Although this is only the second issue of this series, it’s already thick with story. Too thick.
Paul Cornell crafts a tale of what my comrade-in-reviews, Greg McElhatton, refers to as “Justice League Medieval.” This team of “knights” includes the Shining Knight (more in line with Grant Morrison’s vision than the Golden Age treatment of Sir Justin); the demon, Etrigan; Madame Xanadu; some fellow named Al Jabr (for the record, I’d like to postulate that he’s a far-flung Flash foe); Vandal Savage; and an Amazon dubbed Exoristos. That’s an odd collection of characters, and they’re banded together to fight the dragons (which flat-out look like dinosaurs) of the Questing Queen and her consort, Mordru.
For long-time fans of the DC Universe, the previous paragraph almost assuredly looks like a treasure trove of characters that just don’t get a great deal of limelight. For newer readers to the DCU, they’re either scratching their heads asking, “What is going on here?” or they’ve already given up the book. Cornell isn’t making it easy to sample this title, but the flipside of that is that he is definitely telling a very distinct story. This issue just happens to be a small slice of that story. As such, Cornell doesn’t overload this issue with reintroductions, descriptions of characters, or explanations of relations. Quite simply: you’re either in or you’re out.
If you’re in, then you’re in for a treat of a tale wherein Cornell does his best to try to blend “Lord of the Rings” with “Justice League Medieval” as the characters gather to stop a common foe. Surprisingly, there isn’t a great deal of in-fighting yet (isn’t that a requirement of characters meeting up?) but the story is still being set in motion.
Diogenes Neves and Oclair Albert bring some rock-solid work to this book. Their storytelling is clean and sharp, and their characters act well throughout the issue, but they need to hit Etrigan with an ugly stick once or twice more. He looks more like a buff modern-day superhero who happens to wear a mask as opposed to a demonic hellspawn.
Speaking of Etrigan, and tying back into the long-time reader, the Jack Kirby creation seems to have the ability to choose to rhyme, a skill that Cornell clearly doesn’t favor in this character as Etrigan’s moments in the spotlight tend to quickly dodge what has so steadfastly been a hallmark of the character. Yes, I know: New relaunch, new rules. If that’s the case then push the new limits.
The most entertaining (due to his one-note simplicity) of this issue, for me, was Vandal Savage. It’s a refreshing break to see this character played as less of a villain and more of a self-concerned ne’er-do-well. It works in this context, and it seems as though Cornell intends to continue to play that up. Unfortunately, it appears as though Cornell has ideas for all of these characters and is making an extreme effort to get to those ideas quickly. The end result, however, is a book that jumps around quite a bit, jarring the reader a little along the way.
There’s a nice variety of characters here, but there needs to be a little more balance between them. This isn’t my favorite of the relaunched titles, but it’s also far from the worst of the bunch. It’s an average book, but it certainly has potential to be much more.