Following the news that DC Comics would be retooling its entire line of superhero titles in the wake of “Flashpoint,” the alternate-reality event miniseries in stores now, the first two weeks of June have seen a plethora of announcements for new ongoing titles, often grouped around a particular theme. One of the 52 new series launching in September is “Demon Knights,” written by Paul Cornell with art by Diogenes Neves for the “Dark” line of books. The series will star Jack Kirby’s Demon Etrigan leading a team of yet-unnamed heroes through Medieval Europe. Though DC has asked its creators to keep details very close to the vest at this early stage, CBR News spoke with Paul Cornell about what to expect from the series and how “Demon Knights” fits into the broader DCU.
CBR News: At the center of the title, you’ve got the Demon Etrigan. He’s a Jack Kirby character, and he’s been through some changes over the years. Is there anything you can tell us about your version of the character?
Paul Cornell: Only that people who know Etrigan of old will recognize lots and lots of things about him and Jason Blood. We come out of Camelot, we see some of the Demon’s origins. [Pause.] I’m not trying to conceal anything here, I think the fact that I’ve been told only a very limited number of things I can reveal will make people draw conclusions about the things I’m not revealing, but actually, loads of things I’m not revealing are exactly what you might expect, as well.
You mention that we’re coming out of Camelot. There were also Arthurian aspects in your “Captain Britain & MI-13” series…
Yeah, but we’re mostly set a long time after Camelot. When we’re talking about preserving the remains of Camelot, we’re not talking about the place, we’re talking about an attitude, a way of civilized life if you like.
Even given that it’s taking place so long after, do you see other Arthurian themes cropping up?
Yes. Ah, yes, there’ll be some of that. I love that.
The announcement also specifies it’s a team of heroes he’s leading, and I know Etrigan hasn’t always been a good guy. Can you elaborate on that?
Yes. And, you know, he’s what you might expect of the Demon. He’s not a thoroughgoing good guy by any means. He’s rather the opposite — he’s a demon! And it’s “The Magnificent Seven.” He’s got a team around him, of sorts. You know, I saw that movie again recently, having seen “Seven Samurai” many times, and I really got something from it, something I really want to do and tell. It’s not the obvious “Magnificent Seven” story that’s been retold so many times, although that always works. It’s more a certain attitude I want to bring to the book. People who play “Dragon Age,” who enjoy “Game of Thrones,” there’s a certain atmosphere, a certain passion, a characterfulness alongside lots and lots of bloodthirstiness, and emphasis on action. I think that mix is what we’re presenting here. There are a lot of surprises. It’s meant to be a big world you can buy into. If you’re a fantasy fan and have always kind of shied away from superheroes and don’t know where to start, you’ll find yourself in a familiar but hopefully not cliched world here. This is the kind of fantasy I like, and it’s the first time I’ve ever got to do this in comics. It’s not built on previous sword and sorcery in comics. It’s not built on Robert E. Howard, it’s built on George Martin — not that I don’t think Howard’s a wonderful writer.
From what I understand, the series is set in a Medieval era. Is there anything else you can tell us about the setting?
We are in the DC Universe. We are thus in the geography of the real world, but since modern-day DC Universe has some added countries, I’ve added some countries on the map which may or may not have survived into the present era. But there’s a logic to it. One of the great things about this book is that I get to do great big world building.
I would imagine that also gives you a bit more leeway, having this entire period to yourself, rather than the more integrated world of the present-day DCU.
Yeah, it’s lovely to have a sandpit, but this is integrated with some other DC titles in ways I will not go into. I think people will be surprised at how much this puts a piece of the jigsaw puzzle in place. At the same time, you can join this book without any knowledge whatsoever of the DC Universe, these characters, anything. It’s a recognizable… people who read their history will also recognize this Medieval Europe, but you don’t need knowledge of that, either, to be honest. [Laughs]
That sounds like something a bit up my alley.
Thank you. New readers, start here!
So what, to your mind, makes sword & sorcery and superheroes work so well together?
First, it’s not really been done tremendously before. There’s something about the individual sword & sorcery character that resembles a superhero anyway. Conan is pretty much a superhero, but we’ve just taken that one step further, bringing in a bunch of guys — some of them, longtime comics fans will recognize and by “guys” I certainly don’t just mean men — who have not only that warrior stance, or that magician stance, or that whatever stance, but also have the insignia of superheroes, the paraphernalia of superheroes. The presence of superheroes. Rather like those seven Japanese samurai, or those seven cowboys, when they walk into an inn, everybody looks at them. It’s like when Captain America walks into a bar. They’re not discrete. That’s what we’re playing here.
Right. Returning to this idea of Etrigan as a leader — I’m not exactly an expert on the character, but have we seen him act in a leadership role before?
Never really willingly. [Laughs] He’s not really willingly here, either!
What are the implications of his leadership style, particularly on the likelihood of any given member of his team’s chance of survival?
I think… that’s going too close to the characters for me to be able to talk about it successfully!
All right. I take it you’re not able to divulge who else is on this team?
Nope. Some of them will be big surprises, some of them are new characters. It’s a mix of established and new.
You’ve got Diogenes Neves on art. What does he bring to this type of story?
It’s this beautiful, widescreen stuff. It’s very European, and we’re trying to open it out and let him be a European artist. With detail, he tells so much on these big, beautiful canvasses, I’m just trying to give him space to perform. Ooh, it’s nice! [Laughs]
Great. Of course, “Demon Knights” is famously being launched as part of DC’s line-wide revamp. You’ve mentioned that it does play into other, current-day series, but what role does this series play in the broader DC tapestry?
Well, it’s part of the “Dark” line, so that’s again a certain attitude, which I very much enjoy. It’s quite a pleasure to cut loose and do some darker stuff. There’s a great risk of being adolescent when you go dark, and this isn’t that. This trying to make the rise of heroism more difficult because of the great horrors of the circumstances surrounding them. The seven Samurai live in a pretty pressurized and awful world of Medieval Japan. Feudalism, political repression, all that. The Magnificent Seven come out of rather straited circumstances-half the movie is about how poor they are. This is about heroism managing to survive amidst the horrors of the Medieval, which I think is brilliant because it sets bright things against a really dark background.
“Demon Knights” #1 bows in September as part of DC Comics’ line-wide relaunch.