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Moon Knight - the enigmatic Marvel history of Khonshu, the sometimes sinister Egyptian god

Khonshu in Moon Knight episode 2
Khonshu in Moon Knight episode 2 (Image credit: Marvel Studios)

After hearing his voice in Moon Knight episode 1, episode 2 of the Disney Plus streaming series brings Moon Knight's patron deity Khonshu even further into focus, putting him front-and-center in some of the show's key scenes, with an effectively terrifying presence.

Viewers spent time in episode 1 meeting Steven Grant - in this adaptation a meek, museum giftshop worker who has strange (and very realistic) dreams - and in episode 2, his tough-as-nails mercenary alter-ego Marc Spector (both played by Oscar Isaac) comes out to play. Meanwhile, the show's main villain, Arthur Harrow, played by Ethan Hawke, reveals some of his own secrets, including a surprise connection to Khonshu.

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)
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Voiced by F. Murray Abraham in an unexpected dynamic that seems inspired by Sony's Eddie Brock-Venom big-screen vibes, it appears Khonshu may play a more active role in Moon Knight's day-to-day adventures than he often does in the source material that inspired him. 

MCU fans will presumably have to wait for a few episodes to learn more about the live-action Khonshu, but for Marvel comic book readers, the Egyptian god and his role in Moon Knight's origin, his mission, and his superpowers go back decades. 

Who is Khonshu? What is his connection to Moon Knight, and what role does he play in the Marvel Universe?

We can answer most of those questions while we wait to see how his role plays out in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

Who is Khonshu?

Khonshu in Marvel Comics

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Much like Thor is based on the character of the same name from Norse mythology, Khonshu is the Marvel Comics adaptation of the ancient Egyptian god 'Khonsu', who represented the moon and its ever-changing phases - a theme that has come to permeate Moon Knight's mythos, as viewers saw in his show's premiere.

In Marvel Comics terms, Khonshu is one of the Heliopolitans, gods who dwell in a realm known as Heliopolis in the same way Thor and his fellow Asgardians hail from Asgard.

Unlike Thor and the Asgardians, the Heliopolitans are generally unable to enter the mortal realm, necessitating them to choose mortal avatars to directly influence events on Earth - which is where Moon Knight comes in.

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Weirdly enough, the original Moon Knight of the prehistoric 1,000,000 BC era, was actually a villain to that era's Avengers, which includes Thor's father Odin as well as the original incarnations of several Marvel Comics legacy heroes such as Ghost Rider, the Sorcerer Supreme, the Phoenix, and more.

Offended that he wasn't invited into the heroic group known as the 1,000,000 BC Avengers, Khonshu embraced his first Moon Knight to fight the team, eventually losing (this conflict will come back again later though, so keep it in mind).

Through the ages, Khonshu has almost always had a Moon Knight as his agent on Earth, including an incarnation of Kang the Conqueror's lover-turned-enemy Ravonna in the ancient Egyptian era in which Kang ruled under his Variant identity of Rama-Tut, and numerous others.

Alongside Khonshu's Moon Knight, the other members of the Ennead (the collective name often used by mortals to describe the Heliopolitan gods, as referenced in Moon Knight episode 1) have often employed their own avatars. The most notable of these is the Sun King, the avatar of Ra the Sun God, and one of Moon Knight's enemies through the ages. The most modern Sun King from comics may even have a connection to the MCU adaptation of the Moon Knight show's villain, Arthur Harrow.

Khonshu in the Marvel Universe

Khonshu in Marvel Comics

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Although Khonshu is usually depicted as being dedicated to fighting back the nefarious forces of his rival gods, as with many of the cosmic beings who embody the concept of deities in the Marvel Universe, the moon god's changing nature has sometimes led him to be an antagonist or even a full-on villain.

Remember we said the very first Moon Knight's fight against the 1,000,000 BC Avengers would come up again? That rivalry came up again in one of Moon Knight's biggest recent stories, Avengers: Age of Khonshu (opens in new tab).

In that story, Khonshu unleashes a horde of minions led by a newly powered-up Marc Spector/Moon Knight in a quest to conquer the Earth after being driven mad by visions of the demon Mephisto causing a terrible cataclysm.

Moon Knight manages to fight the Avengers to a standstill, channeling Khonshu to temporarily steal the abilities of Doctor Strange, Iron Fist, Thor, and Ghost Rider, allowing Khonshu to conquer New York City, renaming it 'New Thebes City' after the ancient Egyptian kingdom that was his main center of worship.

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Eventually, the so-called 'Age of Khonshu' comes to an end when the Phoenix Force arrives on Earth, possessing Marc Spector. Having lost faith in Khonshu thanks to the moon god's rampage, Spector winds up turning the power of the Phoenix against his one-time patron to defeat him and undo his conquest of New York.

With the Phoenix Force leaving Moon Knight behind and the Avengers' powers returned, Thor takes Khonshu prisoner in the dungeons of Asgard. Though the Avengers wind up offering Moon Knight membership on their team, he refuses, instead traveling back to New York setting up his so-called 'Midnight Mission.'

At the Midnight Mission, Moon Knight has fully rejected worship of Khonshu, instead using his new base of operations to continue what he believes is the true mission Khonshu once tasked him with, to protect the innocent and help those in needs.

This has led to deeper conflicts between Moon Knight and his former patron deity, with Khonshu playing an increasingly villainous role for Marc Spector in current comic book continuity.

Khonshu in the MCU


(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Now that the second episode of Moon Knight is streaming on Disney Plus, viewers have gotten their best look yet at the MCU version of Khonshu, who was previously glimpsed in the premiere along with a small taste of his personality as voiced by F. Murray Abraham.

So far, the MCU version of Khonshu is far less grandiose than his comic book equivalent, though he seems to have the same complicated and demanding relationship with Moon Knight and his multiple human personalities as in comics. 

That said, despite his most recent comic book heel turn as a full-on antagonist for his one-time enforcer Moon Knight, the MCU Khonshu has so far appeared far more concerned with a straightforward approach to his mission to fight off the sinister machinations of his rival deities than any kind of conquest of his own.

Nonetheless, like the phases of the moon and the different 'alters' of Marc Spector, Khonshu could shift intent and allegiances whenever the tide is right. And given Khonshu's recent comic history as a villain for multiple eras of the Avengers, it's possible he could wind up as some kind of larger threat for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)
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On that note, it's also interesting to consider Khonshu's recent rivalry with Mephisto, who sparked the 'Age of Khonshu' storyline. Mephisto has been a popular choice for inclusion in the MCU among fans for years, with hype for the character picking up especially feverishly with the release of the first Disney Plus MCU show, WandaVision.

Even if he doesn't drive Khonshu mad, could Mephisto wind up being the larger villain for the supernatural corner of the MCU that's building with Moon Knight, Blade, and more? If there's a role worthy of a major villain like Mephisto, it's something like that. And if he manages to, say, take on Khonshu to make his rep as a threat in the MCU, that could tie even further into recent comic book developments.

Of course, that's a lot of 'ifs,' so don't go counting any bird-skulled Egyptian deities before they hatch - but there's plenty of comic book evidence to contribute to that line of thought. 

We'll find out as Moon Knight continues each Wednesday on Disney Plus.

Moon Knight and Khonshu aren't the only new heroes coming to the MCU. Read up on the comic book histories of other new heroes coming soon, like Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, Dane Whitman-Black Knight, Jane Foster Thor, America Chavez, Blade, and Eros/Starfox.

I've been Newsarama's resident Marvel Comics expert and general comic book historian since 2011. I've also been the on-site reporter at most major comic conventions such as Comic-Con International: San Diego, New York Comic Con, and C2E2. Outside of comic journalism, I am the artist of many weird pictures, and the guitarist of many heavy riffs. (They/Them)