Knight and Squire #6 sees the miniseries conclude with a story in which the titular heroes must do battle with the Joker — yes, the real one — who has kidnapped his English counterpart and forced him to help execute an apparently meaningless yet nonetheless highly dangerous campaign of murder and crime across the British Isles.
Whilst the issue is a perfectly serviceable story with some amusing lines, some inventive ideas and a neat twist or two, there’s a sense that it’s a step backwards into conventionality for a book that has so far thrived on offering a more original and unusual flavour than other superhero books on the stands. It’s certainly not a patch on the excellent previous issue, never managing to give this concluding instalment anywhere near the same sense of emotional weight and pathos as was achieved in that penultimate chapter.
Part of my disappointment with the issue probably stems from the fact that the emotional impact of the death of a fairly important character last issue is understated to the point of being virtually non-existent here. While I appreciate that Cornell is commenting on the unemotional “stiff upper-lip” qualities traditionally associated with the British national character, it might have been a little more enjoyable on a dramatic level for readers to be given more of a window into the Squire’s reaction to the death of her new boyfriend. Perhaps with a few more pages, Cornell might have been able to delve into her emotions in a little more detail — but as it is, we’re given a couple of hints of how she feels, but no real sense that the Joker’s murder will have any long-term effect on her. She’s even shown smiling happily in the final panel.
Another problem I have with the book is as much a technical one as anything else: in order to set up a trap for the Joker to walk into, Cornell has to force a certain character off the stage — but despite this person being one of the story’s key players, their absence isn’t noted by the rest of the cast until much later, after the Joker has been dealt with. It’s a problem that’s only obvious because the story draws attention to it explicitly on the final page — but having done so, it doesn’t offer a good reason as to why no-one would have wondered where the character was before. The problem is probably more down to the intricate plotting difficulties that come with having many characters converge on a single location than to any forgetfulness or neglect on Cornell’s part, but again, it’s a problem that possibly could have been addressed more elegantly if the story had a little more room to breathe.
Finally, the story is weakened by a sense that the issue’s major villain isn’t really going to get a comeuppance for his crimes, despite the heroes succeeding in outwitting and outmanoeuvring him. I don’t think it’s giving too much away to reveal that the Joker is ultimately apprehended, but his punishment is so vague and so slavishly obedient to the status quo that it makes me wonder whether Cornell might have been able to write a more satisfying story with a less well-known character that could actually undergo some real change as a result of being thwarted by the British heroes. Cornell has shown in this series that he’s no slouch at creating new characters, and while I can understand that bringing in a high-profile guest-star automatically adds a certain amount of reader interest, I can’t help but feel that an original creation (or at least a less prominent existing character) could have played the Joker’s role more satisfyingly.
I don’t want to sound too down on this book, as there are some powerful sequences–particularly one that comes towards the end of the issue, in which one of the book’s cast makes a supreme sacrifice for the good of the rest of the British heroes. It’s a moment that taps into the same sense of dignity and courage in the face of death that we saw exemplified by the cancer-stricken Jarvis Poker in issue #5, and it’s perfectly drawn by Jimmy Broxton, whose usual angular style and solidity gives way to a sketchiness and haziness that effectively foreshadows the climactic moment that comes at the end of the page.
However, for the most part this is merely a slightly-above-average story, told fairly well — and while that’s hardly the worst thing you could hope for from a superhero comic, it’s not up to the high standards set by the book’s previous issues.