Knight and Squire #1 review

October 18th, 2010

knight-squire-iPaul Cornell and Jimmy Broxton

As a British fan of Morrison’s bat-run I was always going to pick this up, and on the whole I’m glad I did. Much has been made of the over-abundance of British cultural references and idiomatic turns of phrase by my American chums, which comes as no surprise given that Cornell’s attempts to paint DC-UK as exotic even forced me to stop and think about some of the dialogue, and that’s despite the glossary at the back of the book. To some extent I feel for those who struggled, this self-evidently isn’t a comic for everyone. If you’re not an anglophile or a Brit who’s prepared to weather what could reasonably described as Cornell’s heavy handed approach to British cultural representation then this isn’t the comic for you. This first issue also isn’t a book for those who want a lot in the way of plot, and what little there is it at least as concerned with servicing Cornell’s primary aim, introducing a milieu, as it is with moving the Knight and Squire’s story forward.

With the above caveats in mind, it’s as an exercise in world building that the book worked for me. I liked the pub where Britain’s super-community meet, as a concept I think it has the scope to stretch out beyond its soapy roots (the British pub sits at the heart of the UK’s two favourite soaps, EastEnders and Coronation Street), and in this issue it served both as an efficient means of condensing the DC-UK fictional landscape and setting the light-hearted tone. I enjoyed the humorous character introductions even if I thought they lacked the creative electricity that a Moore or a Morrison would have imbued them with. Captain Cornwall made me chuckle (the very idea), and I particularly liked the Milk Man, who as a concept managed to straddle the line between being silly, cosily familiar and a bit weird in a satisfyingly pythonesque way (an adjective which could start to wear thin if we’re still trotting it out in two issues time, I grant you). I was also happy to see that Cornell, like Moore before him, is capable of using the more trainspottery elements to bolster his efforts. To have Jarvis Poker ‘the [Great] British Joker’ speak briefly in Polari brought the character to life in one panel thanks to the strong association between comedy, that opaque language of 50s gay culture and the shade of Kenneth Williams.

Broxton’s art, while failing to clearly communicate the mayhem and action towards the end of the book was articulate enough to convey everything that Cornell needed to get across, and managed to be just cartoony enough to reinforce the book’s general feeling of warmth. It’s tricky to do a bar-room brawl and it’s tricky to design and draw a comic that’s heaving at the gutters with new characters. If that sounds like I’m damning him with faint praise that because to some extent I am, but I’m also prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt at this very early stage. As I’ve noted above, this wasn’t a remotely plot heavy issue, and was mainly built from panels introducing new characters and concepts, as a consequence we’ll see how Broxton fairs when he needs to push the story uphill rather than link up a bunch of largely disparate elements in an anarchic pub.

If I have any big worries for this book they’re around the idea that “moderation” is a concept on which to build a superhero comic. Cornell goes to great pains to set-up this idea: the very notion that supervillains and superheroes would share the same drinking establishment requires it*, as does the woolly subplot where a young turk has to choose which side of the hero/villain divide he will stand, as if he were choosing between apples and oranges. While I think moderation has its virtues, and I can see why someone might want to sell it to an American audience (sorry, Americans), moderation isn’t the bedrock of entertaining popular fiction, quite the opposite, and as a guiding principle it runs the risk of feeling very forced. This first issue could afford to be quite self-aware, in fact it benefitted from it, but the same approach might become more of a problem down the road, especially if the plot is unduly effected by such meta-texual concerns, and particularly if those concerns are antithetical to drama.

*At least it does in so far as Cornell’s vision for the pub goes.

I hereby award this comic three brains out of five

22 Responses to “Knight and Squire #1 review”

  1. Botswana Beast Says:

    The moderation thing is just – I really liked it when Captain Britain appeared in MI-13 and fucked up some Skrulls and said “We’re British. We don’t like to make a fuss.” I was totally onboard with that, I really hate making a fuss, but as a resident of one of the colonised extremities of the UK find ‘Britishness’ a hard – if not wholly objectionable – thing to really feel and identify with most of the time. I definitely wasn’t feeling it here, though I’ll give it another ish or two (the pub is also apparently a RL analogy to some seekrit Brit comics people pub, TBMD might know what one), just felt narked with the whole thing really.

  2. Marc Says:

    I thought the biggest problem with this issue (which I just read today so I’m still coasting on a good head of steam, sorry) was that in the first issue of a comic called KNIGHT AND SQUIRE, Cornell tells a story about neither the Knight nor the Squire. He ignores all the things Morrison has built up around them, all the things we love about them, all the things that got them their own series in the first place, and tells a story about Shrike (who doesn’t get a name until several pages in) and Captain Cornwall’s son and the magical pub they frequent and its broad but remarkably unimaginative cast of characters. Knight and Squire are guides at best, and even there they get upstaged by Jarvis Poker.

    I also can’t say I was too charmed by the milieu. If the pub had just been a place where heroes and villains called a truce and shared a drink I could see the potential, but like countless DC writers before him Cornell had to go and ontologize what had been a perfectly workable premise. (Just as the Speed Force will always be vastly inferior to random combinations of lightning and chemicals, yes?) If you really want to establish that the British costumes are different from American ones, how about depicting them as professionals who follow a tradesman’s code, not just the same lot of brawlers and psychotics whose lust for violence is only held in abeyance by a plot device? (Of course, if you did you would have to come up with a different story, and that story might run the risk of being about one of your nominal protagonists, and apparently we can’t have that.) I didn’t see anything moderate about the direction Cornell took here. Tepid and halfassed, perhaps, but not moderate, and not nearly as different from the DC norm as he makes it out to be.

    As for Broxton, I can’t give the benefit of the doubt to an artist who shows absolutely no grasp of layout or storytelling but still takes the time to sign every. fucking. page.

    Someone out there can produce a great comic about Knight and Squire, but this wasn’t it.

    Enough about this cheap knock-off… what about Return of Bruce Wayne #5? Completely redeemed the last couple of issues, I thought, and really got me looking forward to the end of the Hurt story. A lovely piece of work by Morrison.

  3. Zom Says:

    I thought about mentioning the lack of focus on K&S and perhaps I should have done – at the very least it’s an interesting choice. Didn’t bother me though. British comic creators, particularly when focusing on Britain or producing comics for a primarily British audience, have pumped out a lot of books where the milieu has been at least as much the star as the lead character(s). There’s a lot of reasons for this ranging from the way the UK is routinely exoticised in US comics to perhaps a strongly felt urge to claw back some cultural territory. Maybe Brits just put more stock in ideas like society and community.

    I take your point about the magic pub, particularly about how a social compact could have been used to reinforce the themes, but I like the idea of good and evil sharing the same space. I think you could have a great deal of fun with that, and I think the magical element means that you could do things with the pub as a narrative device that could be very enjoyable*. I’m not sure that Cornell is going to go to those places though.

    *I’m not sure I trust Cornell’s approach to magic full stop, as he has a tendency to treat it like any old technology

    Amy has already complained that Cornell’s self-professed humorous approach could be a big mistake in that it’s quite a narrow way to tackle the material. Apparently a comment exchange with Cornell over on… can’t remember where… didn’t do anything to assuage Amy’s worries. Based on Amy’s report of that conversation I’m not sure that Cornell’s definition of humour, in this instance, includes shows like The League of Gentlemen, which if true strikes me as a very big mistake.

    Broxton signed every page? I knew I should have had the issue in front of me when I was reviewing it. That’s just embarrassing. What a prat.

    RoBW 5 was great and went a very long way to healing the wounds left by 4.

  4. Carey Says:

    “Broxton signed every page? I knew I should have had the issue in front of me when I was reviewing it. That’s just embarrassing. What a prat.”

    That’s a bit harsh– are you saying that artists should go back to anonymity and that all art should be considered the product of the company? Ok, a straw man argument there, but to call someone ‘embarrassing’ and a ‘prat’ for having the audacity to sign their name on their work is a a bit strong. Broxton signed and numbered every page in many different and creative ways and as a joke, from hiding his name on whisky bottles to having it as the make of cricket bats. It’s not as if he’s put a signature at the bottom of every page in exactly the same place.

    I can’t help feeling everyone is being unduly harsh on Cornell’s take on Knight and Squire. Firstly, it was fun, which is something more comics should strive for. Secondly, in the same week that a large “FUCK” was deleted on a DC splash page, he works in so many euphemisms under the eyes of DC editorial that I lost count, which is, rather like Broxton’s signatures, lovingly subversive.

    Finally, as I posted in the comments over at the Graphic Content blog, Cornell seems to use Knight and Squire number 1 to directly address the cultural effect that America has had on the UK since at least the second world war, and the prevalence for UK culture to pick up on these trends and turn them into something of their own. Knight and Squire also seems to comment on the mindset of working for DC and Marvel over more ‘personal’ work, represented by the new superpower in the pub, with his choice being whether to be angry about being ‘forced’ to conform to industry standard embodied by the Faceoff guy, and the father and son super-team) or to take the tropes inherent in the genre but forge a new take upon it. Jarvis Poker the british Joker, a melancholy clown in the British tradition if there ever was one, makes comments that reminded me of Tony Hancock’s summation of Kenneth Williams, and I definitely read Jarvis’ voice as ‘the Lad.’

    It does come across that the main complaint over Knight and Squire is that it’s not Grant Morrison’s Knight and Squire, which is surely a good thing, as this is Paul Cornell’s take on the subject. It’s not the best comic in the world, I’d agree, but it for me it feels like it’s trying to funnel the Viz culture of British comics at a presumably bemused American audience, which shouldn’t be something that’s complained about.

    And it calls Paul McCartney evil, which should aways be applauded. We all know that Ringo was the best Beatle.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    There was something definitely pleasing about the world-building stuff, but the deficiancies in basic storytelling really harmed the issue towards the end.

    One complain is that all the heroes had something stereotypically and more worryingly parochialy British about them. Odd choice, as it leaves all these bright new characters completely marginalised and basically unworkable by American creators.

    That said, I like the ambition of the issue at least. Too busy to be a decent K&S story as Marc stated, but a fun attempt at something good.

    Noble failure? I’ll give issue 2 a try for sure.

  6. The Beast Must Die Says:

    Dammnit, that was me! Stupid work computers…

  7. Zom Says:

    …are you saying that artists should go back to anonymity and that all art should be considered the product of the company? Ok, a straw man argument

    Yup, straw man argument. Of course I’m not bloody saying that. And yes I do think that signing every page, in a book for which you have a credit – a point which is rather obviously integral to my thinking – is embarrassing.

    I take your points about Cornell’s plea for moderation being in some way a response to the effects of American culture on British art, although I’m not sure I approve of Cornell’s execution. I’m also not sure that Cornell isn’t fighting a straw man of his own, although I grant you that he almost certainly knows more about the pressures of the industry than me.

    I don’t care whether or not he’s doing Morrison’s K&S, I just hope he’s doing good K&S, and although I liked the first issue my inner jury is still out.

    TMDB, many of the characters introduced are very parochial, and yeah it does make them pretty much unusable post Cornell, but that’s also part of their charm.

  8. The Beast Must Die Says:

    Mmmm…sort of.

    wouldn’tit be better if he created a stable of characters with wider appeal than a one’panel joke appearance?

    I did like the over-abundance of silly colourful characters, it’s just that they could have still had a bit of intrigue, nay even , menace about them. Cornell could have channelled that pure English pop weirdness that permeates the Avengers (the real one, not the super-jocks) and the Prisoner, Doctor Who and even, as you say, The League of Gentlemen. And it would have been better.

  9. Zom Says:

    Oh yeah, definitely to all of that. That was absolutely in my mind when I wrote about Cornell’s bit-part players not having the electricity of Moore or Morrison’s.

  10. Carey Says:

    “Yup, straw man argument. Of course I’m not bloody saying that. And yes I do think that signing every page, in a book for which you have a credit – a point which is rather obviously integral to my thinking – is embarrassing.”

    But why? I wasn’t even aware of it when I first read it, and only became so because of internet comments– sometimes it’s obvious, and sometimes incredibly subtle (and sometimes obscured by the speech balloons, so it’s not as if there’s a Broxton or Brox on every page). It’s also accompanied by a hidden page number on every page– is that embarrassing too?

    And further to you aying that he already has a credit in the opening page, does that mean that if an artist draws a cover that contains his name he shouldn’t similarly sign his name on the cover?

    Sorry, but I simply can’t understand the venom in your original statement (not so much the use of embarrassing, but going so far as to call the artist a prat), hence my possible over-reaction in return. Hiding your name on every page is simply an artistic trick similar to artists hiding a word on ever page– anyone remember the X-Men issue with sex hidden on ever page? Or Neal Adam’s infamous “Steranko Effect” gaseous lettering?

    Maybe it’s just me: I’ve spent a career as an artist in licensing where my name cannot be signed.

    Finally, I quite liked the parochialism in Knight and Squire. It was silly, and we should always take the opportunity to be silly when given the chance.

    Anyway, i always enjoy reading your articles on the Mindless Ones blog, so no hard feelings, I think we must simply agree to disagree, and discuss it further if we ever run into each other at Dave’s Comic Shop. I’m the one who’s usually with a dog.

  11. The Beast Must Die Says:

    Fight! With dogs!!

  12. Zom Says:

    As you’re an artist I can see how this could be a sore spot for you.

    I’m not really sure that the sex thing bears comparison. It was supposed to reinforce the sexual energy of the book. Broxton… well… I just don’t know what Broxton was trying to do, but it struck me as overkill basically, born out of a next to unknown creator’s desperate and desire to stamp his ownership (not literal) all over the work. Hence “prat”, which really wasn’t intended as harsh criticism, but appreciate that no-one other than me was to know that.

  13. Zom Says:

    I appreciate that I might be building my own straw man here, but I’m very unsurprised that his signatures have received the negative reaction they have.

  14. Carey Says:

    “Fight! With dogs!”

    My dog’s a coward who mainly likes to bark at the passing students in Dave’s.

    “I’m not really sure that the sex thing bears comparison. It was supposed to reinforce the sexual energy of the book.”

    From everything I’ve read about Ethan Van Sciver since, it comes across more as a simple F*** you to Marvel than anything more sophisticated.

    “It struck me as overkill basically, born out of a next to unknown creator’s desperate and desire to stamp his ownership (not literal) all over the work.”

    But isn’t that how Morrison became so well known in the US, by literally placing himself at the centre of the stories he was telling? Okay, Morrison was (and is) far more sophisticated, but the principle is the same. Personally the Broxton signatures reminded me more of how the 2000ad artists used to place themselves in their work (usually as robots) back in the late 70′s or early 80′s. I always loved stuff like “Brother O’Neil” appearing in the background of Nemesis the Warlock, or my personal favourite, Brian Bolland drawing Judge Cal to look like Pat Mills. For me, this is the same sort of playfulness.

    But yeah, I may have over-reacted– sorry about that.

  15. bobsy Says:

    ‘Prat’ is about as inoffensive an insult as you can have. ‘Pranny’ is maybe weaker still, but there are few others. The way Reg Presley uses ‘pranny’ in The Troggs Tapes make it my favourite insult, but it’s still not exactly a cutting one.

    The signing thing, because I’m not inclined to worry about it too much, is something that I can forgive easily enough. But if you start to dwell on it, and allow yourself to entertain thoughts like ‘Spend less time signing each page, more making the panels flow together properly’ then the red mist could soon rise.

  16. bobsy Says:

    I’ve seen The Man With The Dog in the shop before. I’ll say hi next time.

  17. The Beast Must Die Says:

    No, agreed, the signing thing doesn’t matter, but as you say Bobsy, the fundamental weakness of the storytelling at vital parts of the story really harmed it’s dramatic thrust.

    That said, his chunky, cartoonish style was pleasingly different. He has room to grow.

    Nice and colourful too.

  18. Zom Says:

    Admittedly Scriver’s “sex” graffiti didn’t bring much to the book, and whatever his motivations in retrospect it seems a little hamfisted, but it did fit with Morrison’s professed intent and the rude energy Frank injected into the book, so I don’t have a problem with it. But, come on, Morrison inserting himself into Animal Man, even if it was born of the same youthful impulse, was an entirely different thing in that the net effect was beneficial to the work. The net effect WAS the work, in many ways.

    I don’t think Broxton signing the book is a “problem”, I don’t think that it damages the comic, I just find it slightly silly and cringe-worthy. But yeah, again, I appreciate that I might be being unfair.

  19. Marc Says:

    Carey: I would say the biggest problem isn’t that it’s not Grant Morrison’s Knight and Squire, but that (so far) it isn’t anyone’s Knight and Squire. Although that said, I would much rather read Morrison’s Knight and Squire, or even some subcontractor’s imitation of the same, than whatever Cornell seems likely to offer at this point.

    (He has Beryl talking about her communications “powers”! And yes, it’s meant to be a metaphor, but the simple fact that he would conceptualize everything about these characters in terms of superhero genre conventions gets to the heart of what was wrong with this issue.)

    Zom: I also like the idea of good and evil sharing the same space–or of a superhero comic built around a community where good and evil aren’t such stark absolutes. But basing the milieu around the magical (as in, plot-warping) device that makes it possible just undercuts all the ways Britain and the pub are supposedly different from America. He hasn’t created a community so much as a gallery of thinly drawn cliches, and then he knocks over the one thing (other than parochialism) that sets them apart.

    On a related note, it’s instructive to see how Morrison can take a similar collection of English stereotypes and imbue them with real drama, real menace, and a sense of shared history with just as little space. Whether they get screen time like the Pearly King or just a name like Dai Laffyn or the Metaleks, they all seem to have an existence beyond the in-joke.

    As for Broxton signing the pages: I think what rankles is that he’s busy taking victory laps while he’s coming in dead last.

  20. Zom Says:

    I don’t think it undercuts all the ways. They do have to share the same space as each other – tolerate each other – which strikes me as a baseline issue. If British villains were all Jokers I can’t imagine the idea of a shared space ever getting off the ground, magical doohickey or no. However I take your point that a social compact is inherently more nuanced, and, I would’ve thought, fraught with drama, after all with a social compact you’re always waiting for someone to break it, or bend it to their advantage (although the same could be said of a magic pub).

  21. Werdsmiff Says:

    I have to agree with Zom’s reservations – it was enjoyable enough, but felt very safe and lightweight. Maybe the done-in-one nature of this issue is meant to introduce the milieu before setting up larger stories, but the constant foregrounding of “moderation” makes me worry that we won’t get anything high-stakes or exciting in future issues.

    There’s a lot of elements in British culture that dwell upon paranoia and hidden conspiracies: The Prisoner, Edge of Darkness, Ian Sinclair, David Peace, Luke Haines/Black Box Recorder, the government stuff in Moore’s Miracleman run, the Outer Church’s royalty/aristocracy connection in “The Invisibles”. A comic about Brit heroes drawing on those themes is something I’d like to see, at least more so than the stuff we got in this issue.

  22. Illogical Volume Says:

    Finally read this today and, well… you can say what you want about it, but it’s no Knights of the Realm.

    Was reading it right after the new BatRob a mistake? Yes. Yes it was. Like eating a jelly burger after munching down the real thing.

    But is there any meat left on the jelly cow? I’m worried, but I might come back for another nibble, if only to see if I can taste those three jelly brains…

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