Is This Your King?: An Investigation into Knull, the King in Black

The King in Black is coming, so let's figure him out by answering ten key questions.

When a new comic character appears out of nowhere and becomes a sensation, I typically get why they’re popular even if they’re not up my alley. Take Punchline as an example. The recent nu-Harley Quinn has everything you want out of the new hotness: a connection to major characters (The Joker AND Batman), a unique variant on an existing formula, and a solid visual identity. Put that all together with a smart rollout and you have a surefire hit on your hands. It adds up.

Every once in a while, though, a breakthrough confounds me. It’s rare, but sometimes I look at a character and wonder what others see in them. Their very appearance can make me feel like Regina George in Mean Girls, as I constantly wonder why someone – a publisher in this case – is trying to make “fetch” work. 1 But there’s typically a reason for that, which is that it already is working, and the publisher is just taking advantage of the interest.

That’s the case with Knull, the titular King in Black from the upcoming event comic from writer Donny Cates and artist Ryan Stegman.

While I applaud Cates and Stegman for building an impactful mythology into the larger story that began in 2018’s Venom #1, there’s just something about Knull that doesn’t jive with me. This God of the Symbiotes, as we now know him as, feels like Marvel’s equivalent of DC’s energy from recent years, with a look and demeanor that falls firmly on the “grimdark” side of the scale. Upon his initial arrival I found him intriguing, 2 but with each and every further appearance, my disinterest has grown.

That culminated in the end of the recent Guardians of the Galaxy #8, a comic I genuinely like! This issue found Al Ewing and Marcio Takara telling a murder mystery story at a diplomatic conference, and it concludes with the Galactic Rim Collective’s representative Zoralis Gupa slowly telling a story of recent galactic destruction, building to a pulse-pounding reveal 3 about who was destroying planets in the Marvel universe. The final page hits, and we’re met by Knull’s face and one word, which is his name. Within that sequence, my interest went from the maximum to an absolute zero instantaneously, a truly rare feat. 4

But that’s just one person’s perspective. I’m smart enough to realize that my point of view is not the only one. Just because Knull feels like an awkward fit as the backbone of a Marvel tentpole story to me doesn’t mean that’s the case for everyone. But as per usual, I have questions, people. I wanted to understand more about Knull, what people see in him, and the potential fortunes of The King in Black as a story. So today, we’re going to investigate the topic, answering a list of key questions – okay, some of them are not that key, but I still wanted to bring them up – about Knull in hopes of better understanding who the character is and why he’s so popular.

Buckle up people, because today, we’re diving into darkness.

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  1. Shouts to the Inhumans, the original featured players in my Fetch Theory of Comics.

  2. Cates and Stegman did a hell of a job in the first arc of Venom building the idea of Knull, so by the time he arrived, it felt like a big deal.

  3. I was genuinely excited in the lead-up!

  4. The whole sequence reminded me of the reveal in 2006’s Annihilation Prologue that it was Annihilus behind everything, except if instead of Annihilus it was, I don’t know, Adam X the X-Treme.