Comic Picks By The Glick

Demon Knights vol. 2: The Avalon Trap

June 6, 2013

Thanks mainly to the writing of Paul Cornell, the first volume of “Demon Knights” was one of the more entertaining offerings from the New 52.  While the overall story of several individuals of questionable character and great skill banding together to save a town from certain destruction has been done so often that it even served as the basis for the pilot episode of “The A-Team,” we still got enough wit, character and adventure to make it all worthwhile.  The second volume arrives on a fairly sad note as Cornell has since decamped from DC back to Marvel with Robert Venditti taking over for him.  Only the final three issues of his aren’t collected here, and based on the quality of what I’ve just read I’ll make sure to pick them up in the near future (read:  probably at Comic-Con).

We start out with an issue that shows us how the oddest couple in the series got together.  The Madame Xanadu/Jason Blood/Etrigan the Demon relationship was one of the more memorable bits from earlier and that continues to be true here.  After Xan and Jason meet cute at Camelot before its fall, they’re separated in its wake as the former wanders the country as a fortuneteller/midwife and winds up nearly burned at the stake for her troubles.  In a timely reunion, Jason intervenes and Etrigan helps “save” the day.  Though the story seems like it might be settling for a status quo ripe with romantic tragedy, we get a twist near the end which casts certain parts of the story into doubt.  It also shows that Xan is capable of pulling the strings of any male, be they man or demon.

After that, “The Avalon Trap” gets rolling as our cast finally makes it to the city of Alba Sarum -- a city so glorious that some are even calling it “The New Camelot.”  Adding credence to that title is the fact that Merlin has taken up residence in the city.  Problem is that he has just been killed and while Alba Sarum’s princesses have sworn to reward the protagonists for their hard work in the previous volume, they offer to double it if they’ll find a way to bring the wizard back.  So begins an epic tale of sea serpents, zombie kings, demonically enhanced wildlife and Lucifer Morningstar himself as the journey to Avalon begins!

Part of the fun with Cornell’s style is that while he’s ostensibly playing the story itself straight, he includes so many clever details and throwaway gags that it never loses its sense of fun.  After all, this is a collection where the opening conversation includes the exchange, “I believe you Vandal Savage. … But then I’ve had several blows to the head.”  This is a trend throughout the volume as Savage punches a sea monster, Al Jabr realizes that as much as he likes intelligence, he likes having a body more, and Jason and Etrigan have to swap places multiple times in order to break a particular enchantment.

In fact, these bits, and the dialogue between the characters themselves are once again far better than the story they’re appearing in.  “The Avalon Trap” is a pretty straightforward affair as the crew makes their way from point A to point B, encountering many magically infused challenges along the way.  Some of these are reasonably interesting, such as when everyone except Xan winds up being granted their heart’s desire, but it really does feel like Cornell is plowing through them to get at the parts he really likes:  the conversations.  To be honest, I can’t really blame him for that yet the end result is that the plot and its setpieces feel more perfunctory than anything else.  Making matters even more annoying is that the story ends on a cliffhanger.  I’d say it’s an interesting one, except that I’m fairly sure that it’ll be revealed to be less fatal for all of those involved in short order.

We do get a final story to make sure things don’t end on an unsatisfying note.  The “zero” issue shows us what Etrigan was up to in Hell before being bonded to Jason and what Mr. Blood was like before his unwelcome cohabitation.  Jason’s character here is particularly interesting to observe as we find out that he may have actually needed this demonic bondage more than he thought he did.  And Etrigan?  There was a lot more backdoor maneuvering involved there than one would have suspected for that arrangement to take place and it casts an interesting light on two supporting characters.  Essentially this issue winds up being the payoff for a particular subplot that I hadn’t given much thought to, but was glad to see resolved anyway.  Cornell also manages a better balance of action to conversation here than he does with the main story, which is nice too.

Art is provided by Diogenes Neves with Bernard Chang and Robson Rocha either filling in for parts of an issue or doing an issue themselves.  Considering that this title has more fantasy trappings than superhero ones, they get a lot of interesting things to draw, from the aforementioned sea serpent battle and demonic beasties, to hellscapes and visions of a ruined Camelot.  They all do a decent enough job with what they’re given though I suspect that a lot of this title’s visual appeal comes from how utterly different its setting is from nearly every other superhero title published by DC.  It also helps overcome the occasional “Liefeldian” character poses the cast is sometimes saddled with.

With that and Cornell’s writing, this second volume of “Demon Knights” winds up being a satisfying read in the end.  Yes, that’s even with the cliffhanger foisted upon us by the main story but even then it’s hard to be that upset.  That final story is a winner and sending your audience out on a high note will let a good writer get away with almost anything.  I certainly hope that holds true after I read Cornell’s final three issues.

Jason Glick

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