By: Paul Cornell (writer), Diógenes Neves (artist), Oclair Albert (inker), Marcelo Maiolo (colorist)

The Story: I know this isn’t Deal or No Deal, but…y’all should take that deal!

The Review: One of the few life lessons I’ve learned is that getting a group together is easy; getting them to stick together is not.  Even when you all start off with a common purpose, you’re bound to have friction on how to accomplish it, and that’s before you get to the conflict of personalities that inevitably arises.  For the supremely diverse Demon Knights, their risk of falling into petty or vicious squabbling is bound to be greater than the normal group of people.

Even now, at this dire hour when they may all perish by an invading horde, they can’t seem to stop themselves from squabbling.  The infighting among the women has especially gotten out of hand, as both Horsewoman and Xanadu take issue with Exoristos’ impulsive confidence.  Even Al Jabr, quietest and most rational of the gang, can’t stop himself from throwing a punch at one of his “comrades,” as Ex naively puts it.  Jason Blood can’t even keep from fighting himself.

For all that, this issue shows there is some quality common to them all that gives sense to them as a team.  What that quality is, however, is harder to pin down.  Still, it can’t be a coincidence that each one of them rejects the overtures of the Questing Queen and Mordru, though the two antagonists tempt them with their deepest desires.  Each of these offers reveal crucial clues as to the cast’s backgrounds.  We learn that Ex’s departure from Paradise Island came under some sketchy circumstances; Horsewoman’s attachment to her ride is as magical as it is personal; and Al Jabr has a spiritual side equal to his devotion to science.

What’s really delightful about all these scenes is how they make out every member of the team as a bit of a dark horse.  They all have their own reasons, beyond pure virtue, for doing what they do, and at no point do you feel completely illuminated on what those reasons are.  It’s hair-scratchingly mysterious, but also exciting, which is a tribute to Cornell’s pacing skills.  He gives you just enough to make some strong speculations, but limits the information so he can always overturn your expectations in the end.

Nowhere does that come across more than in Vandal Savage’s—spoiler alert—defection from the village to join, or should I say, rejoin, the Questing Queen’s army, committing a particularly appalling act to do it.  His betrayal comes as a surprise, which is quite an accomplishment, when you consider that savagery is part of his name.  Cornell did such a good job building up Vandal as a lover of challenges and battle that you forgot he’s had millennia of tactical experience under his belt to let him recognize a losing battle.  And even after all that, Vandal still demonstrates an unpredictability that indicates his treachery may not be all it seems.

Neves still offers some of the most all-around pleasing art on any title.  His delicate lines hits just the right balance of realism and fantasy, giving great flexibility and energy to the characters, but allowing them to take on some dramatic depth as well.  And no matter what, you have to come away impressed with the rich details he packs into every panel.  So many artists put their focus entirely on the action that they forget to give life to the surrounding environment, but Neves will fill the space up to the corners with props, each with carefully thought-out designs.  Credit to Albert for keeping his inks light and airy, and Maiolo’s lush colors.

Conclusion: The title is a fantasy fan’s dream come true, but it also has great plotting and character work that would enrich any story, regardless of genre.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Is it just me, or did no one else realize that the Horde’s castle is traveling on the back of a freaking Brontosaurus (or Apatosaurus, for you nitpicky dinosaur nerds)?  I love this title.