Black Knight

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Black Knight

(pop culture)

In the early 1950s the superhero genre had nearly vanished from comics, except for Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. But at Atlas Comics, the company today known as Marvel, writer/editor Stan Lee and artist Joe Maneely cleverly blended elements of the superhero genre with the legends of King Arthur and the Round Table to create the title character of Black Knight #1 (May 1955).

The Black Knight had a secret identity as Sir Percy of Scandia, who wore long blonde hair, shunned combat, and instead preferred playing music and the company of women. Stan Lee’s unspoken subtext appeared to be that Sir Percy was pretending to be gay. But in actuality Sir Percy was secretly the Black Knight, the greatest champion of King Arthur and Camelot, and the enemy of the king’s adversaries Mordred and Morgan Le Fay. The Black Knight’s advisor and confidant was the sorcerer Merlin, who forged the Knight’s enchanted Ebony Blade from a meteorite. The Black Knight’s true love was Lady Rosamund, whom he eventually married as Sir Percy.

Nine years later, Stan Lee and artist Dick Ayers created a new, villainous Black Knight in Tales to Astonish #52 (February 1964). This was one of Sir Percy’s descendants, Professor Nathan Garrett, who employed advanced science to create his Black Knight persona. For example, he genetically engineered a winged horse that he could ride through the air, and he devised a “power lance” that could fire blasts of energy. As the Black Knight, Garrett battled Giant-Man, the Avengers, and Iron Man. But in his last combat with Iron Man, Garrett fell from his winged horse while in flight and was mortally injured.

Garrett summoned his American nephew, Dane Whitman, to his deathbed, asked Whitman to restore honor to the family name, and then died. Using his uncle’s methods, Whitman genetically engineered another flying horse, named Aragorn, and became a new, heroic Black Knight. Created by writer Roy Thomas, and artists John Buscema and Dane Whitman, the new Black Knight, debuted in Avengers #47 (December 1967).

Traveling to his ancestral estate, Garrett Castle, in England, Whitman encountered the ghost of Sir Percy. By succeeding in drawing the Ebony Blade from its scabbard, Whitman proved his worthiness to be the heroic successor of the Black Knight of King Arthur’s time.

The modern Black Knight has been a longtime member of the Avengers, as well as serving in the Defenders and Heroes for Hire. He has also been an important ally of Doctor Strange. The Black Knight starred in his own feature in Marvel UK’s Hulk Weekly (1979–1980) and in his own Marvel miniseries in the United States (1990).

DC Comics likewise has characters who are both knights and superheroes. Sir Justin, the Shining Knight, was created by writer/artist Creig Flessel and first appeared in Adventure Comics #66 (September 1941). He was one of King Arthur’s knights, and Merlin endowed his horse, Victory, with wings. Sir Justin and Victory spent centuries in suspended animation until being awakened in 1941. He adopted a secret identity (Justin Arthur), and became a crime fighter and a member of a superhero team, the Seven Soldiers of Victory.

Another knight of King Arthur’s time, Brian Kent, adopted the secret identity of the Silent Knight. Created by writer Robert Kanigher and artist Irv Novick, the Silent Knight first appeared in The Brave and the Bold #1 (August 1955). Recently it was revealed that the Silent Knight was one of the previous incarnations of the superhero Hawkman.

Writer Grant Morrison and artist Simone Bianchi created a new Shining Knight in Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight #1 (August 2005). This Knight is really a woman, Justina, who comes from about 8,000 B.C.E., millennia before King Arthur’s time. She also has a flying horse, is transported to the present day, and becomes a member of Morrison’s new Seven Soldiers of Victory.

The medieval Black Knight was in an episode of the animated TV series Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, while the modern Black Knight briefly appeared in an episode of the animated series The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Sir Justin, the Shining Knight, has appeared in episodes of the Justice League Unlimited animated series. —PS