The Black Knight is one of those characters with a long history of not being in the spotlight. He’s served various stints on the Avengers ever since the late ’60s and has even gotten the odd mini here and there, but by and large he’s at best a second-string figure from a team book. To quote a phrase that King in Black: Black Knight #1 repeats frequently, he’s Avengers-adjacent. But now he’s back to feature prominently in…a symbiote-centric event. In context it actually makes sense, but how is the issue overall?
The creative team kicks things off to a good start with their take on Dane Whitman. The issue opens mid-aerial battle with Dane fighting what looks like a Venomized™ dragon. It’s more comedic than dramatic as the action is accompanied by a series of captions using old school fantasy narration (or what my first instinct was too call “old timey knight voice”) to describe what’s happening in third person. The gravitas presumed by the narration is quickly contrasted by Dane himself screaming about his ass armor:
These opening pages immediately lay the groundwork for what to expect: a regular dude more or less cosplaying a big classical hero. We get a good sense for writer Simon Spurrier’s comedic timing and skill for switching back and forth between voices and tones. VC’s Cory Petit also utilizes one of the most fun techniques in lettering by switching up the fonts used in narration boxes vs. when characters are actually speaking. The visual contrast between withered parchment-esque word boxes and more standard word balloons emphasizes the dichotomy between Dane Whitman the man and the Black Knight presented in the narration.
The fun continues when we cut away and get a look into Dane’s room, complete with a mural of his ex-teammates bowing down to him as well as mannequins adorned by all his old suits of armor. Artist Jesus Saiz simultaneously tells us both where this character has been and where he is now: namely, with a bit of a complex about where he’s been and the fact that he’s not quite there anymore. There are a number of other impressive details in this scene, from the texture of Dane’s bedding to his anatomy as he groans in response to Sir Percy of Scandia, a ghost/ancestor-in-residence who serves to do little but scold Dane over his decidedly unknightly conduct.
Sir Percy is the first of a handful of characters who make appearances to butt heads with Dane and look down on skeptically. The other two are the heroes Aero and Sword Master, and the scenes of them and BK fighting dragons together are the best in the book. Ironically, this solo dubbed issue mimics the logic of Black Knight being an ensemble member moreso than a lone protagonist: his conflicts with other people are much more interesting than his inner conflicts. Aero and Sword Master show a lot of personality — the latter in particular is interesting to view through lens of his similarities and differences from Dane.
Naturally, the drama shifts back to Dane’s inner demons by the issue’s end and this is where things get the most dicey. Without wading too deeply into spoiler territory, I’ll just say that Dane’s character arc hinges on some concepts that sound great and have a strong relatability factor but which aren’t executed effectively. It’s a case of the character development feeling dictated rather than properly earned.
Aero specifically seems to have a sudden shift in her opinion on Dane when she’s more or less possessed by the spirit of the creative team dictating how we as the audience are supposed to feel about him following his heroic moment of self-discovery and perseverance. This is followed up by a bizarre comment from Sword Master about Dane not being a western hero. Whatever Spurrier was going for here falls flat given that, regardless of any question of his moral character and failings, Dane Whitman is still a white American superhero.
The art in the second half of the issue is also more of a mixed bag. By and large there’s still a lot to dig. Saiz delivers plenty of awesome images including a mural of classic but oft overlooked baddies like Shuma-Gorath and Khonshu. It should also be noted that the coloration throughout is strong and stylistically well-matched to the line work. My main gripe is that the sense of perspective and dimensionality gets comparably lackluster during some portions the final battle. Events begin to look a bit flat, and there is one page in particular where the various characters in the background don’t look like they’re actually reacting in accordance with the flying rubble around them. Everything more or less looks to be the same amount of distance away from the viewer, though in context this clearly isn’t meant to be the case.
Ultimately, King in Black: Black Knight #1 is a promising start to what might become the Black Knight’s most interesting era yet. With that said, my final score may look a bit low considering how much fun I had with the issue as a whole. Unfortunately, pivotal moments of Dane’s character arc are too flawed in their execution for the issue to feel like it sticks the landing. Nonetheless, there is a lot of fun to be had here. The creative team clearly has a defined vision for the character, and I look forward to seeing what comes from Dane’s upcoming solo series once the King in Black event wraps up.
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