Waiting for the Trade – Demon Knights

So yes, it’s been close to six months since I posted here. Basically I got a job teaching in September, and to anyone who thinks teaching is a part time job allow me to chortle merrily in your general direction. And then I proposed to my longtime lady and we’ve been planning a wedding. So yea life’s been happening but without further ado let’s talk comic books.

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller

Demon Knights (vol.
2): The Avalon Trap.

By Paul Cornell,
Diogenes Neves and Bernard Chang

Collects Demon Knights
8-12 and 0

Why I Bought This: Demon Knights trade collection 1 is the best
New 52 book I’ve read yet. I would almost certainly have purchased the next
collection under any circumstances, but the fact the second volume promised to delve
deeper into Arthurian lore made it a priority purchase.

The Plot: When
Merlin is murdered the Demon Knights are tasked with going to Avalon in an
attempt to resurrect him.

For those not familiar with the series premise it is a
basically a Justice League style team up book set in the middle ages with half
the members being immortal characters that are still active in the current DC
Universe such as Madame Xanadu, the Demon Etrigan and Vandal Savage as well as
new characters Shining Knight (a Grail knight from Camelot), Horsewoman (can
talk to horses), Al Jabr (super scientist/inventor type) and Exoristos (an
Amazon from Paradise Island).
As always spoilers follow after the break


Chapter 1 – A majority of the team feels Vandal Savage meant
to betray them in the last arc and was not just going undercover with the
Horde. In flashback we learn that Madame Xanadu is in fact Nimue (of Arthurian
mythology). We then get the history of her relationship with Jason Blood. Later
the Demon recalls the same facts of the relationship in a very different light.
Back in the present Merlin is working on a spell to restore Camelot when he is
murdered by a cultist who seems to be possessed by Lovecraftian horrors.

Chapter 2 – The royal family of the City of Alba Sarum
reluctantly hire the team (only agreeing to do so because of Shining Knight’s
presence) to take Merlin’s body to Avalon in hopes that he can be restored
there. Xanadu, who is from Avalon, is confident this will work. They board a
boat (and we learn Shining Knight’s Pegasus can talk) and are attacked by a Sea
Serpent in the first cliffhanger. Then in Hell we see Etrigan meet with Lucifer
and offer to steal all the souls in Avalon for Hell including the souls of his
teammates and Merlin.

Chapter 3 – The sea serpent is being rode on by pirates in a
bit of awesome; however Xanadu and Savage team up to kill it and then accept
the pirates’ surrender in exchange for safe passage. They arrive at a village
near the border of the ruins of Camelot and we hear tales of monstrous animals
and other horrors are coming from the ruins. The heroes continue their journey,
kill a ludicrously large wolf and finally find Camelot where a new tower stands
over the ruins. They are then attacked King Arthur as the tower’s dark magic
mutates everyone but Xanadu.

Chapter 4 – So the mutagenic effect has apparently
transformed everyone into a twisted version of their innermost desire. Al Jabr
becomes a MODOK-like creature of super-intelligence, Etrigan is a Demon King,
Horsewoman is a centaur, Vandal Savage is a Neanderthal version of himself,
Exoristos is painfully deformed and Shining Knight is herself physically but
now has so much pride she has no interest in helping any of the others. They
manage to work together long enough to fight off some Lovecraftian wolves but
when Undead Arthur tries to use the waters of Avalon to heal them they all
resist. He douses them anyway. While most of the team is then happy to be
restored, Etrigan is the exception and he and the now human Arthur battle. Once
separated the rest of the team is curious why Xanadu was not affected. She
reveals her past as Nimue/one of the fey and that she is Arthur’s sister.
Arthur relates how Avalon restored him from the dead after a century or so but
when he got back to Camelot the dark tower had been erected and transformed him
and the land. The heroes decide to storm the tower and defeat an Earth
Elemental in the process. In the cliffhanger we learn the tower belongs to
Morgan Le Fey and this whole quest to restore Merlin is a trap she has set.

Chapter 5 – The heroes enter the tower and discover it is
larger inside than outside as Jabr finally accepts magic is real. They find the
Round Table with dead knights in the chairs and a pentagram scrawled on it.
Also dead is one of the ladies of Avalon, Tui (sister to both Morgan and
Nimue). Also Horsewoman discovers the tower is draining their life forces just
by being inside it. That tidbit makes the heroes decide to retreat only to be
cut off by a legion of mutated animals. Shining Knight decapitates a bear but
it explodes in poison gas and KOs everyone.
They awaken to find themselves chained to a wall in the formation of a mystic
symbol. Morgan’s use of dark magic has taken a toll on her body so she intends
to use the Demon Knights to make Merlin’s body immortal then transfer her soul
into Merlin. Of course like every super villain Morgan has to leave the room
after setting up her deathtrap. Etrigan escapes by switching places with Jason
Blood then switches back again so he can burn the alter and disrupt the spell.
The heroes attack Morgan and since she can’t revive Merlin she attempts to
switch bodies with Nimue only for Arthur to jump in the way of the spell. Arthur’s
will holds her at bay long enough to order Shining Knight to restore Merlin and
carry on the legacy of Camelot and then he plunges Excalibur into a mystic fire
Morgan had burning which explodes seemingly destroying them both. The tower
collapses but everyone makes it out in time. Etrigan suggests continuing the
quest to Avalon but Nimue is unable to summon the mystic barge that takes the
sisters there presumably because of whatever Morgan did to erect her tower and
corrupt the land. Once Etrigan learns the quest is lost he angrily teleports
everyone to Hell.

Chapter 6 – In a flashback issue, we see that Etrigan’s life
in Hell was unpleasant and he once led a failed rebellion against Lucifer. We
also see in Camelot that Jason Blood was apprenticed to Merlin as a scribe as
he had no talent for magic himself, and was unhappy in the position except for
when he was flirting with Nimue. Merlin gets some bad advice about Blood from
Morgan le Fey so that when UFOs inexplicably attack Camelot he binds Blood with
Etrigan as Camelot falls.


Critical Thoughts:
This is really the best modern comic book I’ve read from any company since
DnA’s run on Guardians of the Galaxy
ended in 2010. I really enjoyed the hell out of the team coming together first
volume and this second volume is even better as it delves deep into Arthurian
Lore, which is among my favorite genres in fiction. Morgan’s layered plan gives
these issues a lot of momentum and her portrayal at the end feels both on
target and makes for a fun payoff. Furthermore the art is stellar at times,
particularly in some of the big action splash pages.

Among the team members the love triangle with Xanadu,
Etrigan and Blood continues to be intriguing. The fact that some team
members (Etrigan and Savage) are unrepentantly evil also gives it a real anything can happen at any time feel. Shining Knight’s story is not as interesting but then the Grail Quest to me has always been the least interesting part of the Arthurian Legend. The lesser team members
aren’t given as much to do in this volume but they are being  pushed aside for the more interesting members
of the team so I’m okay with that and we are still getting small hints into their pasts as well.

Honestly this is one of the most original books to come
along in years if not decades. I can’t think of another team superhero book
that has ever been set in the Middle Ages before and so far the exploration of
the concept and setting has been fantastic. If you want something different
than everything else on the market then check this title out.

Grade A+. Highest
Possible Recommendation.