Paul Cornell’s Demon Knights has all the elements of a comic book I’ll love. It uses a whole host of new and lesser-known characters from some of the most fascinating parts of DC’s vast toybox. It tells stories we haven’t seen in settings we rarely visit. It has Shining Knight in it. And yet, I’ve felt like I was being held at arm’s length, like Cornell wanted me to enjoy the book but not get too close. After a very solid first issue, he followed it with two slow-moving issues that seemed to be rearranging pieces on the board, rather than telling a story. Demon Knights #4 is a slight improvement over the last two, but it seems to me that Paul Cornell isn’t just writing for the trade; he’s writing, to steal a phrase from fellow contributor brucecastle, for the omnibus. And when done well, as he does here, that can be very enjoyable indeed.
This issue focuses heavily on a character who seemed like comic relief in the first few issues: Shining Knight. Cornell takes us temporarily away from the battlefield when Shining Knight has some sort of seizure, and finds him/herself visited by the great magician, Merlin. Here we learn of Shining Knight’s quest for the Holy Grail, of his/her origin from the fall of Camelot. And we learn where Shining Knight’s story is going. Though Cornell periodically flashes back to the battle – including a fairly funny interlude with an earnest-looking Vandal Savage – Merlin’s vision is the real meat of the story. In more ways than one, we learn near the end (in a twist far more shocking than the issue’s actual shocking twist cliffhanger).
This issue does have its problems. Cornell is having fun dancing around just which Shining Knight he’s working with, but going an entire issue without giving the name or gender of the issue’s star proves awkward, at times. And the last-page plot-twist, which sees one of the group turn traitor, comes out of nowhere and lands with little impact, because we’ve seen so little of the battle at hand thus far. In fact, much of the actual conflict rings fairly false. Cornell has assembled a fascinating cast and has done a lot to flesh them out, but he’s done so by sidelining the actual plot of the first arc too often.
Despite these issues, Demon Knights #4 is a solid read, one that I suspect will be important to shape the coming stories. Michael Choi and Diogenes Neves tun in crisp, clear artwork, and Marcelo Maiolo (who also turns in great work on the underrated I, Vampire) impresses on coloring duty, giving the book a memorable visual sensibility, particularly during some of Shining Knight’s flashbacks/flashforwards. Cornell needs to pull things together a little better, but Demon Knights #4 gives the book a solid, much-needed push to keep moving forward after the initial arc.
In some reviews, I’m going to have a brief ‘observations’ section. I’ll talk a little about the book and its connection to the wider DC Universe. These segments will often have spoilers and conjecture, so readers beware.
The issue has a brief moment of potential crossover with Grifter (of all things) this week. Following Shining Knight’s visions with Merlin, s/he receives a prophesy – “You will soon come to know the Demon Knights!” We’re definitely supposed to think that this refers to our core cast, but I’m not so certain. In Grifter #4, Grifter comes into conflict with Green Arrow, and when questioned informs Ollie that his company has been invaded and perhaps taken over by the Daemonites, the alien menace Grifter battles. Ollie mishears him, however, and starts doing his own search for the “Demon Knights”. Could we be seeing the origins of the Daemonite invasion? Or are they just throwing us off their trail?