By: Paul Cornell (writer), Diógenes Neves (penciller), Bernard Chang (guest artist), Oclair Albert (inker), Marcelo Maiolo (colorist)
The Story: Except for the demon choking you part, that’s a pretty romantic story, Xanadu.
The Review: Most of the great superhero teams come together by necessity; some disaster strikes, and there’s no one to face it except the heroes who happen to be nearby. Whether they handle the problem competently or with much mishap, once the whole thing’s over and the dust clears, they have to figure out where they go from there as a group? Can these (semi) randomly assembled characters find enough common ground to stick with each other beyond a crisis?
The Demon Knights may not be the best of buddies, to grossly understate things, but they did just go through hell together—some of them literally—and as the old maxim goes, you can’t experience such perils with others and not form some kind of bond, however tenuous. This is the first chance we get to see how they interact without impending doom hanging over them, and how they behave at rest might surprise you. For example, Horsewoman is of surprisingly good humor, thought that might be her multiple head injuries talking. Overall, suspicion has been replaced with curiosity and perhaps resignation that they must endure each other for a while.
The focus of this curiosity quite naturally lands on Xanadu, who clearly has the juiciest story to tell, what with her two-timing both her human and demonic lovers. The explanation requires a bit of telling and takes up practically the whole issue, and while it’s all very interesting, you don’t come away feeling like you’ve learned more about the inscrutable witch than before—and not just because of Etrigan’s highly outlandish side of the story (“I now pronounce you demon and wife!”). The madam’s motives have never been clear, and though seemingly well-intentioned, she also has an ends-means streak that often undermines her trustworthiness.
Perhaps even more compelling is this issue’s exploration of the relationship between the Demon Knights and the Daemonites, a homophone too strikingly clear to be mere coincidence (or, to be more precise, to not be capitalized on). We see hints that Camelot’s repeated rise and fall is no coincidence, as an unidentifiable craft appears above the castle and unknown “beasts” overrun the fabled kingdom. We learn that Avalon is an eternal place, and the “queens” who live upon the nearby lake (of whom Xanadu is one) are “not quite human.” This melding of sci-fi and fantasy offers one reason why the nature of the Holy Grail as seen in #4 seems so inexplicable.
At the heart of all this, as with everything, is Camelot. Its importance has always been more symbolic than anything else: the golden city of ideals, where the best of mankind gathers. If the Daemonies are involved in this story, then their preying on man explains why they would be so interested in ensuring Camelot never survives longer than an age at a time. Now that Xan and Shining Knight, each of a different Camelot, have met, this pattern has been recognized, and therein may lie the key to breaking free of the cycle forever, for good or bad.
Neves and Chang take care of their respective features well, and side-by-side, you can see their respective strengths and weaknesses. Chang is a character-centric artist; everything else in the panel, from props to sets, has minimal definition. Neves, by contrast, infuses detail down to the most inconspicuous places, like the decoration on Savage’s belt buckle or the amphibious creatures in a secluded spring. Yet Neves’ simple thin linework can only convey the simplest emotions, while a depth of feeling wells out of every one of Chang’s characters.
Conclusion: To borrow a tired phrase, the plot thickens in this issue, and we can see the framework for long-term mysteries and storylines as the series progresses, with potential for major impacts to the development of the current DCU.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – Even though prudence dictates you trust Xan over Etrigan, the gushingly romantic parts of her story should be grounds for suspicion. Doesn’t “I love Jason—and you will never touch me!” seem rather over-the-top for her?