The Earth of the Marvel Universe has been invaded quite a bit lately. Regardless of the quality of events like War of the Realms, Empyre, and now King in Black, it's hard to deny the broad strokes similarities they share and how closely these mass-scale events have happened to one another. The latter of those is currently ongoing and concerns the arrival of Knull and his symbiote dragons. Across the world through the main book and a variety of tie-ins, a multitude of heroes are taking a stand against him and so it falls to the creative teams of those titles to pick an angle on their story that makes it stand out.
Written by Simon Spurrier
Art by Jesús Saiz
Lettered by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
With this one-shot King in Black: Black Knight #1, Simon Spurrier uses the opportunity to dig into the psyche of Dane Whitman, a.k.a. the Black Knight. Dane is a character that readers might have seen on an Avengers team or an iteration of the Defenders without having a strong handle on who he is, and Spurrier is aware of this. The book plays on the character's backstory, as well as a recent appearance in the Superior Spider-Man tie-in to the wider event, but a wider awareness of these isn't required as Spurrier's scripting is sure to include enough detail about both of these.
The short of it is that Dane has a sword called the Ebony Blade which seemingly curses whoever wields it by giving them a bloodlust and only the pure of heart, the strongest of all, are able to handle it. It also happens to be one of the only weapons that might be able to stop Knull. This means, like a lot of these tie-ins, the Black Knight finds himself fighting against gooey beasts. Just as soon as the invading force arrives, the Black Knight sets off, headfirst into the fray, Ebony Blade in hand.
While the issue's focus is the Black Knight, he does find himself fighting alongside a couple of other characters along the way. These exterior circumstances give the creative team the opportunity to tell an interior-focused story about who Dane is, why he fights, and as a way to reorient the direction of the character for his upcoming miniseries. One way this is accomplished comes courtesy of Cory Petit's lettering choices. The Black Knight's dialogue is captured in traditional speech balloons but is also accompanied by narration which looks like it's written on pieces of parchment. The narration is grand in nature and comes close to being purple prose, but knowingly so, with Spurrier using it as a show of bravado from the Black Knight as an attempt to drown out the whispers of fear and doubt he can hear. By using this from the start, it allows the creative team to cut through the bluster and get to the heart of who he really is.
Another way the team accomplishes this is by diving into Dane's subconscious due to the connection between Knull and the Ebony Blade. These pages see Jesús Saiz eschew traditional paneling. Instead, the various images on these pages are rendered as a collage, with the moments being depicted overlapping rather than being separated by panel borders and gutters. The direction of how to read through these isn't immediately clear, and in other circumstances would be an example of poor storytelling clarity, only here the visual technique works as a way of representing Dane's clouded mind and his self-doubt being amplified by the current situation.
King in Black: Black Knight #1 preview
All this manages to make Knull more than just the ominous threat other books have depicted him as. The interplay between the Black Knight and the other characters involved highlighting his flaws from another perspective. Though as much as the creative team have a handle on the internal factors of their story, moments where they fight symbiote monsters still aren't that exciting, not to mention similar to what other tie-ins are doing. Saiz's visual style is also less consistent. By and large, their sense of scale is strong, but there are moments – such as the final beat – where they depict it from a perspective that undercuts the purpose. Their character models can be too glossy at points too. This means that their expressions aren't as dynamic, though they avoid this issue with their lead as his helmet covers up the wider surface area of his head and emphasizes his most reactive features – his eyes and mouth.
What this all means is that this is not necessarily an issue that will change opinions on King in Black, but the creative team has certainly managed to build a character study into the constraints and expectations of the event. Spurrier is a writer that's easily able to burrow into a character's psyche. Thanks to a strong take on Dane and his mythology, the creative team doesn't just deconstruct him over the course of the issue but are also sure to start building him back up so the upcoming Black Knight limited series can take him in a new direction.
King in Black: Black Knight #1 is available now in comic book shops and on digital platforms. Check out Newsarama's list of the best digital comics readers for Android and iOS devices.