How good is writer Paul Cornell, artist Diógenes Neves and Editors Chris Conroy and Matt Idelson’s Demon Knights. An MFA in art history from Columbia say wouldn’t be a bad idea to wade through the wealth of imagery. I use this word ‘wealth’ unapologetically, there’s a richness to Demon Knights that is unparalleled in mainstream comics. I didn’t and neither did you hope that comics could be this intelligent, this relevant, this focused again.
What do I mean? Take a careful look at the scene where longstanding DC immortal Vandal Savage first appears. The level of visual information is astounding, its arrangement is meticulous. The sign at the tavern reads “The Victory at Rome”, the image is that of a bull’s head facing you full on. A clear sign that the so-called Barbaroi (the Huns, the Visigoths, and yes, the Vandals) have already sacked Rome. And yet, already Roman ideas are being dismantled and repurposed like so many Russian nukes after the fall of the Soviet Union.
The bull’s head is a Roman symbol, from the saying “the horns are at the door”, meaning “it’s on”. But here in Europe, we see a sign that’s already been weaponized as the battering rams that were used to sack Rome. Look at Savage’s belt buckle. Rather than the Ouroboros, the snake consuming its own tail (representing natural cycles of death and rebirth), the image is of a snake uncoiling. So Vandal Savage is “unplugged” from the natural cycle. Just as later Al Jabr’s (Algebra, anyone?) exchange with the innkeep about currency, trade and foreign lands is an incisive commentary on the contradictory European impulses towards the need for foreign currency and cultural security.
Demon Knights is flawless. The scope of its story is every bit the equal of some of HBO’s greatest shows. It’s the Sopranos-like hardboiled meets the fantastical setting of Lord of the Rings seen in the runaway success, Game of Thrones. But it’s also the gritty, Dostoyevskian assay of injustice, corruption and inefficiancy permeating all levels of society in a show like David Simon’s The Wire.
This is the best kind of book. It’s “high” culture, in “low” art. There’s no need for that MFA to startup, Demon Knights is sufficiently grounded for you to just be able to enjoy the story from the get-go. But it is rewarding spending time on google, ciphering out the full scope of the book.
And while Demon Knights wields tropes from the popular imagination like the tools of a skilled artisan, the sheer pleasure of it lies in how these tropes are deployed in reactivating an interesting in the classics of the DCU.
Demon Knights is a gateway to understanding the DCU, especially now, when things haven’t yet been fully set. When creators and Editors are tentatively awaiting responses from fans and from the appreciation industry to see what will work and what will not.
Demon Knights offers a sense of connectedness, rootedness. More than any other book to date, it is the rescue of the New 52. This is a book that offers a deep and thorough creativity, while refusing to disavow the past. It is a gentle, concentrated balance that demands much from any creator. And only the rarest of creators are able to execute it as gracefully as Cornell, et. al.
And this idea of options, of there being a third way between chaos and barbarism is at the heart of Camelot. Cornell has managed to not only exploit the image of Camelot, but has reenacted it at the first of comicbook publishing houses.
Demon Knights comes with the highest praise, and something much, much more rare… awe.