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.|
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.|
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.|
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.|
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 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.|
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: "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.|
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.|
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."
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.|
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.|
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.|
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.|
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.|
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)|
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.