The debut issue of Black Knight dated May, 1955 from Atlas Comics (really Marvel) is a true comics gem. The debut issue written by Stan Lee and drawn by the the great Joe Maneely. This comic came like most Atlas comics in response to a public interest. The Black Knight wasn't the first of these types of adventure comics, arriving on the stands in a time when superheroes had run their course and horror was verboten.
Of course Hal Foster's Prince Valiant had been dominating the Sunday comics pages for many years since its debut in 1937.
Toby Comics hit it first with their own Black Knight comic some years before in 1953.
EC stung by public outcry was seeking new genres for its own welfare when it tried out a comic called Valor full of knights and other historical derring-do.
And soon enough DC would create the longest lived title of this era, The Brave and the Bold with Shining Knight, Viking Prince, and The Golden Gladiator, though of course eventually this comic would surrender to the superheroes too becoming one of the very best Batman books.
All of this was in response, more or less, to a wave of Hollywood movies which featured posh medieval adventures with a distinct Hollywood flair. There was even one called The Black Knight.
The Black Knight, a superbly and elegantly designed character, comes to comic life in his debut story. Set in Camelot during the reign of the legendary King Arthur the knights of the time are famous names such as Gawain and Galahad. Into that mix came the evil Modred who plots along with his wife Morgan Le Fay to gain the throne itself. Merlin grows old but is still quite wily and so arranges for a handsome young swain named Sir Percy of Scandia to show up at the castle. He is cousin to Modred, but has been asked by Merlin to play a fop who has little interest in violence, though this makes him disgraceful in the eyes of Arthur's ward the lovely Rosamond. This is a sham to misdirect suspicion when Sir Percy adopts the heroic role of The Black Knight, a mysterious warrior who successfully rises to protect King Arthur and Camelot from Modred's traitorous minions.
Between two Black Knight stories there is a a brief tale of The Crusader. Set during the Crusades, this oddball story has a ship full of knights besot by plague, land on a shore menaced by the Mongols. Among the Mongols is a European named El Alemain, who is unaware of his origin, but who breaks ranks with his savage comrades and seeks to leave the suffering knights in peace. But one particularly ambitious Mongol causes a fracture in the ranks and El Alemain must use his famed Saracen blade to defend the Europeans. The battle won, El Alemain discovers one of the knights is his brother, himself having been lost many years before. Adopting the armor of his brother he becomes "The Crusader".
In the second of two Black Knight stories, King Arthur is kidnapped. Sir Percy becomes the Black Knight and showing some exceedingly keen fighting skills he struggles against the forces of Modred and Morgan Le Fay who immediately assume the throne in the King's absence. The Black Knight is specifically armed by Merlin with the "Black Blade" which will become his signature weapon in the comic. Needless to say, the Knight is successful ultimately and King Arthur is rescued from the dungeons and reclaims his throne much to Modred's chagrin.
Also included in the debut issue is a two-page text story relating how Arthur pulled Excalibur from the stone and became King of all the realm.
The Black Knight has been one of my favorite Marvel heroes since I stumbled across his adventures in the pages of Fantasy Masterpieces/Marvel Super-Heroes. The crisp artwork of Maneely really made this vintage story shine with a gloss which felt quite modern. The Black Knight stories, the early ones at least have a superb craftsmanship to them which make them real jewels from Marvel's long history.
|Debut Black Knight Story reprinted.|
|Debut Crusader story reprinted.|
|Second Black Knight story reprinted.|
More to come.