There's nothing like a little medieval adventure. Does DC's Demon Knights book live up to its epic scope?
Welcome to 52apolooza, the Outhouse feature focusing on DC's September Relaunch. All of DC's 52 titles will be reviewed by our pool of reviewers to point out the best and worst that DC's new comic book line has to offer. To see how this book ranks among the other new DC titles, be sure to check out our 52apolooza Rankings!
While Justice League takes place five years before the modern age and Action Comics goes half a year before that, only Demon Knights dares to begin its tale a thousand years in the past. Does that help the book? Does it break it? Let's find out.
Marvel Reviewer: Niam Suggitt
In the wider world, fantasy seems to be making something of a comeback. The latest in George RR Martin's A Song Of Ice & Fire series, A Dance With Dragons, sold literally billions of copies, the HBO adaptation was a massive critical and ratings hit, The Wheel Of Time is finally ending and continues to be a sales juggernaut, and writers like Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch and R. Scott Bakker continue to redefine the genre. So it's a good idea for DC to make one of their new launches a medieval fantasy series, it's working for TV and movies and books, it should work for comics too. And so far, Demon Knights is looking pretty damn good.
DC have brought in Paul Cornell to write this series, and he's a good fit, both Captain Britain & MI:13 and Knight & Squire featured stories about magic and ancient Britain, so it's cool to see him work with Merlin and other Arthurian concepts again.
This issue is mostly set-up, as Cornell shows us the main threat of the series, The Questing Queen, who alongside Mordru is ravaging across the land and causing babies to turn into demons and then explode.
DC has always had plenty of characters who have ties to the medieval era, and Cornell uses and reinterprets a lot of them in interesting ways. As the title suggest, the most famous character is the Demon, and we see what he and Jason Blood were like back in the day. Unfortunately Etrigan isn't rhyming here, but that can get old fast so perhaps it's wiser to avoid it. We also see Madame Xanadu and the Shining Knight. The Shining Knight we have in this book is the one from Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers, so is actually a woman and it's great to see him/her show up again. Cornell also uses the immortal villain Vandal Savage, who is not quite so villainous here, and it looks like he will be an interesting take on the Caveman. Cornell used Savage wonderfully in Action Comics, but here he seems less of a calculating villain than a Little John/Gimli type roustabout.
Cornell also introduces some new characters, including what I suspect is an Amazon, and a technological hero from Arabia. There's also Horsewoman, but we don't see much of her.
We don't see much of anyone really, but like I said, this issue is mainly set-up, the team has not formed yet. There is plenty to like though: the dialogue is fun, the villains are interesting, and Cornell puts some nice twists in, like Xanadu being in love with Etrigan rather than Jason Blood.
The artwork in this issue comes from Diogenes Neves, who is an artist I'm not familiar with, but it looks very good and reminds me at times of Olivier Coipel, Leonard Kirk and Clay Mann, which is a very good thing. I particularly like his Demon.
Overall, this is a strong opening issue. It may be a little too heavy on set-up for some people, but this is an entirely new milieu and Cornell can't rely on our familiarity. It's not quite up to the standards of Martin and others, but they have 500 pages compared to Cornell's 20. There's lots of good stuff here and I can't wait to see it develop and how this book connects with Cornell's other book Stormwatch and Madame Xanadu's other team, Justice League Dark. It's great to see DC step into different genres again, and we need to support books like this, that aren't traditional superheroics.
Accessibility: 17/25 (I think it would definitely help to have a decent knowledge of DC history, if you don't know who Mordru or Vandal Savage or Madame Xanadu are, you may be lost, however there are new characters here, and fantasy fans should be used to having to wait for layers to be pulled back)
Total Score: 85/100
DC Reviewer: Psivage
First thing's first. I love the Demon, so it is going to be very hard not to be biased. Let's begin.
Demon Knights begins with a prologue of the fall of Camelot with a quick retelling origin of the Demon and his bonding. It is different than the one that came before it, but not by much and is a great starting point for new comers. From there, it jumped to the four hundred years later in the Dark Ages.
So far, the storyline seems to be about a Queen and her servant/lover Mordru searching for a unknown object. Of course, they have a army called the Horde at their disposal. We were introduced to Vandal Savage, playing a good guy for once; Madam Xanadu, who is playing Jason Blood's lover but is really in love with the Demon; Shining Knight, who appears to be a woman; two unknown characters, and of course the mysterious woman on the horse.
I have to say I enjoyed it and am interested to see where the story is going. The writing is good. Nothing, that I can tell is wrong except maybe one part where it should be 'me' instead of 'my'. [Editor's Note: The reviewer is referring to a typo missed by DC's editorial staff]
The art is great. I really enjoyed it, and with the nice colors and figures nothing seemed out of whack. If anything, I thought there was too much brown being used, but then again, the color scheme fit back in those days.
If you are just starting to collect comics, I think this would be easy enough to pick up and enjoy without knowing the previous background of the characters. If you already know about these characters I don't think that nothing dramatic has been changed.
Total Score: 96/100
What, a near perfect score? Like I said I love the Demon, and it was going to be hard not to be biased.
DC Reviewer: Porcelain38
DC Comics has always had some fascination with the Middle Ages. Occasionally someone, namely the JLA, will be thrown back in time and forced to help out against some magical foe. Apart from these typically one-off stories DC has never really explored the Middle Ages, however in Demon Knights DC plans to rewrite history.
Demon Knights will be one of those rare titles where both old and new fans can find something to bond over. While there are characters that longtime DC's will recognize, they are put into an all new setting which makes them feel fresher (Its interesting to see The Demon essentially in his element along with other heroes). Paul Cornell does a good job of explaining who most of the players are within the issue while teasing members to join down the line. The strongest point of the book is the interaction between the characters , namely Jason Blood/The Demon and Madam Xanadu. Part of the fun of this book will be seeing how this unique blend of characters come together to create a (hopefully) dysfunctional team.
The art on the book is solid. 'Nuff said. Some of the better art to be put on display in DC's new 52 universe.
The only thing that overwhelmingly bothers me about this book is its direction. As with most fantasy fiction there is a overarching nemesis and quest that most be completed. Well, past this arc's first villain how many times can Cornell repeat this formula? I'm wary on whether or not Cornell can sustain an entire ongoing book in this setting. Also most of these characters are still alive and well in today's current DC universe, so it removes some of the suspense on whether or not certain characters will live or die. That being said I see a lot of potential for crossovers in this book. Ties are already being set up with Stormwatch and I'm hoping that somewhere down the line a Frankenstein crossover will come up.
Demon Knights is a fun book but I will still need a couple of issues to be fully be sold on the concept and fully committing to the book.
New Reader Reviewer: Tricia Long
There is a lot going on in Demon Knights #1, but it's a lot of cool stuff. I'm a big fantasy buff, so it was nice to see something set in the penultimate fantasy land: the past. I guess it's not really the past, because I'm pretty sure the Middle Ages had more filth-farming and less magic, but definitely not in modern times. The story opens with the fall of Camelot, and Merlin being a serious dick. He traps the sarcastic demon Etrigan inside of poor Jason of Norwich, who we then see is forced to be an immortal. Four hundred years later, along with a former priestess of Avalon named Xanadu, we see Jason get in the most magical bar fight I've ever seen. I've only seen a few bar fights, but none of them involved an Amazon and a Middle Eastern ambassador. Clearly I have not lived.
Demon Knights #1 is a great introductory issue because so many fascinating and funny characters are introduced. In addition to Jason, Xanadu, and Etrigan you get a gaudily dressed Celt, two scintillatingly evil villains, one pissed off Amazon, and, my favorite, Vandal Savage. I already love this boisterous Germanic tribesman who just wants to have a damn drink and a good fight. His best line is easily, "I want to be in an inn!" which he yells to the innkeeper before breaking down the door. These enjoyable characters are balanced by some heavy stuff: a magical Questing Queen and her consort (What are they questing for, I wonder?) who have no qualms with turning a baby into a demon in front of his father's eyes. And their solution for the awesome bar fight? Throw dragons at it. Yep, that's how we should solve this: fucktons of dragons.
The overall tone of Demon Knights is funny, definitely not heroic. Clearly there are some pretty high stakes here (the future of a subjugated people, what to do with immortality, perhaps finding Excalibur?), but we haven't gotten to them yet. All we have is a group of immortals meeting in a bar and getting in a fight, and when you're old it's hard to take a lot of things seriously. Just ask Etrigan, who cracks wise at Merlin for imprisoning him and then goes on to sleep with Xanadu. You think this guy is worried about getting back to hell? Cuz I think he's making the most of a sticky situation.
Going back to Excalibur, what happened to it in the opening scene? Clearly the Lady of the Lake took it back, as she usually does at the end of the traditional Arthurian legend, but who was the unnamed knight who threw it away? I fully expect him to show up again in some way. The only snag is that if you are not familiar with Arthurian legend (I'm probably over-familiar with its many variations), then you will probably be confused. I have a hard time seeing how anyone wouldn't know what Excalibur is, or who Merlin was, but maybe those people exist. They'll still enjoy this book, but they won't get a few of the references.
Finally, and I swear this is not an afterthought, this was some gorgeous art. I cannot say enough good things about it. I loved the first page, the vibrancy of the colors and the pain on the unnamed Knight's face as he threw away the greatest sword Britain has ever seen. I liked how the colors varied for the different scenes – this is a fairly standard use of color, but it effectively conveyed that each jump was to a different character or place. The colors gave everything a distinct place and feel, which emphasizes the clash of these worlds.
Obviously, I loved Demon Knights #1. You will too, so go buy it. Now.
Total Score: 93/100
Final 52apolooza Score: 362 (Average Score: 90.5)
Bonus Review: Brian Burchette
The book opens with the tossing of Excalibur back into the lake as Camelot collapses around the remaining knights and Merlin reveals his best kept secret: the captured demon, Etrigan. The scene switches to the Middle Ages where Jason Blood and Madame Xanadu run into The Shining Knight in a tavern right before a horde of men attack the place. When the battle soon turns in favor of Etrigan and friends the fiend behind the attack, Mordru sends them one of his big guns: a dragon!
Any book that opens with the legendary scene of the return of Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake is bound to grab your attention. With Etrigan's origin tied into such a piece of grand literature it's easy to root for this "hero" from the very beginning. When you add Madame Xanadu and the Shining Knight into the mix with some of the best writing of Paul Cornell's career (and that's saying a lot), you're going to discover a gem of a book.
The art is solid comic goodness, though I can't help but wonder if this book might not be even better served with someone with a more modern approach. Still I can't fault pencils, inks or colors for all work almost flawlessly. I hope this book finds a following because it really deserves one.
Final Score: 90/100
Written or Contributed by: Niam Suggitt, Psivage, Porcelain38 and Tricia Long