In Moon Knight, so far, much of Moon Knight’s classic ensemble has been reduced to teases or cameos at best. Jean-Paul “Frenchie” Duchamp was a name in Marc Spector’s phone in Episode 1, and Bertrand Crawley has been making silent appearances as a human statue. Marc’s third identity from the comics, Jake Lockley, has not made an appearance or been referenced. A lot of classic elements from the Moon Knight comics are missing from Moon Knight.
One of the most significant characters in Moon Knight comics, other than Marc Spector and his alters, is Marlene Alarune. Marlene is Marc’s (and Steven’s) (and Jake’s) constant on-again-off-again romantic interest. She has been consistently present since Moon Knight #1 in 1980. While over 40 years of history saw plenty of changes to the character, overall, Marlene is not a great character. Moon Knight, though, apparently recognized the significance of her character and the ability for a love interest of Moon Knight to highlight Marc Spector’s dissociative identity disorder—we now have May Calamawy’s Layla El-Faouly. And Layla is great.
Marlene and Layla have different names, but their roles and pasts suggest that Layla is more or less a majorly upgraded Marlene. Obviously, both are love interests to Marc Spector. In the comics, Marlene was aware of Marc’s three identities and Moon Knight from the beginning. She generally dealt with it well, but at other times throughout her comics history, Marc’s DID was, reasonably, a source of frustration to say the least. Still, she has had relationships specifically with Marc, Steven, and Jake over time. More recently, she and Marc share a daughter named Diatrice, who was fathered by Jake, and Marc never knew for years. In Moon Knight, Layla is introduced as Marc’s soon-to-be ex-wife who was not aware of any identity other than Marc and Moon Knight. Marlene and Marc never married in the comics, but they often also had a rocky relationship.
Marlene met Marc almost at the same time that Marc became Moon Knight. Marlene is the daughter of an archaeologist who was killed by Bushman when the villain and his crew (including mercenary Marc Spector) raided the tomb Marlene’s father had discovered. After Bushman killed the archaeologist, Marc apparently had a moment of moral reckoning and turned against Bushman, saving Marlene and getting himself killed then revived by Khonshu in the process. We do not know much about Layla’s past in Moon Knight, but we learned in Episode 3 that her father was an archaeologist and was killed at some point. That is incredibly unlikely to be a coincidence, but whether Layla otherwise has the same general backstory as Marlene is yet to be seen.
Marlene, it feels like, is a constant damsel in distress in the comics. She generally feels extremely superficial and it is just a given that Marc cares about her. There are times when she is non-stop jealous or angry for every action Marc takes, there are times she is at home waiting for Moon Knight when he gets back, there are times when they have broken up and he longs for her, and there are (again) many times where her being in trouble is half the plot or motivation of an issue. She has her moments, but Marlene just feels like an outdated trope that never quite evolved.
Layla, on the other hand, is certainly not a damsel in distress. She seems to know how to handle herself in a violent situation, sure. But she also arguably is the person leading the current plot in Moon Knight—without her knowledge and help, it is not clear how great at tracking down Ammut’s tomb Marc and Steven would be. Her knowledge of Ancient Egyptian artifacts and mythology is rivaled only by Steven, and she has connections in Egypt that seems to be able to get them anywhere. Layla seems weirdly OK with the DID thing Marc never told her about after getting to know Steven a little bit, but also is reasonably angry at Marc for several things. Of course, she mentioned early on that Marc and her fought side by side for the Scarab, only reaffirming that she can, at the very least, hold her own next to an ex-mercenary, Egyptian god avatar.
The only thing “damsel in distress” about Layla is perhaps the fact that Marc is trying to protect her from Khonshu. It does not seem like Layla even knows that Khonshu is interested in her as his next avatar. And to be fair, if Khonshu is interested in her as is next fist of vengeance, that says a lot about what she is capable of. There is also something to be said for the fact that Calamawy and Layla are Egyptian. While the role was not necessarily written for an Egyptian actress, the fact that the character can connect to that aspect of Moon Knight is valuable considering there are no other major Egyptian presences in front of the camera.
The first three episodes of Moon Knight are now streaming on Disney+.