Heroes in the Marvel Universe have to make tough decisions and deal with the consequences. For Dane Whitman it's not the loss of a loved one or a friend that troubles him -- it's the poisoning of his very soul. The danger to Whitman's stems from the fact that as the Black Knight he chooses to wield the Ebony Blade, a cursed mystical sword forged by the fabled wizard Merlin. For years Whitman valiantly wielded the burden of the Blade, using it to fight beside groups like the Avengers and Britain's Mi-13, but he's rarely allowed himself to consider the weapon's corrupting nature.
As Marvel's new "Black Knight" series begins, writer Frank Tieri and artist Luca Pizzari will explore whether Whitman has become addicted to the power of the Ebony Blade and what his role is now that he finds himself trapped in Weirdworld, battling menaces both surreal and sinister as well as his own personal demons. CBR News spoke with Tieri about his love for the series' flawed title character, the people and places Whitman will encounter in Weirdworld and what role the Uncanny Avengers will play in the book's initial arc.
CBR News: Dating back to at least 2007 when you were writing the character in "New Excalibur," you've been vocal about wanting to write a solo series featuring Black Knight. You came back to Dane Whitman last year with a story in "Original Sins" #2, but now you're reintroducing the character in the All-New, All-Different Marvel Universe. How far back does your Black Knight fandom go and what is it about the character that makes him resonate with you?
Frank Tieri: Dane was a character I always kind of dug all the way back to when I was a kid discovering him in those old back issues of "Avengers." I liked that era of the team -- they were still new, figuring out who they were, new guys like BK, Hercules, Vision showing up, etc. And I don't know what it was exactly -- the sword, the winged horse, the King Arthur connection -- but I thought BK was a cool and underused character. And now it's been a blast to be able to write him in a monthly book, and show how underused he's been.
As for Dane's personality, etc. -- I've always seen the guy deep down as -- and I'll just say it -- a hero. A flawed hero, certainly, but a hero nonetheless. A guy who honestly believes he is doing the right thing. That, yes the Ebony Blade may cloud his judgement at times but it's a necessary evil -- that someone needs to wield the Blade and he's it. Is he right? Is he really "destined to be damned"? That's a huge part of what we'll be examining with this book.
I understand sword and sorcery and fantasy elements will be a big part of your "Black Knight" series, which might be surprising to some readers who know your more as a villain and crime writer. You have tackled a number of fantasy stories over the years though including a Red Sonja tale last year. What is it about fantasy that appeals to you as a writer?
First of all, I'll freely admit, I've always been a sucker for the sword and sorcery stuff -- "Lord of the Rings," Conan the Barbarian, "Red Sonja" like you mentioned, etc. And let's face it --you can't possibly do a book called "Black Knight" and not have some sword in sorcery in there, right? That said, if you look at the fantasy genre now -- particularly because of stuff like "Game of Thrones" -- it's all changed. It's redefined how we look at fantasy and what stories we can tell. And redefined who our heroes can be. It's not so black and white anymore -- and I think a guy like Dane fits a bit more in that gray area now, more than ever before.
In your "Original Sins" tale you established that Dane is addicted to his cursed Ebony Blade, and addicts have periods where they're managing their addiction and periods where their addiction manages them. When the series begins eight months after "Secret Wars," what is Dane's mental and emotional status quo?
No question about it -- Dane is an addict. He is addicted to the power of that sword. And I think deep down, on some level, he knows it, has come to accept it after all these years. Feels that it's a "necessary addiction". A burden that he alone must carry.
But you know, I've known a few addicts in my day -- and I know the lies they tell. And I know the biggest lies are the ones they tell themselves. So I feel the lie he's telling himself is that he can hack it, that he's perfectly fine -- but the truth is he's not in much better shape than he was in that "Original Sins" story. The truth is, he's probably in a darker place now than maybe he's ever been -- whether he realizes it or not.
I understand your series begins with Dane in charge of a fantasy style realm in Weirdworld. What can you tell us about New Avalon? Who are some of the inhabitants of this realm that Dane will interact with on a regular basis?
Here's the thing about New Avalon -- it's not exactly new. What we'll learn is it was an existing place in Weirdworld with a past of its own that Dane took over. We'll also eventually learn the circumstances behind why and how that came to be -- and let's just say those circumstances may be a bit surprising.
So yeah, Dane has some "peeps" now. Meaning he has more responsibility now, more to protect and safeguard than ever. Chief among them will be two characters -- his so-called Spear and Shield.
His Spear is what they call his captain of the guard, a woman by the name of Alkyra -- violent yet loyal, she has some baggage of her own that we'll be revealing.
Dane's Shield is a big guy by the name of Bolten -- and he is exactly what he sounds like -- a human shield or bodyguard. He'd lay his life down for Dane in an instant yet he too has a secret or two of his own, as we'll see.
So yeah, our supporting cast will be messed up, too. Because what's the point of telling the story of a flawed hero if the people around him aren't $%^&ed up, too?
What's it like writing a story set in Weirdworld? It seems like a place where you can be wildly creative, but also have fun with misfit and odd Marvel characters that might not fit anywhere else. Will we see some established Marvel characters interacting with and facing off against Dane in Weirdworld? Are there any appearances we can keep an eye out for?
I have to say, I'm having a ball with Weirdworld. We've got serpent men, fire breathing rock trolls, flying insect squid things -- and that's just in the first issue alone! We also show that various things have popped up in Weirdworld over the years. We have one page in particular where we visit Dane's quarters and see all the stuff he's found that's turned up in Weirdworld over time -- everything from a Wanted poster of the Two Gun Kid to a vintage pinball machine. Filling that room with all easter egg stuff like that could be one of the most fun things I've ever done in my career. And there'll be plenty more of stuff like that.
I understand one of your initial mysteries in "Black Knight" will be how Dane came to be in Weirdworld. So will we see occasional flashbacks to the past and the main Marvel Universe?
We do -- and we'll actually find out the how and why Dane came to Weirdworld part through flashbacks in issues #2 and #3. What I'll say is it involves the Avengers -- the Uncanny Squad in particular. I specifically wanted to use that team because of Dane's relationship with Steve Rogers, which very much comes into play here. They play a key role in our first arc -- not to give too much away, but they come after Dane. What happens between them and Dane and how this first arc with them plays out is huge at springing us forward.
Let's chat a little bit more about enemies. It seems like in a series where the main character is an addict his arch-enemy would be himself, correct? Is Dane both the hero and ultimate villain of this book?
That's an interesting take on it, certainly. And maybe not that far off. Maybe -- like with our new antiheroes of today, the Walter Whites, the Vic Mackeys, the Tony Sopranos -- it's a bit of both.
As for more traditional villains, the Fangs of the Serpent and the Tars would fit that bill. The Fangs are the dominant group in Dane's region of Weirdworld and the ones he's fighting with the most, even right off the bat in our first issue. The Tars are the ones that Dane took New Avalon from and obviously probably want it back at some point. Both groups are not at all what they seem and both have some pretty big surprises attached to them coming up -- and I'll leave it at that.
We've talked a lot about characters and setting let's move to the person who's bringing that all to life, artist Luca Pizzari. I understand you first became familiar with his work in the same place I did, his recent "Red Skull" series for "Secret Wars" that showed off a gritty flair for action, weird horror, and bad-ass character design. What are some of the things you enjoy most about Luca's style?
Well, gritty flair for action, weird horror, and badass character design, obviously. [Laughs] In all seriousness though, Luca's really done a great job, especially with his designs. I've asked him to design some real crazy shit so far in this book and he's nailed it every time. Just look at his designs for the new BK armor -- how badass is that? I mean, is that a knight you don't want to screw with or what?
Finally, we know "Black Knight" won't be the only series unfolding in "Weirdworld." Sam Humphries and Mike Del Mundo are doing a "Weirdworld" series. I imagine Weirdworld is a pretty big place, but might we see an eventual crossover between your book and Sam's?
Let's put it this way -- Sam and I have had conversations.
We do want there to be a certain synergy between the two Weirdworld books -- though you don't need to read each book to know what's going on in Weirdworld or our respective stories, we do intend to share concepts, ideas, what have you so fans know this is all the same crazy place.
Beyond that? Hey, that's up to the fans. Here's a promise I'll make -- if fans do indeed support both books, I can almost guarantee there's a crossover. I will certainly push for it on my end -- and I'm pretty sure Sam wouldn't be opposed to it, either. So stay tuned on that front...
I really think people will be surprised by "Black Knight." We do not play it safe, I promise you that. We are loaded with twists, turns, surprises and big reveals that people will not see coming -- and I know this because my editors didn't see them coming. Look, BK fans have been waiting a long time -- since the '60s even -- for a "Black Knight" book. They deserve a book that's not what you'd expect, that's not run of the mill -- and I think they, along with new fans who want to just check us out because the book sounds cool (and it is, damn it), will dig what we've come up with.
"Black Knight" #1 is on sale now from Marvel Comics.