Knights of Pendragon #1-6
Issue(s): Knights of Pendragon #1, Knights of Pendragon #2, Knights of Pendragon #3, Knights of Pendragon #4, Knights of Pendragon #5, Knights of Pendragon #6
The same lettercol (the first one published) describes this series as "an eco-thriller, combining Arthurian legend with some horror overtones, with a bit of the Marvel Universe thrown in". That's a lot! The "eco" part is very prominent. The story is very political in that regard, and the message extends to the physical copies of the books themselves; a note on every title page says, "THE KNIGHTS OF PENDRAGON is printed on SCANGLOSS - an environmentally safe paper which uses half as many trees as normal paper and a minimum amount of chlorine bleach". And a note at the end of issue #2 directs us to give money to charities that support African elephants.
The story has the Weird Happenings Organization (WHO) reaching out to police detective Dai Thomas so that he can investigate a serious of grisly murders (this is pretty much it for Captain Britain until issue #4, unless you count a fold-out poster of the cover of issue #1 that comes with issue #2).
Each victim is someone that has been abusing the environment in some way, and they are killed in an appropriate manner (a whale hunter is killed by a harpoon, a farmer using toxic chemicals is chopped up and mixed in with his strawberries, etc..).
If nothing else, this series will expose me to British words like "punnets".
All of the people killed are thought to be related to the Omni corporation, and indeed their executive Francesca Grace has hired a mercenary named Dolph to trail Thomas in his investigation.
Dai is dogged by a reporter named Kate McClellan. They eventually bury the typical cop/reporter antagonism and work together and even develop a little romance.
This is all pretty dry (no super-heroes!) but you'll notice one of WHO's ESPers having a little freak-out in one of the panels above. Dai is similarly having weird dreams, of an ancient warrior.
Dai and Kate's investigation takes them all around the world - Kenya, Florida, Belize - as they continue to investigate the murders (as well as the environmental wrongdoings that Omni has been up to, which trigger the murders).
And Dai continues to have his visions.
He starts to believe that he's been "chosen" to deal with what's happening in this story.
The art can be a little stiff, and it's very different from mainstream Marvel house style, but it's got a kind of subdued realism to it.
Dai, with the Florida Coast Guard, attempts to stop some people shooting manatee. But they wind up coming under fire themselves.
And then something weird happens. A slime-thing attacks the people in the other boat.
And then Dai, semi-possessed by the warrior from his dreams, confronts the thing, and it goes away. Dai calls it a "friend".
Dolph, watching this, becomes terrified to confront Dai. So he puts together a well armed mercenary force to deal with him.
And Dolph is right to be cautious; Dai has become quite a warrior at this point (these aren't Dolph's troops yet).
And he continues to have visions and see his "friend".
The Omni corporation puts pressure on political allies to get WHO to take Dai off the case. But he's a changed man...
...and most likely would have continued to investigate anyway. But in any event, he's attacked by Dolph's group.
After defeating the mercenaries, Dai continues on his investigation. So Omni pulls more strings, and Captain Britain is called in to stop him.
Dai Thomas started off as a one note supporting character whose thing was that he hated super-heroes. The irony that it's a different scenario for him now...
...does not go entirely unremarked upon.
Captain Britain catches up with Dai in South America.
They get to fighting, with Dai holding his own...
...and still having visions.
Dai eventually pulls a machine gun on Captain Britain.
And that gets Captain Britain so enraged that he seemingly kills Dai.
Kate, still in Belize, senses it.
Captain Britain winds up wandering aimlessly for three days. And then he encounters the armored warrior from Dai's visions.
He identifies as Gawain, as in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Dai had been carrying a book about him around.
Gawain leads Captain Britain to a site nearby where Kate, reacting to her vision, has come in a helicopter. Which crashed, and she's now being attacked by demons.
After all the demons are killed, Kate recognizes Gawain as Dai.
Gawain/Dai then leads Captain Britain and Kate to the resting place of the Green Knight. The image below blows my mind.
The Green Knight is really more like an personification of nature. And it's upset about pollution.
To stop it from killing, our three protagonists realize that they have to offer to become its avatar. But Captain Britain is rejected because he's already a hero, so him making such a sacrifice wouldn't be meaningful.
Kate offers to do it, but she's also rejected, because she's only doing it out of guilt, and that's apparently not useful to the creature.
So Dai-Gawain offers to do it, "just because it is necessary".
The Green Knight disappears and Dai is restored to his normal self.
When it's over, Kate goes to Francesca Grace at Omni, and basically just tells her that she'll be watching them.
And that's our first arc. It all has a pretty low key feel to it, even when Dai and Captain Britain are trading punches. But the occasional shifts to the weird supernatural stuff is all the more surprising because of that. It's a smartly written story and i like it (even though i admit to being a little confused about a few things, like what exactly made Dai's offer to be an avatar better than the other two). I suspect a lot of people would find it kind of boring, though, since it is kind of dry.
This seems to be the debut of artist Gary Erskine, and he'll go on to do other things, including work with Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison, and Warren Ellis. Co-writer Dan Abnett and inker Andy Lanning will later form a writing partnership (sometimes notated as DnA); they're known especially for helping revive Marvel's cosmic characters circa 2008.
Quality Rating: B
Chronological Placement Considerations: This story takes place over a course of "weeks".
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (2): showAlistaire Stuart, Alysande Stuart, Captain Britain, Dai Thomas, Dolph, Francesca Grace Lexley, Green Knight, Kate McClellan, Meggan, Sir Gawain
I like Kate's "logic"- "You acted possessed and looked younger- you need to see a shrink! Because psychological problems normally make a person look younger. It couldn't have been anything supernatural."
Posted by: Michael | June 20, 2015 9:12 AM
These first 6 issues were recently collected for the first(?) time, before that I'd never even heard of this series. I think it's an admirable attempt, especially because of the explicit eco-politics, but the whole mythology/symbolism thing is way overdone, the way the writing hammers it gets boring after a while. Also, I think Dai Thomas is a fairly cliched and dull anti-hero. It feels like Abnett and Tomlinson wanted to make him into a Marvel Universe John Constantine, but it doesn't quite work.
Speaking of Constantine, this book is very much in the vein of Hellblazer and Swamp Thing and all those other DC books that would later become Vertigo. I'm not sure whether it's because Abbnett and Tomlinson were consciously trying to imimitate Moore and Delano and the other "British invasion" writers, or whether their shared background with those writers gave them a similar sensibility. I think both Tomlinson and Abnett had both written comics for 2000AD before this, just like Moore/Delano/Morrison/etc had.
To be honest, I don't think the tone this comic fits into the main Marvel universe at all, it would've made much more sense as a (proto-)Vertigo title. Abnett of course would later on prove he's better at writing traditional superhero comics than this kind of stuff, when he partnered with Andy Lanning... Wikipedia says Tomlinson went back to 2000AD, I guess it was better fit for him, but I'm not really familiar with his work there.
Posted by: Tuomas | June 20, 2015 11:54 AM
Abnett had some stinkers when partnered with Lanning too- anyone remember the Crossing?
Posted by: Michael | June 20, 2015 11:57 AM
From what I remember from an old Sean Connery Arthurian Knights film, the Green Knight wasn't part of the Round Table.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | June 20, 2015 3:29 PM
In "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," the Green Knight was a stranger who visited Arthur's court and challenged any of the knights there to strike him with his own axe, promising to return the blow the next year. Sir Gawain took him up on the offer and decapitated him, but the Knight just picked up his head and said, "See you at my place next year!" The story follows Gawain as he makes the journey while trying to reconcile his chivalrous code with the fact that...well, he doesn't want to die!
Posted by: TCP | June 21, 2015 10:07 AM
Thanks TCP. That clears some things up for me. This story is actually told in these issue but it's kind of abstract since it's part of Dai's dream visions.
I've also started tracking Sir Gawain as a character.
Posted by: fnord12 | June 21, 2015 11:06 AM
The nature theme is also something people have read into the original story for a long time. Some of the key symbols are the Green Knight's color and seeming immortality, as well as the fact that when he first appears he is holding an axe in one hand and a bough of holly in the other.
Posted by: TCP | June 22, 2015 9:49 AM
If I'm not mistaken, Alan Davis was so miffed about Captain Britain killing Dai -- Brian's notorious temper aside, it does seem extreme to the point of being out of character, even for him -- that he retconned this arc, and quite possibly the entire book by extension, as occurring in an alternate universe. See the next to last page of Excalibur 44.
Posted by: Matt | July 20, 2015 7:57 PM
Yes, you are mistaken. This arc and this book are referenced in several later comics. However, I think there is an explanation in a later issue that Brian only killed Dai because Lancelot's spirit influenced him to do so.
Posted by: Michael | July 21, 2015 8:12 AM
According to Alan Davis in Amazing Heroes #193, this book came into existence because John Tomlinson had an idea about transforming Dai Thomas into a superhero. Davis also stated that the initial reason for Captain Britain killing Dai was that he was really pissed off, not because of any Spirit of Lancelot stuff. However, Davis decided that Dai's beating went on way too long to fit Cap's character, so "Lancelot" was eventually brought in.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | August 10, 2015 10:50 AM
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