SUNDAY SLUGFEST: Demon Knights #1

A comic review article by: The Firing Squad
DC goes medieval with Demon Knights, a series that is totally like Game of Thrones plus Camelot 3000. But with demons and immortals instead of White Walkers and aliens. And less incest.

Chris Kiser:
Jason Sacks:
Jamil Scalese:

Chris Kiser:

Though interview- and press release-assisted hype made quite a few New 52 books look appealing eventually, few of them seemed as initially interesting and fun based on concept alone as did Demon Knights. The mystical history of the DCnU set during the Middle Ages, the series promised to be an imaginative exploration into some of the more offbeat corners of the publisher’s shared universe, written by a guy who excels at doing just that. After all, if Paul Cornell could spend ten issues of Action Comics making Lex Luthor into a simultaneously relatable and despicable protagonist, imagine what he could do for Etrigan.

After sampling the first issue, I think it’s safe to say that Demon Knights stands ready to live up to all of that potential. Cornell sets up the foundations for one of his characteristic two-pronged offerings of both strong plot and characters, though he mostly focuses on the latter here in the early going. While Etrigan may have left his rhyming ways in the Flashpoint dust, he’s still the same devilishly witty scoundrel who somehow always ends up on the side of the angels. Alongside him on this team seemingly in the making are several other beloved DC luminaries with their personalities tweaked for maximum entertainment, including Madame Xanadu, Shining Knight, and Vandal Savage.

As I mentioned earlier, the plot does kind of get the short shrift here, though Cornell still manages to work in some nice seed-planting. The dramatic opening establishes that this series will take place in post-Arthurian Europe, where the fall of Camelot has opened the door for dark forces to rampage through the world. It remains to be seen exactly how concretely Cornell intends for this to be the back story to events happening in the present day, but it is intriguing to consider how the wars waged in Demon Knights might form the underpinnings of the modern DC good-versus-evil struggle.

While most of the attention on this book is likely to be directed toward Cornell, the art of Diógenes Neves is a solid addition. His unassuming, Dale Eaglesham-like style gives each of his characters clear definition and strong visual personalities, making Cornell’s task of fleshing out the cast rather easy at points. He also musters up some seriously twisted images, such as one involving a demon-possessed baby that could have easily pushed this issue’s rating to “Teen Plus.”

Like the best of the current bunch, Demon Knights takes advantage of the conditions of a line-wide reboot to create a thoroughly enjoyable comics product. Time-honored characters and concepts are not shuffled off to the side but rather remixed and reintroduced, combining in new and enhanced ways. The worst thing about it is that marks yet another missed opportunity for me to drop one of these new books and save some cash, a prominent theme in this particularly impressive New 52 Week 2.

Raised on a steady diet of Super Powers action figures and Adam West Batman reruns, Chris Kiser now writes for Comics Bulletin. He once reviewed every tie-in to a major DC Comics summer event and survived to tell the tale. Ask him about it on Twitter, where he can be found as @Chris_Kiser!

Jason Sacks:

Huh, well, umm, wow. Maybe the DCnU really does have a commitment to diversity in their line. Lookee here – of all things for them to include in the second week of new titles, we get a medieval adventure title co-starring the Demon and Madame Xanadu as lovers traveling from town to town as part of a pilgrimage.

Wow, um, that's just plain odd. There's no hint of a Green Lantern in the book, let alone Superman or Batman, and this book really gives no hint of being part of the larger universe (I didn't see the Flashpoint Lady in this comic, though I suppose she could be one of the other hooded people in this comic). So it kind of makes me wonder just what's up and why DC greenlit this book.

Are they actually committed to a comic that celebrates medieval adventure? Did they look at the sales of Image's funny and exciting Skullkickers and decided they wanted to make some of that bigtime cash? Or are they actually committed to presenting this level of diversity in their comics line?

Because this is a pretty darn fun midline book. There are plenty of characters with the same names as mainline DC characters – Vandal Savage is in the book, and so is Shining Knight, who shares a heroic name with one of Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers of Victory, and longtime Legion villain Mordru is an evil, child-killing medieval lord. But I don’t think you need to understand DC continuity to enjoy this story on the level it's presented in. I think it's pretty new-reader friendly. The opening scenes involving King Arthur, Merlin and the Lady in the Lake ground this book in mythology that most readers will enjoy, and helps give the book a nice basis that we can all jump upon.

The art by Diogenes Neves and Oclair Albert is detailed and bright and light and fun and nicely brings this world to life. This middle ages is very clean and polite, like a Hollywood movie, and maybe that's the best analogy for this comic written by a longtime Doctor Who writer. There is obvious effort put into building the characters as one might build them in a movie, and that works to the benefit of this very slick comic book.

In the end maybe this isn't a huge commitment to diversity. Its setting aside, this isn't a tremendously innovative or unique book. It's a comic of heroes and villains and cool battles. Only this time the battles will be between a medieval demon in booties and an evil sorcerer who kills babies.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Jason Sacks has been obsessed with comics for longer than he'd like to remember. He considers himself a student of comics history and loves delving into obscure corners of this crazy artform. Jason has been writing for this site for about seven years and has also been published in a number of fan publications, including the late, lamented Amazing Heroes and The Flash Companion. He lives in north Seattle with his wife and three kids.

Jamil Scalese:

You might not know this, but more than a couple of my colleagues here at Comics Bulletin are investing themselves into most if not all of the "The New 52!" I am not one of those people, which is simultaneously a disappointment and a relief. My budget can't afford that strenuous of a load, but I still was tempted by sexy titles like Batwoman and Red Lanterns peering at me high on the shelf this week. Somehow I settled on Demon Knights , a title that balances a duo of talented creators with an adventurous concept.

The basic premise of this team book is that it's set during the medieval era of the DC Universe and features a variety of anti-hero types. Veteran Paul Cornell and the extremely talented Diógenes Neves helm this venture that opens in the latter days of Camelot and prominently features the demon Etrigan. Jason Blood's uglier half is arguably the most recognizable character, and the second most noteworthy is a jollier-than-usual Vandal Savage. Outside of those two I can't honestly say I am too familiar with any of the other characters who make up the yet unformed team of fantasy heroes.

The major snag in this first issue resided in task of introducing a roster that features many second-tier and brand new characters. Cornell makes an attempt to carve out time for all seven core characters. For example, in the course of four panels two new characters are quickly and dismissively introduced-- Al Jabr, essentially an Arab Tony Stark, and Exoristos, a woman who seems to be from Themyscira. Really, my description of the characters is conjecture, that's how little information we receive.

DC has made abundantly clear that the new 52 is all about bringing in more readers, both new and old, and Demon Knights is fairly unfriendly to a new reader. Considering the "face" of this book is Etrigan, a character many are mainly familiar with through his run-ins with Batman (and when I say many I mean me), it would have done Cornell service to dedicate more time to introducing, even if it's reintroducing, the reader to what figures to be the most important person in the book. Moreover, explaining to me who and what Madame Xanadu is or giving some background on Savage and his rich history would have done a great deal in getting me invested in the players, and maybe more importantly, the world they live in.

I do want to make the point to say that this is not a bad comic, just a bad first issue. Neves' art is absolutely phenomenal and it shows in the details. A distinctive animated style accents strong fundamentals making his talents a perfect fit for a series that needs equal parts Jason Blood and Etrigan. Cornell's script is solid as well. The sword and sorcery is strong and alive, and humor is just as prevalent as goat skin tunics.

In the debut issue Demon Knights is a cluster of gray hat characters types and some unclear ideas. However, maybe with a chance to gel and some room to breath this series could turn into an exceptional standout amongst the traditional hero comics on the rack. It's just not there yet. This is the opposite of Geoff Johns and Jim Lee's Justice League, so if you hated that comic you might love this one.

Jamil Scalese is just like you -- an avid comics fan and lover of sequential art. Residing in Pittsburgh, PA, he is an unapologetic Deadpool fan, lover of the Food Network and proud member of Steelers Nation.

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