"Demon Knights" is one of the stranger concepts in this month's big DC Comics re-launch, putting together a group of characters from the Dark Ages in their own team book. (I'm half-surprised it wasn't titled "Justice League Medieval.") But it's such an oddity, it's hard to keep from thinking that it might just work. And much to my pleasant surprise, that's exactly what we get.
Paul Cornell wastes little time in assembling his cast; before the comic is over, not only do we have the Demon and Madame Xanadu together, but several additional characters (some new, some pre-existing) from the era are all in the same room. Cornell plumbs the depths of the DC Universe and it works pretty well; the Shining Knight, for instance, is a perfect choice, as is a new Amazon from that time period. The main focus for now is on the Demon and Madame Xanadu, and Cornell gives them a flirty, chummy banter that carries most of the comic forward. It's clear that they'll be the heart of the comic, and his placing them at the core provides a good framework for the rest of the cast to be attached to.
On the other hand, the book stops dead every time someone is added. I understand that Cornell is trying to get information across to the reader quickly, but even in the Dark Ages I'm pretty certain people didn't walk into rooms and give a paragraph synopsis of their life story to perfect strangers by way of introduction.
Still, the script makes up for it in an early, creepy scene introducing our villains. The target of their destruction is such a cheap way to make a villain look bad that you can't take it initially seriously; then Cornell turns the scene into something darker than you'd expect and just like that, the scene utterly works. They're primarily in the background, but hopefully future issues will push them more into the forefront.
Diogenes Neves and Oclair Albert provide the art for "Demon Knights," and I think it's one of their stronger efforts to date. At a glance it's very standard art (solid figures, most panels have backgrounds, no strange anatomy) but every now and then Neves and Albert kick it up a notch. The channeling scene early on works in part because of how nasty they make the host look, for example. And when the Demon and Madame Xanadu kiss before going into battle, it's simultaneously romantic and a great "uh oh" moment. You can just tell that things are about to go south for everyone else, and they sell that scene for all it's worth.
"Demon Knights" had a fun first issue, more than enough to keep me around for a few more months to find out what happens next. The book will ultimately rise or fall on how well it balances its full cast, but for now the snippets we've seen work. It's an odd concept, but worth checking out.