Waiting for the Trade – Demon Knights

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

 
Demon Knights: Seven
against the Dark.
by Paul Cornell, Diogenes Neves and
Oclair Albert

Collects Demon Knights
1 – 7

Why I Bought This: This
has a Camelot connection which always peaks my interest; but I was wary of buying
it at first because I never cared for characters like Morbius or Ghost Rider in
Marvel and Demon (who has top billing) seems like he’s just DC’s version of
Ghost Rider (at least viewed superficially from the outside). Eventually my
curiosity led me to buy issue 1 in a $1 bin and it was quite good so on Free Comic
Book Day 2013 I bought the first trade at 25-percent off.

The Plot: In the
Dark Ages an unlikely group of characters with a connection to Camelot or who
happen to be immortal and that are still active in the current DCU find
themselves in a bar in a small town just as an unstoppable horde descends upon the
town forcing those characters to band together for survival.

Spoilers lurk below

 

Chapter 1 – We start at the fall of Camelot and death of
Arthur as he is whisked away by the sisterhood of Avalon. One of the sisters is
the future Madame Xanadu and she abandons her post in an unsuccessful attempt
to retrieve Excalibur when Arthur returns it to the Lady of the Lake. Next we see Merlin bond the Demon Etrigan to a
young knight in Arthur’s court named Jason Blood. Merlin teleports away and we
jump ahead to the Dark Ages where future JLA villain Mordu (an exceptionally
powerful wizard) is draining the life out of babies to tell the future of his
queen. The information gets them to set their sights on the town of Little Spring. Xanadu and
Blood are on their way to Little Spring. They stop into a bar where Vandal
Savage is also having a drink and we learn these three immortals previously met
90 years ago. Also in the bar is Sir Ystin aka the Shining Knight who claims he
too was at the Fall of Camelot, although the other three doubt that Ystin is in
fact a boy. Next to walk into the bar is Al Jabr, who is apparently an inventor
of some renown but whom the bartender refuses to serve because he is Muslim.
This offends a tall woman by the name Exoristos, who says she comes from a land
even further away–implied to be Paradise
Island–and so the
bartender reconsiders. Some Horde scouts are slaughtering shepherds outside the
town, when a Horsewoman arrives to save the last shepherd with her bow and
arrow. He begs her to bring warning to the town of the Horde’s approach. Other
Horde scouts are already at the bar and attack which unleashes Etrigan. He incinerates
them with ease but Mordu detects magic when Etrigan attacks. So the queen
announces she will use her default strategy when there is opposition: “Find the
source of the problem and throw dragons at them;” which she does in an
excellent splash page for the cliffhanger

Chapter 2 – The heroes rip the dragons apart much to the
shock of the Questing Queen. She decides she now needs to contain the
population of the village to prevent them from warning some army she plans to
attack. A new hero called the Horsewoman arrives and warns the village of the
impending Horde attack. The heroes on the bar try to get the villagers to
evacuate while the Demon takes Xanadu in his arms and flies away. However they
are attacked by archers riding pterodactyls. Horsewoman is in the process
attempting to ride ahead to warn said good army when three mechanical dragons
cut her off. Then the village itself is assaulted by mystic fireballs. Demon
retreats to the village, where Shining Knight jumps on a Pegasus and makes the save. Xanadu
attempts to erect a force field around the town but Mordu senses her magic and
throws an even bigger fireball at them.

Chapter 3 – Xanadu gets her shield up just in time but the
cost of deflecting Mordu’s magic ages her severely. The Demon then attacks a
local priest in his rage. Meanwhile the Horde approaches the town. Meanwhile
Horsewoman runs from the Mechanical Dragons. The Horde cannot penetrate Xanadu’s
force field, though Horsewoman manages to get back in. They have until sunset
before the field fails so the seven heroes try to come up with a plan to band
together and fight them off. Mordu meanwhile uses his magic to spy on the
village and recognizes Vandal Savage and Xanadu. The priest from chapter two
dies. The heroes try to join the villagers to fight and build barriers and
weapons, while Exoristos convinces some village girl to sneak out along a
forest path the girls knows of and get word to the good army. However the Horde
captures and then publically decapitates this young girl as a warning to the
village. 

Chapter 4 – We get Shining Knight’s origin: Merlin let him
(her?) drink from Holy Grail shortly after the fall of Camelot “9,000 years
ago” (???) to save his live from a spear wound. He’s been questing to find the
Grail again ever since with the occasional century long hibernation under a
tree. We also get glimpses of his future which may involve turning into a demon
and/or losing all his friends before recovering the Grail. We also see in
flashback how Merlin lost the Grail and tasked Shining Knight to recover it for
him centuries later. Meanwhile we learn the Horde’s Questing Queen is also
looking for the Grail (and sleeping with Mordru). Back in the present
Horsewoman kills the Horde member with the girl’s head via a bow & arrow.
She then turns and also shoots Exoristos point blank in the stomach.

Chapter 5 – Horsewoman chastises Exoristos for getting the
girl killed and noted her arrow shot was deliberately non-lethal as the
dissension among all the Knights continues to grow. Mordru and the Queen then
up the stakes by telepathically making offers to each of the Knights to betray
their comrades. All of them but Savage turn them down. Savage makes out with
the Queen much to her dismay and then leads a triceratops against the village.

Chapter 6 – Exoristos jumps down and kills the Triceratops
with a sledge hammer. Horsewoman pulls an Aquaman and summons nearby horses to
come help. Al Jabr uses arrow-catapults to kill an army of velociraptors.
Xanadu considers murdering a villager to recharge her power but is unable to do
it (and we learn her name comes from Merlin’s prophecy power). Exoristos is
wounded by one of the Raptors but the Demon saves her. The horse stampede
engages the three mechanical dragons (from chapter 2) as Horsewoman rides out to
warn the army in the next town. Little Spring is about to fall when Xanadu
realizes they need Jason to do something in Hell. Horsewoman is wounded and
many of her horses die but she makes it through. The Horde breaks into the
town.

Chapter 7 – In Hell Jason finds the Priest that Demon cursed
back in chapter 3. In the melee Savage turns some of the Horde barbarians
against their comrades to plunder the wagon carrying the wages of the entire
army. Jason returns with the tears of an innocent in Hell, which Xanadu drinks
to regain her full power. Demon returns in time to save Al Jabr from the Horde.
Next we get a pair of big one-on-one standoffs: The Queen vs. Shining Knight in
a sword duel; and Xanadu vs. Mordu in a wizard’s duel. Savage and The Demon
reunite with the Demon approving of Savage’s subterfuge. The villains win both
solo fights as the heroes fall and the village is burned to the ground. Shining
Knight is incapacitated by a wound from a poisoned blade and the Queen begins
to question her on the location of the Holy Grail. And then Exoristos emerges
from the rubble of the village and begins beheading every enemy she sees. Just
then the mechanical dragons fall from the sky and Horsewoman arrives with the cavalry.
The villains retreat. The heroes are congratulated for saving the land but the
words and art contrast as we see the ruins of Little Spring and crying peasants
amidst the words of victory.
Critical Thoughts:
I love chapter one. It is one of the finest set-up issues for a new team and
new concept I’ve ever read. Look how long that chapter recap is. They introduce
a lot of characters and a lot of new information and they do it in a way that
leaves you wanting to know more.

That brings me to the most important comment. I love this
concept and series as a whole. I love the mix of modern immortal characters
crossing paths in the past. I like the overall tone set for the Dark Ages. This
is not a superhero comic. Yet, it takes place in what will become a superhero
universe. Cornell has a come up with a unique take on the genre and he’s
executing it superbly.
 
Also I should say in general the cliffhangers are very good throughout. 

I will say the Demon is a surprise as a character. In that
he is not a good demonic entity like say Ghost Rider at all. What he does to the priest
in this story is horrible. And in the second volume we get a flashback that
shows other atrocities he has committed over the years. That Vandal Savage is
also unrepentantly selfish gives this book an anything can happen vibe that you
don’t see in many other team books. 

If I do have some criticisms I would as WTF is with the “9000
years ago” flashback to the fall of Camelot in chapter 4. I suppose that could
be a misprint for 900 years ago, but even then we’d be in the high middle ages.
I think 100 to 300 years ago would be a better setting if we assume Arthur was
active in the late sixth century. But clearly if the Holy Grail is a plot point
in Shining Knight’s origin then 9000 years just cannot be accurate given the
artifact traditionally gains its power from the life of Jesus.

Also why are the so many dinosaurs in the Middle Ages? Look
I can buy it is a fantasy comic with magic and dragons and what have you, so
one dinosaur showing up why not? But the Horde has at least three different
species of dinosaurs, some of them in large quantities. Still these are minor
quibbles that have no bearing on the excellence of concept, characterization or
storytelling found in this tome.

 

Grade A+
Clearly the best of the New 52 books I’ve read and possibly the best book of
this decade so far.