Knight and Squire #6

Knight and Squire 6

B

Paul Cornell and Jimmy Broxton‘s Knight and Squire series wraps up today with this, its sixth installment. In totality, this book’s given us a fascinating, if somewhat uneven, read. Its first few issues were essentially sketches meant to familiarize readers with the London of the DC Universe. From there it related a couple clever, wholly entertaining one-shot stories with a science-fiction flair. Then, in a surprising conclusion, villainous favorite the Joker showed up in the final two issues to bring his own brand of mayhem to England’s heroes, mostly as payback for a British Joker who didn’t quite live up to his name.

Above all else, I’d argue that Knight and Squire is primarily the story of Jarvis Poker, the British Joker. Though Cornell has seeded his six issues with plenty of through-lines and character development to reward attentive readers, Poker provides the story with both its emotional and thematic core. While only the last two issues focus explicitly on Jarvis, he’s there in the background the whole time. If anything, Knight and Squire #1-4 serves to establish how a country fosters costumed characters like Jarvis, and issues #5-6 show us what that really means to an individual life.

I find Poker to be one of the most compelling comic characters to come out of late 2010/early 2011. The first issue of Knight and Squire explains that he took great inspiration from the American Joker’s aesthetics, but doesn’t care for his murderous ways. He’s a “supervillain” in look only; in reality his crimes are minor and bring real harm to none. Despite his mirthful appearance, though, a core of sadness fuels Jarvis. This especially becomes apparent in issue #5 when he learn he’s terminally ill. Suddenly we have a character who must confront his mortality and the fact that his life may have been wasted dressing up as a clown and playing the part of a villain. Here Cornell and Broxton give us an alternate take on DC’s Last Laugh, in which the American Joker, upon discovering a similar fate, decides to cause as much chaos as possible. Jarvis, in contrast, plans a harmless final “crime” spree only meant to create a spectacle that England will remember. Heroes Knight and Squire, because they’re good folks, decide to help out. But the American Joker will have none of that.

And so this final issue opens with our familiar Joker dragging Jarvis along on an awful tirade that consists of murdering as many English heroes as possible. Jarvis, naturally, finds himself aghast, but in his condition he can’t do much to combat Joker’s schemes. Only through some clever plotting by Knight and Squire can Jarvis help end the Joker’s reign of terror, but at what cost?

I don’t want to say too much more about today’s issue for fear of taking away its final emotional impact. Suffice to say that the last pages get pretty heavy. Cornell does a great job of bringing the series back around to where it started; it actually ends up giving purpose to the relatively plotless first issue. I only rate the issue a B because it feels as though the dénouement might have been given a few more pages, though I understand that in a monthly comics format space is at a premium and some parts must be cut.

Knight and Squire‘s a really curious read in that the series builds on itself as you follow it. All serial fiction should do that, I suppose, but Cornell and Broxton’s book seems to go about it in an especially clever way. The smallest things in the first few issues end up having great payoff as the miniseries progresses, culminating in the ultimate tragedy of a character that initially seems like a joke. I suspect most of these characters will return at some point, possibly (hopefully) under Cornell’s watch. Until then, we can enjoy this special series we’ve been given. It’s not often that mainstream monthly comics can create a character we come to care about in the span of six months. Luckily for England and us, Jarvis Poker is just a good guy at heart.

tags: jimmy broxton, knight and squire, paul cornell

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