Sunday, November 20, 2011

Review: Demon Knights issues 1-3

Most people in the nerd community, and everyone in the comic book fandom, heard about DC's "New Universe" (aka the New 52) long before it happened in September. I was cautiously optimistic. To me, DC has always been Marvel's goofier, stupider older cousin. While Batman is pretty awesome, all the rest of their main universe has almost always sucked, with a handful of exceptions (Swamp Thing and...well, that's about it). This was an opportunity to start fresh, bring in new readers, and revive the western comics industry. Same day digital comics was a huge positive. Another was the diversity they were injecting into the line. "Finally," I said, "something other than superheroes from one of the Big 2!" In addition to superhero comics, they were bringing in westerns, war comics, horror, and at least one sword & sorcery fantasy book, Demon Knights.

I'd heard much praise for Demon Knights, however, I wasn't sure how genuine it is. People regularly praise subpar shows and books just because there's nothing else like them and we want more shows/books of that genre. I call this the Walking Dead Effect. The first season of the Walking Dead was half good, at best, and the show hasn't turned around yet, but people want more zombie shows, so they watch and heap praise on this lackluster program. This made me skeptical of Demon Knights, the first ongoing fantasy series from either of the Big 2 since DC's failed revival of Warlord in 2005 (last one before that was in the early 90s). Regardless, I finally relented and bought the first three issues.

This series is, wisely, self contained. It centres around 7/8 warriors, though its real star is the demon Etrigan, who's permanently bonded to Jason Blood. My only previous experience with this character was in one memorable story during Alan Moore's run of Swamp Thing, but from what I can see he's much more of an anti-hero (almost a villain) here. The other 6 characters are Vandal Savage, Madame Xanadu, "Sir" Ystin the Shining Knight, and original characters Exoristos, the Horsewoman and al Jabr. I had no prior connection to any of the other pre-existing characters, so if they're radically different from their previous incarnation, I have no idea.

I have, however, found most of them engaging and interesting. Actual conflicts have been set up in believable, organic ways: Xanadu is playing both halves of Etrigan/Blood and telling both sides she prefers them, Exoristos resents her for this, al Jabr has cursed at Etrigan for his evilness, everyone sees that Shining Knight is pretending to be male and a few have caught on to her haughty attitude, and the Horsewoman is clearly not a team player. However, the team has been forced to work together by the Questing Queen's siege of the village they've all (separately) stopped in, and there are obvious bonds forming, in addition to the conflicts within the group. Note to writers: this is the way to build a team. Even though they will have conflict, there's enough positive chemistry, and a big enough threat, that it's believable [what's left of] the team will stick together after the siege of the village.

All of the individual characters are interesting (save the Horsewoman who we haven't spent much time with) but none are strong enough to carry their own series. This is a good thing. When a breakout character emerges, team books suffer as other characters are pushed aside. If there is a breakout character, however, it will be the boisterous but brilliant barbarian bruiser Vandal Savage. Personally, I prefer al Jabr, the inquisitive Arab inventor, but then again I'm just that kind of lamewad. I'm also happy with the villains. They're appropriately threatening, and since the focus has been on their army and "dragons" (tyrannosaurus rexes, pterosaurs and robotic t-rexes and pterosaurs) we've enough distance from the Questing Queen and her right-hand man to still have an air of mystery around them. What is she really after? We don't know yet, and at this point that keeps us hooked.

The art is fantastic, the writing is crisp, and it actually ties into the DC universe well without being dragged down by it (4/5 of the 7/8 characters are immortals who will interact with future heroes, and Exoristos is from Wonder Woman's island). In addition to this, tying the whole thing to King Arthur and Camelot is a clever way to make this more accessible to new readers. The only real flaws are minor, really. A character with a permanent rhyming schtick only works if it's consistent, and aside from a bit of issue 2, Etrigan never speaks in rhyme, which makes the times he does rhyme awkward. The dragons being dinosaurs might end up being cited by creationists as a victory, which is never a good thing, and there's no good reason I can see that Shining Knight bothers with the charade that fools no one. It's good as a one-off joke, even as a short-term running gag, but I can see it getting irritating in the very near future.

Aside from those minor nitpicks, this is truly a solid book, and I implore you to buy all previous and future issues, either physically or digitally. Easy 9 roast t-rexes out of 10.


You can buy this series in digital format here, and you can probably buy it in physical format at your local comic store.

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