Paul Cornell already proved himself the master of idiosyncratic British superheroes when he wrote a fantastic, cruelly-truncated version of Captain Britain over at Marvel, so the chance to see him do the same sort of thing in the DC Universe -- only this time with the caveat that he’s effectively creating that entire thing from scratch, save for the title characters themselves -- is promising.
The results are largely entertaining. Even though the story takes a back seat for the majority of the issue, it’s easy to trust that a writer of Cornell’s ability is seeding future stories and plot points rather than simply killing time with a few jokes. The segue into action appears at roughly the halfway point and there’s a bit of a crunch when the gears change which feels like a misstep on Broxton’s part – it’s not really clear that the magic “truce” spell has broken from the visuals, and the dialogue doesn’t compensate fast enough for this inadequacy.
Once we’re over that hump, however, it’s all light-hearted superheroism with one or two notes of pastiche, largely due to the (deliberately) provincial British characters, the majority of whom would not be out of place in the Batman TV show. It’s hard to say whether Cornell’s intentions are to set up a wider, series-long arc which exposes the strange inferiority complex shared by these characters (as the final pages touch on) or whether to craft more discrete stand-alone issues featuring the characters he’s introduced, but if the tone of this issue is anything to go by, either take would be a fun one.
As a Brit, it’s a little bemusing to see not only the breadth, but also depth of references Cornell has inserted into the story -- the Britishness has been exaggerated with surprising disregard for accessibility. There’s also a glossary at the end, which explains the harder-to-decipher references, so clearly the comic isn’t entirely unaware of what it’s doing. There’s actually a hint of Grant Morrison in the idea of throwing the readers in at the deep end.
Aside from the aforementioned storytelling slip-up, Broxton’s artwork is generally of a high quality. There’s a lot of fellow Bat-Artist Cameron Stewart in the look of the issue, although Broxton’s true strength lies in the sheer number of character designs he’s pulled off, each one strong in its own right. The crowd scenes are largely balanced just right, and the body language of Knight and Squire, themselves, is particularly well-rendered.
Overall, it’s an oddly paced opener, but one that mostly succeeds in holding the reader’s interest. If there’s any major criticism, it’s that the story lacks a cliffhanger or hook to keep the interest bubbling over until next issue. If this were a one-shot, that would be fine, but for a miniseries it’s hard not to want something a little more than “the continuing adventures of Knight and Squire” to bring you back next month. Other than that, it’s very strong and with some interesting ideas that could potentially carve out a whole new area of the DCU. Definitely worth a look.