Incredible Hulk Weekly #1,3-30,42-55,57-63 (Black Knight)
Issue(s): Hulk Comic #1, Hulk Comic #3, Hulk Comic #4, Hulk Comic #5, Hulk Comic #6, Hulk Comic #7, Hulk Comic #8, Hulk Comic #9, Hulk Comic #10, Hulk Comic #11, Hulk Comic #12, Hulk Comic #13, Hulk Comic #14, Hulk Comic #15, Hulk Comic #16, Hulk Comic #17, Hulk Comic #18, Hulk Comic #19, Hulk Comic #20, Hulk Comic #21, Hulk Comic #22, Hulk Comic #23, Hulk Comic #24, Hulk Comic #25, Hulk Comic #26, Hulk Comic #27, Hulk Comic #28, Hulk Comic #29, Hulk Comic #30, Hulk Comic #42, Hulk Comic #43, Hulk Comic #44, Hulk Comic #45, Hulk Comic #46, Incredible Hulk Weekly #47, Incredible Hulk Weekly #48, Incredible Hulk Weekly #49,Incredible Hulk Weekly #50, Incredible Hulk Weekly #51, Incredible Hulk Weekly #52, Incredible Hulk Weekly #53, Incredible Hulk Weekly #54, Incredible Hulk Weekly #55, Incredible Hulk Weekly #57, Incredible Hulk Weekly #58, Incredible Hulk #59, Incredible Hulk #60, Incredible Hulk #61, Incredible Hulk #62, Incredible Hulk #63 (Black Knight/Captain Britain stories only)
The nature of this story and the way it was reprinted make it difficult to be precise about the credits and other things. The stories in each issue were about 3 pages long, and the trade does not put covers, credits, or issue numbers at the beginning of each segment (which was absolutely the right decision for readability but it makes cataloging more difficult). Paul Neary was definitely not on every issue; he seems to come in for the later half and even then sporadically and just for layouts while John Stokes continues to do finishes. I should also note that issues #31-41 are not listed because they do not actually have new content; they instead retell the origins of Captain Britain and the Black Knight. I'll discuss the revisions to their origins, but i otherwise won't be covering those issues. Issues #2 and #56 also did not feature parts of this story.
Regarding what i listed in the Title field above, i more or less made that up. "Otherworld Quest" is how they refer to the series in the comic. "Siege of Camelot" is the name of the second deluxe Captain Britain trade that reprints these issues. There aren't actually titles in the issues themselves. There are descriptor phrases above the series title, e.g.: "The giant Hellravens of Modred swoop down at... The Black Knight" and sometimes they repeat, like "On a mysterious quest in Cornwall, Merlyn's champion... The Black Knight", but they aren't really titles and also listing 50 or so issues worth of those seems unnecessary.
Ok, so that's enough housekeeping. What IS this story? It's an epic swords & sorcery tale using figures from Arthurian legend although borrowing heavily from other fantasy fiction, most notably Tolkien but also (according to a text piece from Captain Britain Summer Special #1 that is included in my trade reprint) Ursula Le Guin and Larry Niven. Dane Whitman, the Black Knight, is the primary character, but Brian Braddock, Captain Britain, also plays a major role. It's eventually explained that when Brian was on a plane home from his visit to America in Marvel Team-Up #65-66 (although see Excalibur #53), he was attacked by the main bad guy of this story, Necromon the Nethergod, and he lost his memory in the attack. This is meant to explain his hiatus; Captain Britain's UK series was cancelled in Nov 77 and he hadn't appeared anywhere since (by publication date, and excepting the Marvel Team-Up story; see the Considerations section below for a couple of additional caveats regarding internal chronology).
I've complained on this site about the serial format when stories are delivered in such small chunks. But the three pages per issue here reads much better than the seven page installments in Captain Britain's previous series. That may be in part due to the fact that the creative team is more used to this format, but there's a significant difference in the format itself. Each segment continues pretty much directly from the previous section. There aren't any false cliffhangers, there aren't any opening splash panels, and each section isn't structured to have its own little climax. So reading the issues straight through results results in a very natural read. That's why it makes sense to not have covers or title cards interrupting each issue. I still have doubts about reading these as individual issues in realtime, but i guess since they came out weekly it wasn't a big deal and you could always save them up and read a bunch at once if you preferred.
The story is a pretty good fantasy adventure. It's definitely not a super-hero story and if you're not into fantasy tropes it's probably not for you. It's also pretty personality free. Captain Britain is amnesiac for most of the story and the Black Knight is still in the quasi-Medieval mode that he was in between his return to the present and Dr. Strange "curing" him and Valinor in Roger Stern's Doctor Strange run. And the other characters are fantasy stock - mysterious guides and aloof wizards and pure evil villains. The story does add some wood elves mid-way through and they are a bit more fun. Overall, though, it's dry; the appeal is the heroics and magic, not the characterization. For my purposes i'll be covering major events and the bits that are relevant to the characters that last beyond the series, not every in-and-out of the plot.
One more note, i guess. From the Captain Britain Summer Special text piece, it says that they made a few name changes to the Arthurian characters to "give the legend-in-the-making its own distinction: Merlin became Merlyn, Modred became Mordred". This is still the same Merlin/Merlyn that was involved in Captain Britain's origin, so i'm tagging him as Merlin and i'll be referring to him that way. Modred/Mordred was apparently based on the character that appeared in Marvel Chillers, but he's very clearly a different character. This Modred/Mordred is confirmed to be the one that appears in the Black Knight story in Marvel Super Heroes #17, so i'll refer to this character as Mordred as opposed to Modred.
Ok. We start with a helicopter downed by a freak storm. It was trying to deliver a rare blood type, so the Black Knight offers to get it there.
Also in the area is our amnesiac Brian Braddock, and an old witch.
The Black Knight is mistaken for a UFO while trying to deliver the blood, and meanwhile, the evil wizard Mordred begins his attack.
The Black Knight fights off Mordred's Hellravens, but his winged horse Valinor is injured in the attack.
Seeking shelter in a cave, the Black Knight is suddenly attacked by Brian.
Hearing the name Merlin vaguely reminds Brian who he is.
Together, the two face more threats from Mordred, including a stone golem and a horde of goblins, and also meet one of the Six Proud Walkers (from a folk song, but they also seem kind of like the Istari from Tolkein), who is initially referred to as just the Walker, but whose name will turn out to be Vortigen.
Vortigen helps the two heroes fight off the attack from Mordred, and so does the old witch, who ultimately turns into a tree to produce an apple that heals Valinor when he eats it.
Vortigen has been sent by Merlin to lead the Black Knight and Captain Britain to Otherworld (which is essentially Avalon). The group is briefly split up, with Captain Britain going with Vortigen and going through a modern human village, resulting in this funny scene.
The group then meets its first elf when facing off against an Iron Ogre.
As you can see, the elves aren't what we think of as elves. Definitely not Tolkien elves, and not the Keebler sort either. I don't know if the "halfling" he's mistaken for is the Tolkien Hobbit variety or meant as a half-man/half-animal creature. This one is called Moondog (no relation to the Brother Voodoo villain!) and he'll be the main elf for this story. But another elf named Jackdaw (no relation to the Hulk villain!) will become moderately important later, at least in the sense that he makes it out of this series.
Of more immediate concern is that the Black Knight's Ebony Blade was destroyed during the fight with the Iron Ogre.
Vortigen takes the Black Knight and Captain Britain to the elf village, where they learn his name and that he used to be a king.
After some more attacks from goblins and the like, with the Black Knight being forced to use a tiny elvish sword, the group gets split up again and the Knight encounters the Lady of the Lake, who gives him Excalibur.
During a subsequent battle, Excalbur seemingly defeats an opponent of its own accord, leaving the Black Knight to wonder if he is its master or its slave. We'll later see that the sword prevents him from killing helpless foes. The Black Knight is otherwise invincible while wielding the sword; he slices through everything in his path.
All of this is still taking place on Earth. But the elves eventually lead the Black Knight and Captain Britain to the gateway to Otherworld. Captain Britain is killed fighting the guardian.
The Black Knight nonetheless brings Captain Britain's body through the gateway to Otherworld, and there Merlin joins them...
...and literally snatches Captain Britain's soul from the jaws of death.
While Merlin is busy with that, Mordred attacks.
But Mordred is also defeated by Excalibur.
So far Mordred has been the big boss, but now we're introduced to the boss's boss, Necromon.
We've made the jump from issue #30 to #42 here, skipping the origin stories, and after introducing Necromon, issues #42-43 shows what happened to Captain Britain after Marvel Team-Up.
Merlin then tells the story of King Arthur, who fought against the forces of Necromon in the ancient days. When Arthur fell in battle, Merlin began the process of instigating new heroes to fight in his tradition, and the result was the Black Knight and Captain Britain. Merlin reveals that the quest now is to locate the resting place of King Arthur so that he can be revived to continue the fight against Necromon.
Necromon later sends a dragon to fight the Black Knight. The Black Knight defeats the dragon with Excalibur, but the battle doesn't result in the dragon's death. But the dragon goads the Knight into killing him anyway, requiring the Knight to resist Excalibur's anti-killing influence.
Killing the dragon drops a magic pearl that gives the Black Knight even more power, but with it comes a One Ring-like corruption.
In fact, using the pearl makes him lose the purity that allowed him to wield Excalibur.
He learns this while fighting a Gargantua...
...that he nonetheless defeats and enslaves. The Black Knight arrives at Camelot with his Gargantua...
...and meets Roma.
The Gargantua turns out to have once been an ally of Merlin's that got corrupted, and Merlin releases him to die fighting the forces of Necromon to give the others some time.
It's while fighting another dragon that we meet Jackdaw.
He's a more elflike looking elf, but he's closer to Keebler sized.
With Jackdaw and the Black Knight, Captain Britain searches for the spot where King Arthur is buried.
The Black Knight has to sacrifice his dragon pearl to revive Arthur.
And he gives him Excalibur.
King Arthur's first act is to send Captain Britain home (or not quite, as we'll learn), and he sends Jackdaw with him.
So that's issue #60, and it's the last we see of Captain Britain in this story.
Meanwhile, Merlin has the Black Knight's ebony blade reforged by a blacksmith named Weyland.
And now we're ready for our final battle with Necromon.
Several losses during the battle, including the death of Moondog.
Here's Roma kicking some ass, but you can see Necromon climbing up the castle of Camelot.
And while Arthur and the Black Knight are able to defeat Necromon...
...Necromon still manages to take Camelot with him.
It ends with Vortigen offering his kingdom as a place to rebuild Camelot, while the Black Knight expresses his intention to return to "green Earth... and home!".
Definitely much more the Black Knight's story than Captain Britain's. CB helps out with some of the fighting, but his main purpose is to slowly remember the location of King Arthur's burial, which he learned when Necromon attacked him on the plane back from his Marvel Team-Up appearance. Captain Britain's mystic origins were mostly downplayed in his appearances so far, aside from his origin and the story where his staff is upgraded, and the fact that his staff was shown to repel supernatural creatures like werewolves. I feel like he's a little out of place in a pure swords & sorcery story like this, which may be why he spends a good portion amnesiac and then exits slightly early. I'm still glad this was included in the Captain Britain trade, because due to the format it was very unlikely i was ever going to get all of this otherwise. The biggest question it answers for me was "Who the heck is Jackdaw?!", who briefly shows up in Alan Moore's Captain Britain run only to get killed off rather quickly. But this story also solidifies the Black Knight's ties with Avalon/Otherworld, brings King Arthur and the Lady of the Lake into the present, shows us a present day Excalibur sword, and lets us see more of Merlin and Roma in their natural habitat than we usually do. It's a fun adventure story, too; certainly something unusual and unique in my Marvel comics collection.
Now, for issues #31-41, which retold the origins of Captain Britain and the Black Knight. It's not entirely a straight re-telling. As they say in issue #31: "Over the next few weeks, we're taking a break from the Otherworld Quest to not only re-tell the origins of Captain Britain and the Black Knight, but also we're tying up a whole heap of loose plot threads we inherited from previous writers and editors".
The first change i noticed is that in the scene from Captain Britain #2 where the meteor is said to come from the Siege Perilous to deliver Brian Braddock his powers, the reference to the Siege Perilous is replaced with a reference to Otherworld. Stragg the Reaver, is similarly said to become an agent of Netherworld (Necromon's kingdom) when he takes the sword. The spelling of Merlin's name is changed to Merlyn for the retelling, too. More significantly, the super-villain Hurricane from Captain Britain is said to have been a pawn of the Nether-Gods. We're also reminded that the wizard Nykonn used the phrase "by the Nether-Gods" in Captain Britain #36, which is i guess where it came from.
The Black Knight's origin is a more straight retelling of the death of his uncle and first appearance, but mostly of Marvel Super-Heroes #17. It doesn't even change the name of the villain from Modred to Mordred.
So it really isn't a "whole heap" of loose ends. Just a few retroactive insertions referring to Otherworld and the Nether-Gods. The weirdest bit is making Hurricane an agent of the Nether-Gods.
Quality Rating: C+
Chronological Placement Considerations: For the Black Knight, this has to take place after Avengers #226 (Dec 82), when he returns from the Crusades to the present, and before Doctor Strange #68 (Dec 84) when Dr. Strange takes the wings off Valinor. For Captain Britain, this takes place after Marvel Team-Up #66 (Feb 78) and ends with King Arthur teleporting him away with the elf Jackdaw. He's shown returning from that teleportation in Marvel Super Heroes #377 (Sep 81), and as he arrives his costume changes and his sceptre disappears. However, an "immeasurable" amount of time passes during the teleportation, according to MSH #377. The two flies in the ointment are Hulk #250 (Aug 80) and Contest of Champions (Jun-Aug 82). Captain Britain has amnesia after Marvel Team-Up #66, so appearances for him after that issue and before this series (when it's cleared up) are problematic. Luckily the Hulk issue just shows him in a single panel wandering the streets with no dialogue, so we can assume he had amnesia at that point too, prior to the start of this series. It doesn't really fit with what's shown in the flashback, but we can assume the flashback just doesn't tell the whole story. Contest of the Champions is more tricky. Black Knight and Captain Britain don't meet until this series, and as mentioned it ends with Captain Britain getting teleported away. So there's no time before or after this series where the Black Knight and Captain Britain should be hanging out. But that's exactly what happens in Contest of Champions; we see CB riding on the back of Valinor with the Black Knight as they get teleported to the Grandmaster's arena. The MCP solve the problem by having Contest of Champions take place during this story, specifically between issues #13-14, which is when the Black Knight and Captain Britain are camped with Vortigen and the elves, one of the few downtime moments in the story. But that's before Captain Britain gets his memories back, so i don't like him being in Contest of Champions at that time, especially because of his little interaction with Shamrock. So another option is that the Grandmaster's powers pulled Captain Britain out of King Arthur's long-term teleportation and put him back with the Black Knight before pulling them both to Contest of Champions (i'm thinking about the Beyonder doing similar things with the X-Men during the first Secret Wars because they "seemed right"). And then as soon as Contest of Champions ended, King Arthur's spell snapped Captain Britain back into the teleportation channel with Jackdaw. Alternatively, Arthur himself decided to send Captain Britain back for this; see the entry for Marvel Super Heroes #377-386 more thoughts. In any event, i'm putting this directly before Contest of Champions so you can decide if they happen concurrently or in quick succession.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: Captain Britain vol. 2: Siege of Camelot
Inbound References (6): show
On the three-page-per-issue story format, this was quite common in British comics - many of which were anthology titles with lots of different stories.
Posted by: Stephen | February 17, 2015 6:20 PM
Plus the Excalibur seems to have a lot of the same characteristics that the Black Knight's ebony sword has.
Posted by: clyde | February 17, 2015 6:38 PM
I can imagine the Grandmaster being able to grab Captain Brittain from Otherworld-teleportation-limbo, but how do you explain Cap's appearances in Hulk and Rom? Did the Grandmaster's effect linger for a while before Cap was snapped back?
Posted by: Berend | February 17, 2015 6:44 PM
Thanks, Berend, i should have said something about those.
I still have to look at the post-CoC Captain Britain appearances which i'll do when i cover the issues in the X-Men Archives reprint soon. I think we'll have to go with a "new costume is at the cleaners" solution, but even with that i'll still have to find a way to split up the Alan Davis issues, since there's also a dependency with Captain America #305-307.
Posted by: fnord12 | February 17, 2015 7:31 PM
Weirdly, Alan Moore references Necromon's attack on Brian when he was flying home when Merlyn is rebuilding Brian but he makes it sound like Brian's mind might have just snapped, not that he was attacked by a demon.
Posted by: Michael | February 17, 2015 7:56 PM
Just to close the loop on my and Berend's comments about placement, see the Considerations on Marvel Super Heroes #377-386.
Posted by: fnord12 | March 3, 2015 1:52 PM
The rendition of King Arthur here looks almost exactly like the King Arthur that Brian Bolland would draw in Camelot 3000 a few years later. I wonder if Bolland was influenced by the artist here, or if they were drawing from a common source, like some English children's book.
Posted by: Andrew | January 23, 2017 9:29 AM
Perhaps Hal Foster's version from PRINCE VALIANT? It could certainly be the model for the version here. (Long hair; heavy beard and moustache; thin face with high cheekbones.)
Posted by: Luke Blanchard | January 23, 2017 10:18 AM
On reflection I shouldn't have said "thin face". I was thinking of the effect created by the high cheekbones.
Posted by: Luke Blanchard | January 23, 2017 1:31 PM
Comments are now closed.
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