By: Paul Cornell (story), Bernard Chang (art), Marcelo Maiolo (colors)

The Story: Actually, Hell’s starting to look like a pretty peaceful place, comparatively.

The Review: Last month I felt a distinctly Secret Six sort of vibe from our cast of characters, which can only be a good thing, in my view.  Aside from the obvious connections (the presence of a Savage, romantic ambiguity, etc.), the Demon Knights share the same resignation to a loser’s fate as the Six, although both continue striving (fruitlessly, you might say) for better things to come.

Consider Jason reuniting with Xan.  Though overjoyed at finding each other and the prospect of ridding themselves of Etrigan forever, their happiness barely lasts a couple panels before bitter experience sets in.  Jason immediately recognizes that nothing so good can come that easily for them.  Xan agrees, but neatly describes the cautious optimism (the “desperate hope,” Jason calls it) the Knights all have: moving forward might at least give them “more options,” even if none of them are any good.

Sadly, for the Knights as well as for the Six, their paranoia tends to be fulfilled more often than their hopes, and so it goes here.  The really sad thing is usually, the misfortune that befalls them often has little to do directly with the Knights themselves.  Lucifer seeks only amusement, even of the barest kind (“—today we conquer a new land of the dead! Which is very exciting.  I suppose.”) and the Questing Queen, aside from her search for the grail, simply conquers for conquest’s sake.  The Knights end up as tools and unpredictable variables between both.

If Cornell must leave the title before its prime, he should at least deliver a suitable finale to his run, and leaving the Knights at the center of a battle between the legions of Hell, an earthly horde of barbarians, monsters, and dinosaurs, and the faceless, unkillable “Silent Knights” of Avalon—well, that sounds like a reasonably splashy fade-out to me.  It definitely recalls the manic, zany action that made the debut of this series so memorable and promising.

Seeing as how we’re a year into the series and about to close one of its major chapters (upcoming writer Robert Venditti apparently plans to take us some decades into the future when he takes over), what have we gotten out of the experience?  Well, the Knights haven’t really achieved any major feats of destiny, though that can all change next month.  While some characters have really profited from the title (Vandal Savage, obviously), and others have at least gotten some good development (Xan, Ystin, Ex, and Jason), a few have failed to capture our interest at all.  It’s really troubling that these latter characters are the most original of the bunch; neither Al Jabr nor Horsewoman have become major players or very rounded ones in this fantasy.

I suppose something ought to be said about the big revelation about Ystin, which, strangely enough, hasn’t had the kind of impact on the internet I’d expect—good.  Honestly, that’s the way it should be.  Cornell purposely minimizes Ystin’s announcement, making it only a small aside from the real action, which places his focus on the proper place.  Obviously, it’ll be interesting to see how Ystin’s particular background will play out and affect her future adventures (and how certain Knights will react to it), but otherwise, it’s most irrelevant to the conflict at hand.

After a long run with Diógenes Neves, we’ve gotten spoiled by a plethora of props and design details in every panel, making the very look of this title a source of pleasure.  Chang’s art is no less beautiful, albeit in a much more sophisticated, dramatic sort of way, but his sense of detail is more subtle.  At first, the Knights all kind of have similarly angular appearances, but look at an image of all of them in profile to see how much effort he puts into giving them distinct appearances: the angles of their nose, the shape of their mouths, the outline of their foreheads, etc.  Maiolo has adapted to Chang’s art well; the bright, eye-popping hues that worked for Neves wouldn’t work for Chang, but the slightly pale, slightly shiny colors here fits Chang’s style well.

Conclusion: It’s too bad that the title never took off the way it seemed poised to, but Cornell is about to leave behind (as he did with Stormwatch) a respectable platform for the next guy.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – We know that Savage isn’t all that discriminatory when it comes to the things he eats, but seriously—demon flesh?  That’s just asking for a whole new kind of bowel movement down the line.