This weekend sees the release of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword into movie theaters.
Guy Ritchie's gritty, grounded movie is just the latest in a long line of film reinterpretations of the classic Arthurian legend, following in the footsteps of a variety of films, from the serious retelling in 1981's Excalibur, to the comedic parody of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the animated adventure of The Sword in the Stone, and and the 1990s reimagining of First Knight. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword won't even be the only movie this year to venture into Arthurian myth, as Transformers: The Last Knight will also connect the Autobots' origin to King Arthur.
But movies hardly have a monopoly on borrowing or remaking King Arthur into something new or different. Comic books have been doing the same thing for decades, and Arthurian comics are as varied in tone and style as the movies, if not more so. The big two superhero universe - Marvel Comics and DC Comics - have each incorporated King Arthur into their history, but that's tame compared to other comic book versions of King Arthur's tale. They range from traditional adventure to pulpy horror, to bringing the myth into the modern, to sending it a millennium into the future.
ComicBook.com is taking a look at some of the most interesting ways that King Arthur has been used in comic books. These are the best and most bizarre versions of the Arthurian legend that you'll see while perusing your local comic shop. Not all of them put a high value on staying true to the letter of the original King Arthur story, but they each do something unique with it.
Keep reading for a trip through Arthurian comics, from the days of King Arthur himself to today, all the way to the year 3000.
Prince Valiant is comic strip created by Hal Foster in 1937 and first published with the title Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur. Prince Valiant appears in more than 300 newspapers every Sunday and Valiant's epic adventure spans more than 4000 episodes, with other writers and artists taking the reins after Foster's death in 1982.
The story follows Val, a Nordic prince from the land of Thule, as he arrives in Camelot during King Arthur's reign. There, he befriends knights of the round table Sir Gawain and Sir Tristan and, after impressing Arthur and Merlin, becomes a knight of the round table himself.
The Duke of Windsor once called Prince Valiant the "greatest contribution to English literature in the past hundred years."prevnext
DC Comics: Shining Knight and the Demon
The DC Comics universe uses the differing versions of King Arthur's stories by establishing that there were several King Arthurs, each with different origins from different time periods.
Each King Arthur was served by a Shining Knight. The original Shining Knight was Sir Justin, created by Crieg Fessel in 1941. Sir Justin was one of the final knights to earn a seat at the round table. He was frozen in ice for generations before waking in the modern era of heroes, where he became one of the Seven Soldiers of Victory.
A modern version of the Shining Knight, Sir Ystin, was created by Grant Morrison and Simone Bianchi for the Seven Soldiers miniseries. This Shining Knight was revealed to be a girl in love with Sir Galahad. In the New 52 universe, Ystin was confirmed to be transgender, identifying as male.
Jack Kirby added to DC Comics' Arthurian legend when he created Etrigan the Demon in 1972. Merlin bound the Demon to a knight named Jason Blood, who betrayed Camelot and caused its fall. The two were cursed to live eternally while being inseparable from each other.prevnext
Marvel Comics: Black Knight, Captain Britain, and Excalibur
In the Marvel Comics Universe, Merlin forged a sword from a meteorite and dubbed it the Ebony Blade. That blade was given to the first Black Knight, a knight of the round table who slew the wicked Mordred but died himself in the effort. The Black Knight's spirit and sword were passed down to his descendents, the supervillain Nathan Garrett and the Avengers Dane Whitman.
Captain Britain, intended to be the British equivalent of Captain America, was given his powers by Merlyn and his daughter Roma. Roma, for a time, played a major role in the lives of the X-Men and their British satellite team, Excalibur.
Arthur's sword, Excalibur, is also an artifact in the Marvel Universe. The Black Knight wielded it for a time, but it is currently kept by Faiza Hussain of MI:13.prevnext
Camelot 3000 was a 12-issue series written by Michael W. Barr and drawn by Brian Bolland and released between 1982-1985.
As the title implies, Camelot 3000 takes place in the year 3000. King Arthur, Merlin, and the Knight of the Round Table are reincarnated in the tech-heavy future in order to defend earth from an alien invasion led by Arthur's old foe, Morgan Le Fey.
Camelot 3000 was more than just epic sci-fi battles between spaceknights and aliens (although it was that as well). It was among the first comic book series ever published as a limited event and designed specifically for comic book shops. Barr and Bolland were able to push certain boundaries they otherwise may not have been able to.
This included reincarnating Sir Galahad as a samurai and Sir Tristan as a woman, forcing the previously male knight to come to terms with his new gender and making his mythic romance with Isolde into a lesbian romance.prevnext
In Mage, creator Matt Wagner reimagined the Arthurian legend as a modern day superhero comic book.
The series follows Kevin Matchstick, the reincarnation of King Arthur. Matchstick's version of Excalibur is a glowing baseball bat capable of slaying monsters.
Rather than Matchstick assembling a modern Knights of the Round Table, he instead teams up with heroes from other mythological traditions, including Kirby Hero, a version of the Greek demigod Hercules, and Joe Phats, a version of the Native American mythological character Coyote.
Wagner planned Mage to be a trilogy of 15-issue series. So far, Wagner has completed two of them.prevnext
The greatest literary inspirations on Mike Mignola's Hellboy are HP Lovecraft and pulp stories, but Hellboy also has a connection to King Arthur.
Hellboy was assumed to be the son of a demon, and that much is true. His father is Azzael, a demon duke of Hell. However, it wasn't until the 2008-2009 miniseries Hellboy: The Wild Hunt that fans learned more about Hellboy's mother.
His mother's name is Sarah Hughes, and she was a powerful witch who could trace her lineage all the way back to Mordred, the bastard son of King Arthur and his half-sister, the wicked Morgan Le Fey. That makes Hellboy part of King Arthur's direct line.
Thanks to this lineage, Hellboy was able to wield Excalibur and raise an army of Britain's dead.prevnext
More King Arthur
The young Arthur runs the back passages of Londonium with his crew, not knowing his royal lineage until he grabs Excalibur. Instantly confronted by the sword's influence, Arthur is forced to make up his mind. He joins the rebellion and a shadowy young woman named Guinevere, he must learn to understand the magic weapon, deal with his demons and unite the people to defeat the dictator Vortigern, the man who murdered his parents and stole his crown to become king.prev