Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Review: Demon Knights, volume 1: Seven Against the Dark

What do you get when you take Arthurian Legend, The Seven Samurai, and Berserk and haphazardly mix them all together? Well, you'd probably get something very much like Paul Cornell's Demon Knights, one of the original titles to come out of the New 52. So how does it hold up? Let's take a look.

Set in the Dark Ages (that's the European Dark Ages, not the Dark Age of Comics), Demon Knights tells the story of 7 (well, technically eight) warriors: Xanadu,beautiful sorceress, Vandal Savage, big burly warrior, "Sir" Ystin, a woman unsuccessfully pretending to be a man (everyone else just humors her), Al Jabr, Muslim engineer and inventor, Exoristos, an exiled Amazon, Horsewoman, a lady who's always riding a horse, and Jason, Merlin's former apprentice. Also, Jason's body magically binds the demon Etrigan, who occasionally takes over and wreaks havoc.

A woman known only as the Questing Queen is sending her armies plundering across the land, with the intent of taking over the great and magical city of Alba Sarum, but a small town stands in her way. Unfortunately for her, seven immortals happen to be holidaying in that town, and don't take kindly to her horde's invasion. With an army at their doorstep, and the Queen's dragons blocking the pass leading to Alba Sarum, the seven must stand together and rally the townsfolk to fight off the invading force.

This entire volume (collecting the first 6 issues) is basically a very long war scene. Oh, yes, there are moments of peace and quiet between the action, but they are few and full of tension, as everyone waits for the inevitable next battle.

And that right there is what makes this comic truly impressive. Despite the almost non-stop action, I still came away with a clear idea of who each and every character is. Cornell balances action and character development beautifully. None of the knights feels bland or flat. They each have their own personalities, goals, and flaws, and these are all communicated efficiently through their words and actions.
Fighting dinosaurs is a great way to develop your character.
 Even better is that the characters are all likable-- even the ones with few redeeming qualities. Etrigan is unapologetically evil, yet he's also pragmatic, badass, and cares deeply for Xanadu. Vandal Savage is a boorish, self-serving lout who switches allegiances based on who happens to be winning at the time, but he's so damn earnest in his dishonesty that you can't help but warm up to the guy.
I mean, come on. Look how happy he is!
This being a fantasy story in the vein of Conan and centering around a war, you can expect a lot of blood and violence in it. If that's not your thing, I'd advise to stay away.

That being said, there's a little something in this for nearly every fantasy fan. Like stories about guile heroes? Al Jabr is gonna engineer the shit of the bad guys. Like your protagonists to be noble, honorable knights who embody chivalric ideals? Ystin's got you covered. How about people struggling with curses? Both Jason and Horsewoman have curses to deal with.

Or maybe you prefer crazy violent sword and sorcery (once again, like Conan), complete with the classic chainmail bikini look? No sweat. Demon Knights has got you covered.
OK, so it's not actually chainmail, but that stuff would chafe like crazy anyway.
Demon Knights puts on the appearance of a visceral, mindless, instant-gratification sort of comic, but beneath it is a decent story with fantastic characterization. While it didn't exactly blow me away, it is definitely recommended, and I'll probably try to keep up with it (though it falls just short of my "must buy" list).

See you next time, when I review Birds of Prey.

EDIT: On my first read-through, Xanadu was the only character I recognized (and yet, I still got her confused with Zatanna in my original write-up of this review-- shows how much I know about DC's universe) Anyway, Etrigan and Vandal Savage are apparently recurring DC villains, and Sir Ystin is lesser known superhero known as the Shining Knight (though she was apparently really a dude in the original, I think). I don't know if any of the other Knights are established characters or if they are original. Comments clearing this up would be appreciated.

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