By: Paul Cornell (writer), Diógenes Neves & Robson Rocha (artists), Oclair Albert (inker), Marcelo Maiolo (colorist)

The Story: It’s the ultimate showdown, featuring Amazon versus Triceratops!  Heck yeah.

The Review: Nothing quite like a battle against impossible odds to see what your characters are made of, huh?  These types of crises tend to accomplish two things: on the practical side, you get to see the limits of your heroes’ abilities, and often, on the deeper side, you also see the strength of their values tested.  Consequently, by the time the story’s over, you often have a very different set of characters than what you started out with, even if none of them perish.

But don’t expect the Demon Knights to have even that optimistic ending.  With the kind of dire peril they’re up against and a couple of them already halfway to death’s door, the chances of victory look pretty slim.  I suppose, though, in true fantasy fashion, that makes the glory of their fall all the greater.  Already you’ve seen some amazing action out of the Knights, and here they take it even further, using every trick and power at their disposal to hold off the Horde for just a moment longer.

Even more notable is how crucial a role the women play in making this possible.  I’m not just talking about Exoristos’ solo face-off with a dinosaur battalion, or Horsewoman attempting to charge past a flight of mechanical dragons, or even Xanadu’s quiet attempts to keep the team together.  Think about the person responsible for bringing this conflict in the first place: the Questing Queen.  And who’s her bitter rival?  Not Etrigan nor Al Jabr, but the female (probably) Shining Knight.  Whether Cornell intended it or not, he’s established a pretty lady-centric title here, all the more remarkable considering there are some big-name men in the mix, too.

It’s also the women who bear the tough decisions, as both Horsewoman and Xanadu have to grapple with making the necessary sacrifices to increase the village’s chances of survival.  What they end up choosing to do shows, I think, the kind of person we’ll be following from now on.  We tend to view Xanadu as a very means-ends type of actor, yet here she proves to be of sterner morals than we typically give her credit for, even when the rationale for the evil choice is actually on her side for once.  Horsewoman using the lives of her loyal animals as bait, on the other hand, is much more surprising, particularly since they’re essentially her means of living.

Of all the team books that have come out of the new 52, Cornell has already written one of the most convincing ones in Stormwatch, where he managed to bring some of the most unusual characters together in spectacular fashion to form a cohesive unit.  He repeats the feat again in this issue.  The Knights may have started out as strangers, with many sullen conflicts among them, but by the end, they all stand beside each other, however fortuitously.  It’s a good sign for the group that, if nothing else, they share common ground in their unwillingness to go down until they’ve taken several dozen times their number with them.

Don’t let Rocha’s credit fool you; he gets to draw only the Horsewoman sequences, which he does with such a similar lightweight, balanced style to Neves that you can easily overlook his contribution altogether.  Meanwhile, Neves is still putting in star work on every level, filling each panel to the brim with not only a multitude of props, but with little throwaways of action as well, making you feel like there’s a world alive within these pages.

Conclusion: Still one of the heavier middleweights in DC’s arsenal, this series rarely seems to take a break from its nonstop action—which is fine by me, thank you very much.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Oh, man.  How awesome would a match-up between Exoristos and Vandal Savage be?  Do comics get better than pitting Amazons against barbarians?