Marvel's superheroic Black Knight, Dane Whitman, is one of the publisher's oldest heroes, debuting all the way back in 1967's Avengers #47. In the time since, he's led multiple Avengers teams, been sent to an alternate reality and returned, and even starred in his own title a few times. But one thing he hasn't done is stuck to the ribs of comic book readers as a leading man.
Now, starting with February 3's King in Black: Black Knight one-shot, which ties Whitman's story of a hero possessed of an Ebony Blade that demands lifeforce in with Venom's saga of the dark god Knull, who wields his own dark blade, All-Black the Necrosword, writer Simon Spurrier is embarking on a journey to bring Dane Whitman to Marvel prominence.
With Black Knight's comic book star turn coming on the cusp of the character joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe in November's Eternals film, played by Game of Thrones actor Kit Harrington, Spurrier is addressing Whitman's status quo and mythology, with an eye on streamlining his history and his place in the Marvel Comics Universe.
"I think it's fair to say he's in a kinda sorry state," Spurrier tells Newsarama of Whitman's current status quo, which has been in a state of flux since the character's short-lived 2015 post-Secret Wars title.
"One of the things that fascinates me most about the character is how conflicted and complex his backstory has become. In this one-shot we'll find him trying (and failing) to pretend he's totally okay - totally happy with the way his life is going," Spurrier explains.
"He's developed these absurd strategies to just keep rolling - to keep playing the part of this faux-medieval swashbuckler - when in fact he's having a full-on crisis of confidence and identity," the writer continues. "He doesn't know where he fits into the hero-ing world, and it quickly becomes clear he doesn't even really understand his own abilities and the things that make him special."
It's that last bit that Spurrier aims to correct for both Black Knight himself and Dane Whitman's fans, starting with King in Black: Black Knight before moving onto an upcoming five-issue limited series titled Black Knight: Curse of the Ebony Blade.
"In this story we begin the process of untangling, reconciling, and simplifying who and what the Black Knight actually is," Spurrier tells Newsarama. "What he can do and how he does it. We're essentially presenting a new take which unifies, respects, and pays homage to all the old takes while explaining why Dane Whitman has never really felt like he belongs..."
In his quest to revamp and revitalize the Black Knight, Spurrier is working with artist Jesus Saiz, whose work Spurrier calls "unbelievable."
"I had a month and a half of near-daily inbox ecstasy," Spurrier states, enthusiastically praising Saiz's lush fantasy renderings, seen in the interior pages shown here.
"What's incredible is that he leans so hard into the fantasy mood and the epic rendering that you'd be forgiven for assuming a paucity of storytelling or character acting, but nuh-uh," Spurrier states. "It's all right there. He's the full package."
As for the content of Saiz's gorgeous, fantasy-filled pages, it all comes down to a team-up between Black Knight and recent Marvel breakout stars Aero and Swordmaster, in their native China.
"In this extra-length special issue, Dane goes racing off to confront the monstrous symbiotic legions of Knull as they swarm the earth (As he puts it: Knight versus Dragon is a stone-cold classic)," quips Spurrier.
"But his impulsiveness costs him dearly, and it's only thanks to a couple of China's greatest superheroes - Aero and Swordmaster - that he doesn't end up smeared down the sidewalk," Spurrier continues. "What follows is a ridiculously fun adventure through the streets of Shanghai as these three mismatched companions struggle to understand each other's words, intentions, and cultural backgrounds - all while splattering dragons."
"For Dane in particular, it's a journey not only through a monster-infested town but into the darkest and most surprising corners of his own soul," Spurrier concludes – though when pressed about the potential connection between Black Knight's Ebony Blade and Knull's Necrosword, Spurrier states he "simply couldn't say" what the story will reveal.
Though he's mum on exactly how Spurrier confirms King in Black: Black Knight will lead directly into Curse of the Ebony Blade.
"They're linked, but not inextricably. A reader can enjoy either one without the other, I think - but the full picture you’d get from starting with the King in Black one-shot and moving on to the series is truly delicious," Spurrier states.
"Basically, the one-shot leaves Dane with a newfound understanding of his whole status quo. And it’s a big, scary, life-changing deal," he continues. "The series asks: what does he do with this knowledge? And I'm sorry to report that it doesn't, alas, make his day-to-day any easier. In fact, things are only going to get darker, bloodier, more brutal, and waaaay stranger from here on. And the long-dead ghosts of Camelot are calling..."
With a host of historical and mythological roots to draw on, not to mention Black Knight's own storied past in the Marvel Universe, Spurrier's goal is to dial-in on Dane Whitman as a leading man, and elevate him to what the writer sees as his rightful place in the pantheon of Marvel's top superheroes.
"He has what every great character needs in spades: inner conflict," Spurrier explains. "For me, the tragedy is that there have been so many attempts to say he's this, or he's that, and to fit him into these manufactured niches which often contradict each other, when there was a far simpler solution all along: You simply ask him to accept that he's a mess. And you make that the source of his strength."
"Seriously, he ought to be one of the most beloved characters in the canon. A good man trying to do what's right, despite a tormented soul and a lot of really trippy bloodline history," Spurrier opines, summing up his take on Black Knight. "My greatest aim is to tidy him up enough that the world can see what a compelling character - a human disaster; an unmatched warrior - he truly is."
King in Black: Black Knight #1 is due out February 3.
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