By: Paul Cornell (story), Diógenes Neves & Robson Rocha (pencils), Oclair Albert (inks), Marcelo Maiolo (colors)

The Story: I’m guessing no one came up with sibling counseling in the days of Camelot.

The Review: Call it the devil, anima instinct, or whatever you will, but at some point we all have to face up to the fact that we all have a little bit of not-so-greatness inside of us.  And while I don’t think that’s something anyone should ever be proud of, I hardly think there’s any shame in acknowledging it.  Like it or not, that part of us is a reflection of who we truly are—but it doesn’t represent us entirely.

For that reason, I appreciate the general candidness of the Knights as they recover from the dark magic which infected them last issue.  The typical, right-motivated superhero would no doubt have a downward spiral over this kind of thing; you can easily imagine Superman fretting for weeks afterward if he had a similar experience which turned him into a Doomsday hybrid.  But you’ll notice with this team, the least overtly virtuous and heroic express disappointment over the loss of their monstrous forms (e.g. Savage, Horsewoman, Etrigan), while the others prefer not to confront the meaning of their transformation at all.

There’s no doubt the particular transformation of each Knight means something.  Even though each one seems superficially fitting (Horsewoman as literal horse-woman, for example), Cornell admirably manages to keep their implications from being obvious. Al Jabr gets reconfigured to be mostly head and “all thought, the needs of the body gone.”  Sure, the simple conclusion is he just wants to be smarter, undistracted by base desires, but it also indicates a disgust for his own body.  Where that self-hatred comes from should be fertile ground for speculaholics.

Two other characters to ponder upon: Exoristos and Shining Knight.  The former woman assumes the form of a hulking brute, clutching herself in pain, apparently “hurting herself,” as Ystin almost triumphantly describes.  And then Ystin herself, though her transformation is not immediately apparent, also falls victim to the malevolent spell, her pride surpassing the nobility of her quest.  These are definitely symptoms of psychoses we’ve only scratched the surface of.

The manifestation of our characters’ wishes (secret or otherwise) makes good food for the issue, but the plot with the undead King Arthur and ruined Camelot makes for an even heartier meal.  Cornell does a bit of legend mash-up here, giving Xanadu and Arthur a (groundbreaking?) new relationship through their connection with a longtime DC villainess.  He also does some brushing up on Xan’s origins, which may or may not tamper with her traditional portrayals, but which gives her some fresh new spin, nonetheless.

I’m always disappointed when I see Rocha’s name appear on a Demon Knight cover.  Whenever you look at his product, you can tell right away this is fill-in work.  The figures are so loose you feel like these are just rough sketches, inked over with no refinements whatsoever.  Then you look at one of Neves’ amazing splash pages, like Etrigan clawing at an armed Arthur, bursting with epic fantasy and lush detail, down to the different and intricate scaling on their armor, and you realize what a short deal you get when Rocha comes along.  It’s really incomparable.

Conclusion: This is classic fantasy stuff we’re dealing with here: a land overrun by monsters, an evil queen in an unassailable tower, noble champions in bad odds–great material for sword-and-sorcery enthusiasts.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Maybe it’s because Cornell is British himself and more in tune somehow with this stuff, but his Arthur is one of the most convincing ones I’ve ever read.  He has that perfect blend of nobility, groundedness, and melancholy that makes the character a heroic legend.