Just when you thought it was safe to go back into Weirdworld …
It would be interesting to compare and contrast this issue with the recent Weirdworld series from Secret Wars. It’s not just that both take place in this (relatively) new location to the Marvel Universe, but they both feature a sword-and-sorcery vibe, with a sword-slinging hero out of his element who is full of world-weary frustration. So why can you be so taken with Weirdworld, while Black Knight leaves you cold?
For one, this series isn’t content with allowing just one or two elements to round out its narrative. There’s already two strong elements — Dane Whitman, the Black Knight, is stuck in Weirdworld for one, and for two, well, it’s Weridworld. But that’s not enough for this book. More and more things start piling up. There’s tension in the Knight’s ranks, he’s ruler of New Avalon, there’s a major mysterious enemy in the Fangs of the Serpent, the ghost of his ancestor is haunting him, he’s probably-but-maybe-not already succumbed to the curse of the Ebony Blade, and, oh yeah, the Uncanny Avengers are showing up. With all of these things happening, it’s difficult to tell which is meant to catch readers up on exposition, which is meant to be developing into our story’s central conflict, and how any of it is meant to work together.
For example, the Black Knight and a team of scouts he employs find Yet Another Weirdness— a German U-Boat atop a giant cliff, with more mystery inside. But that’s only for a couple of pages, since everyone returns to New Avalon with nary a mention at all about the submarine. I can accept random world-building strangeness like fire-breathing trolls attacking the Knight, but that’s all in context of the flow of a fight scene meant to be the action that leads into our story. Setting up the discovery of a submarine feels like it’s meant to be a dramatic narrative moment, and it’s abandoned as quickly as it’s introduced.
There are some nice choices with the art, which handles some montage of flashback, fight scenes, landscapes of wonder, and moments of reflection. There’s a darkness and heavyness to the figures and landscapes, as if shapes are defined by shadow and not simply by outline. There are times when the faces, in particular, are a bit too roughtly hewn, maybe, like when Dane Whitman’s face slightly shifts off-model, even within the same page or two. It’s pretty impressive, though, in range and with the sheer number of elements that are demanded. Another thing that’s so simple but I appreciate so much? The fact that everyone actually uses their right hand when using his weapons. That looks like I’m prejudiced against lefties, but really I’m just saying that the simple detail of right-handedness is usually guaranteed to be overlooked by artists.
The colors are well-rendered, of course, although perhaps a bit too dark to help the eye navigate at times. For example, even on the first splash page with the Black Knight and some Serpent guy in the middle of the battle, there is a sameness to the values across the page, and a subtle difference to the main characters, whereas a more dramatic spotlight could help highlight the central action. In terms sequential art, though, it’s great. Care is taken to illustrate panel-by-panel, and various scene shifts and flashbacks flow together thanks to the color design.
I do think that the Black Knight makes for a great character in this kind of story. He’s a man of science and technology (he made his own lightsaber at one point) and of specatuclarly bad decisions about his love life. Neither of these aspects of his character is touched upon, though, and instead the introduction we’re given is about how he’s just a normal guy thrust into a life of legacy, Avenger’s membership, and New Avalon. Oh yeah, and the curse of the Blade, of course. (“Of curse?”)
It feels like another “more is more” kind of storytelling, with too many elements competing for narrative attention, even though they are all necessary to build this new world. The result is that the stakes are not clearly defined, and the relative importance of things are confused. I like the Weirdworld setting, but I don’t feel properly introduced to it, and the setting itself isn’t allowed to come the fore with so many other things to consider. As a character study for the Black Knight, it’s fairly strong, and perhaps we’ll get to see some opportunities for more aspects to be explored. Otherwise, as of now, it’s just a pretty typical, but nicely drawn, lost-in-a-strange-world kind of story.