Demon Knights #3

Demon Knights #3

B

I finally figured out why Demon Knights isn’t working for me, and it’s not just because of the book’s baffling presentation of Vandal Savage, although that’s certainly part of it. Reading this issue, in which our seven misfit heroes defend a provincial Goth town from an invading army, it strikes me that Demon Knights is a comic that’s tonally at odds with both the rest of the DC Universe and with itself. In relation to the rest of the New 52, it lives in its own world on a little island apart from every other title, and further, that world’s pretty ill-defined.

Demon Knights’ lack of connection to the DC Universe is pretty obvious. Besides Vandal Savage, we’ve got a Demon who doesn’t really rhyme, a crossdressing Shining Knight and a two-timing Madame Xanadu. None of these are completely new interpretations of these characters, but they’re also not the familiar ones; Demon Knights gives us no anchor to anything we know. As a result, the book ends up feeling less like an exploration of medieval DC characters and more like writer Paul Cornell and his friends rolled up some D&D sheets and then found the closest DC approximations for about half of them. I can’t deny that makes things especially new reader-friendly, because this book basically defies anyone who wants to bring in preconceptions of these characters. In some cases, that actually improves its cast markedly; I’m loving the exploration of the gender-confused “Sir Justin.” But still, that context divorces this book pretty solidly from the rest of the DC Universe, which for long-time readers like me produces a reading experience that ends up feeling odd and awkward.

That wouldn’t be as bad if Demon Knights wasn’t also at odds with itself. The main culprit there is Diogenes Neves‘ art. He’s a fine penciller, and issue #3 is probably the best work he’s done so far in this series (he gets a lot of mileage out of weird melty faces here). But the problem is there’s absolutely no grit to his art whatsoever. Neves’ pencils are relatively simple; he likes to draw expansive panels full of broad figures with goofy smiles. That doesn’t really fit with the reality the book asks us to buy, particularly in this issue, which takes a pretty serious violent turn. The Demon burns somebody’s face off, invading armies decapitate a little girl — I don’t believe Neves’ characters occupy a world where that would happen. Now, Tony Daniel provides the cover art, and were he on interiors I’d totally buy it — in fact, his own Detective Comics may be a bit too full of that gory element. But when a book takes you from Vandal Savage giving someone noogies to a young girl losing her head in the span of seven pages, you’ve got to have an artist who can handle the light and the dark, and I’m not sure that’s Neves.

Despite that, there’s still a lot to enjoy about Demon Knights #3. Cornell’s character work, especially with his own creations, continues to be a treat; in particular Al-Jabr and Exoristos get some great moments, and we still haven’t scratched the surface of his mysterious Horsewoman. I already mentioned the cool twist on Shining Knight’s character; although Grant Morrison employed it in 2005′s Seven Soldiers, I’m glad to see it show up here again. The bizarre love triangle between Madame Xanadu, Jason Blood and the Demon also holds a lot of promise; I can imagine a pretty tense one-shot down the road where the characters work out all their differences (hopefully sans Wendy Williams, although she often seems more fictional than real to me anyway).

I feel like Demon Knights is targeted squarely at a certain set of readers — non-comic fans who love the adventure genre. That’s cool, but that’s not a group with which I can identify, and I imagine some other longtime DC fans feel the same. And if I’m being honest, the positives in this book so far aren’t enough to keep me going past the first story arc. I’ll give Demon Knights ’til then to prove me wrong, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this title ends up off my pull-list sooner than later.

tags: demon knights, diogenes neves, paul cornell

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