By: Paul Cornell (writer), Jimmy Broxton (artist), Guy Major (colors)
The Story: England’s very own meta-science labs embark on a thrilling project to revive one of its most famous—or infamous, depending on who you ask—monarchs, Richard III. Question is: will he be the benevolent statesman attributed to history or the Machiavellian schemer of Shakespeare? Well, honestly, a benevolent statesman wouldn’t be much of a foe for our heroes, now, would he?
The Review: You got to love it when a publisher takes a gamble on a title whose culture is anything other than All-American. That’s what made DC’s Blue Beetle with its Chicano/Latino bent and Marvel’s exceptionally British Captain Britain and MI: 13 so much fun (besides the tremendous quality of those series), but kind of niche reads. You tend to appreciate them so much better the more acquainted you are with the culture.
You’ll certainly be reminded of this fact on reading Paul Cornell’s Knight and Squire. Once done, you’ll never again take for granted how foreign our Anglican friends really are. Again, it’s not that the issue is not enjoyable without a broad understanding of British tropes and quirks. But you’ll be missing out on a lot of rather delightful details otherwise. It would also help to have some familiarity with Shakespeare’s Richard III.
The first two issues had the usual Cornell zaniness, but lacked the sense of grounding this one does. Cyril and Beryl’s personalities are given more page-time to play off not only each other, but other characters—the best of which being Cerys Tweed, member of The Muses, pop superstars and psychics. Her appearance is kept to a page, but even in that span she comes across credible and fresh; her knowledge of marketing and public relations offers a new way of doing detective work.
Cornell pulls off this great character work by giving a lot of love to the dialogue. Each character has a voice distinctly his or her own; you could have entirely black panels and figure out who’s talking by the rhythm and style of the dialogue. It’s especially impressive—though unsurprising—that Cornell gets the vocal details down to the characters’ different dialects, of which Britain has about a gazillion. Professor Henry Higgins of My Fair Lady boasts he can tell right off a person’s residence down to the neighborhood by their version of the British tongue, and that’s no joke. Cyril’s is highborn and refined, Cerys’ is casual middle-class, Ronnie and Donnie have the always fun Cockney, and Richard III speaks with all the lavish flourishes that makes Shakespearean nobles both pleasurable and a pain to read.
No matter how they might turn out, Cornell’s always experimenting with weird, unique concepts. Super-powered clones of former British monarchs are nothing if not unique for comic book villains, and the crew of British heroes that confront them are no less odd and totally appropriate for this series (my favorite has got to be The Professional Scotsman—life would be better if that was a real job title). What’s unfortunate is the payoff of all this careful attention to cultural references feels all too brief, but that’s the downside of a miniseries trying to have such a large scope.
The execution of action scenes also suffers from serviceable, but not particularly great art. Jimmy Broxton has a good sense for character design; they all look plainly British—don’t ask how he pulls that off, he just does. But at times their features change jarringly from panel to panel, and when the actual super-heroics are going on, they only vaguely have the sense of motion.
Conclusion: The strongest read yet for Cornell’s latest attempt to broaden DC’s canon of Anglican superheroes, but still lacking the punch it needs to truly sell Knight and Squire as the more jolly analogues to Batman and Robin. For non-Anglophiles, the fun of the series will be lessened, but still as easy to digest as tea biscuits.
Some Musings: – Cornell spells it “recognises”. With an “s”. British Pride to the end. Love it.
– Every time Richard III made one of his breaking-the-fourth-wall asides, the one-third English-major in me had to say, “Hah! Good times.”
– “Red Gull—it already has wings!” Where is my nearest fictional retailer so I can get one?
– I commend the UK for trying to bone up on its metahuman research with her Council for Organised (there’s that “s” again!) Research, but let’s face it—you’re never gonna have the luxury of going through all the insanity S.T.A.R. Labs faces on a daily basis. USA #1!
– Minhquan Nguyen