When I resigned myself to read all of the #1 issues of DC's "New 52" reboot, "Demon Knights" was one of the issues I only started out of a sense of obligation. I had never found the characters of Etrigan or Madame Xanadu at all interesting, so I went into issue #1 fairly certain I would never make it to issue #2. Little did I suspect that I would one day find myself eagerly awaiting the second volume of the trade paperback series!
Set in the Dark Ages. "Demon Knights" finds seven warriors trying to defend a village from being destroyed by the evil Questing Queen in her search for...well, that would be telling! For me, the greatest thing about this series by far was the wonderful work writer Paul Cornell did with the seven protagonists. Sorceress Madame Xanadu is sassy and shows far more personality here than I've ever seen her exhibit before. Etrigan is truly demonic, which causes that much more torment for Jason Blood, the man forced to share a body with him. The noble transgender Shining Knight from Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers maxiseries is back in all his/her glory. Immortal JLA nemesis Vandal Savage joins the heroes, yet he never seems a contradiction from the villain we know he will one day become. And then there are Cornell's new characters. Middle Eastern inventor Al-Jabr is brilliant and often come across as a Dark Ages version of Batman. Exoristos is an arrogant yet sympathetic Amazon warrior. And then there's The Horsewoman...not much is revealed about her, yet she is charismatic enough to still be a powerful presence.
The interaction between the seven Demon Knights is fascinating, especially when some of their backstories are explored. I particularly enjoyed the dream sequence in which we learn more about Shining Knight and her/his connection to the Questing Queen's machinations. Another stand-out moment for me was the revelation that when Etrigan is released into our world, Jason Blood takes his place in Hell. I don't know if this particular idea had ever been explored before, but it definitely added some pathos to Jason Blood's character. And the series is loaded with action. With dragons (both natural and mechanical), magical duels, archers and catapults, Cornell injects all the classic elements for an epic fantasy series.
I did have some minor grievances with the first volume of the Demon Knights series. For one thing, the plot was a little too basic for my liking. Seven issues was too much to dedicate to an evil queen trying to get through a village. Granted, Cornell does weave in some compelling subplots, but I still found myself wishing there was a bit more meat to the main story. Also, I thought Cornell got a little too over-the-top at times, particularly in the final chapter (I don't want to get too specific, suffice to say I almost caused severe eye damage from rolling them too hard when we learned what Jason Blood had gone to Hell to obtain). And where Al-Jabr and Horsewoman were so likeable, I would have liked to have seen them get more screen time. Too often, they were relegated to the background to give more time to Vandal Savage & Exoristos. I can only hope Al-Jabr & Horsewoman get more of the spotlight in the second volume. I did love this book, but these qualms were enough to make me deduct a star.
"Demon Knights" was one of the few books that did exactly what the New 52 was supposed to do...it brought in a new reader and made a hardcore fan out of me!