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THE BAT SIGNAL: Paul Cornell

by  in Comic News Comment
THE BAT SIGNAL: Paul Cornell

Paul Cornell explored the DCU version of Britain in “Knight and Squire”

Paul Cornell, DC Comics’ newly signed exclusive writer, already has a surprise hit on his hands with his Lex Luthor-led run on “Action Comics.” Next up for the veteran BBC television writer is his shot at the Batverse, and what better way for Cornell to get his feet wet than writing a six-issue miniseries, featuring the British version of the dynamic duo: Knight and Squire.

Created by Win Mortimer and Ira Schnapp, Percival Sheldrake debuted as the Knight in 1950’s “Batman” #62. Cyril Sheldrake – Percival’s son, the original Squire and the current Knight – made his first appearance in “JLA” #26 in 1999. This later version, created by Grant Morrison and Howard Porter, was most recently featured in Tony Daniel’s “Batman: Battle for the Cowl” and Morrison’s “Batman and Robin,” alongside his teen sidekick Beryl, the current Squire.

Cornell, the first person in the history of the Hugo Awards to be nominated for prose, comics and TV writing, previously previously wrote a Britain-based hero in his Marvel series, “Captain Britain and MI:13.” The third trade paperback of the series, “Vampire State,” was nominated for the Best Graphic Story of 2010. His “One of the Bastards is Missing” is also nominated this year for Best Novellette. In 2006, Cornell’s “Doctor Who” episode, “Father’s Day,” was nominated for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form. In 2008, Cornell was nominated again in the same category for his two episodes, “Human Nature” and “The Family of Blood.”

Cornell, who is joined by Jimmy Broxton as the title’s artist while Yanick Paquette provides covers, told CBR News he was delighted to be working with Britain’s answer to Batman and that the mini’s six stand alone stories will flow together to create a greater tapestry for Knight and Squire.

CBR News: Were you a fan of Knight and Squire before you landed this gig?

Paul Cornell: I was only familiar with them from “Batman and Robin,” but I went back and re-read all their previous appearances and wrote a kind of dossier of everything we knew about them. I’ve taken some liberties with that stuff, but stayed within what was actually said.

So now that your dossier is complete, what do you know about Britain’s dynamic duo? What are you most looking forward to exploring with them?

The Knight and The Squire are Britain’s central superheroes, legacy figures that are held in high esteem by the British hero community. I particularly like Cyril’s stoic awkwardness and the way practical, straightforward young Beryl, with her communication skills, helps him through some complicated situations. They’ve got a really nice brother and sister relationship going, and we’re going to get into that.

When this project was announced, you said you were delighted to be working in DC’s Britain. Beyond fictional geography, what separates Britain from the rest of DCU?

One of the things I love about the DCU is how locations have characters of their own. It’s clearly something that’s being stressed right now, above and beyond the usual Metropolis/Gotham dichotomy, considering The Flash and Green Arrow. So considering Grant’s pushing for the extraordinary in every previous Knight and Squire appearance, I decided that they wouldn’t live in a down to Earth, realistic Britain like I’d tried for in “Captain Britain,” but instead in an Avengers-style, archetypal – some would say stereotypical – Britain filled with wonderful, over the top, whimsical stuff, and that the stories would be told in the same way. Dick Van Dyke would feel right at home here. But we’re also showing modern British diversity. It’s all the merry England stuff with multi-ethnic participants, so that feels a bit different and new. Basically, if you took a scheduled flight from Gotham airport to Heathrow, somewhere halfway across the Atlantic you’d stop being penciled in a gritty, gothic way, and start looking forward to some jolly old surreal and bouncy adventures immediately upon landing, what?

You had me at Dick Van Dyke! Along that same line, how important is it to you to make this a uniquely British book while knowing full well the majority of your readers will be American?

Well, it’s a fine line. I think this Britain is actually far more familiar, in a lot of ways, to American readers than it is to British ones, because the archetypes persist overseas. To balance that out, there are deeply layered British references, all stuff that the casual reader won’t notice. It’ll help your enjoyment if you know about Ernie, the Fastest Milkman in the West, but it won’t hinder it if you don’t.

Can you share any details about the miniseries, story-wise? Does the story set anything up for a second miniseries or an ongoing series?

They’re six one-off stories, which become connected towards the end. The first three include a tale of the London pub where superheroes and supervillains have met under a truce every month, going back centuries; the attack of the Morris Men, a bunch of West Country cider-drinking fascist ninjas; and the Richard III Society cloning their favorite monarch, who turns out not to be the lovely King they envisage, but instead exactly like Shakespeare’s villain. And he talks in iambic pentameter. And he clones an army of all the worst British monarchs and they set about conquering the country again largely through means of social networking sites.

No, I can’t quite believe they’re letting me do this, either. And no, we don’t set up anything further.

Are we really going to get to see Ernie the Milkman fighting a dinosaur in a suit, in a pub?

Yes, we are. James – he says I may call him, James – is doing this incredible, detailed, artwork with all these little visual jokes in the background. You’ll just be amazed by when you see it. It looks very British, very superhero, a bit cartoony when it wants to be, and very classic and classy, all at the same time. We’ve said we’ll create exactly 100 new British heroes and villains for this title – my aim being to make the creators of the DC Encyclopedia have to create a
British volume – and he keeps adding new ones in the corners. “That’s Hammer and Tongs,” he’ll say.

And the covers are lovely, and sort of “Prince Valiant,” and give what we’re doing this entirely different dimension. I’ve kind of talked up how silly this all is, but in a very British way, it’s also deeply serious at the same time. I think it’s some of my best comics work, and everyone else is just bringing this incredible game to it.

Before we let you go, can you shed some light on what’s ahead for Lex in “Action Comics”? We know is Death is coming to town.

She certainly is, and after that, if there is an after that for Lex, it’s Vandal Savage and our “Secret Six” crossover. We also have a couple more surprises ahead.

“Knight and Squire” #1, written by Paul Cornell and featuring art by Jimmy Broxton, is scheduled for October 13.

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