Of all the new DC titles released so far, Demon Knights by Paul Cornell is perhaps the most distinct. While there is an appearance from the mysterious hooded lady on the title page – squeezed into the background of the page like Where’s Wally, surrounded by an eye-catching assortment of barbarians and beasts –the story is set in some unknown historical period four centuries after the fall of Camelot. Of course, in keeping with Seven Soldiers, it is revealed that this is only one of several Camelots, which Cornell uses to introduce almost every mystical character in DC’s back catalogue.
Our ‘team’ is assembled in a manner that takes its inspiration from The Magnificent Seven, with the small village of Little Spring becoming besieged by the advancing Horde of the Questing Queen, defended only by a motley crew. Said crew includes Jason o’ th’ Blood, host of the demon Etrigan, sorceress Xanadu, Vandal Savage and Sir Ystin the Shining Knight among others. Cornell has the group band together to defend Little Spring not out of any sense of loyalty to the villagers, but because the Horde has just trashed the local watering hole.
“Just one quiet pint, that’s all I ask.”
There is a lot of fun to be had here. Etrigan and Jason are both involved in an unusual love triangle. The manner in which our ‘seven soldiers’ is introduced is very funny, with the Amazon Exoristos receiving the best line in the issue (“I come from an island where men are castrated – and women are pleased”). Cornell’s take on Vandal Savage, following on from his use of him in Action Comics, is also very interesting, but the surprising break-out star of the book is Xanadu. Possessing a genre-savviness that almost breaks the fourth wall, it appears she will be central to what may be the book’s overarching storyline, breaking the historical loop that has produced multiple Camelots and subsequent ‘Falls’. Xanadu also enjoys dialogue peppered with British swear words, escaping under the radar of the censor in a similar manner to Colm Meaney’s occasional outbursts as Chief O’Brien in Star Trek.
It is also nice to see the credit to Jack Kirby on the title page. This version of Etrigan has dropped the rhyming banter – a fortunate choice, as the quality of the demon’s verse tended to vary drastically depending on the skills of the writer – and appears to have a more tiresome relationship with his host Jason, whom he views as a coward.
There are other little touches throughout this book that are quite interesting, such as Sir Ystin bearing symbols on her helmet that resemble present-day military insignia. Cornell overtly compares the story to The Magnificent Seven in an interview printed at the back of the issue, describing it as a ‘medieval Magnificent Seven’. As it happens a film by Jonathan English released in 2010 titled Iron Clad adopted that very same premise – but then while that did have Paul Giamatti as a demented King John, Cornell’s has dagger-wielding dinosaurs. Advantage Demon Knights.
It would equally be fitting to describe the book as DC’s answer to the World of Warcraft phenomenon. The ostensible ‘heroes’ can each be broken down into the roles of a gaming party – tank, mage, rogue – and the villains are called The Horde after all. Furthermore the occasional use of present-day slang makes the characters sound almost like a gang of gamers chatting away on skype while they wage virtual war on demons and barbarians.
Diógenes Neves and Oclair Albert on art succeed in capturing the grand scope of Cornell’s mythological vision, as well as the comical facial expressions arising from the banter. Not to mention the dagger-wielding dinosaurs. I am still fixated on that.
This is a great first issue and will perhaps come to be recognized as the underrated star of the new relaunch.