There are relatively few children of rabbis in popular media, but in the world of Marvel Comics, there is Moon Knight: a lesser known superhero, a dark, sometimes tortured antihero in the tradition of Batman or the Punisher. Mainly going by the name Steven Grant by day, he had a rocky road to the life of a caped vigilante. He was a Marine-turned–ruthless mercenary, who has struggled with his mental health to the point of institutionalization. His identity as Moon Knight was not a choice; he was resurrected and pressed into service by an ancient Egyptian God, Khonshu. Khonshu’s devotee and avatar on earth, Moon Knight derives his power—a general increased physical prowess—from the pagan deity. Now that’s pretty far off the derekh.
Certain nuances of Moon Knight are constantly in flux—like whether or not Steven Grant is a deliberately constructed persona or another consciousness in his head, either due to supernatural means or mental illness. But what we do know is that the man who is Moon Knight was born Marc Spector. His father was Rabbi Elias Spector, who escaped Czechoslovakia with his wife after the Nazis came to power. According to Marc (in 1980’s Moon Knight #37, written by Alan Zelenetz), “Back in Europe, my father was a figure of reverence. He’d been a prodigy, knew the Bible and Talmud by heart before he was fifteen, was ordained a rabbi at eighteen, and went on to become a brilliant scholar in the Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism. In America he was lucky just to be alive.”
The Spectors settled in a poor neighborhood in Chicago, and Rabbi Elias eventually joined the faculty of a theological seminary there. Father and son had a contentious relationship from the outset.
“I wasn’t quite tuned in to my father’s wavelength before I’d left home, sort of bucked and bristled at his old world ways, and resisted religious studies until I’d worn the man’s patience thin,” said Marc. “We lived in mutual resentment.” It was also as a child that Marc began to have visions, of Steven Grant and of Khonshu. His concerned father had him institutionalized. As a teenager, Marc took up boxing, and the last time he and his father spoke, it was when Elias came looking for his son at a match. He confronted him publicly, and Marc, angry, sucker-punched his aging dad.
“You want to be an animal, go—be an animal,” were the last words Elias spoke to Marc. “But not in my house, not with my blessing, never as my son.”
Rabbi Spector called for his estranged son on his deathbed, and although Marc didn’t reach his father in time, he did attend the funeral, and eventually make peace. But Moon Knight is still secular, and he puts his old identity more or less to the side, even as he sees the the role that religious conviction holds in his super-powered life: “Isn’t Moon Knight in his own way a moral zealot fighting perhaps for the very same values Marc Spector once rejected?”
Still, Marc is the successful member of his family. The Eliases had another boy, Randall. He became a serial killer and supervillain. Now that is off the derekh.