With most of the titles in DC Comics’ New 52 taking place in modern times, there’s only one book in the publisher’s stable that explores the ancient history of the DCU. “Demon Knights,” written by Paul Cornell, delves deep into the world of Arthurian legend, bringing together several unlikely allies including Etrigan, Madame Xanadu, Vandal Savage, Shining Knight and more for some incredibly epic sword and sorcery adventures.
Like most of the New 52, “Demon Knights” is about to enter its second year as it spins out of of a game-changing arc that saw the team join forces with King Arthur himself, only to get sent to Hell by Etrigan. Following September’s #0 issue, readers will rejoin the team as they encounter Lucifer in Hell.
Cornell spoke with CBR News about the latest events in “Demon Knights,” featuring new ongoing artist Bernard Chang, the development of the fledgling DC Universe in Arthurian times, Etrigan’s relationship with the rest of the team and a hint of things to come in the Hell arc, including the title’s involvement in the mysterious “Black Diamond” story thread crossing through various DCU’s titles in November.
“Demon Knights” is about to hit the end of its first year, during the course of which you’ve introduced a lot of great material for fans of Arthurian legend. As the book progresses, how do you plan to continue to seed these concepts, if you plan to at all?
Paul Cornell: I think we’ve done our Arthurian bit for now. We’re moving into a Hell arc beginning with issue #0, which is the history of Etrigan versus Lucifer that stretches back a long way and goes into Etrigan’s origins before he was bonded with Jason. It indicates why Jason is a good fit for Etrigan, why there was that thought in Merlin’s head in the first place. From then on, we’ll be joining our heroes in Hell for an arc where Etrigan has sent them at the end of issue 12. I think it’s safe to say that’ll change the shape of things in the series for a very long time. It’s very hard to forgive your teammate deliberately destroying all of you and sending you to Hell.
In October, following the #0 issue, you’re taking the Knights to Lucifer’s realm to fight the man himself. The question now is — how much bigger can you really go?
[Laughs] Well, it’s not so much about fighting Lucifer; it’s about surviving Lucifer. Basically, what they can achieve while they’re there and how they can escape. A certain other faction gets involved, the identity of which I’ll remain secret on. We are coming to the mother of all gigantic supernatural battles, and in the middle of it all is the origin of the mysterious Black Diamond, which has appeared in solicitations in that same month across DC.
King Arthur had a pretty great introduction into the book and an even more incredible exit. Any chance he’ll return to the title following his epic sacrifice?
Given the fact that we’ve established that Arthur — I don’t think we’ve just killed King Arthur. I think one would expect to find him in Avalon and I doubt it’s the last we’ll see of him in this book. It is an Arthurian book and he does thread through and is important to everything we base this stuff on. So, no, I don’t think that’s the last time we’ll see him.
Considering that you’ve done some writing for “Doctor Who” over the years, it was interesting to see a version of the TARDIS’ bigger-on-the-inside concept in the recent arc. Was that deliberate?
[Sighs] People assume that was an in-joke, and I didn’t even think about it. If I’d realized that was “Doctor Who” reference, I’d have cut it out, to be honest. It just made sense and I needed it to happen and everybody’s been assuming it’s an in-joke. I’ve just been beating my head against the desk because I hate in-jokes. I hate them with a passion. They’re not actually jokes, they’re not funny. Oh dear! I kind of tripped over and accidentally made an in-joke. [Laughs]
“Demon Knights” is unique in that it’s one of the few books of the New 52 that doesn’t take place close to the present day. Last time we spoke, you mentioned readers might see more of a connection with the DCU proper in the second arc. Since then, one of the things that I picked up on as a reader was the Horsewoman’s connection to animals — was that a specific reference to the Red and what’s been established over in books like “Animal Man?”
Yes, very much so. The Horsewoman is in touch with The Red. That’s something that I hope can go forward and tie into the rest of the universe. Since none of this stuff happens in isolation, one’s editor has said yes to this and the universe is on board for that. It’s not that we get completely ignored and so don’t have an impact on the rest of the universe. So, yes, The Horsewoman is very much tied in to The Red.
It makes perfect sense when you look back and see her connection to horses, but it’s not something readers immediately pick up on. Are there more of these subtle connections to the modern DCU?
There are some just waiting to be told. Obviously, Savage goes straight through to the present day, and it’ll be interesting to see how his character changes across time. One of the difficulties in doing that with The Horsewoman is that she doesn’t know what it’s called. She has no cultural background to name it as The Red, so we had to describe it in quite some detail so the readers would get it, even though she doesn’t have the name.
Vandal Savage continues to be a hilarious character to read — and I’m sure he’s a joy to write as well.
Oh, he’s my favorite! [Laughs]
Will readers see how Savage builds relationships with people beyond the Demon Knights?
I think that in the Hell arc, people who are curious about Savage’s past and future are going to learn an awful lot of interesting things. We are going to meet some of his offspring — some of whom might be quite familiar.
Did you have any conversations with James Robinson about his work with the character for the recent “DC Universe Presents” arc?
Actually, no. Obviously, I was aware it was happening and knew the details, but none of those things were — actually, there are so many centuries between the two that we don’t really impinge on each other. We’re up stream, but at the same time, we don’t have to get in the way of anybody and nobody gets in the way of us. It’s nice when we can form connections. That’s one of the things I think the book is actually about, setting up the geography of the DC Universe right at the start.
In terms of Etrigan’s role, he turned very quickly from ally to what seems like an adversary. How will this shift affect his relationship with his teammates — especially Madame Xanadu?
He’s very much in charge of what happens to them when they arrive in Hell. He’s got a particular fate in mind for Xanadu. Etrigan doesn’t always think tremendously far ahead, but he’s got a rather big plan here. Arriving in Hell is not the end of the story as far as he’s concerned for his friends. He has a plan for what they’re going to do for him afterwards, and that plan is something he and Lucifer finally agree upon. One of the lovely things about getting that zero issue is that the zero issue really does feed in directly to the themes of the three issues that come afterwards. It’s not really an interruption — it gives you an awful lot of background detail ready for those three issues. The four of them will run really well together, I think.
One of the relationships we spoke about previously was that between Exoristos and Shining Knight. Now, there was a moment in the second arc where it seemed clear Ex has some kind of an attraction to the Knight. How will this get explored as the series continues?
Yes, we’re certainly going to continue to explore that. I was really pleased at the reaction to that moment, and that’s something we’re going to keep on exploring.
The book is also seeing the art duties switch from Diogenes Neves to Bernard Chang as ongoing interior artist.
Bernard Chang is now our regular artist and his Lucifer is just blowing me away. It looks different, but it’s refreshing, it’s in character with what Diogenes set up. I think it gives a whole new energy to the book and it’s really invigorated the Hell arc. His demons and his expressions, especially, his wonderful rolling-eye Merlin is terrific and his Lucifer — I keep having to avoid the impulse to give Lucifer a full-page spread when he appears because Bernard has all these wonderful details about him. I really love Diogenes, but I love Bernard equally. They’re very different, so it’s not as if they’re competing. It just adds a different flavor which I think is very welcome at this point.
In broad strokes, what can readers expect from “Demon Knights” as we head into year two?
Shorter arcs, a sense of movement and increasing velocity. We’re going somewhere with big character revelations in the near future, which I think will be a pleasure to some people in the audience. I’m very pleased with the audience reaction. I like the fact that people have got behind this as a team book, an anti-hero book and a fantasy book. We’re still around, we’re keeping on going. We’ve been told we’re not under threat of cancellation, which is a joy.
Beyond “Demon Knights,” you’ve also got a number of other projects on the burner, including “Saucer Country” for Vertigo. With the presidential election coming up in the US, are you planning to explore anything in that realm in the book?
Obviously, we don’t have the same president and the same election in “Saucer Country,” but we are going to very swiftly get to the presidential election. I think it’s the arc after next. It’s fun seeing Arcadia campaign. The three issue arc that comes after these two issues of background — #6 and #7 are two different background issues from two different points of view. #8 through #10 is an arc called “The Reticulan Candidate,” which is about the debate and the men in black. I’m very proud of that. It just cracks around and is a little political thriller full of UFOs.
Then, we’ll be looking into the history of Professor Kidd and the voyager couple that plagues him and maybe actually even getting to the heart of that and doing some revelations. Then, it’ll be the elections. It’s nice to have such a long-term plan in place. I think the election is going to bring a whole new dimension to that book. I’m really getting to tell the story I wanted to tell in so many ways. It’s just tremendous luxury to have all these talented people all on side for the same story. Getting people like Jimmy Broxton and David Lapham to do issues between the arcs is just terrific. I really couldn’t be happier with “Saucer Country.”
You’ve also got a prose novel coming out soon, correct?
Yes, “London Falling.” It comes out in Britain in December and in hardback in the states in April. It’s modern-day London and undercover cops encounter black magic and monsters and find themselves having to use real police methods against it. I’m very pleased with that. I’m hoping to finish my days as a novelist. Hopefully not soon, but that’s what I want to end up doing.
“Demon Knights” and “Saucer Country” are published now through DC Comics and Vertigo.
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