Black Knight #1

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Black Knight is not a terrible character, nor is Black Knight #1 a terrible story.  But it is an example of terrible storytelling.

One of the more baffling trends in the modern age of comics has been the proliferation of the first-person narration boxes as a storytelling devise.  A synthesis of the third-person narration boxes and thought balloons of yesteryear, first-person narration boxes are the comics medium’s equivalent of television’s testimonials (wherein on a reality television show or mockumentary the camera cuts away from the ongoing drama so that one of the participants can explain to the audience what they were thinking and feeling): both appeared at roughly the same time and for roughly the same reason, with the writer(s) talking down to the audience or talking creative shortcuts.

With the exception of Jeph Loeb’s run on Superman/Batman, which used such to cleverly juxtapose the contrasting perspectives of its two leads, I can think of few examples in which this devise was used to its full literary potential.  Rarely does the insight into a character’s thoughts prove superior to the mood setting of a third-person omniscient narrator (cf. Swamp Thing #21 “Anatomy Lessons,” X-Men #25 “Dreams Fade”) or the austere absence of any narration at all (cf. Millar’s The Ultimates 1 & 2).

But Frank Tieri’s reliance on narration boxes goes far beyond their usual misuse.  Nearly the entirety of Black Knight #1 is told through such, reading like a Wikipedia article which Dane Whitman wrote about his own life.  It’s clear Tieri is attempting to introduce new readers to a fairly obscure character and catch them up on his history up through the eight-month time jump all Marvel books are experiencing in the wake of Secret Wars.  He even lampshades the devise, explaining the narration in universe with a scene of Dane dictating such narration into a voice recorder, but Tieri’s attempt at being clever comes off only as clumsy instead.

Perhaps it’s simply the overlapping Arthurian subject matter, but artist Luca Pizzari seems at times to be channeling the work of Hal Foster and subsequent creators on Prince Valiant.  The scenes in which he does are by far the strongest in the issue, including a gorgeous establishing splash of Weirdworld midway through.  Alternatively, where Pizzari falls into the standard superhero fare his art is at its weakest.  He seems in general less skilled at figures and faces than strange settings and creatures.

While that’s particularly a problem with the art, the same can be said of the concept for the book as a whole.  Black Knight is clearly Marvel’s attempt to have a high fantasy offering in its line-up, continuing on the success of the Weirdworld mini-series from Secret Wars.  Insofar as it commits to the genre, pulling clearly from beloved sources such as Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian, it mostly delivers on expectations.  Yet it too strongly reinforces its interconnection to the Marvel multiverse at large, the unique flavors of sword-and-sorcery and superheroes never quite complimenting each other here.

One day, a comic creator will come along and gift the medium its own equivalent of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth or Martin’s Westeros, but the Weirdworld presented in Tieri and Pizzari’s Black Knight #1 is nowhere closer to being such.

4.0/10

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