To clarify, although Etrigan, The Demon, is the only figure depicted on this book’s cover, this is actually shaping up to be quite a cool team book! I know ‘Demon Knights’ isn’t at the top of everyone’s pull list, but it’s quite fun and well executed! Fans of the departed ‘Secret Six,’ I think this is the new book for you!
Etrigan’s origin is recounted; basically Merlin bonds his soul with that of his student Jason of Norwich. We also get the origin of Madame Xanadu, who is also starring (in the present day) in the upcoming Justice League Dark. Jump forward to the Dark Ages, following the fall of Camelot, Arthurian sorceress Morgan Le Fay and her beloved Mordru, centuries before he menaced the Justice Society and many, many more before he proved a thorn in the Legion of Super Heroes’ collective side, are rampaging across Europe, conquering village after village. Just so we’re clear, they are super evil, as their first scene involves the dark use of an infant!
It is then established that since the fall of Camelot, Jason of Norwich has become known as “Jason o’ th’ Blood,” fitting since in the present, he simply goes by Jason Blood. Blood and Xanadu have become lovers and stop in a village known as Little Spring, where in a pub, one by one, the cast of this title is introduced; fellow immortal Vandal Savage and the effeminate Shining Knight (based more closely on Grant Morrison’s version from ‘7 Soldiers’ than the Golden Age hero from Seven Soldiers of Victory and the All-Star Squadron). A tall woman who “comes from an island where men are castrated– and women are pleased”– beyond the shadow of a doubt, Themyscira– bears a strong resemblance to Wonder Woman – so could this be her mother, Hippolyta? Or even Diana herself, during an earlier excursion to “Man’s World?!” Another character, a female archer appears in a cut-away scene, but is silhouetted.
Morgan and Mordru’s forces arrive at the Inn where the assembled “heroes” (and I use the term loosely) have gathered and of course all hell breaks loose! Unfortunately, the best appears to lie ahead in issue two, which is teased wonderfully!
The art, pencils by Diogenes Neves and inks by Oclair Albert, is very attractive and detailed. Though the one complaint I have is it didn’t flow smoothly as far as story telling. But we all get better with practice, so the art was overall good enough that I can forgive that. I also must commend colorist Marcelo Maiolo. The color in this book is beautiful and the lighting effects are just fantastic!
I also want to give a shout-out to the often under-valued letterer, in this case Jared K. Fletcher. He does some really fun stuff with word bubbles. Etrigan speaks in a different font and bubble style than anyone else, referencing his other-worldliness. When Merlin speaks an incantation, his bubbles also differ. Niftiest of all, in one panel, Xanadu is viewed from underwater and her word bubble appears wavy… like water! You get so used to reading comics and the conventions of the medium, so when someone goes above and beyond to further the experience for the reader, it should be acknowledged and appreciated. I am and do!
This was good stuff. This issue arguably packed in more story than any of the other New 52 titles I’ve read so far. They rush through YEARS of story in pages! Yet it doesn’t feel rushed at all. The pacing was just right, allowing for the establishment of each character’s personality and establishing what will be their first conflict. With over 75 years of publishing history, DC had an unprecedented amount of back story to cull from and Paul Cornell does just that, weaving in so many disparate characters that previously had little or no connection to one another. (How is Vandal Savage a good guy?) As I said in my opening, this is the book to replace ‘Secret Six’ for fans of that book. (Okay, so we DON’T get to see Catman strutting around shirtless. Strike one.) I know period books might put some people off, but this is straight super heroics, just with armor… and dragons!