Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Demon Knights Book 3: The Gathering Storm (#13-23)

"A storm is coming" - Arthur Pendragon

I think it's fair to say I have been incredibly disappointed by Demon Knights,  one of the first US comics I followed was Swamp Thing under Alan Moore and he understood that Etrigan wasn't a stupid thug and that Jason Blood wasn't an annoying little piss-weasel.  Really, if you want Etrigan action, don't buy Demon Knights buy the Alan Moore Swamp Thing run from all good comic shops now for the ultimate Etrigan/Jason Blood appearances.  Or check out their appearances in Garth Ennis's Hitman series for a different but also awesome take on the pair.  And if for some reason you're interested in the rest of the characters I'm confused as to why.  I have some residual affection for Sir Ystin from Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers series but the rest of the characters are so thin and one dimensional that it's hard to care about them. In fact I don't care about them. At all. Anyway here's the final collected volume of their so-called Exciting Adventures.  It's eleven issues, I was going to split this into two posts but then decided that no, like drinking a capful of Night Nurse, it would be better to hold my nose and power on through to the end of the run in one go.  Anyway, previously on Demon Knights, Etrigan threw a bitch fit and sent his comrades, Sir Ystin, Madam Xanadu, Al Jabr, Vandal Savage, The Horsewoman and Exoristos to hell along with the non-mouldering corpse of Merlin and their horses after his amazing plan to gift Avalon to Lucifer or something failed.  We join our not so merry band in a Hell of Mild Inconvenience as they are somewhat put out by being briefly trapped in their slightly unpleasant daydreams. It really looks like the worst afterlife ever. No really.

Jason Blood is the only one left on the mortal plane, Lucifer having given Etrigan a temporary respite from his curse.  Etrigan bows before Lucifer saying they are his offering, Lucifer is all "you promised me Avalon".  Etrigan says he will get it, Lucifer puts him down saying his plans have worked soooo well in the past.  He had hoped Etrigan would be plotting something that would allow him to crush him again.  Lucifer also wants to know why the horses are here as well, Hell isn't known for its stabling facilties.  He says Etrigan has one day to implement his plan or else.

Meanwhile the others are being "tormented".  Sir Ystin's Hell is being forced to admit a gender preference, as if he doesn't have to put up with that all the time in the non-afterlife.  Al Jabr is not being tortured just confused as to why he, a good Muslim, should be in the Christian Hell with only booze to drink.  A potentially interesting plot thread not picked up upon of course.
Even Lucifer is put out by Hell's lack of imagination.
Vandal Savage is being hung upside down and poked with sticks by the souls of his damned children, he literally laughs in their faces so unthreatening they are.  The Horsewoman is reliving the day she lost her legs and parents in a horse stampede.  Exoristos is chained within feet of Paradise Island and Lucifer comes to her saying he needs a person who has an issue with the people of the earth and hands her a black diamond, which forms part of one of the four billion crossovers going on in the Nu52 at that point, "The Black Diamond Probability".

Madame Xanadu has been transformed into an obedient little wife for Etrigan although he is too stupid to see she is just acting for his benefit.  Anyway Sir Ystin quickly escapes his "torment" because he has drunk from the Holy Grail, and sets about rescuing the others.  The denizens of Hell don't seem to care.  Back in the mortal world, Jason Blood is about to commit suicide when he is found by The Questing Queen from book one.
Etrigan and Xanadu as a sitcom couple.
To derail slightly for a moment and sorry to keep harping on, but in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing run Swamp Thing has to go to the DCU Hell to retreive the soul of Abby, unjustly cast down there by her evil uncle Anton Arcane.  He comes across an immobilised Arcane full of rot, filth and maggots who asks Swampy how many years he has been there.  When Swampy replies with the devastating "Since yesterday" and Anton screams in horror at what this means and the eternity of suffering that awaits him still, it remains once of the most powerful and affecting visions of the Christian Hell I have read since The Inferno cantica of The Divine Comedy.  I can only assume the constant cosmic retcons in the DCU have weakened its Hell into something easily tolerated and easy to stroll out of. Feh.

The Questing Queen offers to help Jason to get into Hell without killing himself.  He is told they are after the Holy Grail and Etrigan is the most likely person to find it.  They plan to get ahold of Etrigan and Jason can see Madam Xanadu again.  She in turn is playing the meek, submissive wife to Etirgan who doesn't like it, so he says "I now return your magic" and leaves her to "do whatever course you see fit."

Meanwhile off panel, Sir Ystin has rescued the others without much of a problem.  Etrigan confronts them saying he will return them to their torments (ooh scary).  Sir Ystin decides to battle Etrigan as he has had it coming for a while now.
Sir Ystin about to let loose on Etrigan.
On earth, Jason is sent to Hell using the Questing Queen's wizard's magicks.  Etrigan is pulled out of Hell in return.  Jason is conviniently dropped into Hell alongside his companions.  Xanadu meanwhile has gone to Merlin's coprse which was transported there along with a handy communication sphere she is going to use to open a portal to Avalon.  Held in a magick prison, Etrigan is interrogated by the Questing Queen.  He says he knows what Madam Xanadu will be doing, and when the portal opens to Avalon...

The action cuts to Lucifer monitoring this conversation and he concludes Etrigan's plan, which will be to allow Lucifer and the Legions of the Damned into Avalon and he will be rewarded.  Lucifer shrugs and says it's an interesting plan I guess and matches what he wants which is to let Exoristos out of Hell with the Black Diamond.

Lucifer: "Legions of Hell - today we conquer a new land of the dead!  Which is very exciting.  I suppose".

UGH.  I hate this kind of snarky aside, it totally undermines the gravitas and threat of a character and when everyone is doing it like in this Paul Cornell penned run of issues it just makes everyone sound the same, boringly Joss Whedonesque flippant.

Xanadu is reunited with Jason and opens the portal to Avalon while the Legions of Hell amass.  The others appear with the horses and Exoristos clumsily asks Sir Ystin if he'd like to travel with her.  Sir Ystin says he believes Exoristos loves only a part of him, the female part and she/he is both male and female, and could Exoristos live with that?

They all go through the portal, but it doesn't close behind them.  In front of them appear "The Silent Knights", the defenders of Avalon.  Close behind them are the Legions of Hell and also appearing thanks to Etrigan's link to Jason are the forces of the Questing Queen.  Time for a massive rumble I think.
A storm over Avalon.
A big threeway fight kicks off.  Xanadu flies the gang up and out of the way and onto a nearby hill.  Etrigan uses the magic fire breath of one of the Questing Queen's army machines to break his magic manacles and prostrates himself before Lucifer.  Who is pissed because he believes Etrigan led the Questing Queen's forces there to wipe out Lucifer's.  This accusation flummoxes Etrigan and he finally gains some self respect and flies off saying "he will never again serve anyone."  About damn time Etrigan.

The dead Merlin starts to revive and sends out a message that summons "the forces of King Arthur Pendragon".  That's handy.  They wade into the fight as well.  Merlin then summons a rainstorm over the battlefield as he has fully come to life (off-panel! why didn't we get to see it? Sequential FAIL). Exoristos agitates to get back to the mortal realm, and Xanadu notes "something's changed about you".

As it rains, the hill they are on comes under attack so they fight while quippty, quip, quip, quipping. Etrigan confronts Merlin and tries to kill him to seek his revenge while telling Xanadu this was his plan all along to get her out of Hell.

Merlin: "You're making that up.  You actually feel guilty!".

Real Etrigans NEVER feel guilty.  His character assassination continues, sigh.  Merlin zaps Etrigan and himself with lightning then reminds everyone what the water of Avalon does.  It starts melting all the demons and even affects Lucifer himself.  It also cleanses the Questing Queen's forces of their enchantments so they beat a hasty retreat.  Lucifer also withdraws saying "hmmph, at least this has been diverting".
Merlin reborn.
With all the baddies gone.  Merlin is consumed by light and rejuvanates into a younger form as he ages backwards.  Arthur officially knights Sir Ystin.  Merlin calls the gang "my Stormwatch" tying them to the present day DCU comic of the same name though as they continue calling themselves the Demon Knights it feels a somewhat pointless inclusion.

Merlin then binds Jason and Etrigan back together saying they still have a destiny to fulfil.  Then they leave Avalon via a portal back to the mortal world.  The group decide to separate.  Jason and Xanadu will go off together.  Exoristos plans to go alone due to the influence of the Black Diamond, but Sir Ystin decides to go with her.  The Horsewoman says they are fools for splitting up, "to be offered hope - a destiny - and deny it immediately".  And she rides off rather hypocritically.  And that brings this arc and Paul Cornell's tenure on the title to an end.  Is it over, can I come home mum?  Gah no there is still eight more issues to go, with Robert Venditti taking over writing chores for the rest of the run.

The action shifts to several decades in the future. The Horsewoman, who doesn't age if her soul is bonded to a horse is run down and captured by some bounty hunters who kill her horse.  She is taken to a city and thrown in jail, only to find Exoristos and Sir Ystin also in chains there, and they seem to have had a falling out in the past.

Then a counsel comes and frees them saying their capture and treatment was a mistake, the Caliph has been loking for them but didn't mean for them to be treated so brutally.  The Caliph turns out to be an elderly Al Jabr who has been hunting down the Demon Knights because there is a threat to the world he wants them to deal with.
The Horsewoman chased down by Bison Riders.
The threat turns out to be an army of vampires making their way across Europe led by a man called Cain (a link to the also cancelled series I, Vampire).  They have their minds set on reaching and vamping Themyscira much to Exoristos's distress so they need to find Jason Blood and Madame Xanadu as well.  Jason Blood is being held captive by Vandal Savage who has cast a mute spell on him and tortures him everyday while Etrigan sulks down in Hell, baited by Lucifer who mocks him for relinquishing his service to him.

Sir Ystin, Exoristos and The Horsewoman make ready to leave.  Al Jabr won't be coming as he is too old, so huh, they wrote out the one non-white member.  Great. The Horsewoman picks a new horse to ride called "Brickwedge", a stumpy service horse who she chose for his conversation over the snobby palace steeds.  And off they ride to Vandal Savage's castle.  There isn't really any reason given for why Savage is torturing Jason Blood, but Vandal Savage has and is always a dick so I can't be critical of this turn of events.
Exoristos enters Vandal Savage's castle, she says she is here to join his clan.  Vandal says she has to prove her worth, so they decide to arm wrestle:

Exoristos: "Haven't you ever wondered if you were man enough?"

Sir Ystin arrives in the cell area and kills the guards.  He unties Jason and is shocked to see his mouth sealed up.  Exoristos gets ready to wrestle with Vandal then she headbutts him viciously, sending him tumbling to the floor.

Sir Ystin throws Jason of the battlements and jumps after him and Vanguard his flying horse catches them both.  As Exoristos flees the castle, The Horsewoman mentally tells the enemy's horses not to follow them and they escape.
Sir Ystin and Vanguard to the rescue.
They keep riding until they find a cottage where Jason had marked the map with an "X".  It is where Madame Xanadu is and she attacks them before realising who they are.  Meanwhile the Bison Riders of the steppes are met by Cain and his vampire army.  He tears their leader to pieces before pressing on to Themyscira.

Madame Xanadu removes the mute spell upon Jason saying they had been apart for decades after he went to Alba Sarum on business. They hug, then Exoristos says "time is short... we need your stronger half.. or the whole of Europe is doomed".  Jason can't believe they want Etrigan after all the betrayals he put them through, but swaps places with him anyway.  Brickwedge thinks to The Horsewoman:

Brickwedge: "This one's a bit of a whiner."

He's now my favourite character.  They recieve a message delivered by falcon from Al Jabr saying "Cain has crossed the Danube."  After some bickering they race to Theyscira to find a battle already going on on a beach nearby with an advanced guard of vampires.
A somewhat underwhelmingly depicted battle.
They pile in and fight, one of the Amazons yells at Exoristos for being there, then tells them to pierce the heart and behead the monsters.  Finally they subdue the vampires and Etrigan tries to swap back with Jason to regain his strength.  But Jason refuses and keeps Etrigan on the mortal plane where his strength is ebbing.  In Hell Lucifer comes to query this but Jason tells him "why should I fear you?"  Why indeed?  This Hell you can have picnics in.

Exoristos helps her fellow Amazon shore up their defences.  She is told the Amazon helping Cain is called Fara who was Exoristos' friend and who left the island to come looking for her in order to try and get her exile lifted.  Meanwhile Vandal Savage's forces have crept up on them and noting Etrigan is out of action says "...this will be easier than I thought."
Vandal approaches and goes to cut off Etrigan's head, wanting revenge for being sent to Hell. But when he is filled in on the vampire threat he still tries to kill the weakened Etrigan so Xanadu zaps him.  They build a boat to get to Themyscira where the vampires have already taken the beach.

The Amazons fall back to the city.  Their guide says the soldiers will wait all day for an attack, but of course they vampire will attack at night to gain full advantage.  Our gang, including Vandal Savage sail to Themyscira.  Sir Ystin has a vision of himself as a vampire and mutters, "is this what Merlin meant for me to do?"

In Hell Jason is being tortured by Lucifer but refuses to switch places with Etrigan.  Lucifer decides to look in and see what his friends are doing and when he realises they are fighting Cain and his vampire hordes, urges Jason to change.

The Amazons and the Vampires are fighting as the Demon Knights arrive and charge into the fray.  Sir Ystin approaches Cain saying he has forgotten his quest for so long.  Cain bites Sir Ystin saying he "looks forward to your undying loyalty."  Jason agrees to swap with Etrigan who says to Lucifer:

Etrigan: "You reek of fear.  When all the world is soulless and undying, there won't be much use for Hell."
Don't piss the Amazons off.
Lucifer returns Etrigan to full strength and he returns to the battlefield.  Combined the Amazons and the Demon Knights defeat the vampires.  Cain hovers above the battlefield saying he'll be back (he won't) before turning into several crows and flying off.  Exoristos goes to Sir Ystin who is fighting off the vamping.  Somehow being turned is part of his quest for the Holy Grail (*shrug* beats me), which Queen Hippolyta says she might know where it is.  With the end of this arc, Bernard Chang leaves as artist and instead we get Chad Hardin as penciller and Wayne Faucher as inker.  It's not an improvement.

In the Amazon city, Sir Ystin is fighting off the vampiric infection and being taken care of by Exoristos.  Hippolyta appears and rescinds Exoristos' exile.  But Ex says she was right to send her away, "I don't fit in with your drills and rules and codes of conduct".  She points to Sir Ystin and says "I know I belong with her." Then respect her pronouns you insensitive cow!

The others are scouring the Amazon library for clues to where the grail might be.  They find a possible location on the map and Sir Ystin appears and says he knows that is where it is.  He also asks for help as he can't do it alone.  The others agree and we cut to them on a boat getting ready to leave.  Vandal is coming too, he says no hard feelings to Jason who says he'll get his revenge when Vandal is out of earshot.
The magic island revealed.
After two days at sea, Xanadu's magic reveals a hidden island that many other ships had crashes into.  They disembark and immediately are attacked by a many tentacled hydra.  One tentacle grabs Madame Xanadu and Jason turns into Etrigan to save her.  The others get stuck in and finally Xanadu kills it with a powerful spell.  They find some glyphs on the wall and Xanadu says she knows what one of them means, "the Holy Grail".

Etrigan changes back to Jason so he can translate the glyphs.  According to them, crossing the threshold will take you to another place, reciting the glyphs will take you to the grail but it is a one way journey.  Sir Ystin says he'll go but Exoristos says he is too weak and it's time to let others serve.  After some bickering Vandal Savage and Jason go through and find themselves in a room full of treasure.

By the fire sit Sir Ystin and Exoristos.  Sir Ystin says he was told about "evil that would own my spirit... the loss of everyone I love".  Exoristos admits that the Black Diamond's influence made her angrier and angrier and that's why she split from Sir Ystin.  She has hidden the diamond and it's influence on her has waned.  She says she'll always be there for Sir Ystin and they kiss.
Of course the ramifications of this on Ystin's gender and Exoristos's sexuality is never explored.
Back with Vandal and Jason, they find the box holding the grail, they also find a huge door.  It opens and two giants appear. When they notice vandal and Jason they attack them.  Jason calls Etrigan and when he is down in Hell he uses the threat of the grail to get Lucifer to transport him back to the others.

Lucifer does so, and Etrigan vanishes leaving Vandal facing the giants alone.  Jason is reunited with the others and hands an overwhelmed Sir Ystin the box holding the grail.  When asked where Vandal is, Jason grins and over an image of Vandal's unconcious body says ".. he finally got what was coming to him."
Nice derp face, Ystin.
Chad Hardin takes over art duties in full.  It's.. enh.. OK. Vandal Savage is questioned by the giants about the Grail and where it has been taken.  Meanwhile the others have arrived in Al Jabr's city of Al-Wadi.  They find Al Jabr and present him with the Holy Grail although none of them have yet opened the box.

Al Jabr goes to open it himself, but Sir Ystin stops him saying the time is not right.  They are going to find Merlin and think the Grail will be safe with Al Jabr.  He is not sure, his people are getting restless and violent.

Later, outside the city, The Horsewoman and Brickwedge are just chilling out and chatting when they hear a rumbling sound.  It is an approaching army of giants who have Vandal Savage in a cage.  She goes to warn Al Jabr, while the giants outside demand the Grail back.

They fire a warning shot at the city and the shockwave knocks the Grail's box onto the floor and it opens.  Immediately plants start growing through the floor and attack them as its lifeforce runs out of control.  They stop almost right away though, The Horsewoman has returned the Grail to the box and can now stand up, her damaged spine has been healed.
The grail heals all.
Sir Ystin has also had the vampirism curse lifted from him and Exoristos hugs him with joy. She also admits that last time she was here she left something in a locked chest in the vault.  She entrusts the contents to Al Jabr, handing him a key.  Jason summons Etrigan and they ride out to take on the giants alongside Al Jabr's army.

As they fight what seems like a losing battle, suddenly several zeppelins appear and fire down on the giants.  Aboard one is Al Jabr who has acquired what Exoristos sent him to get - the Black Diamond.  He realises this is what was making his people so aggressive.

He tosses the Diamond down onto the battlefield and the giants start fighting amongst themselves.  Watching them from the walls of the city later as the last few finish each other off, Sir Ystin notes the irony of Lucifer's gift of the Black Diamond saving the Holy Grail.  Etrigan returns to Hell to tell him.  Vandal Savage has also escaped the battle and scarpered.

Exoristos says she will take the Diamond back and bear its burden, but Al Jabr shows them the Diamond and the Grail together cancelling each other out.  Together they will be safe in the secret chamber in Al-Wadi.  Sir Ystin says the Grail is hope and:

Sir Ystin: "Let those who try and take it know forever oposing them will be the Demon Knights".
The End (thankfully)
And that abruptly concludes the series. So what is there left to say?  What kills me about this series is that it came highly recommended.  I read so many people who had issues with the New 52 making an exception for Demon Knights.  And with a writer I previously was a fan of in Paul Cornell, how could it fail?  Well for me it failed hard.  Everyone was badly or negligently mischaracterised and often just going through the motions with no inner life to speak of.  After two years the only thing I had found out about The Horsewoman was that her name was Sarah. Think about what we had; a pagan witch, a Judeo-Christian demon, a lesbian who worships the Greek Pantheon, a Muslim scientist, a transman and a paraplegic.  That should have been the basis for some amazing character based interactions, but apart from some weak magic v.science stuff and some pronoun arguments regarding Sir Ystin there was a complete lack of any interpersonal spark such differences in background should have caused. The storylines were weak and grotesquely padded.  Plot points were badly set up and often dependant on important things happening off-panel.  Paul Cornell seems to work best in a contemporary and sci-fi setting, his delvings into British myth have always been a miss with me and this didn't change my mind on that. 

The series didn't improve with a new writer and apart from Bernard Chang's run of issues the art was very weak, and even he stumbled badly in his depiction of the DCU Hell.  This series had a ton of potential, and it was squandered at every turn.  If this was considered the best of the New 52 then it just proves my point that the New 52 was one of the worst things to happen to DC continuity and the few series that were good - Batwoman (at least the first half), Batman Inc, Frankenstein and Dial H - were the exception rather than the rule. Add in epic fails like handing control of three books to Rob Liefeld, the ruination of the Wildstorm universe's characters, the appalling lack of female creators and their terrible treatment of Gail Simone and the botched mess of attempting to run 52 comics within a tightly linked universe with crossover after crossover making the series read badly in their trade editions and it just has ended up being the worst few years to be a DC lifer since I started reading post-Crisis On Infinite Earths. Nevermind, it's over now, hooray for the DCYou.  Etrigan seems to have survived this debacle as he always does, but I fear the rest of the cast may not be lucky enough to have new and better writers champion them.  We shall see.  Summing up, Vic?

Can't say fairer than that.


  1. this just looks like boring, go nowhere, comics for the sake of comics that seems to have been an understandable chore to get thru. always nice to see Vic though :D

  2. Esteemed commentator G, if I had expressed myself so pithily I'd have saved myself a lot of angst. Still any excuse for a Vic Reeves gif has gotta be worth it in the end >_<

  3. Yeah, reckon G's got a point :-D

  4. Truly G does. I bought all three volumes of Demon Knights at once thinking, it's Paul Cornell + various cool characters, how can this fail? I want my thirty quid back Paul!