‘Moon Knight’ QR Codes: Inside Marvel’s Secret Messages
It’s not every day that one can write a sentence that reasonably connects the Fox animated series “Bob’s Burgers,” the House of Terror museum of fascist and communist regimes in Hungary, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe — but in 2022, anything is possible.
Let’s back up. ever since the Marvel Studios series “Moon Knight” debuted on Disney+ on March 30, eagle-eyed viewers have noticed a series of semi-conspicuous QR codes in the background of scenes in the first, second and fifth episodes of the show. Scanning the codes sends viewers to a special website that contains a weekly free web comic featuring the Moon Knight character through the run of the show, from his first appearance in 1975 through his most recent issue in 2019.
It’s a savvy way to expand viewers’ comic book knowledge for a character even serious Marvel fans may never have read, and it’s been wildly successful: According to Disney, the landing page has been visited over 1.5 million times, leading to over 500,000 full comics read to date.
So how did Marvel Studios decide to do this?
“The first seed of that idea comes with my fascination with ‘Bob’s Burgers,’” says “Moon Knight” executive producer Grant Curtis in his first interview about the effort.
Curtis loved how “Bob’s Burgers” constantly engaged viewers with its ever-changing running gags in the opening and closing credits and with the burger of the week, and he wanted to bring a similar kind of interactivity to “Moon Knight.” He also knew that, as the first MCU series that doesn’t feature any legacy characters, he wanted to help educate viewers on Moon Knight’s comic book history.
Then he remembered touring the House of Terror museum in Budapest, and how visitors could use their phones to scan QR codes to read captions in English or learn more about what they were seeing. On “Moon Knight,” the character of Steven Grant (oscar isaac) works in a museum in London, and in Episode 2, he enters a storage locker that already had QR codes printed on every door. Suddenly, everything clicked into place.
“If we did organically incorporate QR codes into the environment — and if we didn’t make it gimmicky, and if we didn’t overdo it — you can seamlessly thread that in there,” Curtis says.
After successfully pitching the idea to Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige and executives Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso and Brad Winderbaum, Curtis worked with the post-production team to insert live QR codes into the backgrounds of scenes on the show via CGI. Because they only wanted to place codes where one would naturally find them, the production skipped episodes three, four and six, which are largely set in far-flung exteriors or inside ancient ruins and catacombs, where QR codes would stick out as a gimmick.
Each week’s comic book issue had some kind of connection to that week’s episode, whether it was a character or visual reference, but Curtis cautions readers not to look too far into any other hidden meanings. Which is to say, the appearance of Kang the Conqueror in the sixth and final “Moon Knight” comic is not intended to suggest that Oscar Isaac may meet up with Jonathan Majors’ version of Kang, who is set to be the villain of 2023’s “ Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.”
“It was a way to introduce a character to most of the population that would not have had the chance to read those issues otherwise,” Curtis says. “It was really trying to show the true tapestry that is Moon Knight throughout the ages.”
He adds that Marvel had no set readership goal in mind, other than hoping that at least one person would scan the QR code. “We know how astute the Marvel fan base is, and we knew that somebody would eventually click it,” he says.
As if to underline the experimental nature of the project, when Variety pointed out that a fourth QR code does appear for a brief moment in the post-credits scene in Episode 6 of “Moon Knight,” Curtis does a face-palm over Zoom. “I know exactly what shot you’re talking about now,” he says. “I’m sorry! Thanks for bringing that up. Yes, gosh, we should have made that one live. Nexttime! Nexttime!”
Certainly, Marvel Studios has no shortage of projects set for Disney+ and movie theaters in the coming years, all of which have their own comic book heritages. Curtis is hopeful that the QR code project could extend beyond “Moon Knight.”
“I think it was greeted with a lot of positivity, you know, in terms of the numbers that we’re seeing,” he says. “And as long as you can do it organically, I think it’s a pretty cool way to extend the engagement and to go from screen to page and vice versa. As the guy who enjoys the engagement that ‘Bob’s Burgers’ gives me, I think it can be a very interesting aspect for the MCU to explore in the future.”