Posted - February 12, 2011 | Updated : March 31, 2011 | April 22, 2011 | May 1-3, 2011 | May 8, 2011 | June 21, 2011 | March 18, 2013 | August 24, 2015
What is Demon Knights?
DC originally wanted a comic about Etrigan to be part of their New 52 offering but writer Paul Cornell wanted the dynamics of a team book coupled with the allure of a medieval setting. Thus, we have Demon Knights.
Even though Etrigan is an old DC character, and some other members of Demon Knights are from the old DCU, the series is in keeping with the general intent of DC Comics in launching its New 52 titles. Demon Knights is written by Paul Cornell to be new reader friendly.
At the same time, long-time readers of DC will find old friends in these pages: Etrigan, Madame Xanadu, Vandal Savage and the Shining Knight are familiar from the old DC Universe. They're balanced out by some new faces : Al Jabr, Exoristos, and the Horsewoman.
Links to the old DC Universe
The very beginning was with Jack Kirby (who else?) in 1972, the comic was called The Demon and Jack's creation was the future DC star, Etrigan. Although reaching only its 16th issue this short run features characters we still see today like Jason Blood, of course, and, surprise surprise, Klarion the Witchboy. Sometimes I think Jack Kirby created everything.
After that, there were numerous Etrigan appearances including a second series. Memorable appearances in Gaiman's Sandman and Moore's Swamp Thing. He was also a regular in Gotham, the Batman being a frequent "partner" of sorts. John Byrne would later do Blood of the Demon, also starring Etrigan.
Madame Xanadu hails from 1978 and had her own short lived series in 1981. She was always in her magic shop reading her tarots and narrating strange tales a la Cain and Abel of House of Mystery.
Vandal Savage, fittingly, is from the Golden Age of comics. First appearance 1943; somebody tell me what comic because I don't know - my Golden Age comic collection fits in a drawer, okay, I don't have a Golden Age comicbook collection. I tend to read past the official DC history of Savage because he's Jack the Ripper and this and that historical figure - I just can't swallow that. What I do like is that Vandal has a lesser known archenemy who has also made it in the new DCU - the Resurrection Man.
Ystina, the Shining Knight, is from the Morrison epic, Seven Soldiers of Victory. She has four issues devoted to her battle with the Queen of the Sheeda. Oh yeah, she has a crush on Sir Galahad.
All the other members of the team are new and have no links to the old DCU.
Demon Knights : Critical Reception
This is one of the more successful titles from the New 52, earning raves from early reviewers and readers alike well into the end of the first story arc. Whoops! Looks Like I spoke too soon. The series was cancelled with the 23rd issue.
In the old DCU, Etrigan, also known as the Demon, was the half-brother of Merlin, who, in the new DCU, was the cause of Etrigan being bonded to Jason Blood. More than that, both Etrigan and Merlin are half-demons, descended from a demonic father, Belial. Another thing about Etrigan is you'll oftimes catch him speaking in rhymes - rhyming is a mark of status in Hell; not very high status, Etrigan has never been referred to as a Duke of Hell, but not the common demonic riff-raff either. As can be seen in Demon Knights, Etrigan is a powerhouse able to project hellfire. In any case he's got a very nice summoning chant : ". . .Gone, gone is the form of man. Rise the Demon Etrigan!".
Seven Against the Dark
Seven Against The Dark is the introductory story arc of Demon Knights. It features the siege of the medieval town of Little Spring. Resistance against incredible odds are spearheaded by some eccentric travelers who happen to be in Little Spring's tavern at the time. Prepare for non-stop action for the entire seven issues of this story arc.
Here's the review of each issue of this arc :
Issue 1 Review
I don't have a single critique against Demon Knights. Not one. Feedback on the internet was that this was among the better new 52 offerings. I got it, read it with utter enjoyment, and finished it wanting more.
I love how it's set in the Dark Ages - a period I love to read about. I'm a fantasy junkie. I have some familiarity with DC history; enough so characters like Vandal Savage and Etrigan/Jason Blood tap into my knowledge base. All of this plays to the strengths of Demon Knights.
The art? Check out this panel.
Excellent details abound. One of them is shown below. The lady is Madame Xanadu -yes, that Madame Xanadu - revealed here as one of the ladies who were to take Arthur to Avalon. The Demon, is, of course, Etrigan; and these two are having an affair behind the back of Jason Blood. The book is just full of details like this.
Issue 2 Review
The second issue of Demon Knights starts with a dragon attack and never lets up on the action till the end. Those dragons remind me more of T-Rex's from Jurassic Park; they're referred to as "real" dragons to tell them apart from "heraldic" dragons - mechanical beasts that will be introduced near the end of the issue.
As good as the overall art is, some parts are better than others. The Questing Queen for one is drawn seductively - in that evil sort of way.
Her mobile Palace reminds me of Castle Revolving from Morrison's Seven Soldiers, pair that with the presence of the Shining Knight, and that's definitely a piece of Seven Soldiers. Aside from the Questing Queen, take a look at Madame Xanadu, those are some of the most wonderfully rendered legs I've ever seen.
Everytime I see Vandal Savage in a comic I hate him. Except here. Demon Knights is actually making me like Vandal Savage, who is uncharacteristically cheerful in this issue.
The momentum of the first issue is unbroken as issue 2 builds excitement for issue 3.
Issue 3 Review
I'm glad I asked you to look at Madame Xanadu's legs last issue because those beautiful legs are gone in this one.
Etrigan has been talking trash since issue 1 but this is the first time he does something really demonic. That poor priest!
Vandal Savage continues to be a loveable character this issue, but the detail that I really like is nobody is fooled by the Shining Knight's lame disguise as Sir Ystin - everybody knows there's a girl underneath the chain mail. Diogenes Neves' makes that obvious with his art.
And I'm happy that Paul Cornell wrote it that way. I also like the Shining Knight,s reaction to all this, which is to laugh her head off.
The issue has a shock ending involving a brutal murder. This incident sets tone for the siege of a Goth village called Little Spring - the pace continues on unabated on a series that I now confirm is addictive.
Issue 4 Review
Merlin makes his appearance at last since magically disappearing in the first issue, with him are all the usual accoutrements of Arthurian legend. Why he chose such a scrawny champion as the Shining Knight I'll never now. I don't buy the part about the Shining Knight being so faithful and determined and such. This part is a bit of a bore but not because of Cornell's writing; its Neves - not enough detail on the panels.
The issue shows the Questing Queen in bed naked, sadly she's covered by a bed sheet.
The ending has the character known as the Horsewoman shooting an arrow right through the Exoristos - the warrior maiden for reasons that will have to wait until next issue. Now that's a cliffhanger.
Issue 5 Review
Last issue ended with the Horsewoman turning on her ally, the warrior woman Exoristos, and basically shooting her in the gut with an arrow. This issue explains why. I thought the Horsewoman had turned traitor but I see her point when she explains it here; the action is stupid, as Vandal Savage notes, because it depletes their strength; but there is also justice in it.
To recap, the Questing Queen has laid siege on the small town of Little Spring but she is having a harder than usual time of destroying it because of the presence of our powerful group. There's Vandal Savage, then Jason Blood/Etrigan, Madame Xanadu, Exoristos, the Shining Knight, the Horsewoman and the clever Al Jabr. It's a tough enough group for Mordru and the Queen to contact each one supernaturally offering a bribe in return for simply walking out of Little Spring. This is a great plot device which reveals a lot of interesting things about this unlikely team.
I've been a big fan of Vandal Savage for several issues now but that ends here - the asshole is back.
Issue 6 Review
Welcome to an issue of Wonder Woman. Or at least, this is what it reads like at the start. Exoristos, truly is an Amazon. As if to prove the point, she single-handedly stops a giant Rhinoceros.
This is when the siege turns to attack, but not the full-on attack, which seems to be reserved for the concluding issue of the story arc.
It looks absolutely hopeless for the Demon Knights. Exoristos is fighting with an injury, Madame Xanadu is powerless; makes me wonder how Cornell will end it. Always a good sign.
Issue 7 Review
There is a sequence of events in issue 7 were Jason Blood rushes to the side of an innocent man in Hell, but not to save him, but to gather his tears. Tears needed to rejuvenate Madame Xanadu. It's a reminder, as if the word "Demon" in the title wasn't enough, that we're not reading about a bunch of heroes here. These are amoral, hardened, warriors and desperados. Very realistic and quite an addictive read.
This is the last issue of the 'Seven Against the Dark' arc which has been building up on the action since the first issue, and this is when things reach critical mass. Lots of good stuff here like : The return of the reinvigorated Madame Xanadu; a surprise move by Vandal Savage, whom I'd given up to the darkside as of last issue; both Etrigan and Exoristos cutting loose (although Exoristos against the giant rhino in issue 6 was her highlight); and best of all the magical battle between Mordru and Madame Xanadu.
The one disappointment here is the Shining Knight who, alas, doesn't walk her talk. Oh well.
Ah, Little Spring. How can we forget the little town that has been our setting for seven issues? Little Spring is subjected to the closest thing the medieval world has to a nuking - lets go down the list : first the "real" dragons, also known as dinosaurs, then the actual siege with numerous attacks on the town, then the heraldic dragons, then the magical assault this issue - very little is left of Little Spring after this.
Paul Cornell wanted a team book because he wanted to exploit the group dynamics and he was right. The interaction between the various "knights" with the siege of Little Spring as a background has been seven issues of page-turning comics goodness. I can't wait for the next arc.
The Avalon Trap
What's issue 0 doing in this collection you ask? Chronologically, issue zero came out right after issue 12, placing it firmly between that and the thirteenth issue. In terms of content, issue 0 can be read outside of the usual series because it is a standalone flashback issue about what Etrigan was doing in Hell before the events of Demon Knights. Issue 8 is also somewhat of a flashback issue, this time about what Madame Xanadu and Jason Blood were about before Demon Knights. Sandwiched between the 'bookend' issues of 8 and 0 are the issues comprising the story proper known as 'The Avalon Trap'.
So how does this story arc turn out? It's not bad, but it does not reach the quality levels of the previous 'Seven Against the Dark' story arc. Cornell's story loses the tight plotting of his initial arc and even Neves shows some fatigue as evidenced by some overly sketchy, angular, less detailed art. It's not a disaster by any means but its no 'Seven Against the Dark'.
What 'The Avalon Trap' is about is the quest to save Merlin by bringing his inanimate body to Avalon. Along the way you'll meet a giant Sea Serpent, Morgan Le Fay, King Arthur and a gaggle of subplots.
One more thing, issue 12 ends in a cliffhanger so don't be surprised with the abrupt ending.
Issue 8 Review
If you've read the first seven issues of this series then you might consider issue 8 a welcome break from the wild action of the previous Seven Against the Dark story arc.
As the title of the issue suggests, issue 8 of Demon Knights tells us more about the "special" relationship between Madame Xanadu, Jason Blood and Etrigan. What amuses me - and impresses me - about all this, is that halfway through the issue I was saying "Aha! Nimue loves Jason Blood and her fondness for Etrigan is just an act. Now we know". And I was sure of it - for about three pages. I ended the issue the same place where I started : wondering who loves who. And, you know, that's fine; I love how cleverly this particular subplot is being handled. I'm willing to bet that both Jason Blood and Etrigan are really smitten but Madame Xanadu is playing them both.
Looking at the bigger story structure supporting Demon Knights, I'm glad issue 8 touched upon the existence of multiple Camelots throughout history. A detail that can be personally confirmed by the Shining Knight and Madame Xanadu, both denizens of Camelot in their day, but different Camelots. Oh yes, we also have a "confession" from Vandal Savage that he raided Camelot on two occasions that were centuries apart. This big mystery juxtaposed with smaller ones like the relationships between the three we just mentioned keeps me very interested in this series.
Towards the end of this issue we have Merlin being presented at what could be the beginning of a fresh new arc. Great cliffhanger : Right after seeing the old mage we have Merlin being stabbed in the heart. See you in issue 9.
Issue 9 Review
Issue 9 of Demon Knights reminds me of the activity before a chess game begins and the two players are setting up the board for what is hopefully a satisfying game. The different story elements are coming together here. The mission : Save Merlin's life by going to Avalon to do - we don't know yet. Let's look at the more interesting pieces of the coming game :
The city of Alba Sarum is led by two women, one named Alba and another named Sarum. Corny but true. I'm getting that they're a couple but it's still a bit vague at this point. Even more mysterious is that they need Merlin for something very important to their relationship with each other. Hmmm, something to look forward to.
Here's a big surprise. The gigantic Vandal Savage begins to maul Al Jabr - whose name we are informed means "The Numbers" - but Jabr responds with this baffling electrical counter attack. Very surprising, looks like a superhero shtick. The issue never explains how Al Jabr did it though.
Another gorgeous shot of Madame Xanadu. Let the eye candy commence.
The issue moves from the castle in Alba Sarum to the beginning of a sea voyage. It's all very low key until the ship is attacked by this:
Towards the end of the issue, Etrigan, true to demonic form, offers the souls of Avalon, their destination, to his boss, Satan. But I'm really more interested in the dragon attack shown in the panel above - that's one for next issue. See you then!
Issue 10 Review
The first page of Demon Knights 10 had me looking at the previous issue. Here's what we see at the start of Demon Knights 10 :
This is what Vandal Savage cornilly refers to as a "pirate serpent attack". I'm looking at the structure on top of the sea serpent and I just don't remember that from last issue - and this sea serpent was shown in last issue's cliffhanger panel. Here's what's shown in Demon Knight's 9 :
Clearly no structure on top of the serpent's head.
That is just shoddy work on the part of the creators and not a nice way to start a new issue.
To make things worst, the normally beautiful renditions of Madame Xanadu's legs are replaced by this issue's unsatisfying and bony art. What gives? Did the artist change. No, it's still Neves. Sigh.
Cornell was setting up the chessboard during issue 9 and now some of his pieces come into play. Nothing awfully creative here, and that's not a complaint, as Cornell introduces an adventure full of mystery and monsters. Dungeons & Dragons fans - I'm one of them - will feel right at home. I mean, look at this panel, these look like textbook D&D characters going on campaign.
My initial disappointment with Madame Xanadu is balanced out by a fighting mad Shining Knight. I've been very critical of the Knight during the earlier issues because of her lack of effectivity. Well that ends now.
Neves redeems himself with beautiful monster art and this incredible shot of an eldritch tower in Camelot. Incidentally, this panel shows both the wonderful scenery and the too-angular legs of Madame Xanadu that I'm not too crazy about.
Uh-oh. Demon Knights is losing some steam, but not enough for me to pass on issue 11. See you then.
Issue 11 Review
Demon Knights 11 opens were Demon Knights 10 left off - in an eldritch, monster-infested Camelot. The splash page includes a leg shot of Madame Xanadu and in it her leg looks well drawn, not the bony, angular legs of last issue. I quickly check the artist - it's still Neves. I'm very hopeful.
What happens next pushes all art considerations aside as the mystic mist or eldritch radiation or whatever, of this warped Camelot changes our band of adventurers into their "secret desire". It tells us a lot about them. Some things are very surprising. For example, the Horsewoman becomes a centaur. And here I thought she was cursed and felt trapped to be forever riding a steed - she actually wants to become a horse! Exoristos shows a tremendous level of self-punishment, reminds me of Catholic guilt, as she truly becomes accursed and loathsome - to others and herself. Unsurprisingly, the Shining Knight becomes really valorous and Vandal Savage turns monstrous, much to his delight. Al Jabr, whose name I mentioned before means "The Numbers" - it actually means "algebra" which, in turn meant "the reunion of broken parts", becomes a creature of pure mind. He's always been the symbol of the Arabian Golden Age, when the Arabs were the catchbasin and source of knowledge at a time that Europe went into the Dark Ages. Al Jabr's secret wish as revealed here supports the image he has been projecting since we first met him in the first issue. My favorite transformation is that of Etrigan who becomes a Demon King. I love Neves' rendition of Demon as giant :
I was baffled that Nimue or Madame Xanadu did not turn into anything. It wasn't really explained except that it has something to do with the legendary Morgane Le Fey :
This, together with the inclusion of the even more legendary King Arthur . . .
. . . places the second Demon Knights adventure firmly within the vast lore of Arthurian Legend.
There is something definitely amiss in old Camelot, a monster-making magic is loose and Morgane is behind it. Our "heroes", with the body of Merlin in tow, have come just in time to form an alliance with King Arthur.
I've looked at all the panels just to be sure. Yes, the old Neves is back. Art is topnotch and very detailed. Cornell's plotting and scripting is so good it makes this comic go by so fast - breathtaking pacing. The quality that attracted me to Demon Knights is back!
Issue 12 Review
Yes, Morgaine Le Fey is the big, bad villain behind the goings-on in haunted Camelot and the apparent semi-death of Merlin. I derived great comfort and satisfaction from the Merlin/Avalon subplot's conclusive reveals this issue because it answers questions that I've been waiting months to have answered. The reasons for Morgaine Le Fey's malevolence is explained by her too-great tamperings with all things magic. An activity which has cost her the degeneration of her physical form, necessitating full body armor like Dr. Doom's.
She claims that underneath this armor, her body and face are hideous and scarred. Leaving her no choice but to possess the body of the comatose Merlin. Well, it's not the first time I've come across a villain having this plan. The most entertaining part of the plan is Morgaine's reassurance that once having taken over Merlin's body - and killing everyone in the process- she will henceforth lead a good and kindly life. Yeah, right.
Neves isn't in top form here - must be a looming deadline, but I'm impressed by the visually striking, and innovative way Morgaine immobilizes our heroes.
Well, that's that for this subplot. The end of the Avalon adventure reminds me that there is another thread in this story arc, started way back in issue 10. Something involving a promise from Etrigan to the Prince of Hell himself. We have a bit of a cliffhanger on that at the end of this issue and it looks like Cornell will be tackling that subplot for issue 13 going forward.
Issue 0 Review
It seems last issue's cliffhanger will have to wait. This is an issue '0'.
'0' issues are origin or backgrounder issues and this is what we have here. An issue that takes us back to events before the first issue of Demon Knights. The tale told here is about Etrigan and Jason Blood and the background on why Merlin used his magic to fuse one to the other.
Mr Neves takes a break and the art chores are by Bernard Chang. This issue is beautifully illustrated and sumptuously colored.
Looking at the overarching story structure, Paul Cornell has created a mirror effect between Jason Blood in Camelot and Etrigan in Hell. Both are hot-headed and dissatisfied with their fate. These two rebels, Jason in particular, are headed to self-destruction and that is why Merlin saw it fit to fuse them together. It's a problematical arrangement to say the least but it cleaves, ironically, to the biblical saying : "It is good for a young man to have a yoke". And a yoke it is; a heavy burden to both demon and man, and, in the end, Merlin hopes, the burden might save them both.
Ah, Merlin. Not sure if we can still trust the old man after this issue's revelation :
Yes. Merlin is Lucifer's son. That's an infernally high rank and dovetails exactly with the reputed power of the old mage - it explains, among other things, why he is able to master Etrigan.
This issue's look back serves to deepen the series a bit. It presents wonderful art and is a great read. The only nitpick I have with it is its depiction of Etrigan's power such that he is able to best so many demons in an effort to rally Hell into a rebellion. It's just not believable, specially since Chang depicts this early Etrigan as a slim-bodied clerk type going up - and defeating - demons with far beefier physiques and in great numbers too.