Spoilers for Moon Knight follow!
Much time has passed since Moon Knight debuted its finale on Disney+, but there’s still plenty to be said about Marvel Studios’ venture into the Egyptology-inspired hero. Heading into the 2022 Emmy season, much of this praise can be shared across the show’s talented cast and crew. But one name in particular deserves a special spotlight for laying the groundwork for this unique MCU outing, head writer Jeremy Slater. In taking the time to sit down with the skilled writer for an exclusive interview, we were able to dive deep into the comic inspirations of Moon Knight and even discover the many concepts that just didn’t make the cut. As revealed by the head writer himself, the final story that fans got to see was just one out of “five or six radically different versions of the show.”
Jeremy Slater is no stranger to superhero projects, with a writing credit on 2015’s Fantastic Four and an Executive Producer credit on Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy. As a big fan of Moon Knight himself, Jeremy Slater returned to the Marvel universe with a new goal in mind: to bring the fan favorite vigilante to screen with as much love and care as possible. Continue on as we discuss the show’s careful development process and the unexpected creative decisions that went into making this adaptation feel unique, while still retaining the core aspects of the character and his lore. Jeremy Slater leaves nothing off the table, covering just about everything that a diehard Moon Knight fan would be curious about. Read until the end to even get a bonus tease of his next project, the upcoming Mortal Kombat sequel.
You and the Marvel team went very heavy on the magic side of Moon Knight. Why did you choose that route in favor of something more akin to the Marvel Netflix shows?
Jeremy Slater: Well, I knew my own sensibilities as a writer and knew that I wouldn’t necessarily be great at writing one of the Netflix Marvel shows. I tend to gravitate towards the fun, big Jack Kirby sides of the MCU more than the hyper-grounded, darker sides. I also knew coming in that one of the things that Kevin Feige was creatively excited about with Moon Knight was Egyptology. He’s not only always looking for that number one thing Marvel hasn’t done yet, but also what the competition hasn’t done. And he really felt like the Moon Knight’s dissociative identity disorder and the Egyptology of it all were two unexplored territories that we hadn’t seen yet in the MCU. So I had that little kernel of information coming in, and I could kind of tailor my pitch.
But also for me, it was just getting away from Batman. There are a lot of versions of Moon Knight in the comic books where he’s got this billionaire playboy philanthropist persona. He’s flying his moon-shaped hover planes, moon cycles, and things like that. I was like, “Batman’s got an 80-year headstart on us, if we try to compete on the same terms, we’re just going to feel derivative.” So making that shift and leaning into the supernatural side of it felt like the best way to really set the character apart and give him his own identity.
Why use lesser-known villains such as Ammit and Arthur Harrow in this first outing for Moon Knight?
Jeremy Slater: A lot of trial and error, honestly. In the beginning, we looked through Moon Knight’s villain roster and Bushman was obviously the logical big bad since he’s probably Moon Knight’s most famous villain. He’s directly tied to the origin story. But I just wasn’t able to make Bushman work on the page. There were definitely racist versions of the character over the last 40 years, some interpretations that were bordering on the offensive. So we had to be very careful with how we used Bushman.
Honestly, the problem really came down to the fact that Bushman just wound up being a guy with a gun, which made him too dangerous to go up against Steven Grant. Bushman would just put a bullet in Steven’s head, but at the same time, we see Moon Knight go up against guys with guns multiple times in the show and he shrugs off bullets, so it left you with a villain that was too dangerous for Steven, but not dangerous enough for Marc. The only way to remedy that was by giving Bushman superpowers of his own. But there just wasn’t enough real estate in the show to take Bushman and make sure that we were avoiding some of the racist tropes from some of his past appearances, but also making sure that he had an actual emotional connection to the story and to the main character, and it felt like he really didn’t. It felt like he had an emotional connection to Marc, but we were never in Marc’s perspective for those first couple of episodes. It was always Steven’s story, and Bushman didn’t really have a part to play in that.
So that’s the long and short of why Bushman didn’t work out. I went to Marvel and said, “I’m not feeling comfortable with how this villain is going, can I pivot? Can I introduce a brand new character?” and they were really supportive. So we collectively came up with a villain who would be tied to Marc and Steven’s past by making him a former avatar of Khonshu, and we chose the name Arthur Harrow just because it sounded cool. But Marvel was really supportive [in doing] what was best for the story and finding a villain who’s actually bringing something to the table as opposed to a villain who’s just going to be a generic heavy or an obstacle to be overcome.
What about the choice to make Steven Grant the focal point of Moon Knight over Marc Spector?
Jeremy Slater: That was something I felt really strongly about right from my very first pitch. Part of the reason is that Marc Specter is not necessarily the easiest character to love. He grows on you, but he makes a bad first impression because Marc is a violent character. He’s also someone who keeps everyone at a distance and pushes people away. Over the years, he’s been defined a lot of times much more by his torment and what he’s going through as opposed to anything he’s actually bringing to the table. I was reading all of these old Moon Knight comics and the problem I kept running into was, I love Moon Knight, I loved him whenever he was in character, but I didn’t like Marc Spector very much. And I was trying to wrap my head around “what’s the MCU version of this guy that I love?”
The thing that clicked for me is, I know how to write a character like Steven Grant. I know how to make you fall in love with that character. So if we then introduce Marc as Steven’s protector, the guy who was kind of taking care of this lost puppy dog, my hope was then we, as the audience, would have something in common with Marc. We would both want to see Steven saved and get a happy ending. So once that dynamic clicked into place, I saw that it was shaping up to be a sort of weird buddy show, even though the buddies aren’t on the screen together very much. I realized that the best way to do it was really to start from Steven’s perspective and let Marc be a mystery for the audience to discover over the course of the show.
What was it like writing scenes for heavy hitters like Oscar Isaac and Ethan Hawke?
Jeremy Slater: Oh, it’s a dream come true. It’s everything you can ask for as a writer. The reality is that we didn’t have any actors cast for the first two years of the three-year project. We were very much writing in a vacuum and guessing like, “Well, it could be this actor, it could be that actor.” And the casting at Marvel, those are decisions that happen way above my paygrade. So you’re just at the mercy of like, “God, I hope they get someone good,” especially when you start getting into Marc and Steven changing personas, changing altars and accents, and interacting with each other in the same scene.
As you’re pitching this stuff you’re like, “God, if we don’t have a world-class actor, this is going to be ridiculous. If this is in the hands of the wrong person, this entire thing becomes a bad Austin Powers sketch.” So once we learned that we had Oscar Isaac, and Oscar then brought Ethan Hawke on board, I think everyone collectively breathed a sigh of relief of like, “Oh, we have two of the world’s greatest actors here, like just get out of their way and let them do their thing.” From that point on we knew that anything we wrote, they could handle. We could throw anything at them, and then they could manage to make it sing. So it was incredible. It was a weight lifted off my shoulders the day they said Oscar Isaac.
Is there anything that you wrote or stuff that was shot that you wish made it into the final cut?
Jeremy Slater: There was a lot. I mean look, I wrote five or six radically different versions of the show. There are probably around 1200 to 1500 pages of unused material out there just because that’s the Marvel development process. So there are massively different versions of the show with different antagonists, MacGuffins, love interests, powers, and resolutions. But at the end of the day, it kind of becomes what it was meant to be. You know, part of the experience of doing a show for Marvel is that it’s such a collaborative medium that there are so many cooks in the kitchen, so things drop out and fall by the roadside, but then things get introduced and you get people like Oscar, Ethan, and May who come on board and have amazing ideas for their characters and take the story in new unexpected directions you had never considered.
When you’re working on projects of this scale, whether it’s for Marvel or anyone else, you have to be a team player and be collaborative, and know that the story is going to go in unexpected places. After a while, you realize that it’s not that you don’t care about it, but you learn to kill your darlings a little bit and put the stuff out there. And if someone says no, or if someone says collectively that ideas like this aren’t really working, you have to be willing to pivot and say, “Okay, let’s try a different film. Let’s try a different MacGuffin, let’s take this episode in a different direction.” So on one hand, it can occasionally be frustrating. But on the other, it’s also creatively liberating because you do have so much room to explore and go in weird directions. The nice thing is that a lot of that weirdness and a lot of those left turns and swerves wind up making it into the finished product and probably give it more personality and life than if we had just shot the very first thing that was on the page three years ago.
Layla is a breath of fresh air as a character and essentially a reinvention of two established characters. She fills the role of Marlene, Marc’s central love interest in the comics, and in the last episode, the Scarlet Scarab. Why mix the two?
Jeremy Slater: I knew I didn’t want Marlene from the comics just because I kind of hated Marlene. She’s the sort of prototypical damsel in distress or girlfriend that you see in a lot of older comics. Her first appearance is kneeling over Marc’s unconscious body, like, “Oh, he just killed my father, but he is very handsome” and she was always kind of defined by that. I was like, we don’t need a damsel in distress. We need a Marion Ravenwood to stand toe to toe with our Indiana Jones. We need someone who can go toe to toe with the boys, so that was my driving focus behind it. We needed a Marian for our show.
We also knew that we wanted someone with Egyptian background on some level just because we didn’t know who would be playing Marc Spector. In the comics, he is traditionally a white character and we were all really sensitive to the idea that if we have two white characters traipsing through a bunch of Egyptian tombs and swiping artifacts, then we’re playing into the weird white savior tropes and some of the weird imperialism and colonialism problems that places like Egypt have historically been dealing with.
The idea of giving someone who had one foot in her Egyptian heritage and one foot in the mercenary world that Marc inhabits is where the initial genesis of Layla came from. Along the way, we made the decision of “what if we wind up giving her powers by the end and introduce her as the first Egyptian superhero?” I believe it was our executive Nick Pepin and one of our creative partners who came to us and said, “Actually, if we’re making her an Egyptian superhero, the first one in Marvel comics was the Scarlet Scarab.” So we could take the last name, and that was a really nice way to start hiding little Scarab details throughout the show. A lot of the hardcore fans guessed where we were going with Layla before we got there, but that was by design. It was one of those things where if you’re old school enough to know who the Scarlet Scarab is, then congratulations, you get this easter egg before everyone else.
What about choosing to incorporate little to no references to the larger MCU? The only real nod is an offhand reference by Anton Mogart in episode three about Madripoor.
Jeremy Slater: Yeah, that’s really it. There were definitely different times in the writing process where we talked about cameos because cameos are one of the most fun things to discuss in a writer’s room. What happens if we try to get Chris Evans back as old Captain America? You know, you sit there and play that “what if” game among your writers. The only two that we seriously discussed? Dane Whitman from Eternals of course, because at the time Steven Grant was going to be working at the same museum. But there was never any logical reason for him to be in the show. As a Marvel fan, I would be frustrated if Dane showed up for another cameo and it didn’t progress his story or give us any teasers for the Black Knight. Then we also talked about including the Eternals, specifically Kingo and Makkari. We were originally planning to show the original fall of Ammit and the death of Alexander the Great in a flashback sequence, and that seemed like it could naturally dovetail with an appearance from the Eternals.
But once you start talking budget and start realizing, “Oh, if we’re spending [x] millions of dollars to recreate Ancient Egypt and get a lot of movie stars in here, then that’s that same amount of money coming out of our budget for the big episode six fight, or the stuff in the Egyptian Underworld.” You then finally say, “Our money would be better spent making Moon Knight as cool as possible versus spending that money to bring in another character and let them be cool.” So part of it was being practical. Another part of it was just the fact that we really let Kevin be our guiding light for a lot of these creative decisions because he has such a good gut instinct for it.
Kevin comes to us and says, “You know what, guys? I know everyone loves the cameos. Everyone gets excited about it. But I really think your story is standing on its own two feet right now.” Then it almost feels like shoehorning in an unnecessary cameo. Suddenly War Machine happens to be visiting Cairo at that time or something like that. It feels like it would have just jerked out of the story and really taken the focus away from the character journey that we were on between Marc and Steven. So it’s a little bit of a bummer because I like to play with all the toys in that sandbox, and I was like give me “Doctor Strange [and] Spider-Man.” But at the same time, you recognize that it’s the right creative decision.
So about Jake Lockley at the end of the show and seeing Khonshu in the white suit. Jake is essentially a surprise character since he was teased so much over the course of the series. What inspired you to go in that direction with the third alter?
Jeremy Slater: I knew from the beginning, from my very first pitch, that the fans were going to want to see Jake, but we had to save him for a later day. Even with six hours at your disposal, doing this as a limited series instead of a movie, it’s still a tall order making the relationship between Marc and Steven land on an emotional level for the viewers. To start them at a place where they’re at each other’s throats, and end at a place where they’re really brothers in a weird sense. I knew that would take a lot of work and I knew that we were capable of doing that bond with two characters over the space of six episodes, but we weren’t capable of doing it for three. With three, I think it would have become a little bit of a narrative mess. I also think some of the big important beats like Steven’s sacrifice and death at the end of episode five wouldn’t have necessarily landed if Jake was also there in the equation and Marc felt like, “well, there’s still two of us.”
So there were a lot of creative reasons for why keeping Jake off-screen made the most sense. But we also knew if the fans got all the way to the end of the show and we didn’t even mention Jake, there would be rioters outside our houses. So we came up with the idea fairly early on that “yeah, we’re going to tease Jake in our final scene, but it’s going to be a very different, very unexpected version of Jake Lockley.” My personal feeling is we still don’t know anything about Jake. We don’t know whether he’s good, we don’t know whether he’s evil. All we know is that he has some sort of secret arrangement with Khonshu that the other two aren’t privy to. And he seems to be much more on board with Khonshu’s mission than the other two. But in terms of what that means and what his relationship will be towards Marc and Steven, whether that will be antagonistic or a partnership, that’s all still very much to be decided by whoever takes the reins for the next batch of stories. I’m excited to see where they go with them.
What are some other Moon Knight comics other than the Lemire/Smallwood run that inspired your scripts?
Jeremy Slater: That’s a great question. Obviously, the Jeff Lemire run was our most influential by a mile. It’s also probably my favorite of any Moon Knight comics. I think a lot of the early runs didn’t necessarily inspire things in terms of story, but they definitely did in terms of artwork. Bill Sienkiewicz is one of my all-time favorite artists and his run on Moon Knight was as genre-defining as what Frank Miller did on Daredevil just from an artistic perspective. So for me, those classic Moon Knight stories were always more of a visual inspiration than a narrative inspiration. I think the recent Warren Ellis run that introduced Mr. Knight was pretty influential. I also think that the current Jed MacKay run that Marvel’s doing right now is absolutely phenomenal. It came out a little too late in the development process to be an inspiration but it’s as good as Moon Knight has been in a long time.
For a time, Moon Knight sort of became Marvel’s de facto Batman clone, where he was much more focused on street-level violence and being a vigilante. He was going after muggers, purse snatchers, drug runners, and things like that. That version of Moon Knight was fine, but I was already getting that from my Batman comics. The version I always responded to was the monster hunter, the guy who explored the weird cracks and corners of the Marvel Universe, and the things that were going bump in the night. That’s what I came to the show as my central approach. We can tell another vigilante story, but Marvel’s already done it well, DC has already done it well, and plenty of other competing comic book shows and movies have done it well too. We’re just going to be joining a crowded list. If we come in here with some Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Mummy and Ghostbusters energy, then we have a chance to do something new. So it was really his monster-hunting past that I took probably the most inspiration from.
Now, recurring Moon Knight characters such as Crawley, who was a delightful cameo, Frenchie, and even Gena, I feel like you can introduce those characters with Jake in play now. I know you were talking about “whoever takes the reins.” But would you like to see any of these characters in the future, whether or not you’re the one handling them?
Jeremy Slater: Oh, of course. Frenchie was someone we tried very hard to include in the show. But just because of the logistics of [him not knowing] Steven, he could only be Marc’s partner. And because we’re doing two episodes in London, and then episode four we go into a tomb, episode five in the underworld. It really only left episode three to have a friendship cameo. The only thing we could really have him do was be a pilot. We wrote a version where Frenchie was just the guy flying them into Egypt, and it felt like a bad use of the character, especially because he’s a character who does have a lot of fans out there. I felt like they would be disappointed if that’s all we got. So we included that small nod of the name Duchamp in the burner phone that Steven finds in the attic in the first episode, just to let the fans know Frenchie exists in the MCU. He’s definitely out there somewhere, we will meet him.
The problem with Moon Knight’s supporting cast is that, ultimately, what we were doing was telling the story of a deeply lonely person who, over the course of those six episodes, is no longer lonely. He finds his place in the world, he discovers who he is. So it was hard to surround Steven with a bunch of friends in the beginning, the same support group he has in the comics, and still make him feel isolated and like this character that we want to see find happiness. So that’s why people like Crawley became sort of silent cameos, and we never really found a great place for Gena. But the characters are too cool. I have to imagine that whatever form Moon Knight takes in the MCU in the future, it’s a great opportunity for people to bring those characters in and really do justice to them in a way we didn’t have time to.
To end this off with something more simple, what’s next for you? You’re attached to the Mortal Kombat sequel, how’s that going along?
Jeremy Slater: The Mortal Kombat sequel is awesome. I’m having a ton of fun. I can’t really share any details about it, but we want to make something that the fans really love and I think it’s a really great creative team. They have been listening to the fan reactions and they know what fans loved about the first movie and what they didn’t. Everyone is creatively setting out to really make a sequel that tops the original in every way. We’re still very early in the process, but the fans should be really excited. It’s going to be awesome.
What’s it like jumping to Mortal Kombat straight from Moon Knight?
Jeremy Slater: It’s just fun anytime you get to flex a different muscle. Mortal Kombat is a very R-rated franchise, it really has fun with its gore and kills. The last couple of things I’ve done have all been in the PG-13 blockbuster space, so it’s fun to get in there and rip a few spines out. I have the greatest job in the world.