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DC's Superhero Shining Knight Explained

Camelot — some say it's the greatest legend in the history of western civilization. Some say it was a brief shining moment that should never be forgot. Others say not to go there, because it is a silly place. 

But whatever you think of the Camelot legend, the stories of extraordinary men traveling the world to fight injustice and protect the innocent have a lot in common with the heroes of modern comics, so it only makes sense that at least one character would belong to both. The Shining Knight traveled from King Arthur's court to the comic racks of the '40s all the way to the present with his recent appearance on Stargirl. Who is this mysterious figure from the past who's been protecting Stargirl from the shadows? What adventures could be hidden in his missing memories? We'll soon see how he's adapted for TV, but Stargirl's creators have a rich comic book history to work with that stretches back almost 80 years and spans across time, space, and every side of the gender spectrum. Let's dive in!

Sir Justin explained

Sir Justin, the Shining Knight, first appeared in 1941, in a story by writer-artist Creig Flessel. His adventures begin in Arthur's reign, when he's given a mission to slay the giant Blunderbore. As he rides through the countryside on his horse Victory, Justin chases some bandits into the woods, accidentally freeing Merlin from the tree where another enchanter had trapped him. Merlin thanks Justin by turning his heavy, grey armor into a lightweight golden material — it's "bulletproof too," Merlin says, "But you won't be finding out about that for some time yet" — and giving his horse wings.

Justin defeats Blunderbore, but with his last breath, the giant kicks Justin and the newly renamed Winged Victory into a snowy gorge. Decades before the Avengers found a frozen Captain America, Justin's icy prison floats across the sea to America, where Moresby the museum curator eventually finds it and dynamites the knight free. Taking on a new identity as Morseby's employee Justin Arthur, the Shining Knight continues fighting crime in the 20th century.

Justin had many memorable adventures through the '40s. Some of the most memorable were drawn by Frank Frazetta, who would go on to remake the entire fantasy genre in his own id-and-testosterone-soaked image with his illustrations for novels like Robert E. Howard's Conan series. His early work with Justin is just as spectacular, with some of the most dynamic, tactile, and graceful art you can find in the funnies, then or now.

The Seven Soldiers of Victory

To launch Leading Comics in 1941, Mort Wesinger and an all-star cast of writers and artists teamed the Shining Knight with six of DC's most popular heroes to form the Seven Soldiers of Victory. A criminal genius named the Hand has learned he has less than a month to live. At first he's devastated over all the plans he'll never be able to use, until he realizes he can make them his legacy. He breaks five other supervillains out of prison and gives them his plans, dubbing them the Hand's Five Fingers.

He also makes the questionable decision to give the news to the villains' enemies: the Star-Spangled Kid, Stripesy (who Stargirl fans will recognize as the heroine's future stepfather and mentor), Green Arrow, Speedy, the Crimson Avenger, Vigilante, and, of course, the Shining Knight. After defeating his old enemy the Red Dragon, Justin meets with the other heroes when the Hand dares them to attack his booby-trapped home. Unfortunately for the Hand, he learns that a new treatment could cure his fatal illness and realizes he has to fight for his now-extended life or spend the rest of it in jail. He fails and is electrocuted and crushed by his own death trap. But the Seven Soldiers agree to remain partners, and they did for the next four years.

Shining Knight's return explained

Flash forward another 20-plus years to 1972. To celebrate the 100th issue of Justice League of America, writer Len Wein and artist Dick Dillin gather together all the team's past and present members. Before the party can begin, though, they're summoned by their wartime predecessors in the Justice Society to the parallel universe of Earth-2, where they find the entire planet is in the grips of a cosmic monster called the Nebula Man. The only people who can save it are the Seven Soldiers — but no one knows where they are.

The culprit turns out to be the Hand, who had survived their last encounter but lost his arm. He replaced it with a metal prosthetic, renamed himself the Iron Hand, and summoned the Nebula Man to fight the Seven Soldiers. They defeated it, but were scattered across time. A team led by Superman finds the Shining Knight in medieval China, where he has been brainwashed by a Mongol shaman into a soldier of Genghis Khan. Society member the Sandman uses the same chemistry skills he used in creating his sleep gas to whip up an antidote for Justin and brings him back to the present.

The All-Star Squadron

Justin's next major appearance took him back to the past in Roy Thomas and Rich Buckler's 1981 series All-Star Squadron. That book finds the Shining Knight and Winged Victory flying over the Pacific, where they find a volcano has appeared out of nowhere. As he investigates, Justin meets with geologist Danette Reilly, and they discover the volcano was created by Per Degaton, a time-traveling villain who plans to redirect the course of World War II to leave the earth vulnerable enough for him to conquer it. Meanwhile, the bombing of Pearl Harbor has led President Roosevelt to form his own superteam, the All-Star Squadron, and Justin and Danette (who becomes the superhero Firebrand in the battle) join up with them after helping them defeat Per Degaton.

Justin had many adventures with the All-Star Squadron over the next decade, returning to his homeland to protect London from the Blitz, turning against his non-super teammates under the influence of the Japanese agent the Dragon King, and being brainwashed again to create a new Camelot by the wizard Wotan (brainwashing seems to be a bit of a problem for him). Justin and Danette would become more than teammates as the series went on, and eventually married.

Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E.

The Shining Knight reteamed with his fellow Soldier of Victory Pat "Stripesy" Dugan and the new Star-Spangled Kid in the 1999 comic Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. by Geoff Johns and Lee Moder, the inspiration for the current TV series. He made scattered appearances throughout the books' first year as a school custodian only identified by a "Justin" namepatch.

He reveals his true identity in #10 to fight the Dragon King, who has Winged Victory locked up in his lab. After rescuing Winged Victory and Stargirl, he explains that he had discovered the Dragon King was working out of Stargirl's hometown of Blue Valley long before she did. But the Dragon King had discovered him first and used him as a guinea pig to test out the mind control drugs he was planning to use on the town's children. Justin escaped but couldn't remember who he was until seeing Stargirl and S.T.R.I.P.E. in action woke him back up. Worse, the Dragon King had killed Firebrand when she tried to fight him while Justin was lost in the past.

With a new, heavier suit of armor that seems to have inspired his later TV incarnation, the Shining Knight joins Stargirl and S.T.R.I.P.E. in an attack on the Dragon King's headquarters and uses the Dragon King's own dragon to destroy his machinery and save Blue Valley.

Sir Ystin Explained

In 2005, legendary writer Grant Morrison, author of everything from Doom Patrol to All-Star Superman, created a new Seven Soldiers team — and with them, a new Shining Knight. His mind-bendingly brilliant miniseries with artist Simone Bianchi opens in a mythical, prehistoric Camelot 10,000 years in the past. It's the pinnacle of a lost civilization, and the Sheeda have come from the last days of the universe to plunder it. It's also the prototype for a cycle that would repeat over the centuries — a clever loophole allowing Ystin and Justin to coexist.

Ystin had formerly been the squire of Sir Galahad, the perfect knight, who grants Ystin an emergency knighthood as the Sheeda descend. Instead of the enchanted Winged Victory, Ystin rides Vanguard, one of a breed of flying horses descended from Pegazeus, the horse the New Gods gave Aurakles, earth's first superhero. Ystin and Vanguard follow the Sheeda into their time-traveling city-ship Castle Revolving to steal the Cauldron of Resurrection, fighting an undead King Arthur on the way. The Shining Knight reclaims Arthur's sword Caliburn Ex Calibur from the Sheeda queen Gloriana Tenebrae and escapes — into the wrong century. Ystin lands in modern-day Los Angeles just in time for the Sheeda to invade again. He's separated from the Cauldron, which lands several years earlier and comes into the possession of Vicenzo Baldi, the Undying Don, who also buys Vanguard and renames him Horsefeathers.

The second Seven Soldiers

Meanwhile, Ystin is investigated by two government agents, one of whom turns out to be Gloriana in disguise and drags Ystin back to Castle Revolving to fight the undead, corrupted Galahad. In the battle, Galahad makes a shocking discovery that's in line with Morrison's career-long exploration of queer ideas about gender, from the "transvestite street" Danny in Doom Patrol to his introduction of one of the first openly trans comic characters in The Invisibles. Ystin is in fact Ystina, a woman who dressed as a man to join the knights of the Round Table.

Meanwhile, events in the other interconnected Seven Soldiers miniseries are conspiring to defeat the Sheeda once and for all. Gloriana has been systematically wiping out teams of seven due to a prophecy that one would defeat her. This includes the original Seven Soldiers: We learn that the Nebula Man was actually Neh-Buh-Loh, the Sheeda huntsman.

This means that the Seven Soldiers finally defeat them by never meeting. Ystin's non-teammates are Frankenstein, Zatanna the magician, super-reporter the Manhattan Guardian, New God escape artist Mister Miracle, Aurakles' descendant Bulleteer, and Klarion, one of a lost colony of Sheeda-descended Puritans living under New York. While the others — including Vanguard, who teams with Zatanna to summon the other surviving winged horses — cripple the Sheeda army, Ystina mortally wounds Gloriana, allowing Bulleteer to (accidentally) finish the job with her car.

The Demon Knights

In 2011, Flashpoint reset the history of the DC Universe, allowing Paul Cornell and Diogenes Neves to give the Shining Knight yet another origin in the pages of Demon Knights. This series follows the adventures of Avengers creator Jack Kirby's Etrigan the Demon and a ragtag bunch of heroes and villains, including the immortal conqueror Vandal Savage and Exoristos, an exile from Wonder Woman's Amazon paradise. They begrudgingly work together to protect the village of Little Spring from the Questing Queen, who plunders the countryside in search of the Holy Grail from a castle mounted on a dinosaur's back, with the help of bizarre monsters like armored velociraptors she calls "true dragons."

As Ystin fights with them, we see a vision of his past. Cornell builds on Morrison's idea of Camelot as a cyclical occurrence, explained by the immortal Merlin's many failed attempts to build a perfect society — Etrigan and his lover Madame Xanadu come from one, and Merlin attempts to build another one in the city-state of Alba Sarum. Ystin's Camelot isn't the world-spanning empire we saw in Seven Soldiers, but a more historically accurate village of thatched huts. As it falls, Merlin gives Ystin a drink from the Holy Grail, granting him immortality. Cornell also expanded on the character's implicit queerness, revealing Ystin is both male and female. 

The Shining Knight's powers explained

Thanks to his encounter with Merlin, Justin's armor protects him from not just bullets, but fire, ice, and electricity, and even atomic radiation. His sword can cut through nearly anything, and he often uses it to deflect bullets. As a student of King Arthur, his skill with it is unparalleled. He'd go on to augment his armor with a new high-tech shield and helmet that can expand or collapse on command. While he can't fly on his own the way so many of his super peers can, Justin can fly Winged Victory fast enough to "outpace the eagles," as he says in his first appearance.

Justin's later reinvention as Sir Ystin expanded his powerset with immortality bestowed by the mystical Cauldron of Rebirth. Not just that, the second Shining Knight comes from an era of "optimum humans" and his sword Caliburn Ex Caliber is strong enough "to endure until the last black star swallows it whole."

Shining Knight on Stargirl

The Shining Knight made his most recent and high-profile appearance in 2020 on the CW in Stargirl. As in Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E., he enters the story as Justin the janitor. But the live-action Justin takes a more active role in Stargirl's life, hanging around important scenes, offering cryptic advice, and finally intervening in Stargirl's fight with the Dragon King's daughter Shiv and the season-finale attack on the Injustice Society. He's also taken Dragon King's brainwashing (again, kind of a thing with this guy) a lot harder, reduced to an unkempt, sobbing, hallucinating mess who the people of Blue Valley barely tolerate.

The sight of Stargirl's cosmic staff manages to jolt him back to reality, and in the episode named after him, the Shining Knight finally reconnects with Pat. Pat tries to help Justin by getting him to tell the story of how he became a knight, and Justin recounts a new version of his origin story. 

Justin had originally been an ordinary stable boy who Arthur entrusted Excalibur with in his final moments. Like Morrison and Bianchi's version, he still has it in the present day — unlike him, or the original take, we never learn how he ended up in the present. Viewers will have to wait and see if future episodes reveal whether he was transported to the present or if, like the Demon Knights incarnation, he's actually been walking the earth all that time.

Mark Ashworth explained

What we do know is he's played by Mark Ashworth, a British character actor who's appeared in a variety of bit parts, some of which share Stargirl's comic connections. He's had background parts in Logan, Black Panther, and the Doom Patrol and Constantine TV shows. He took a more prominent role in another comics adaptation as a member of Negan's Saviors cult in the Walking Dead season 8 episode "Gotta Mean Something."

Ashworth's biggest pre-Stargirl role came four years earlier in The Magnificent Seven. In this remake of the classic western (itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa's legendary Seven Samurai), Antoine Fuqua directs a cast that includes Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt as the titular mercenaries who protect a small western town from a gang of violent outlaws. Ashworth appears as a preacher, the town's de facto leader and moral compass.

Will Stargirl give him a chance to shine as Justin's memory returns and lead to meatier parts in the future? Stay tuned.