By: Robert Venditti (story), Chad Hardin (pencils), Wayne Faucher (inks), David Curiel (colors)

The Story: Another day, another sacred quest for the relic to end all relics.

The Review: If you’re a fan of this series—and let’s face it, if you’re even reading this review, you must be a real fan of the series—you’ve already heard the news about its cancellation in three months.  Considering that in March, it ranked at #160 on Comichron, the fall of the axe isn’t too surprising, but it does signal the end of all sword-and-sorcery titles out of DC, making it an even less diverse market than it started out as after the relaunch.

When these things happen, I always wonder how much the creators knew before we did.  Venditti probably didn’t agree to sign onto a doomed title, so when exactly did the higher-ups spring the news on him?  If I had to take a wild guess, it was probably just before he finished writing the first arc.  As eventful as the battle against Cain was, it did feel a little straightforward and truncated, a sign that maybe Venditti was forced to accelerate his plot faster than he planned.

Then again, Venditti has always driven this book at a determinedly steady pace, unwilling to make detours of any kind.  I always felt the Knights’ journey to reach Cain in the first place should have involved more misadventures along the way; half the fun of the fantasy genre are the side-quests, after all.  So perhaps it’s just par for the course when Venditti takes the Knights from a rumor in Themyscira to the supposed location of the Holy Grail in just one issue.

The same question applies to the character work in this issue: is this Venditti halfheartedly going through the motions despite the futility of it all, or is it that Venditti has only ever had a tenuous grasp on the cast?  Sometimes you get the distinct feeling from the Knights that they’re not so much speaking from the heart as they are delivering what’s been programmed into them.  Ystin vacillates between moaning of the evil owning her spirit and breathless mentions of her quest for the grail; Jason won’t quit talking about how he’s going to prove his self-worth to everyone; and while Savage has suddenly decided to add sexual obsession to his litany of unsavory traits.

Even though the Knights remain generally true to the personalities Paul Cornell established for them, we do have a couple moments that feel somewhat unsold.  For example, I admired Venditti’s choice of having Savage develop a grudge against Jason and Etrigan for dragging him to Hell, but here Venditti does away with it entirely, with Savage laughing off the whole conflict (in addition to, you know, imprisoning and torturing Jason for years), adopting a buddy-buddy routine instead: “You and I should be pondering what else waits to be discovered.  Treasures are like concubines.  They’re usually found in groups.”

You can always tell where a title lands in the pecking order of things by the quality of the art.  It’s hardly a coincidence that the moment Bernard Chang moved on to literally greener pastures we get a cancellation announcement.  In a way, it’s almost a mercy, as Hardin’s style is DC’s formulaic house art at its very plainest.  The characters tend to have a bored look on their faces, as if they, too, are just killing time before they can retire to comic book limbo.  At worst, Hardin’s work looks slapped together, an inconsistent, sloppy mess that never once manages an ounce of sophistication.

Conclusion: Venditti hasn’t earned enough of my loyalty such that I’d be willing to stay on a sinking ship, and issues like this can only convince me the decision to axe was the correct one.  Dropped.

Grade: C

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – If nothing else, the punny name of Khronika for Themyscira’s chief historian tells you a lot about how much creative energy Venditti’s putting into the series at this point.

– I don’t know if I can forgive Venditti for not giving us a spar between Hippolyta and Vandal Savage.  The noblest of immortal women versus the most barbaric of immortal men—how did Venditti let that pass by?