Thursday, September 1, 2011

Unpixelated Panels: Knight and Squire 1-6

Knight and Squire 1-6
Writer: Paul Cornell
Artist: Jimmy Broxton
Release Date: October 2010 - March 2011
Rating: 5 out of 5 Pixels

I could swear I'd seen this entire miniseries listed on Comixology, but I just checked now and all I can find is a ten-page preview of the first issue. This is a shame, not only because this is one of the most enjoyable miniseries I've read in a long time, but because it's a miniseries made up almost entirely of single-issue stories, which I think works really well for the digital format--for your buck ninety-nine, you get a complete experience. You'd enjoy it enough to want to buy the other issues, to be sure, but it's nice to feel like you've gotten your money's worth with just one issue. You wouldn't be happy, for example, if you bought a song on iTunes, only to find you really only got one-sixth of a song. You know you're getting only part of an album, but you expect to get an entire song. The problem with too many monthly comics lately is that they're not written like songs that are part of an album, but like parts of a single song.

Knight and Squire, refreshingly, does not have this problem. Each of the first four issues has a unique conflict that is resolved by the end of the issue, and even though issue five ends on a cliffhanger that leads into issue six, each of the two issues has its own definite beginning, middle, and end. At the same time, there are plot threads and recurring themes throughout the miniseries that tie all the stories together, so there is added value to listening to the album as a whole, as it were. This is how serial comics should be written, especially if they are to be sold as single units digitally whose ultimate destiny is not necessarily the trade collection.

And I haven't even gotten to what makes Knight and Squire truly awesome. The main characters, of course, are meant to be the British version of Batman and Robin, members of the Silver Age International Club of Heroes and reinvented by Grant Morrison in more recent years. Paul Cornell takes the Morrison version of the characters and makes them completely his own. The result is nothing like a Batman and Robin story--not even a British Batman and Robin story. Instead, it's a purely original story, both hilarious and touching, that delves into the world of British superheroes and supervillains, a world of crazy adventure and eccentricity, defined at the opening of the first issue as a mix of trade, hobby, and fetish. This is a world that at once emulates American superhero culture and rises above it, as would be expected of "stiff upper-lipped" Brits who are civilized enough to stop fighting at the end of the day and sit down for a drink with their enemies. As characters point out more than once, "It's complicated." Perhaps most impressively, this is a world populated by more than 130 characters who are unique creations of Cornell and artist Jimmy Broxton.

A few highlights of the series:

  • Text pages at the end of each issue explain the British references for readers who, "through no fault of their own... are from the colonies"... "(not that there's anything wrong with that)."
  • When a scientist brings Richard III back from the dead, he speaks in iambic pentameter, rhyming couplets, and spoken asides, just as he does when written by Shakespeare. (And then notes on his Twunter feed, "It is hard to fit rhyming couplets into 140 characters.")
  • Knight's butler, Hank Hackenbacker, is an American dressed in cowboy attire who speaks in some vaguely Texan/southern accent, to parallel Batman's butler, Alfred Pennyworth, a Brit dressed in formal attire who speaks in some vaguely British, equally stereotypical accent. 
  • When Squire gets in a fight with her new boyfriend, the word balloon for each of them reads "<Captain Haddock Style Swearword Icons.>"
  • One of the 130+ new characters created for this miniseries is Birthday Girl, a superheroine who fights crime in the nude, surrounded by conveniently placed "modesty balloons." I especially love that when Birthday Girl is speaking to Knight and Squire via the large-screen video phone that all superheroes use rather than conventional phones, a black box with the word "Inappropriate" covers her breasts. Because of course any decent superhero would have censorship software installed on his video phone.
But the above bullet list doesn't fully capture Knight and Squire. Amidst all this wackiness and British humor, there are true moments of poignance, heroism, heartbreak, and introspection on both individual and cultural levels. To get the full experience, you'll just have to read the miniseries yourself. Hopefully it will be made available digitally, to make it easier for you to do so.

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