Demon Knights #1
“Seven Against the Dark”
Writer: Paul Cornell
Pencils: Diogenes Neves
Inks: Oclair Albert
Colors: Marcelo Maiolo
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Cover artist: Tony Daniel
Editor: Matt Idelson
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US
Before I decided on reviewing every first issue in DC’s New 52 publishing strategy, I was going to pass on this title. I’ve never been a big fan of Etrigan the Demon, I’d been lukewarm to Paul Cornell’s writing and the sword-and-sorcery genre has never really been my cup of tea. So I was quite surprised to find one of the most entertaining reads of the new 52 thus far. Not much happens in this first issue — it’s a standard introductory episode of a team book, featuring the initial gathering of the heroes. But what wins the reader over the power of all the personality that’s been poured into this comic book. From the bombastic, incredible characters to the crisp, bright and richly detailed artwork, there’s a real sense of magic (in a couple senses of the word) in the storytelling here. When this title was originally announced, I was puzzled as to why DC opted to include this new team concept when it had so many other more prominent and obscure ideas from which to choose. Now I know why it made the cut.
In the Dark Ages, after the fall of Camelot, Europe is besieged by the forces of the Questing Queen, whose tyrannical reign is aided by the divination and magic of the sorcerer Mordru. As their conquering hordes make their way across the land, and lying ahead in their path in a small village called Little Spring are a few warriors and champions. Little do Vandal Savage, Jason Blood, Madame Xanadu, the Shining Knight and others realize they’re about be drawn into a conflict of epic proportions.
I wasn’t familiar with Diogenes Neves’ name, but a quick web search informs me he’s done work on Marvel’s X titles and DC’s previous Green Arrow series. I’ll definitely be taking notice of his name from now on, because he matches the energy and fun of the script with bright, detailed but stylistic artwork. He conveys Sir Ystin’s attitude, and his barbarian imagining of Vandal Savage is consistent with past interpretations of the character but also brings something new to him. I was particularly impressed with his vision of Etrigan. The redesign is fun, making him seem more like a knight (as is called for in the title), but more importantly, he depicts him more as a man than monster. That makes it easier for the reader to buy into the idea of the romantic connection he’s developed with one of the female characters. The Brazilian artist’s work here reminds me of the styles of such artists as Jim (Avengers: Children’s Crusade) Cheung and Clayton (Incredible Hercules) Henry.
Cornell instills these characters with a great sense of humor. “I want to be in an inn!” There were a number of lines that brought a smile to my face. Even Mordru’s sacrificial spell in the early part of the book comes off as a bit funny — morbidly so, but still kind of funny. I have a twisted sense of humor, I guess. The humor is part of the charm of the book. Cornell opts to avoid the stilted, purple prose one often finds with this kind of medieval adventure fare. Instead, we get a mix of slightly formal dialogue and some modern-sounding colloquialisms. “Bollocks” is among them, but a Wikipedia search indicates the term’s been in use since the 14th century, so hey, I guess it’s not so out of place in this context. Nevertheless, Cornell ensures the dialogue is accessible. Is the book historically accurate? Of course not. It’s got demons and wizards and immortal cavemen. Accuracy isn’t needed here.
Maybe what’s most interesting about the gathering protagonists in this issue is how Cornell portrays them in different ways than what we would expect. Etrigan the Demon is portrayed as a lover rather than as a monster. Vandal Savage, forever portrayed as one of the most bloodthirsty, callous villains in the DC Universe is portrayed here as a boisterous, fun drinking buddy. And there’s no need to view these changes as inconsistencies. These characters are immortal, and it’s not hard to imagine them changing over the centuries, experiencing different modes in their lives. Of course, to appreciate the different interpretations of these characters requires the reader to be aware of prior appearances, so that might be a treat that’s meant more for the longtime reader.
Cornell also borrows Grant Morrison’s reinterpretation of the Shining Knight, “Sir” Ystin, a woman who’s adopted a male role. She’s depicted here as much more aggressive and full of bluster than what we saw of the character in Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight back in 2005 (man, has it been six years since Seven Soldiers?!). It’s easy to understand Cornell’s choices, as Ystin would no doubt have adjusted her attitude in her attempt to give off a male vibe to those around her. I also note with interest that about half of the characters here are women, treated as men’s equals. It would’ve been easy Cornell to adopt a mostly male cast of characters, given the time period in which the story’s set, so the women come off as being even stronger as a result.
Demon Knights makes for an interesting contrast with Cornell’s other New 52 titles, Stormwatch. Generally, the members of Stormwatch are a serious bunch, always focused on the end of the world (or, you know, preventing it). Conversely, Demon Knights (which Cornell linked to Stormwatch in a flashback scene last week) is far more playful, never taking itself seriously. Sure, there are bad guys with nihilistic goals in mind, but given the story is set in the past, Cornell doesn’t bother pretending as though the fate of all life is dependent on the outcome of these conflicts. The focus in this first issue is actually on frivolity. The strongest, most important scene is set in a bar, fer cryin’ out loud. 8/10
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