Image: Marvel Studios
Ethan Hawke’s performance is a distinct approach to a minor Moon Knight villain
Even the biggest Moon Knight fan would have to admit that the character enjoys only C-list status. Sure, he’s had several solo ongoing series since his first appearance in 1975’s Werewolf by Night #37, and even a few stints on various Avengers teams. But no one could have expected that the character would earn his own television show, let alone that he would be played by acclaimed actor Oscar Isaac.
Even more surprising was the announcement that Ethan Hawke would play the main baddie of the series, cult leader Arthur Harrow. Moon Knight has accrued a respectable rogue’s gallery over the years, but it’s hard to believe that anyone considers Arthur Harrow their favorite Moon Knight antagonist.
So why would a star of Hawke’s caliber agree to play the character? Clearly, he and Moon Knight showrunner Jeremy Slater have much to offer in their strangely empathetic take on an evil cult leader.
First off, Harrow puts glass in his shoes
In the opening scene of Moon Knight’s first episode, we watch an obscured figure enjoy an evening of fine alcohol in his glass, Bob Dylan on his hi-fi, and shards of glass in his loafers. Much later in the episode, Harrow will explain to Steven that while Moon Knight serves the Egyptian moon god Khonshu, he serves the goddess Ammit, devourer of souls. In Egyptian mythology, Ammit eats those judged as immoral when their hearts outweigh those of a feather on the scales of Osiris.
According to Harrow, Ammit has been betrayed by her fellow gods and locked away, which allowed evil to proliferate across the planet. Had she been free, villains such as Hitler and Pol Pot would never have been allowed to commit their evil deeds. As the avatar of Ammit, Harrow and his followers seek to free the goddess and bring justice to the Earth.
So Harrow must be Moon Knight’s archenemy, right?
Image: Marvel Comics
You would think so, as both Harrow and Moon Knight serve Egyptian gods and pursue justice. But the hero’s greatest antagonist in the comics is Bushman, the leader of the mercenary group for which Moon Knight’s primary identity Marc Spector worked. Bushman killed Spector, leading to his resurrection by Khonshu and the origin of Moon Knight, and has returned time and again to terrorize the hero.
Harrow isn’t even the evil flipside to Moon Knight. That distinction belongs to either the thief Midnight Man — who will appear in the Disney Plus show in his civilian guise of Anton Mogart (played by Gaspard Ulliel) — or the Sun King, recently introduced in the run by writer Max Bemis and artist Jacen Burrows.
No, Harrow holds no special place in the Moon Knight’s life because he’s only appeared in one comic book, Moon Knight volume 2 issue 2, from 1985. Despite strong illustrations from artists Chris Warner and E.R. Cruz and punchy plots from writer Alan Zelenetz, the second Moon Knight volume lasted only six issues.
Unlike his television counterpart, the Dr. Alan Harrow of the comics is an evil man of science. The character fits very much in the mold of a James Bond villain, complete with minions, a hidden lair, and support from a shadowy organization with an ostentatious name, OMNIUM. More importantly, Harrow adopts the Bond franchise’s bad habit of making people with physical abnormalities into villains.
In this case, Harrow suffers from nerve damage that leaves half of his face paralyzed and in constant pain. While his search for a cure for pain earns him accolades and attention from the Nobel committee, it also crosses into inhumane territory. From his hidden base in Yucatan, Harrow experiments on poor locals captured by his minions, all while bellowing about how “They didn’t go far enough in Auschwitz.”
Sent to Yucatan by priests of Khonshu to stop Harrow, Moon Knight encounters Dr. Victoria Grail, a researcher looking for evidence to denounce Harrow to the Nobel committee. Moon Knight and Grail cease their flirtatious bickering long enough to thwart Harrow and send him back to OMNIUM. Towards the end of the issue, Moon Knight tells Grail, “I don’t think we’ve heard the last of Harrow.” He was wrong.
So the TV Harrow has nothing to do with the comic book version?
Image: Marvel Studios
If you squint, you can see some similarities. The guy walks around with glass in his shoes, so he does have some relationship to pain. And in addition to his followers, Harrow has minions in the form of armed guards who harass Steven Grant.
The most important similarity may be the similar perspectives between the two Harrows. Both versions believe absolutely in their own righteousness. For the comic book Harrow, that comes out when he says, “Not a herd of [the Yucatan locals] is worth one Arthur Harrow.” For the live-action version, that comes out in his desire to create heaven on Earth by purging all the evildoers, even before they do any of that evil.
For Hawke, that perspective was the key to creating the character. Because the protagonist of the story is “crazy,” Hawke explained at a press conference for Moon Knight, the antagonist cannot also be crazy. “So I have to kind of find a sane lunatic or a sane malevolent force,” Hawke reasoned. “And in his mind, he’s Saint Harrow, you know? I mean, he thinks he’s gonna be part of the great solution.”
For the comic book Harrow, that great solution involves ridding the world of pain. For the television version, it means ridding the world of evil.
It’s too early to tell if this revision will be enough to make Harrow into one of Moon Knight’s greatest enemies. But, without question, Hawke’s take will make Arthur Harrow a much more prominent figure in the Fist of Khonshu’s life.