“Will I be in a straight jacket?” The attending nurse laughed when I asked her that question, but I wasn’t joking.
My severe depression and anxiety had, up to that point, gone undiagnosed. So when my doctor sent me to a behavioral health clinic after a suicide attempt, my only experience with such places came from popular culture, especially comic books. As the attendants helped me remove the laces from my shoes and strings from my sweatshirt, four-color images filled my head, panels of the Joker cackling from a padded cell deep in Arkham Asylum or Kraven the Hunter bellowing at Dr. Ashley Kafka in Ravencroft Institute.
Superhero comics don’t have the best track record with mental health, and in the character’s earliest incarnations, Moon Knight was among the worst offenders. Initially introducing the character as a Batman riff in 1975’s Werewolf by Night #32, writer Doug Moench, who co-created the character with artist Don Perlin, added “schizophrenia” as a differentiating gimmick.
Despite this checkered past, Moon Knight has become one of Marvel’s most relatable superheroes — and he’s about to get an introduction to a much wider audience, thanks to a certain Disney Plus series starring Oscar Isaac. “Relatable” may seem like an odd way to talk about a hyper-violent guy who sometimes chats with a deity and flies around the city in aircraft piloted by his aide-de-camp Frenchie. But thanks to a multiple personality, and an angle added to the character shortly after his creation, Moon Knight stories have featured some of superhero fiction’s most nuanced portrayals of mental health.