It shouldn’t surprise anyone that a bunch of Eternals take center stage in Eternals, but the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is hiding another superhero in the wings. This is why they invented post-credit scenes, after all.
When Marvel Studios first revealed the cast of Eternals, the studio let everyone know that Kit Harington would be playing Dane Whitman, the alter ego of the superhero known as the Black Knight: a not-so-capable descendant of an Arthurian knight who comes into possession of his ancestor’s cursed sword. How that character could come into play, and what Harington could do in Eternals 2, a Black Knight spinoff movie, or other parts of the MCU came into clearer focus the Eternals credits rolled. Let’s break it down.
[Ed. note: This piece contains spoilers for Eternals.]
Who is Dane Whitman?
Harington’s Whitman doesn’t have the most screentime in Eternals, as the Nice Human Museum Guy the millennia-old Sersi is dating. In fact, they spend most of the movie apart, as she jets around the world putting the Eternals team back together, while he stays in England.
Still, Sersi encourages him to reach out to his estranged uncle when she realizes the world might be ending, and in the film’s final scenes, Dane hints to her that he’s recently discovered an old family secret. Eternals doesn’t go all the way to superhero status with Dane, but the film’s post-credits scene points directly to Dane having a later reveal as the Black Knight.
What does Eternals’ post-credits scene mean?
An earlier scene in the movie gives the slightest tease about where the post-credits scene is heading. When the Eternals return to their buried spaceship and start pawing through a millennia’s worth of trophies and keepsakes, Thena (Angelina Jolie) picks up a sword, and is asked whether it’s the Ebony Blade. No, she says, it’s just Excalibur. Just.
The Ebony Blade itself appears in the post-credits scene. After Dane starts to tell Sersi about his complicated family legacy, she’s snatched away by the big red robot Arishem. In the post-credits scene, Dane is agitated as he steels himself to open a long, ornate wooden box. When he finally makes up his mind to open it, a whoosh of roaring air and whispering voices emerges. He reads the Latin words carved in the box: “Mors mihi lucrum,” meaning “Death is my reward.” In the box is a long, black sword, with a blade writhing with a kind of living darkness that gravitates toward his outreached hand, like iron filings attracted to a magnet. He says “I’m sorry, I have to try,” as he reaches for it.
But before he can touch it, an offscreen voice asks, “Sure you’re ready for that, Mr. Whitman?” and the screen cuts to black. (The voice, if you’re interested, belongs to one Mahershala Ali, taking up the gauntlet of Blade for the MCU. Exactly how he and Harington will factor into the next phase of Marvel remains to be determined.)
Who is the Black Knight?
Long before Dane Whitman took the helm of the Black Knight, the title was first held by Sir Percy of Scandia, a beloved member of King Arthur’s court. Stan Lee and artist Joe Maneely created Percy in 1955, when Marvel Comics was still known as Atlas Comics, and superhero comics were in their post-war slump, allowing for adventure books like The Black Knight #1, which was set in the medieval era, to muscle their way into newsstands.
Lee and Maneely’s Sir Percy was a self-deprecating magician, humorist, and a favorite of King Arthur, who offered his appreciation by gifting Percy the Ebony Blade, a powerful sword created by Merlin from the Starstone meteorite. Or at least that’s how the legend goes. Like any good Medieval tale, the sword’s true creator and how it derives its power is a matter of intrigue and inquest, and as a medieval knight, Percy wasn’t exactly ready to rub shoulders with the modern superheroes that drove Marvel Comics to popularity a decade later.
The second Black Knight, and the first to enter the superheroic era, was actually a supervillain. Created by Stan Lee and Dick Ayers, Nathan Garrett was a scientist, criminal, and modern descendent of Sir Percy. Garrett became so upset when his evil acts made him unworthy of wielding Percy’s magic sword that he manufactured his own tech-enhanced medieval weapons (including a genetically engineered winged horse to ride) and used them to fight Iron Man, mostly.
The third Black Knight is Garret’s nephew, Dane Whitman, the character who appears in Eternals. He assumed the legacy of the Black Knight after he was visited by the ghost of Sir Percy and successfully defeated the protective curse guarding the Ebony Blade. He’s a regular human guy without any powers, who comes into possession of an Arthurian-era sword ... and becomes a superhero. How does he non-lethally beat up bad guys when his whole schtick is a bladed weapon? A lot of carefully contrived combat situations.
What is the Ebony Blade?
The Ebony Blade is an incredibly powerful sword that makes mincemeat out nearly any foe and can even reverse the wielder’s death. If Excalibur (which Eternals references in the same breath) is the straight-A student of the enchanted sword family, the Ebony Blade is the brooding, emo cousin who sits alone at family gatherings.
That’s because this powerful sword has a nasty little secret: a curse! The more blood it sheds, the more bloodthirsty its wielder becomes. Only those pure of heart can handle the sword. Or at least that was the story for many years.
As a character, Dane has been passed around to many different writers who experimented with what to do with a flying horse-riding, sword-wielding superhero. The Black Knight has been a member of the Defenders, Ultraforce, and even MI-13. He’s stepped up to be the leader of the Avengers, a pseudo ambassador to the United Nations, and yes, even boyfriend to Sersi the Eternal.
He doesn’t feel well defined because he’s not, which should work out for Marvel Studios. He’s never had a successful standalone series, except maybe this year’s Black Knight: Curse of the Ebony Blade, a comic that revealed that the legend of the Ebony Blade is less heroic than Sir Percy initially suggested.
With Curse of the Ebony Blade, writer Si Spurrier and artist Sergio Dávila leaned into the darker elements of Dane Whitman’s psyche, and his bond with a sword that’s fueled by negative emotions. The series also introduced Jackie, the daughter Whitman never knew he had, who took up the Black Knight mantle alongside him in. While Curse of the Ebony Blade was a limited issue series, there’s still hope that the Black Knight will cement his role in the Marvel Comics Universe — especially now that he has a foot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.