Round Table Round-Up: Our Favorite King Arthur Comics
With this week's release of Marvel's "Black Knight" #1 -- not to be confused with DC's similarly named space zombie epic -- creators Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz are revisiting the age of Camelot to reveal the long-lost origin of the Black Knight and the the sword that's basically Excalibur in one of those Evil Mirror Universe Goatees from "Star Trek," Chaos the Doombringer!
We're not gonna lie: That sounds pretty awesome, and it's gotten us thinking about the other great comics that have been inspired by the legend of King Arthur, so we've knighted Sir Christopher of Sims as our champion and charged him with listing off the best comics inspired by Arthurian Legend!
One of the best known and highest regarded comic book takes on Arthurian Legend, Matt Wagner's "Mage" follows the adventures of Kevin Matchstick, the reincarnation of King Arthur, complete with the modern-day equivalent of Excalibur: a glowing magical baseball bat that he uses to bash monsters' heads in. And yes: It is as awesome as it sounds.
What's more, the characters in "Mage" aren't just based on mythological heroes, they're also modeled after Wagner's comics industry friends: Matchstick is an idealized version of Wagner himself (even losing his hair to a lightning bolt around the time that Wagner was thinning out on top), Hercules stand-in Kirby Hero was based on writer/artist Bernie Mireault, and strangest of all, as writer Chris Roberson revealed in an episode of the War Rocket Ajax podcast, the reincarnation of Beowulf was based on "Hulk" (and "Teen Wolf Too") writer Jeph Loeb!
Along the same lines as "Mage," Mike W. Barr and Brian Bolland's Camelot 3000 was about the reincarnations of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, but set in the far-off future of--cue Conan O'Brien--the year 3000!
"C3K", as we are pretty sure no one has ever called it, was DC's first maxi-series and one of the first comics made exclusively for the comic shop market (as opposed to the newsstand). This allowed Barr to take some risks with the format that he otherwise wouldn't have gotten away with in 1982, including recasting Sir Galahad as a samurai (IN SPACE!) and reincarnating both Tristan and Isolde as women, leading them to what we think was the first comic book use of lesbian space-knights.
Rick Veitch's "Aquaman"
It seems like a moody king named Arthur with a revenge crazed relative would be a natural fit for the trappings of the Round Table, but nobody brought it to the forefront quite as much as writer Rick Veitch, who opened his run with Aquaman meeting the Lady of the Lake. Sadly, Aquaman got kind of a raw deal, as she gave him something slightly goofier than a magic unbeatable sword: A hand made of "hard water."
Veitch kept up the themes for his run, even going so far as to parody Disney's "Sword in the Stone" with a scene of Aquaman and his sidekick transformed into fish, but it didn't stick, and Aquaman ended up being rebooted yet again, this time into Conan-of-the-Sea. As for his status now... who knows?
Speaking of Veitch, it's worth noting that he first visited Arthurian themes fourteen years earlier in "Swamp Thing", as part of one of the greatest (and most controversial) time travel stories of all time. In "Swamp Thing" #87's "Fall of the House of Pendragon" -- Veitch's last issue before he left the book in protest -- Swamp Thing himself accidentally destroys the castle of Camelot during the climactic battle between Arthur and Morgaine le Fey.
The issue even includes cameo appearances by a few other DC characters inspired by Arthurian Legend, like...
...Etrigan the Demon, who was conjured by Merlin and bonded to the soul of Jason Blood as a last-ditch effort to save Camelot! It didn't quite work out as well as he might've hoped.
Often considered to be one of the greatest Iron Man stories of all time, "Iron Man" #149 and #150 saw the Armored Avenger and Doctor Doom transported to Camelot by Doom's Time Platform.
Even putting aside the fact that Dr. Doom is a bad enough dude to keep a time machine chilling in his basement, the story of the two armored characters fighting on opposite sides of the Arthur/Morgan conflict and then having to turn to each other to get back to their own time is full of great moments from both characters. Our favorite: The meeting with King Arthur, where Iron Man proves his Future-Man status by levitating the throne with a magnetic field, while Doom just straight up reminds everybody that he's a king and doesn't do tricks.
And we're not the only ones who like it either: Writers Bob Layton and David Michelinie reunited a hundred issues later in "Iron Man" #249-250, sending Doom and Iron Man to meet Arthur again--this time a reborn version in the year 2093!
One of the all-time great newspaper strips, Hal Foster's "Prince Valiant" originated when Foster wanted to do something other than "Tarzan," and grew into one of the most well-regarded Arthur-inspired stories of all time. In fact, according to Wikipedia, the strip was called the "greatest contribution to English literature in the past hundred years" by the Duke of Windsor, although that pales in comparison to the honor of being parodied by Harvey Kurtzman and Wally Wood as "Prince Violent" in an early issue of "MAD."
With the way it draws on classic stories and fairy tales, it shouldn't surprise anyone that Bill Willingham's "Fables" found a way to tie into the story of Arthur. In this case, Arthur himself is absent (having yet to be reborn after his death at Avalon) but his role is carried out by Flycatcher, the Frog Prince, knighted with Excalibur by the Forsworn Knight, Sir Lancelot, before going off to found a new kingdom.
Like the Demon, the Shining Knight is another time-lost character with an origin in the days of Camelot, but we like the version Grant Morrison created for the "7 Soldiers" mini-series. Recast as the lone survivor of a cataclysm that destroyed the original Camelot 10,000 years ago, Sir Ystin (secretly a female version) escaped the sinister Castle Revolving and found herself in the present, battling the maniacal and almost all-powerful Sheeda Queen for the seven lost treasures of King Arthur.
There's enough ideas in there to fill an ongoing series, but aside from a few cameos, Ystin (or Ystina, rather) hasn't been seen much since.
Captain Britain and MI-13
When you get right down to it, it's hard to think of a character with more Arthurian connections than Captain Britain, who got his powers from Merlin, battled the Green Knight, and even led a team called "Excalibur."
What's more, in his latest run, he was there when the actual sword Excalibur was drawn, this time around by Dr. Faiza Hussain, who promptly set about putting it to good use by ramming it through CA favorite Dracula.
Our favorite use of Arthurian lore in recent comics? The recent Hellboy mini-series, "The Wild Hunt," which finally revealed the title character's origin and set the stage for his next big development. We'd always sort of figured that Hellboy was a descendant of Satan--the family resemblance is kind of obvious--but we'd never considered the other side of his parentage, which makes him the heir to Arthur himself. Now with the knowledge that he's half-Satan, half-Arthur, Hellboy has drawn Excalibur and finds himself tasked with raising "an army of Britain's noble dead."
And that is why everyone should be reading "Hellboy."