By Frank Tieri, Luca Pizzari, Kev Walker, and Antonio Fabela
If ever there was a comic that summed up everything wrong with this moment in Marvel history, it’d have to be Black Knight. Nowhere else can you find the infuriating blend of squandered potential, empty tie-ins, and curious soulless-ness than in this latest revival of a character Marvel’s never seemed all that sure what to do with in the first place. To be fair, some of that has to do with the Black Knight’s history in that he’s one of the few Marvel characters to predate the Fantastic Four, first appearing in 1955 as a medieval hero in the vein of Viking Prince or Silent Knight. The more recent version of the character, a modern man named Dane Whitman who inherited the role of Black Knight as a legendary protector along with the mythic black sword, was a reinvention of the ’55 version that popped up in ’67 and even then wasn’t fully explored till ’68 in issue #17 of Marvel Super-Heroes. This All-New, All-Different Black Knight adventure is following that Black Knight rather than the medieval character or the short-lived villain from the 2005 Black Panther comic. Given the amount of bizarre baggage the Black Knight brings with him it’d be understandable if Marvel managed to turn out an okay comic with the material but what they’ve got here is barely above competent.
The plot of Black Knight is that Dane Whitman has taken a break from obscurity to travel to Weirdworld, a surrealist fantasy world that’s much more engaging in the pages of its own comic, but more on that later. While in Weirdworld, Dane succumbs to the influence of his sentient magical sword and has become a sort of despot of Weirdworld. One could argue this makes Black Knight a villain comic, but that would honestly be giving it too much credit. If this was the about the adventures of a hero driven mad by his mystic weapon trying to take control of a land that defies even the concept of control that might’ve been compelling. Instead the story serves almost entirely as an Uncanny Avengers tie-in as the team has come to try to remove Black Knight. This is one of the book’s biggest problems on multiple levels.
Firstly, the amount of Avengers/Cinematic Universe paraphernalia Marvel has been cramming into their universe lately has gone beyond obnoxious into down right aggressive. It doesn’t help that the Uncanny Avengers are the most insufferable version of the team currently running, punctuated by a horrendously unfunny Deadpool and the forever tedious old man Steve Rogers. Not that the idea of shoe-horning the Avengers into a comic they have exactly no business in would’ve worked if the team were more compelling, but it would’ve at least been less annoying. Now, not only does the comic feel like just an excuse to splatter more “AVENGERS” trademarks across the page it’s an annoying and poorly written splatter as well, marred with weak characterization and alienating “heroes.” But really, the Avengers have exactly no place in this comic and they only contribute to the much bigger problem that Black Knight has no idea what it is as a comic.
Something that’s impacted the entirety of the All-New, All-Different Marvel is that their comics have, for the most part, felt incredibly nondescript and amorphous. Everything they put out feels like just another generic superhero story, there’s almost nothing even close to bordering on the thrilling espionage stories of Iron Man Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. or Brubaker’s Captain America, the all-ages comedy fair of Groot, or the off-beat superhero sitcom that was Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye. Black Knight is easily the worst offender of the bunch, taking a character so overtly rooted in the tropes, history, and visuals of high fantasy comics and turning his book into another superhero filler adventure. It honestly feels like Black Knight is going out of its way to lack all identity or idiosyncrasy given how much it has to drain to the cool craziness out of the Weirdworld setting. Weirdworld, for the record, is one of the only Marvel comics now that feels like something other than another attempt to fill the time from cradle to grave with Marvel Cinematic Universe branded characters acting out the most stock and basic superhero plot imaginable. Black Knight even trumps former lord of squandered potential Devil Dinosaur and Moon Girl by resorting to a “hero vs. hero” plot, because apparently if it worked once 10 years ago Marvel will just keep doing it over and over again; just look at Civil War II.
The artwork, which might’ve redeemed some of this, is pretty bad all around. It’s this weird blend of rubbery, cartoon action man physicality with overly detailed and sketchy figures that just don’t work at all. Every page feels crowded and unfocused with so many panels the eye has no idea where to focus. The coloring is pretty bad as well, to the point the book actually starts to hurt your eyes after a while. This is mainly due to how dark and muddy everything looks, especially the hot colors like yellow and red. It doesn’t help that the book is full up with crowd and group shots that are so detailed and darkly colors it’s incredibly hard to make out what you’re looking at so you’re left constantly straining yourself to make out what’s happening.
The worst thing about Black Knight is that it’s not even as bad as it might seem from all the problems with it. No, if the comic was truly awful that might require an artistic core or deeper identity and Black Knight doesn’t have those. What it does have is cameos and cross promotions all slathered over a dull, empty, paint-by-numbers superhero plot like the comic book equivalent of spreading mayonnaise on white bread. There’s just no part of the book that suggest anyone working on it or editing it cared or though this comic would matter in 6 months time so why should we, the audience? Maybe that should be the slogan of this Marvel branding initiative, instead of “All-New, All-Different” how about “We Don’t Care, And It Shows.”