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|Black Knight #1-5 (May 1955 - April 1956).
Marvel Comics' first Black Knight, Sir Percy of Scandia, first appeared in the medieval-adventure series Black Knight #1-5 (May-Dec. 1955) created by writer-editor Stan Lee and artist Joe Maneely from Atlas Comics, the 1950s precursor to Marvel Comics.
The Black Knight 1-3 feature art by Maneely, the remaining two issues feature work by the under-rated Syd Shores and Fred Kida, with one story by John Romita. The writing is only credited on some of the stories, but we know Stan Lee wrote the first Black Knight story.
The Black Knight is pure early Silver Age superheroes set in Camelot. Following the example of swashbuckers like the Scarlet Pimpernel and Zorro (and countless comic book superheroes), the Black Knight had a double identity. Sir Percy is secretly the Black Knight, but only Merlin knows that. Everyone else thinks Sir Percy is a coward, particularly the Lady Rosamund, King Arthur's ward. She's in love with the Black Knight, but won't give Sir Percy the time of day, even though Sir Percy loves her. It's the classic Superman/Clark Kent/Lois Lane love triangle. The conflict comes from Mordred, who keeps plotting to overthrow King Arthur, only to have his plans foiled by the Black Knight. But the Black Knight can never prove Mordred's complicity, so Mordred remains King Arthur's trusted nephew. So it's extremely Silver Agey in its approach to a status quo, but the lush artwork makes it work.
Each issue of the Black Knight also contains a story of the Crusader, an Englishman who was shipwrecked in the Middle East as a young child. Raised among the Moslems, when the Crusaders arrive, he realizes his loyalties lie with them and he joins Richard the Lionhearted as ... the Crusader. It's a surprising mix of progressive treatment of race (with the exception of some hideous coloring, the Moslems are not treated as subhuman, barbaric, or evil, and the main villain of the stories is a member of Richard's entourage who wants to replace Richard as the leader of the crusaders) with a very regressive premise (the Crusader throws off his life of living among the Moslems to throw his lot in with Richard's forces simply because he is of English ancestry).
Surely inspired in Prince Valiant, a long-run comic strip created by Hal Foster in 1937. It is an epic adventure, setting is Arthurian, that has told a continuous story during its entire history, and the full stretch of that story now totals more than 3700 Sunday strips. Generally regarded by comics historians as one of the most impressive visual creations ever syndicated.
Joseph "Joe" Maneely (born Feb. 18, 1926, Pennsylvania, United States; died June 7, 1958) is an American comic book artist best known for his work at Marvel Comics' 1950s predecessor, Atlas Comics, where he co-created the Marvel characters the Black Knight, the Ringo Kid, the Yellow Claw, and Jimmy Woo. An exquisite draftsman whose delicate yet solid, fine-line figures made his work both distinctive and well-suited to the medium, Maneely was one of the relative stars of Atlas, along with such soon-to-blossom talents as Steve Ditko and John Romita. Talented and well-respected, he died in a commuter-train accident shortly before Marvel's ascendancy into a commercial and pop-cultural conglomerate.
Maneely found work at Timely Comics, as it was transitioning to its 1950s incarnation as Atlas Comics. His first published story there was the eight-page Western story "The Kansas Massacre of 1864" in Western Outlaws And Sheriffs #60 (Dec. 1949). However, historian Michael J. Vassallo, dating stories by Atlas' published job-numbers, suggests the first Atlas story to which Maneely contributed was the later-published "The Mystery of the Valley of Giants" in Black Rider #8 (March 1950), an 18-page story drawn by many uncredited artists, including Syd Shores; Maneely's work appears on page three, with some additional minor inking on five other pages. Maneely soon hit his stride at Atlas, for which he freelanced before going on staff "in about 1955".
With speed to match his style, he became a favorite of editor-in-chief Stan Lee, who assigned Maneely covers and stories throughout virtually the entire range of Atlas comics. With superheroes experiencing a lull in popularity, Maneely drew Westerns, war, horror, humor, romance, science fiction, spy, crime, and even period-adventure stories — that last most notably with the medieval series Black Knight, co-created by Maneely and writer and editor-in-chief Lee.
The covers of Sub-Mariner Comics #37, 39 and 41 (Dec. 1954, April and Aug. 1955) were Maneely's only superhero work for Atlas, during the company's short-lived mid-1950s attempt to revive superheroes. By 1955, Maneely's inking had stylized itself to a precision 'etching' effect, and he would enter a fruitful year that would see him turn out his most diverse and prolific work.
By the summer of 1957, Atlas was experiencing difficulties and began shedding freelancers. Maneely continued to work with Lee on the Chicago Sun-Times-syndicated comic strip Mrs. Lyons' Cubs, which debuted in newspapers February 10, 1958. He also did a limited amount of freelancing for DC Comics, Charlton Comics and Crestwood Publications.