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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.