By: Robert Venditti (story), Bernard Chang (art), Marcelo Maiolo (colors)

The Story: It’s a pretty bad economy when even the devil fears losing his job.*

The Review: I don’t think I’m unique in liking creators who can surprise me, particularly if they can do it without resorting to cheap tricks or totally groundless gimmicks.  If you expose yourself enough to any medium of fiction, you eventually catch on to most of its patterns, formulas, clichés, and tropes, rendering many stories too predictable to enjoy.  A writer who manages to spring some genuinely unexpected moments through all that deserves some credit.

Venditti manages to surprise you in precisely this manner several times in this issue, starting with one that quite impressed me from the opening: Vandal Savage revealing that his recent animosity towards Jason Blood is due to Etrigan nearly cutting Savage’s immortal life short in the title’s last arc.  “I’m immortal, but the demon dragged me into the afterlife anyway,” he states coldly.  The moment he says it, it’s like a switch flips on in your head: of course—makes total sense.  Yet you probably didn’t think of it until Venditti wrote it.

This is only the first of many moments where you feel like Venditti has really figured out how to write this series, incorporating points laid down during his predecessor’s time and weaving it with his own ideas.  Another big example, one that’ll have lasting repercussions for the Knights, is Ystin choosing to give herself over to Cain during their battle on Themyscira.  It’s one of the craziest things I’ve seen a character do, yet it fits in with her semi-fanatical, tortured sense of self.  Every great quest involves suffering, and every saint experiences a torturous temptation; as a mixture of both, it feels right that Ystin would willingly take on both as part of her fate.

Venditti’s grasp on the characters extends beyond the core cast.  I particularly enjoy the fact that Lucifer has a deep and fearful loathing of Cain because of the threat he represents to the fallen angel’s domain.  As Jason observes, “When all the world is soulless and undying, there won’t be much need for Hell.”  It’s a very clever way to get Lucifer to release his hold on Jason and return Etrigan’s powers (“and more!” Lucifer promises hastily), and it simultaneously boosts both Jason as a strategist and Cain as an antagonist.

Speaking of Cain, the one weakness with the plot at hand is it feels rather unusual that once the Knights and Amazons have routed his army and gotten him cornered, they’d just let him fly away to rise again in the future.  I can appreciate that the timing isn’t right for them to take a decided victory against this great evil just yet, but I’m truly surprised that Etrigan doesn’t even try to fly after him or that Horsewoman doesn’t lift her bow to take a potshot at him.  Ultimately, the issue’s climax is the battle against the vampires on Themyscira, and once Ystin reveals the method to slaying them, the Amazons catch on and make short work of the enemy.

Even so, the end of the battle smoothly finishes one conflict but opens the door to a newer, even greater challenge: the search for the Grail.*  I get a little thrill when a comic book writer can knit various parts of continuity together in fun yet sensible ways, and the idea that Hippolyta would have some knowledge of the Grail fits that to a tee.  Again, it makes sense when you hear it, but it’s not something you’d necessarily expect or predict from the story.

There’s little to complain about with Chang’s art, at least with his particular style and the way he draws things.  They’re all undeniably shapely, with enough detail to keep them grounded in the real world, and he certainly is no slouch when it comes to drawing the occasional sword-on-fang battle.  Somehow, though, there’s a kind of cookie-cutter look to his backgrounds, not to mention his tendency to close in on characters, that makes the series feel a bit like a slightly low-budget TV show.  I think Chang is more suited to crime dramas than fantasy epics.

Conclusion: Venditti shows marked improvement over the last few issues, but you know he can do even better.  Looking forward to his next arc.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * I actually had a different tagline here, but I decided it was too dirty to put on WCBR.  It suffices to say that it involved women and sucking.  You’re welcome, Internet.

* It feels very RPG, how finishing this mission simply sets our band of adventurers on another one.

– “Sides are for people with principles, Ystin,” Vandal replies when the knight exclaims that they were once on the same side.  A pretty clever summation of his character, quite honestly.