhere supporting him in his superhuman passage. The original departure into the land of trials represented only the beginning of the long and really perilous path of initiatory conquests and moments of illumination. Dragons have now to be slain and surprising barriers passed — again, again, and again. Meanwhile there will be a multitude of preliminary victories, unretainable ecstasies and momentary glimpses of the wonderful land.”
These tests and trials will often come in threes, an interesting number when you consider Marc’s warring identities and how they begin to overlap before they finally coalesce at the end of Issue #8 with all three arriving back at the foot of the pyramid to be brought face to face with Marc. Action-wise so much has happened, but still we circle back to where one section of the story ended but now serves as the beginning of the next.
It’s here Marc subsumes the various aspects of his personality through violence, language and acceptance. Once this is done he realises his final goal – to kill Khonshu.
The next arc opens with Marc’s childhood and his first ‘meeting’ with the Steven Grant identity. We see Marc scrawling a spaceman fighting wolves on the pavement in chalk. Not only is this a reference back to the previous arc, but it also shows Marc was prone to flights of fancy from a very early age. These two strands of narrative follow the ‘present’ in the othervoid and Marc’s past from his childhood to his first meeting with Khonshu.
It’s back in ‘the present’ that Marc begins another descent into the sewers before descending once again into the othervoid. Smallwood shows this with a double page splash coated in inky black tracing Marc’s descent, and orienting the panels to the reader is forced to turn the page to track it. The reader’s physical orientation shifts with Marc’s perception. Smallwood then chooses to turn Marc’s final descent upside down, making it look like an ascent. Again, we have to shift our orientation to understand, just like Marc. But it also references back to Marc’s first ascent on those stairs as the panel sizes reduced. An descent masquerading as an ascent. Here that is switched, showing Marc, finally, is on the right path.
The next set of flashbacks concerns Marc’s time spent in the mental hospital he found himself in during Issue #1. Here it looks considerably better, not faded and drab as we saw previously. Even Dr Emmet and Doug are here, now dressed in soft, pastel pink rather than the imposing red or white. As Marc returns home for his father’s funeral he’s once again drawn to the moon and the voice of Khonshu as he was in one of the earlier childhood sequences.
This suggests that Khonshu may in fact be just another aspect of Marc that has been manifesting for some time and that when he puts on the Moon Knight mask he is acknowledging that voice.
As we move back to ‘the present’ Marc is fighting Set and his minions. The fight sequence here, another double page splash, is framed in acres of white space with non-existent panel borders. This has the effect of drawing the eye and focusing it, giving us clarity as Marc achieves his own.
As we flip back into flashbacks we are looking up at the moon once more as Marc stands confused out in the Iraqi desert. It’s here he is discharged from the military and soon after we find him lost to violence in an underground fighting ring.
These flashback sequences show us Marc trying to ignore the voice of Khonshu, running halfway across the world to escape it. The constant circles and numerous refusals to the call mirror the choices he’s made throughout this story. He is constantly trying to hide or ignore the voices within. It’s only when he accepts them, moves towards them that some kind of solution and peace occurs.
As Issue #12 begins Marc finds himself bound to a sacrificial altar, looking almost exactly like he did in an earlier hospital sequence.
The central panel is buttressed by two triangular panels, producing movements in ascent and descent, as well as showing us two mirrored pyramids, suggesting some equilibrium. Marc is nearing some kind of breakthrough.
Later this structure is elaborated on with a set of extra panels either side of the central one inserted. The shape of the middle three panels also take on a triangular aspect that completes the idea of a mirrored pyramid. That these panels show us Marc and Moon Knight alongside each other at last doubles down on the idea of Marc approaching enlightenment. Soon after, the two other vanquished identities return to lend a helping hand too.
This supports the ego-death theory, with Marc going through the stages of separation, then transition before arriving here – incorporation. Here in the othervoid he is also in the state ripe for ego-death – “beyond words, beyond space-time, beyond self.”
As we move into Issue #13 we begin to understand this last set of trials is all about the atonement with the father/Khonshu. Campbell defined one aspect of this stage as:
“The problem of the hero going to meet the father is to open his soul beyond terror to such a degree that he will be ripe to understand how the sickening and insane tragedies of this vast and ruthless cosmos are completely validated in the majesty of Being. The hero transcends life with its peculiar blind spot and for a moment rises to a glimpse of the source. He beholds the face of the father, understands—and the two are atoned.”
Marc, alone, ventures into the pyramid once more as Khonshu’s voice rings out, welcoming Marc’s return. On the next page it’s revealed that the othervoid, the ‘present’, the entire story has been occurring in Marc’s mind the entire time. Like his identities they now start to coalesce and become one. Incorporation.
As Marc descends into the final ‘innermost cave’, the dark recesses of his own mind, he states his intention of being here to ‘kill’ Khonshu. As he punches through more of the deities tricks he arrives back in the subway – another return to the beginning.
Highlighting this is the sequence being juxtaposed with a flashback to Marc’s origin a Moon Knight as he is beaten and left for dead by another father figure, Bushman, as Frenchie looks on helplessly. These two moments, like so many others across the story, are reflections of each other, intertwined tightly.
As Marc comes to and moves through the desert he’s met by Steven and Jake who tell him to rest. When he wakes again it is night, the moon full and bright in the sky. Khonshu’s voice rings out. Marc, finally, begins to crawl towards it arriving at Khonshu’s temple as he did on the very first page of the story.
Here Marc supplicates himself before Khonshu for the first time. At death’s door, Marc essentially gives himself over to Khonshu, letting the voice and violence into his mind. This is the price of coming back from the dead but also a reflection of what he must do in the othervoid, casting the violence and Khonshu’s voice out of his mind.
As the two timelines merge Marc is surrounded by various external threats – Marlene, Werewolves, Bushman and villains past. Instead of giving in to the voice and anger this time he clears his mind and speaks directly to Khonshu.
Marc states he knows Khonshu is his madness and nothing more. Flying fists, crescent darts and roundhouse kicks are set aside for the biggest boon of all – acceptance. Once Marc accepts his madness, instead of fighting against it like he always has, he is able to shatter and rid himself of Khonshu’s influence.
Marc is now a master of two worlds. Balance is achieved. He opens his eyes to find himself on a familiar looking rooftop looking up at a familiar looking moon. We’re back where we started, but we’ve come so far.