“A Knight Of Shadows” (season 1, episodes 20-21; originally aired September 20, 2002, September 27, 2002)
The Arthurian knights are one of the prototypical superhero teams, and writers have constantly returned to the Knights of the Round Table to tell epic stories about the human condition. Both Marvel and DC have used an Arthurian setting for their comic books, and thanks to the contributions of Jack Kirby, DC’s Camelot continues to be a presence in their line of titles. The Fall of Camelot is a particularly popular moment, most recently depicted in both the first issues of Seven Soldiers and Demon Knights, because it’s essentially a DC Crisis for Arthurian characters.
After appearing in The New Batman Adventures, Jason Blood returns to the DCAU in “A Knight Of Shadows” to battle the evil sorceress Morgaine le Fey, the woman who used his love to infiltrate Camelot. In one of the series’ best cold opens, we see Morgaine’s attack on Camelot, her betrayal of Jason, and the curse Merlin puts on him as a punishment, binding the knight to Etrigan the Demon. The final shot, seen in the above screencap, is a favorite image of mine from this show, aping Kirby’s use of shadow and color to fantastic effect, leaving us with a striking teaser of the episode to come.
Keith Damron only wrote two Justice League episodes, but he’s a writer that knows how to use DC history to tell emotional stories that don’t lose a sense of fun. “A Knight Of Shadows” is an Arthurian epic of swords and sorcery, but it’s primarily a story about family. Morgaine le Fey seeks the Philosopher’s Stone so she can resurrect Camelot and put her son Mordred on the throne, and she manipulates J’onn’s hopes to see his family again in order to obtain her prize. Morgaine essentially uses the same strategy as Mongul will on Superman in “For The Man Who Loves Everything,” deceiving J’onn into believing his family is still alive. In order to beat her, J’onn must learn to give up his past life and accept his new one with the Justice League.
J’onn is a character that works when paired up with any member of the Justice League: he can relate to Batman with the dead-family angle; he’s an outsider acclimating to a new world like Wonder Woman; and his stern demeanor makes him a great foil for Flash. Once J’onn is tainted by Morgaine, Etrigan loses all faith in him because he knows the complete domination that the witch is capable of. Morgaine le Fey is a medieval femme fatale, tapping into a person’s innermost desires and exploiting them for her personal gain. And with magic on her side, her power is nearly limitless. Even though J’onn knows that the visions of his family are just illusions, Morgaine’s magic convinces him they are real, and even the slightest possibility for their resurrection fuels J’onn.
After hesitating in battle and nearly getting Batman killed, J’onn tells Bruce, “Sometimes I believe I would do anything to see my loved ones again. You can’t imagine how that feels.” Batman just looks down, knowing all too well. By the end of the episode, J’onn accepts the League as his new family, but Batman is still reluctant to fully commit to the team. Batman could be seen as a modern-day King Arthur, with Gotham as his Camelot, Alfred as Merlin, Selina as Guinevere, Dick as Lancelot, and so on and so forth. He already has a kingdom, and his work with the Justice League keeps him away from where he’s needed most. As the scope of Batman’s mission increases, his relationship with the League deepens, but at this point he’s still a reserve member, helping out when the fate of Gotham hangs in the balance.
Flash and Wonder Woman’s search for the Philosopher’s Stones takes them to the mansion of magazine mogul Herv Hickman, a not-so-subtle substitute for Hugh Hefner who wouldn’t mind getting Diana out of her star-spangled swimsuit. Diana is still learning about world of men, and Hickman shows her the way modern society values lust and greed. Eventually Diana catches on to the easiest way to get what she’s looking for, changes her posture, bats her eyes, and seductively tells the horny man, “I’d love to see your stone, Mr. Hickman.” Of course, the first time Wonder Woman uses sexuality in her strategy, she ends up fighting a giant penis-worm monster.
Butch Lukic directs “A Knight of Shadows,” and as expected, the fight scenes are awesome. There’s a great sequence in the Watchtower in which Etrigan casts a freezing spell on Morgaine’s soldiers while Flash runs around them, crystallizing the ogres, and then disintegrating them in the frozen whirlwind. It shows off just how powerful Wally can be, and J’onn has some similarly badass moments. He uses his full power set when fighting Etrigan at the end of the episode, proving himself an opponent too formidable for even the forces of Hell (ironic because fire is his main weakness). There’s also one of the show’s silliest fights as Batman fights an anthropomorphic chair, but that goofiness is balanced by Batman sword-fighting earlier in the episode, which is always a treat to see.
- Etrigan is Jason Blood’s Hulk, and this episode even ends with an image of Jason walking away from the camera, much like the final shot of David Banner in The Incredible Hulk TV series.
- Anyone else reminded of Talia and Damien with Morgaine and Mordred’s dynamic?
- My favorite costume at Hickman’s party is the Cats-style Catwoman.
- “I only read it for the articles.”
- Batman: “I trust J’onn with my life.” Etrigan: “I’ll send flowers.”
- “Yo Hickman, keep it down! Some of us trying to sleep.”