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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Review: Batman: Knight and Squire

Due to my review backlog, it's been a while since I actually read the work I am about to review. Thankfully enough, it was pretty memorable. Batman: Knight and Squire, written by Paul Cornell with art by Jimmy Broxton, is a six-issue miniseries telling of the adventures of Batman and Robin's British counterparts. You've got Knight, a.k.a. Sir Cyril Sheldrake, and his lovely sidekick Squire, a.k.a. Beryl Hutchinson. Both are legacy characters, in that Cyril's father and grandfather both previously bore the title of Knight, and Squire inherited her own title from Cyril and Cyril's father. As a side-note, the only place that Batman appears in this book is on the front page- in the title. Otherwise, despite getting the umbrella title, the Dark Knight is nowhere in sight in this book. But a certain other character in the Batman mythos shows his face in the latter stages of the story.

Superhero shenanigans in England are a bit more off-kilter than they are on our side of the pond. Firstly, you've got a bar where both English superheroes and supervillains meet to shoot the breeze, guaranteed by "truce magic." Then there's the Morris Men, portrayed as ninja-like troublemakers, and Jarvis Poker, the British Joker, and the various other superheroes who patrol England. These include Salt of the Earth, Milkman, and Squire's new boyfriend, reformed villain Shrike. At first, all seems well in merry England... but not for long.

Batman: Knight and Squire is built largely on humor and zany action-adventure. Every other panel has a throwaway gag involving some obscure British pop-cultural reference, helpfully explained at the end of each issue. Most of the stories don't take themselves too seriously. As it progresses, however, the series slowly eases out of humorous antics into more serious territory, with everything coming to a crescendo at the end of the second-to-last issue. The whole series is a homage to and reconstruction of goofy Silver Age yarns, before doing a 180 into a grim-and-gritty, high-stakes crime thriller. If this sounds jarring and abrupt, fear not, gentle reader. While there is a significant tone shift after issue five, the characters maintain their personalities, communicating to the audience (metaphorically, of course) that they're just as surprised and confused about the sudden turn of events as they are.

Knight and Squire's London is much more equivalent to the Gotham City of Batman '66 than to anything else. The titular characters of the book are local celebrities who routinely appear on TV talk shows and are featured in the tabloids. Likewise, supervillains do little in the way of actual crime, with even the most preeminent among them, such as Jarvis Poker, pulling little more than harmless pranks. Supervillains can be found hanging out in convenience stores while Beryl grabs a magazine. Cyril dates pop stars, consulting with his American butler Hank after a breakup. It may sound a bit surreal, but on reading it, it is actually quite amusing.

My favorite installment in the series was definitely issue three, in which scientists use cloning technology to resurrect Richard III, who promptly starts speaking in iambic pentameter before embarking on a plot to conquer England through... Twitter? Well, they don't actually call it "Twitter," but still, it's pretty funny. It's madcap fun like this that reminds me of what Booster Gold needs to be more like, or of what I'm sure Justice League International was like, or even of what Silver Age Superman was like. Honestly, I'm surprised that Chris Sims isn't all over this book. This particular brand of comic book adventure is just the sort of thing that will appeal to fans of Doctor Who and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Incidentally, Paul Cornell actually wrote a few episodes of Doctor Who.

To summarize, Batman: Knight and Squire is an eccentric, fun-filled romp through British pop-culture which any anglophile will appreciate. Oddly enough, however, one of my only two real complaints is that it relies on its British pop-culture references a little too much. My other complaint is that the ending is a bit too abrupt and unresolved, like they were trying as quickly as possible to wrap the story up. Even one more issue to stretch things out would have made things a bit better. But as it is, it's a fun little story which showcases two of my favorite minor comic book characters. Tally ho, gents!

RATING: 7.5/10

Image courtesy of amazon.com