Cornell Rides with the "Demon Knights"

Writer Paul Cornell readies the "Demon Knights" for their next adventure

It's been nothing but an adrenaline rush so far for the cast of DC Comics' "Demon Knights." Series writer Paul Cornell, alongside artist Diogenes Nieves, has put the rag-tag cast of Jason Blood/Etrigan, Madame Xanadu, Vandal Savage, Shining Knight, The Horsewoman, Al Jabr and Exoristos through their paces in the superhero sword and sorcery book with everything from trebuchets and explosions to magic and -- dinosaurs?

Beginning with "Demon Knights" #1's cliffhanger and progressing through #3, the Demon Knights fought dinosaurs and dinosaur-riders, something Cornell mentioned burgeoned from "a very wise DC edict." "Honestly, I don't think it needed saying to any of us, but it was good to hear it said: 'You're going to need the most enormous cliffhanger at the end of your issue one. Think of whatever you're thinking of and double it,'" Cornell recalled. "I knew something had to magically burst into that inn, and I said, 'Dinosaurs!' [Editors] Matt [Idelson] and Chris Conroy actually said, 'Really? Dinosaurs?' 'Yes! Dinosaurs!' because dinosaurs and magic and warriors and knights! It's everything fun in one place."

When CBR News previously spoke with Cornell about "Demon Knights," he referenced his love for "The Magnificent Seven" and "The Seven Samurai," something he said will continue to apply to the book moving forward. "Those two movies are two of my favorites. They're not quite duplicates of each other. 'Magnificent Seven' does do shot-for-shot on 'Seven Samurai' in some places, but I think it also brings interesting stuff of its own to the mix," the writer said. "I was just so caught up and still am in the romance of that kind of heroism. It's a story that works whenever you tell it. It's not quite the same. The ending is quite different and I think it's more of a play on that shape of story than anything else. We're still working through that but I think people who have chimed into that's what we're doing will find the ending surprises them, hopefully."

"Demon Knights" takes place after the fall of Camelot, and its effects will continue to be felt in the book and in the greater vestiges of the DC Universe -- something Cornell mentioned readers are beginning to pick up on. "That's kind of the underlying structure we've put into the DC Universe here -- what Camelot's about, what it means for the future as well as the past," the Cornell told CBR News. "I think people are already picking up on various clues we've dropped, both here and in 'Stormwatch.' That's very gratifying when people see what you've put down and pick it up, especially when it's a little hidden. I like to place things to give readers the opportunity to do a little detective work. I hang out silently on virtually every forum there is and they're doing really well. That's a joy to see."

As for the Demon Knights themselves, Etrigan looms large in the role as the team's leader -- but according to Cornell, it's a job the demon neither wants nor needs. "As far as Etrigan's concerned, he doesn't have a leadership role," he said. "He would want to get away from all of this as soon as humanly or demonly possible. He just wants to get away. If it wasn't for Xanadu, he immediately would. It's the fact that she, Jason and he are in this complicated love triangle that really just keeps him pinned there. That's going to become more and more difficult and more and more of an engine that we'll get drama out of."

The writer further elaborated on the relationship between Etrigan and Xanadu, comparing the demon to a put-upon husband. "I really like the Etrigan/Xanadu dynamic," Cornell said. "I think her practicality and his -- he's also very practical in that he thinks of nothing but himself. I've kind of determined that he is at no point going to soften up. He's attracted to her and finds himself rather against his will doing what she says purely in order to keep the relationship going. He's the most dangerous and selfish put-upon husband in history. It's only her enormous strength of character that's kept that going. Actually, the three of them have ground on each other and really hurt each other over centuries now. This is not going to end well. Marriage guidance is not going to be able to help them. There is no truth and arbitration commission that is going to be able to do anything about that threesome. I think that's our central relationship."

While Etrigan is the focus of the title, Cornell said there are other characters who continue to grow on him, most notably Vandal Savage. "I've become increasingly enamored of Vandal Savage as this title goes along," he said. "There's a major thing coming up for him in Issue #5, which will sort of clarify a little what people have been asking about how different he is from the Vandal Savage we're used to from the old universe. I find myself, as I should if I'm doing my job, favoring each of them in their own moments. They're all Mary Sues to me and that's how it should be. A blend of the old and the new, really. It's kind of hard because we've actually got eight characters in play. Jason and the Demon, I don't want to favor one or the other. Of course, Etrigan is the star of the book and as such is the pivot about which everything else moves, but as quite often in team books -- I think Joss [Whedon] found this in 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' -- your central character is in many ways, they don't get the interesting screen time, because the interesting screen time belongs to Spike over there in the corner, one quality one-liner. I'm trying to keep Etrigan edgy while having him at the center. That's a continuing balancing act."

While the first three issues focused more on the group as a whole, Cornell's balancing act tipped the scales in favor of Shining Knight in #4, in a mini-origin story with an appearance by Merlin, who Cornell hinted would be showing up again. "He's not going to be a regular fixture in the book but whether he's there or not is going to be a major thing for this bunch of people," the writer said. "Jason obviously, desperately wants him to come back and free him from this curse as he sees it. Merlin's a vital part of the DC Universe that we've set up here. It would be odd if he didn't appear in 'Demon Knights' again."

However, readers expecting to see a confirmation of Shining Knight's gender will likely be waiting for a while. "Obviously, the very first time we do a bath scene or anything like that, everybody will know -- no of course they won't!" Cornell said, laughing. "I think we'll just leave that in a nice grey area for now."

The writer's balancing act also includes developing the friendship between Exoristos and the Shining Knight, as well as bringing The Horsewoman into the central group. "I'm enjoying the Knight and Ex's friendship that's developing," he said. "We're going to have to bring the Horsewoman into the group at some point and have her set up some relationships within the group. The shape of this story means she's basically our Man with No Name, our Wolverine -- kind of on the outside of everything. After this arc, establishing relationships on the outside of the group is going to be interesting."

However, establishing friendly relationships within the group will be difficult for The Horsewoman as, at the end of Issue #4, she shot an arrow into Exoristos. "That's also going to have enormous ramifications," said Cornell. "All I can say is that it's not a dream and not an illusion. She really has shot her in the chest."

Cornell also hinted at the impact of "Demon Knights" in the rest of the DCU, referencing not only "Stormwatch," but "Grifter" and "Superman." "As we've seen at the end of the latest 'Stormwatch,' there's some 'Knights' impact out there in books like 'Grifter' and 'Superman' in the wider DC Universe," he said. "That's, I think, very welcome. We were linked with 'Superman' and 'Stormwatch' immediately because of that enormous alien horn. That was a very good feeling to be attached to the central DC Universe so strongly."

Although Cornell will be leaving "Stormwatch" with #6, he urged readers to continue with the title despite the change of creative teams. "There's one thing I should say is that an audience that's got used to the idea that a new creative team will come along and change everything and sort of re-invent everything and the previous version will be out the window, that's not what's going to happen here," he said. "There's a plan that we worked out for 'Stormwatch' and 'Demon Knights' and their meaning in the DC Universe. Whoever the regular writer of 'Stormwatch' turns out to be, the same editors are still in place and readers of 'Stormwatch' needn't feel like they have to flee because the direction of the title will be different. Obviously, it will be artistically different and they'll be doing an awful lot of different things in terms of telling, but what's being told will largely, in terms of continuity if you like, be the same. Whoever it is, I'm really hoping the audience will stay put and support them."

As for the Demon Knights, Cornell plans to bring them into less wide open spaces for the second arc. "It's going to be not as out in the wilds. It's going to be in a city," he said. "It's gong to be very character oriented and about the kinds of things one gets up to in a swords and sorcery city. So, street fighting and burglaries and dark doings under hoods and knives in the back and that sort of thing. Some of my touchstones for this are games like 'Skyrim,' which I'm obsessed with right now. I think I'm about 300 hours in. Things like Barry Windsor-Smith's early 'Conan.' There's that wonderful 'Song of Red Sonja' where it's not a countryside fantasy, it's set in a town and the town just sparkles and looks brilliant. That's the kind of thing we'll be aiming for in the second arc. People who are looking for how these titles impact on the DC Universe, the second arc of 'Demon Knights' is where you should look because there will be stuff about the future."

"Demon Knights" #5 is on sale now.

Tags: dc comics, superman, new 52, etrigan, paul cornell, demon knights, mike choi, grifter, stormwatch, diogenes nieves

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