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[This story contains spoilers for Eternals.]
In the final moments of Eternals, Dane Whitman (Kit Harington) is seen speaking with a sword, something that might seem strange to viewers unfamiliar with the comic book curse of the Ebony Blade. The Eternals post-credit scene also introduces Mahershala Ali’s Blade to the MCU for the first time, with the actor providing a voiceover cue. It’s a moment more than 50 years in the making for Dane Whitman.
When Whitman first appeared in 1967’s Avengers No. 47, he was an everyman kind of character, albeit an everyman who happened to be the nephew of a medieval-themed supervillain called the Black Knight, and who manages to impress Earth’s mightiest heroes so much that they invite him to join the team after he infiltrates a group of their enemies and sabotages them in the name of justice. That, however, wasn’t enough for writer Roy Thomas and artist Howard Purcell, who used Whitman’s first solo adventure — in 1968’s Marvel Super-Heroes No. 17 — to deepen his mythology by linking him to a Marvel character that predated the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, even the Marvel Universe itself.
Dane Whitman is, it turns out, the third Black Knight created by the company we know as Marvel. The second was his villainous uncle, but the first debuted in 1955’s The Black Knight No. 1, a series set right in the middle of the King Arthur mythology and featuring what the cover declared was “the greatest knight of them all!” Indeed, Sir Percy of Scandia — the Black Knight in question — turned out to be so great that he was gifted a magical sword by none other than Merlin himself. In Marvel Super-Heroes No. 17, the ghost of Sir Percy shows up to tell Dane Whitman that a) Whitman is a descendant of Sir Percy’s; and b) he’s such a heroic figure that he deserves to use the magical sword himself, leaving Whitman in possession of what’s become known as the Ebony Blade.
For years, Whitman hangs in the background of Marvel’s comic book universe using the Blade; he uses it as a member of the Avengers and the Defenders, and while it was destroyed in a little-seen strip appearing in comics only published in the United Kingdom, it was restored before the character’s next big American appearance. Unfortunately, it was revealed in 1984’s Doctor Strange No. 68 that the Ebony Blade wasn’t magical, exactly, so much as it was … cursed. The “Blood Curse,” as it was termed, meant that every time the sword was used to draw blood, the sword’s owner would be driven closer to madness.
If the solution to that problem seemed obvious — just don’t use the sword to draw blood — events quickly made that solution untenable, as others used the sword to kill. After a brief stint as a statue (really, don’t ask), Whitman resolves to remove the curse entirely. His decision launches literally decades of storylines in which he either believes that he’s done just that, or gives up using the Ebony Blade altogether. For much of the 1990s, he used an off-brand lightsaber. Choices were made.
Ultimately, however, neither of these approaches ever really takes, no matter how many times they’re attempted by a variety of creators across the years, leading to the latest revision to the blade’s mythology.
As per recent comic storylines, the Ebony Blade was actually created as an evil alternative to Excalibur, with the nature of its curse significantly different than what was originally believed: Instead, the blade feeds on the worst emotions of its owner and gains strength the more negative those emotions get. Moreover, only corrupt souls are able to use the blade, and using the blade will corrupt their souls even further — even as it prevents them from dying, as long as they still own the sword. (Dane Whitman has been literally beheaded, but that didn’t stop him, as it turned out.) Moreover, the fall of Camelot was, as unlikely as it seems, merely intended as a distraction to hide the creation of the Ebony Blade from the wider world, so terrible was the sword.
“There is no roadmap that I know of at the moment. If they have ideas about where my character goes, I’m not privy to it,” Harington recently told The Hollywood Reporter of his Marvel future. “All I know is that when I came on board, they said, ‘There’s a really interesting future for this character, and if you read up about him, there are many different ways we could go with him.’ And that intrigues me. I’m fascinated by the idea that any character in any story is driven by some addiction to something. And with [Dane Whitman], it’s very palpable that this sword, this blade, has an addictive pull on him.”
Only time will tell if the MCU’s Ebony Blade proves to be quite as bad news as the comic version. Nevertheless, a version of the Ebony Blade has arrived — and it’s one that seems to be speaking to the cinematic Dane Whitman, suggesting that it’s far from the average sword. Given that reveal, how long will it be before audiences see the Black Knight in all his glory on the big screen — and just where will that end up happening, anyway?
Consider it another piece of the slowly unfolding mystery at the heart of Phase 4 of the MCU.
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