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Shining Knight

The Shining Knight has a long history in comics dating back to the character’s creation by Creig Flessel and first appearance in Adventure #66 in 1941. This entry concerns the version Grant Morrison and artist Simone Bianchi developed for the 2005 Seven Soldiers and related comics and the further appearances in the Demon Knights title.

From the moment of Ystin’s introduction during the fall of a primal Camelot, Ystin displayed courage, strength, cunning, and fortitude. However, a love for Sir Galahad remained Ystin’s secret even  as the vaunted knight is slain, whose death provides the impetus for a daring plan to steal back the Inexhaustible Cauldron of the Mighty Dagda, a Celtic god. This cauldron possesses the powers to restore life and heal all wounds, and with it, Ystin intends to resurrect the fallen knights and beat back the alien Sheeda, a race whose directive is to conquer cultures in their prime. The brash plan is interrupted by Gloriana Tenebrae, the multi-horned Sheeda queen, who gloats of having stolen Arthur’s sword Excalibur. Ystin boldly grabs the word before heaving the cauldron into a deep pool of liquid, with Ystin and Vanguard, a talking and flying steed, following it as an escape route, only to realize after unexpectedly arriving in 21st century America that the liquid is the energy source which allows the Sheeda stronghold to move through time and space. Ystin copes with being a stranger in a strange land, running afoul of the local police, and a Sheeda agent on the knight’s trail, and finally confronted and captured by Gloriana. Back in the Sheeda fortress, Ystin is forced to fight a resurrected Galahad who is corrupted and loyal to Gloriana. Gloriana’s heightened senses detect menstrual blood, and a ripped tunic reveals Ystin has bound breasts. At this point writer Grant Morrison uses female gendered pronouns such as “she” and “her” in reference to Ystin. Confident that Galahad cannot lose, Gloriana leaves to attend other matters. No one is left to witness Ystin tearfully killing Galahad. A flashback reveals how Galahad knighted Ystin in an act of desperation on the last day that Camelot stood. Ystin is stuck in the 21s century once the Sheeda threat is ended in Seven Soldiers #1.

Ystin and the magician Ali Ka-Zoom (seen in Seven Soldiers #0) are seated on a bluff overlooking a high school. Ystin is presented in clothes that resemble a Catholic school girl uniform. Ka-Zoom asserts that “You’ll have fun here [in the time period]” after becoming acclimated. He goes on to allude to a Golden Age in which the Age of Death was ended by “Queen Ystina the Good”.

Ystin had various cameo appearances in event comics following this, but they are of little importance.

Ystin, using the name Sir Justin, becomes a member of the ensemble cast in Demon Knights #1 which is set in Europe’s Dark Ages. The Shining Knight in Demon Knights appears to be another version that has some similarities to the Morrison iteration. Writer Paul Cornell reveals the origin, of which Merlin is central, in Demon Knights #4. I believe Cornell’s Merlin is the older Adam One who lives backards in time from Stormwatch. Here, Camelot has just fallen and an unseen

Merlin spies a mortally wounded Ystin propped against a tree trunk. Merlin remarks “You interest me, young squire. You have two natures; he hold the Holy Grail up to Justin’s mouth to heal the knight. Justin stumbles away unaware of Merlin’s action and many adventures with the steed Vanguard around the world and over time are alluded to. To replenish, the knight and the horse take long sleeps hidden under hillsides. One of these sleeps happened under the cosmic World Tree which imbued part of its nature to the slumbering knight. During this period Merlin attempts to hide the Grail from evil forces by hiding it in a powerful location deep within the earth The effort backfires when Merlin is unable to retrieve the cup and charges the young knight (“[Whose heart is pure. But [who is] complex”) with a quest to find it in order to use its immense power to rebuild Camelot. Justin is given to partially recalling these events which took place outside of time and space through occasional visions. (Demon Knights #4)

Justin and the others join together to prevent the Questing Queen (Morgaine Le Fey) and Mordru from finding and conquering the land of Alba Sarum, ruled by two princesses, for it is believed to have the potential of becoming a new Camelot. Justin displays bravery in these efforts. Justin seems drawn to be smaller framed than Simone Bianchi did in Shining Knight. This may be the result of artistic differences or my perception since Justin is often in the midst of bigger bodied characters, or it may have been Cornell’s decision for Justin’s depiction. Numerous references casting some doubt on Justin’s gender or using female pronouns are made by the other cast members and incidental characters throughout the 14 issues to date. Cornell put the male gendered “squire” in Merlin’s dialog once. All the while he has built a dynamic with undertones of sexual tension with Exoristos, the exiled woman who alludes to being an Amazon.

A plot by Etrigan allows the Knights to be captured by Lucifer, who delights in creating various tortures for each of them (issue #13). For Justin, the torment is the scene of a marriage ceremony attended by demons, and which a demon priest attempts to force Justin to choose a bride or a groom because “Too long have you refused to declare your sex — reveal yourself before everyone!” Justin and the rest overcome Lucifer’s tortures and Etrigan’s plot is foiled. Upon their exodus from Hell, Exoristos proposes to Justin that they could find a place to live happily together. Justin replies: “I think you like one…aspect of who I am. But I’m the other, too. I was born this way…I’m not just a man or a woman. I’m both. Is that all right with you?” This statement refers back to Cornell’s comment spoken by Merlin that Justin is of two natures. The conclusion some have made from this is that Justin is intersexed, while others have interpreted this as proof that Justin is transgender and speaks of it in terminology relevant to the Dark Ages time period, rather than say, identifying as female assigned at birth (FAAB). Others have asserted that Justin’s gender and sexual orientation still remain ambiguous for now, and this is my opinion. Or perhaps Cornell’s intent has been to portray his conception of a European two spirit person or gender queer person in the Dark Ages?

Art by Michael Choi from Demon Knights #4.

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