Thursday, May 17, 2018

A Knight's Tale

Whether it's an accurate assumption or not, when one thinks of the “black knight”, one often thinks of an evil or villainous character. To my knowledge the black knight isn’t an actual real historical person but instead is a popular literary stock character. They are oftentimes portrayed as knights with hidden identities and no public signs of loyalty to any liege. And they use this anonymity to commit dastardly and evil deeds. Given that, it would seem rather odd to actually create a superhero based on the concept of a “black knight”...but that’s exactly what Marvel did.

The original Black Knight debuted way back in the 1950’s when Marvel was still known as Atlas comics. Sir Percy of Scandia was a 6th century knight who served under King Arthur. He took up the guise of the Black Knight in order to serve his king in a dual role, as both unassuming man of the royal court and as a mysterious avenging champion against King Arthur’s greatest enemy Mordred. As his weapon, Sir Percy wielded the Ebony Blade which was constructed of a mysterious meteoric ore and enchanted by Merlin himself.

After the fall of Camelot, Sir Percy is killed by Mordred. Fortunately, Merlin managed to place a spell on his spirit, enabling him to return to the earthly plane whenever the world was once again threatened by Mordred. After his death, the title of the Black Knight was passed down his family line through the ages up until the modern day.

The first notable person to take up the Black Knight mantle in modern times would be Sir Percy’s direct descendant, biologist Nathan Garrett who discovers Sir Percy’s tomb along with the Ebony Blade. Unfortunately, he is deemed unworthy to wield the blade and is shunned by Sir Percy’s ghost. Despite the rejection, Garrett adopts the Black Knight name and turns to a life of crime in order to spite his ancestor, joining the Masters of Evil led by Baron Zemo. He ultimately meets his end when while battling Iron Man, he falls off his genetically engineered flying horse and is mortally wounded. Before his death, he manages to summon his nephew Dane Whitman to his side, reveal his identity and repent for all his crimes. He also urges his nephew to take up the identity of the Black Knight and bring back honor to their family’s legacy.

So Dane Whitman became the next Black Knight adopting all the weapons and tech his uncle employed only this time for the cause of good. Ironically he was initially contacted to join the new Masters of Evil being formed by the evil robot Ultron thinking he was still the original villainous Black Knight.. He accepted the invitation with the plan to act as a double agent and betray them on down the line by bringing in the Avengers to stop them. Unfortunately his plan was uncovered and he got severely beaten for it. In the end though he did manage to help the Avengers defeat Ultron.

After this Dane travelled to England with the intention of selling off the last of his inheritance, Garrett Castle, but before he could do so, he was contacted by the spirit of Sir Percy who led him to the Ebony Blade. Unlike his uncle, Dane proved to be worthy of the blade and was able to pull it out of its scabbard. Eventually he returned to America and officially joined the Avengers.

Unfortunately despite being an active member of the team, things don’t go quite as easy for our heroic knight. As it turned out, the Ebony Blade that he wielded was cursed with a craving for blood, and he found himself getting more and more violent the more he used the blade. Throughout his time with the Avengers he was in a constant struggle with his weapon to contain the bloodlust. Eventually, the curse got the better of him completely when Namor the Sub-Mariner used the blade to slay his wife Marinna who had unfortunately turned into a giant menacing sea leviathan. Dane started to slowly become a living extension of the blade cutting and drawing blood from anyone who touched him. And if that wasn't bad enough, he also slowly started losing the ability to move.

He then travelled to Asgard with Thor with the hopes of finding a cure to his worsening condition there. Interestingly enough, even in his paralyzed state, The Black Knight served a crucial role in defeating the Egyptian God of Death, Seth who at that time was attempting to conquer Asgard. He was used by the Thor’s ally and fellow Asgardian Hogun the Grim as a living weapon to deal the death blow to Seth.

Eventually it took the combined efforts of Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme, Dr. Strange and the spirit of Sir Percy to ultimately cure Dane of the curse and return him to normal. He then continued serving as a member of the Avengers but this time going back to the tech weaponry he used in his early days.

Unfortunately, I guess you can’t keep a good weapon down and for better or worse, Dane’s fate was tied to that of the Ebony Blade and he eventually came back into possession of it. Despite his best intentions to hide his growing mental instability from his Avengers team mates, he eventually loses control and ends up killing the villain Carnivore. He then flees to another dimension called Weirdworld where he establishes a kingdom he names New Avalon after murdering the former king of course.

Dane then proceeds to build an army composed of other worldly beings such as Demon Dogs, Giants, Ice Swarms, Thunder & Lightning Dragons and Underwater Apes with the intention of protecting him from the anticipated blow back from the murders he committed. The Avengers led by Steve Rogers travel to New Avalon with the intention of retrieving the Ebony Blade, apprehending Dane and bringing him back to Earth. In the end however, they decide to leave things as is after they realize that the people of New Avalon relied heavily on The Black Knight’s protection and that it didn’t make sense to separate him from his blade since despite his shortcomings, Dane turned out to be the most suitable wielder of the Ebony Blade.

While it wasn’t the perfect ending, leaving the now slightly insane knight to rule over his own pocket dimension kingdom served as the best solution to deal with Dane and his unfortunate struggle. It’s a rather bittersweet ending (for now) for for the Black Knight.

Although he may not be one of the more recognizable heroes in the Marvel Universe, he is one of the oldest and has had quite the prolific life as a superhero not just as an Avenger but as the leader of the alternate dimension team Ultraforce, an agent of MI:13 and and an ally of Excalibur. Yet despite all his heroic accomplishments, Dane Whitman will always be defined by his unfortunate struggle with his cursed Ebony Blade. While this is definitely a tragic fate for the Black Knight in the end, it makes him one of the more interesting and memorable characters in the Marvel Universe.