Demon Knights, or: Paul Cornell, You’re a Sneaky Sod!

Fig #1: Something usually boring.

I buy many comics. Not all. Occasionally, I drop a book, occasionally, I add one to my list. It’s a pretty stable list. Well, it was. Then came the New Fifty-Two. I had to completely redo my DC-list and so I looked at the new titles and what they all did and said and were about. Naturally, DC’s PR-blahblah was heralding every book they put out as the second coming of Comic Jesus or something, so that was worthless. In the end, it boiled down to what I like to read about. I like Science Fiction. I like superheroes. What I don’t like is magic users in established comic book universes that are predominantly inhabited by superheroes (Read: The Marvel and DC Universes).

Allow me to elaborate on that: In comic books, especially superhero-books, there’s a lot of fighting. You have Superman who can punch a planet out of orbit and lift mountains. You have Batman who manages to kill Gods given preptime and the gadget-du-jour. Iron Man shoots laser beams in the face of killer robots from alternate dimensions and Wolverine just skewers everything in his path if need be. But in the end, it all boils down to one thing: Who punches who harder. The more bodily harm is done, the better. Like it or not, it’s the very basic of seemingly every comic book arc. Everything must end in a big fight. And somehow, magic users don’t seem to fit into that. After all, if you have a man in a robot suit shooting lasers at aliens for three splash pages, why would you waste the space on some guy in a robe and a silly hat mixing up a sleeping potion that puts aliens to sleep due to magic? There have been numerous attempts at mixing magic with the standard operating procedures of superheroes, which saw the wizards and magicians of the comic universes reduced to shouting catchphrases and shooting not-lasers that looks suspiciously like lasers at people. They were called Magic Force Blasts or what have you, but in the end, it made no difference.

Magic was treated and is being treated as some sort of irrelevant powerset that makes you equal, albeit slightly shittier, than other heroes. Thus, I immediately discarded Demon Knights, Justice League Dark and Swamp Thing. The latter less because he’s a magic user but because I was so very sick of him during Brightest Day, even though he only appeared briefly. I might catch up to the book eventually, but he was on my first “Bleh, nah…”-list even though I did end up reading my friend’s first issue and enjoyed it. Said friend, by the way, is a big fan of magic stuffs, so the entire Dark-group of DC’s new Fifty-Two is basically one big must-buy for him. I can’t even imagine how he got the impression that magic comics could be good.

And this was how I came across Demon Knights. Paul Cornell writes it. And Paul Cornell is a sneaky sod, I tell you. Paul Cornell can take something that has held no interest to me at all for years – such as Action Comics – and turn it around completely. In his run on Action Comics, he did the undoable: He made Death of the Endless awesome outside of Sandman and her own book. Sure, she had the occasional guest appearance in other comics, but they are rather unremarkable. Paul Cornell on the other hand, he made an issue where she meets Lex Luthor who’s pursuing the Black Lantern Rings. It was awesome. And you should read the issues from #890 onwards.

Anyways, back to the point. Paul Cornell writes Demon Knights. And it’s good. It is sword and sorcery and has magic and all that. The funny thing, though, is that DC seems to herald it as the second coming of Comic Jesus in the solicits, they make precious little effort outside of that. Paul Cornell himself has done a couple interviews here and there, nothing more. And even in the interviews, he’s not doing the usual “This is the greatest thing ever! If you don’t buy it, you’ll miss out” even though it would be true. That’s what I like about Paul Cornell. He writes awesome stories that have a profound impact on their readers and he’s just so modest and nice about it. Sure, he tells you that he thinks it’s a good story and maybe that you’d enjoy it. But he also says “It’s up to the readers” when asked who the best-liked character of Demon Knights will be. All in all, being a journalist, I would love to interview Paul Cornell. Because either all the interviews paint him as a really modest fella or he just doesn’t do any of the PR-rubbish that most interviewees do these days. For the record: I would have no idea what to ask him, but still, I’d imagine it to be time well spent.

And that’s precisely what the book reads like. It’s a good story and as a reader, you go into it without any expectations and the knowledge that the writer expects you to like someone or something about this comic in particular. It reads like a nice guy writing a story for people to enjoy. No strings attached. As a reader, you have no idea what’s to come and what the next issue will bring. Because DC is on terra incognita here. They have no idea how this could and will end up. It’s got this sense of discovery about it; it’s a great big adventure.

The greatest thing, however, is that Paul Cornell treats the setting in a very unusual way. He’s not all “Beholdeth thine bollocks! Them doth do the dangling in the winds of magic!” But here’s an actual excerpt of it: “Then let’s do what we always do… We find the source of the problem, and we throw dragons at it” and “My cods say that’s no man” (spoken by none other than the formerly-known-toe-be-super-sophisticated-but-now-rather-barbaric Vandal Savage). How did they get dragons? How are they summoned? Who cares? There’s a dragons that get thrown at stuff. Carnage unfolds. They do magic. You can see it somewhere in the background and Paul Cornell actually takes the whole “It’s magic, we don’t have to explain it” by its word. Or maybe he’s taken Neil Gaiman’s route where magic things just sort of happen without any explanation. Or very little. Remember Gaiman’s “Anansi Boys” where Fat Charlie just couldn’t get home for a night? No further explanation given, that’s just what happens. That’s how Cornell treats magic and manages to tell a tale of sword, sorcery and magic, thus proving that you can blatantly disregard historical speech and the common expectations that come with a genre and make something very enjoyable out of it.

Bottom line: I like Demon Knights. It’s gotten a firm spot on my pull list and as long as Paul Cornell is writing it, it’s not going anywhere. And it’s one of the few books that I think every comic book reader out there can enjoy for it stands on its own, it’s funny and adventurous and all that stuff we came to expect. No one issue feels like it’s just dragging on, even though it’s only four issues so far.

Oh, and it’s the first sword and sorcery book that I am actually buying. In fact, I’m looking forward to it every month.

Posted by Adnan

Loved Cornell's Captain Britain & MI:13, Action Comics, Knight & Squire (which seems to get a *lot* of hate for some reason), and DK is my favourite DCnU title. His stories are, like you pretty much said, a lot of fun to read.