Certainly the name "Black Knight" has been around for vastly longer than Marvel Comics has been using it. It's generally been a descriptive term for an armored knight that either serves evil forces or in some cases serves no master or king whatsoever other than himself, and usually to the detriment of the populace around him.
Indeed, one of Marvel's "Black Knight" characters wasn't one of the good guys. There have, in fact, been four characters within the Marvel Universe named Black Knight.
The first is derived pretty much from Arthurian legend. The original Black Knight is Sir Percy of Scandia, a 6th century knight who serves at the court of King Arthur as his greatest warrior. Recruited by the wizard Merlin, Percy adopts a double identity, and pretends to be totally incompetent until changing into the persona of the Black Knight. As the Black Knight, Percy wields the Ebony Blade, which Merlin forged from a meteorite. A constant foe of the evil knight Mordred the Evil (Arthur's traitorous "nephew"), Percy is eventually killed by him during the fall of Camelot when stabbed from behind with an enchanted blade -- although Mordred then dies himself of wounds inflicted by Arthur. Merlin ensures that Percy's spirit will live on by casting a spell that will revive his ghost if Mordred should ever return. Percy's spirit has appeared several times to counsel his descendant, Dane Whitman, who is the current Black Knight and the one represented in the Marvel Legends line.
However, prior to Whitman, and much more in modern times, there was a villain named the Black Knight in the Marvel Universe. Professor Nathan Garrett, a biologist, is the direct descendant of Sir Percy, and found Sir Percy's tomb and the ebony blade. Garrett's evil tendencies make him unworthy of wielding the sword, and he is shunned by Sir Percy's ghost. An embittered Garrett then devises an arsenal of medieval weapons that employ modern technology and genetically engineers and creates a winged horse called Aragorn. Calling himself the Black Knight, Garrett embarks on a life of crime to spite his ancestor. After a battle with the hero Giant-Man, Garrett joins the supervillain team the Masters of Evil at the request of master villain Baron Zemo. After two unsuccessful battles against the Avengers, Garrett is mortally wounded while trying to kill the hero Iron Man. A dying Garrett summons his nephew, Dane Whitman, and reveals his secret identity and repents for his life of crime. Whitman then decides to adopt the identity of the Black Knight himself.
The fourth Black Knight was a member of a team of supervillains that invaded the Black Panther's African kingdom of Wakanda, and also wielded an ebony blade. But I'm not really going to delve into that character much, since his history does not appear to tie in with the other three, or have any direct connection to the Black Knight presented in the Marvel Legends line, who is Dane Whitman. And Whitman's story is convoluted enough as it is.
During his first outing as the Black Knight, Whitman was mistaken for his uncle and attacked by the superhero team Avengers, though the mistake was soon realized. Later, he infiltrated the then-current incarnation of the Masters of Evil, proving his worth to the Avengers, who then offered him provisional membership. Shortly afterward, he inherited Castle Garrett and traveled to England. He first encountered the spirit of Sir Percy of Scandia there, who gave him the Ebony Blade.
While still a provisional Avenger, he helped them to defeat Kang the Conqueror, who had been given the power of death over the Avengers by the Grandmaster. Since Whitman was not a full Avenger at the time, Kang had no power over him, and so Whitman was able to defeat the powerful foe. Whitman then officially joined the active membership.
Later, Whitman became an early member of the Defenders, and it is here that his story takes some strange twists and turns. Whitman also became the team's first casualty after a kiss from the Enchantress petrified him. His spirit was drawn to the 12th century by the sorcerer Amergin the Druid, and took recurring spiritual possession of his ancestor, the Crusader Sir Eobar Garrington until Garrington's destruction due to the Evil Eye. Meanwhile, Whitman chose to stay in the 12th century. Whitman then battled the Fomor, alongside the time-traveling Avengers. He then employed the Evil Eye to seal the portal between Earth and Avalon. Whitman returned to the 20th century and his original body was restored.
Over time, Whitman learned the Ebony Blade was cursed: Every time it drew blood, it drove its user closer to madness. Whitman freed Sir Percy's spirit from the Earthly plane, thus seemingly purging the blood curse from the sword. Whitman resumed active duty with the Avengers, and joined the Avengers in battle against the fourth Masters of Evil as they invaded Avengers Mansion.
When the Sub-Mariner used the sword to kill his wife Marrina, who had become a rampaging monster, the blood curse was revived. The curse began to transform Whitman's body into the same mystic metal as that of the blade. He was forced to don an artificial exo-skeleton when the curse's creeping paralysis began to affect his mobility. He also began having episodes of mental instability. Ultimately, the blood curse got so bad, that it would draw blood from anyone touching the Black Knight. Sir Percy took possession of Whitman's body to arrest the progress of the blood curse. The transformation was undone through the efforts of the sorcerer Doctor Strange, Whitman himself, and the ghost of Sir Percy. Sir Percy's spirit merged with the sword, canceling the curse and returning Whitman to normal. Whitman stopped using the Ebony Blade and left the Avengers. He later developed a weapon that projected a sword-like sheath of energy (in essence, a sort of lightsaber) as a replacement.
After rejoining the Avengers, Whitman had a long stretch of time as a major member of the team and eventually rose to the position of de facto field leader in Captain America's absence.
Sometime later, as if his life hadn't been weird enough already, due to various circumstances, Whitman found himself transported outside the Marvel Universe and into the so-called "Ultraverse", which featured heroes produced by Malibu Comics which had recently come under the auspices of Marvel. The Black Knight found himself leading a team of heroes called Ultraforce. After getting bounced back to the Marvel Universe's 12th century and ending up in a conflict with none other than Apocalypse, Whitman was restored to the present-day Marvel Universe, only to discover most of the heroes he knew were gone in the wake of the Onslaught storyline. During this time, the legendary "Lady of the Lake" from the Arthurian stories selected him as the "Pendragon" for the modern age, clearly a world in need of heroes.
Most recently, Whitman has appeared in the "New Excalibur" title -- somehow fitting enough. He has opened up a museum in England chronicling the Black Knights that have existed throughout history. Whitman recently learned that Sir Percy was not the original Black Knight, but that eight men had held the Ebony Blade prior. The Ebony Blade corrupted these men, and Sir Percy was deemed the only one noble enough to wield the Blade. Also, Merlin told Whitman that he must not destroy the Blade as he had previously been told to do. Whitman was invited to join the team but after the second adventure with them he refused, as he believes that his ebony blade is not the real one and needs to find the original.
As for his overall abilities, despite all the assorted weirdness that has befallen him, Whitman is one of those heroes who has no inherent super-powers. The Black Knight was originally a normal athletic human being with no superhuman powers. As part of his role as the Pendragon, however, Whitman has gained minor mystical abilities, such as the ability to see through mystical illusions by looking "past the mundane."
Whitman is an excellent swordsman whose skills have allowed him to best the Swordsman in combat. He is also an excellent fighter in general, able to hold his own against such skilled fighters as Captain America and Wolverine. He is also an expert horseman. Additionally, Whitman started out as a scientist, though specializing in physics (having earned a Master's degree in physics), he is proficient in a wide array of advanced sciences and technologies, including genetic and mechanical engineering; and continues to approach things from a scientific perspective more often than not, despite his ties to the world of magic. He has also demonstrated good leadership skills as leader of both the Avengers and Ultraforce. He has strong strategic and tactical skills, and is generally seen as one of the more level-headed heroes in any given group setting -- amazing given what the man's been through in his life.
I'd be hard pressed to call the Black Knight a really major player in the Marvel Universe. His best moments have tended to come during his lengthy memberships with the Avengers. Here, he has been portrayed more often than not as a stalwart and dependable hero. His individual comics appearances have been fewer. He enjoyed a healthy run in a black-and-white magazine published by Marvel UK in England in the Hulk Weekly comic, where the feature was to be the longest-lasting of the comic's UK- originated material, appearing in the majority of the title's 63 issues. He also appeared in a four-issue mini-series published in 1990, and a one-shot in 1996.
As far as Marvel Legends goes, Black Knight is one of those characters that is really ideally suited for the line as it currently stands. He's someone that otherwise wouldn't really warrant an action figure, unless there were an extensive line devoted to the Avengers. He's not Iron Man, he's not Spider-Man, he's not one of the X-Men. But he's just well-known enough and shared enough company with the big names to warrant being added to the Marvel Legends line-up. And so he has been.
The Black Knight has had several costume designs over the years, generally trying to find a decent balance between armored knight and superhero. The incarnation turned out for the Marvel Legends line does a capable job of finding that balance. Clearly the figure is wearing armor, and just as clearly it's not intended to be the high-tech armor of someone like Iron Man. At the same time, it's not an overly clunky suit of metal as one might expect to see from the medieval age of knights.
The Black Knight is wearing a tight-fitting helmet which leaves the lower face exposed, not unlike a super-hero's cowl. The helmet is black, with a dark gold mask around the eyes, and a dark gold ridge running over the top of the head. There are two large shoulder pieces, which could probably be hammered into football padding if one so desired, which protect the sides of the Black Knight's neck and extend well over the shoulders. These are black with red trim.
The Black Knight is wearing a black chestplate (and backplate) with an insignia in the center. It's a moderately nondescript image, resembling a winged animal of indeterminate species. The animal is a silhouette in red, as is the trim on the armor.
The Black Knight is also wearing black gloves and boots with red trim, but to what degree either of these are armored is anyone's guess. The boots, probably, but the gloves have a fabric look to them based on fabric-like wrinkles sculpted into the wrists.
The rest of the Black Knight's uniform consists of dark grey sleeves and legs, which one might assume are a type of armor, or at least protective in some way, and a ridged material around the neck and lower torso, which is probably some sort of ridged chain-mail-like armor. The Black Knight also has a large gold belt, and two lengths of plastic sculpted to look like fabric hanging from them, almost to his ankles. It does make the Knight look a little more -- knightly, but I don't know. Looks like they'd be something easy to trip over if you ask me.
Of course, the Black Knight comes with his Ebony Blade, which I sincerely hope does not actually contain a curse. I've got enough problems. He also comes with a large shield, sort of badge-shaped in a way, but very large. It is mostly black with red trim around the perimeter and a gold star-like symbol in its center. Wikipedia describes this as the Shield of Night, a mystical shield which not only protects him from most attacks but also absorbs the energy of the forces directed against it. He can then release that stored energy in the form of power blasts from his blade.
Both pieces of equipment are fairly sizeable. The Black Knight stands about 6-1/2" in height. The Ebony Blade is over 4" in length including its hilt, and the Shield is about 3-3/4" in length and almost 2-1/2" wide at its widest point. This Marvel Legends figure did not get shortchanged in the accessories department.
The Black Knight is nicely articulated, poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists (well, gauntlet tops), mid-torso, legs, knees, and ankles. This is one of those cases where the design of the figure allows the mid-torso point of articulation to work superbly well. The chestplate and backplate end at the mid-torso. It was easy enough to just design this as one part of the figure assembly, and the lower torso as the other.
If I have one complaint about the articulation, it is that the figure does not move at the waist. One of Marvel Legends' selling points for all these years pre-Hasbro has been its articulation, something that Hasbro has generally done a good job of carrying over. However, in this instance they came up a little short. There was no reason the waist could not have been articulated, and just to make a mild annoyance a little more annoying, the figure is assembled with the stomach, for lack of a better term, slightly off-center from the lower torso piece where the legs are attached. This results in just a little bit of pre-posing, something I really dislike, and which really shouldn't be found in this figure line. You can't QUITE get the Black Knight to stand perfectly straight and forward.
Apart from this, however, this really is a very nice and impressive figure. The Black Knight, as you have read, has certainly had a long, storied, and downright weird history within -- and briefly away from -- the Marvel Universe. This is likely to be the only action figure version of him ever to be made, and it's really an excellent one. He looks like the character, and he looks like the proper combination of knight and super-hero, all rolled into one effective package both as a character and an action figure.
The Marvel Legends BLACK KNIGHT figure definitely has my enthusiastic