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Thursday, 23 February 2012

Demon Knights (LGBT History month)

 We find the source of the problem, and we throw dragons at it
- The Questing Queen's war strategy
Writer: Paul Cornell
Pencils: Diogenes Neves and Robson Rocha
Colours: Marcelo Maiolo
Inks: Oclair Albert with Rocha and Neves
Letters: Jared K Fletcher
N.B. These are the credits for issue 6 but I'm pretty sure think issues 1-5 had the same creative team.
Publisher: DC Comics

What's it about?
Demon Knights is a new ongoing comic book series published by DC Comics.  It's set in England Southern France (so the writer told me) in the Dark Ages, and gathers together an unlikely group of magic users who end up fighting side by side against the enemy.  The group is made up of Exoristos, tall, super strong woman; Sir Ystin, the Shining Knight; Jason Blood, host of the demon Etrigan, Madame Xanadu, magician who was at the fall of Camelot; Vandal Savage, immortal; Horsewoman, archer extraordinaire; Al Jabr, saracen and inventor.

The Questing Queen sends her horde to battle the kingdom of Alba Serum.  To get there, they have to go through a village named Little Spring.  When the front runners arrive in the village and barge their way into the local pub, our 'Demon Knights' take this interruption to their quiet pint seriously, and start fighting the invaders.  Things escalate, and before you know it there's dragons and demons, and winged horses, giant rhinoceroses and magic shields and sacrifices and so on and so forth.

It's a full on fantasy series, and it's ever so English.

What's good about it?
It's really English.  In a genre that is so American centric it's a delight to read something so obviously British.  The reason for this is because the writer, Paul Cornell, is British.  You can see this when he makes Jason Blood from Norwich (barely anyone in the UK can place Norwich on a map, let alone Americans) and when he has Madame Xanadu complain about not being able to have a quiet pint.  Then there's the sub plot of the fall of Camelot, and Merlin and the Grail, which Americans can write about, but it somehow becomes better when written from an English point of view.

So what else is good?  Well it's rollicking good fun.  If you like your stories full of adventure and explosions, of magic and out of the ordinary animals, you'll like this.  I get the feeling that the writer and artists had a great time putting this together.  It's not serious, angsty, or sombre.  It's fast paced and enjoyable.  What  magic superhero comics should be!

The group of Demon Knights are well characterised and comprise a mixed bunch, with a surprising amount of different types of people on the team.  There's three woman, one of whom is disabled (Horsewoman - I wrote about her here), a fellow from Arabia and a trans man (more on him in a minute).  None of them ever come across as being a token.
As for the trans character, that would be Sir Ystin, the Shining Knight.  Ystin introduces himself as 'Sir' and doesn't accept other characters referring to him as female.  However all characters appear to gender him as female, and the discrepancy between the title of Sir and his appearance is commented on by nearly every character first time they meet him.  For this reason, I think he is trans but doesn't pass as male, although it is not confirmed as such in the book.

Vandal Savage's approach to dealing with dragons - Die, tasty rare creatures, die! 

What's bad about it?
The penciller has given Madame Xanadu what I think of as unnecessarily perky pushed up breasts.  This bugs me because I think there's all too much of that sort of thing in superhero comics, and it would be nice if I could get through a book without sighing about the impracticalities of someones clothing.  It's mostly obvious because the other characters aren't dressed like that.

What's the art like?
It's perfectly suited to the style of the book.  Where there's dragons, there's fire.  When Jason Blood transforms into Etrigan we see the pain in his frame.  When we need to see the Horde advancing we get big sweeping vistas of warrior upon warrior, marching relentlessly to this tiny, would-be-defenceless village.  The characters are all easily distinguishable from each other, and as I implied above, they aren't caricatures of beefy chinny heroes or waspish spinal-damaged heroines.  the art brings each character and the story to life. which is as it should be. 

More information
You can buy Demon Knights every month from a comic book shop, or you can buy electronic copies from comixology.

In the shops prices per issue are normally $2.99 (American) or £2.20 (UK).  If you buy it from comixology, the price for the current issue (6) is $2.99, or about £1.80.  The price for issues 1 to 5 is $1.99 or about £1.30.

Demon Knights is currently on issue 6, issue 7 will be released on 14th March. Number 7 is the final part of this arc, then number 8 will be a one shot, with a shorter arc starting from number 9.

As for further reading,well we should explain where this series fits in amongst all other DC books first.
In August 2011 DC relaunched all of their titles to start from issue 1, and used this as a way to reboot continuity in the DC universe, changing some character's backstory and events in DC History.  These books are referred to as 'The New 52'.  Demon Knights was part of this.  So, any further reading we give you, based on characters, may not be for these specific characters in this new universe.  With this in mind...

Demon Knights can be viewed as a reincarnation of the Seven Soldiers team in past DC publishing.  Seven Soldiers was last visited by Grant Morrison, in the series named Seven Soldiers of Victory (links to a wikipedia article).  This series did have a Shining Knight character, Ystin, but unlike the Demon Knights version Ystin was definitely a woman who disguised herself as a man, presumably so she could get knighted, not because she was trans.  You can buy the Seven Soldiers of Victory trades from Amazon.

We reviewed the pre new 52 version of Madame Xanadu here.

Paul Cornell has also written Superman: the Black Ring, reviewed here, also pre New 52, and written Marvel's Captain Britain series, which is much better than it sounds.  I recommend Captain Britain and MI:13 - Secret Invasion.

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