“The Last of Camelot”
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artists: Simone Bianchi, Nathan Eyring (c)
Publisher: DC Comics
With the reader at their side, six knights outfitted in suitably battle-darkened, shining armor and wielding ornate swords and shields, charge into the opening two-page spread of Shining Knight #1. Toward them, from within the pages, rushes the enemy, a science-fiction menagerie of black-clad, laser-wielding aliens astride enormous worms, with razor-sharp teeth and multiple sets of eyes and legs. Titanic, boulder-hurling figures composed of bubbling green liquid bring up the rear. It seems the “dreamy piling up of weirdness and the impossible” Grant Morrison called superhero life in Seven Soldiers of Victory #0 has reached critical mass here in Shining Knight #1. The result is an explosion of bizarre images, alongside scarcely comprehensible lines like “It doesn’t look good. We made it into Castle Revolving, but I think we’re trapped in the catacombs of Oethanoeth”—which is delivered, incidentally, by a talking winged horse.
Morrison, the master of in medias res, gives little space over to exposition, leaving it instead to readers to orient themselves. This same frantic pace turned many Justice League fans off Morrison’s JLA: Classified #1, but the vertigo caused by the swirling motion of the plot is exactly where the pleasure of this book lies. Only after reaching the end does the cumulative effect of the rapid-fire scenes begin to register.
No sooner does Morrison name these warriors–the Knights of the Broken Table, composed of Gawain, Lancelot, Caradoc, Bors, and Galahad–than they become the second super team in as many issues to be annihilated. These heroes, however, survive a mere five pages, in comparison with the whole issue given over to the Seven (or rather Six) Soldiers of issue #0. As with the first set of ill-fated do-gooders, it is the Sheeda, this time hailing from the “far, unspeakable land of the vampire sun,” who vanquish the Knights. And with little fanfare (or transition) the story shifts to Sir Justin, the eponymous Shining Knight of the series, and his noble winged steed, Vanguard. The concept of the equine sidekick may seem familiar to readers of Geofrey Darrow's Shaolin Cowboy, the title of character of which also travels with a talking (or rather wisecracking) horse. A trend is afoot! Perhaps Marvel will strike back with Ultimate Mr. Ed.
Sir Justin spends most of the issue as a classic knight errant, roaming the Castle Revolving, a dark, constantly morphing space saturated in the same green, liquid glow that composed the giants of the opening battle. His quest is for the “inexhaustible cauldron,” which seems to be a sort of medieval Lazarus Pit with powers of healing and resurrection. Along the way, he battles zombie versions of King Arthur and other fallen knights; the Queen of Terror; and a “Fetch,” or shape-shifter disguised as a friend. Throughout these fell encounters, Justin takes several opportunities to verbalize in true Lord of The Rings–style grandeur: To zombie-Arthur he shouts, “Arthur? Stinking pile of rags and splints! My King fought on life’s right hand!” It’s a goosebumps-inspiring moment that immediately wins the reader over to the hero.
This is an origin issue, and the origin is duly recounted. In a desperate escape from the Castle Revolving, the wounded Shining Knight and his mount plunge through time and space to the streets of twenty-first-century Los Angeles. The reader shares this dazed descent, tumbling from the baffling world of the Sheeda to the more familiar streets of a contemporary American city. The depiction of a wide-eyed Sir Justin, surrounded by the L.A.P.D, serves as a reflection of the reader’s delighted confusion.
Italian artist Simone Bianchi ups J.H. Williams III’s ante in Seven Soldiers #0. The two-page spread that reveals the exterior of the Castle Revolving is a perfectly weird blend of architecture, organism, and spacecraft, reminiscent of the special effects in David Cronenberg’s films. Another highlight is the morphing of the Fetch into its true form: A bulbous, green eye emerges from a beautiful woman’s face, while the border between the two forms swirls like an acid trip. Bianchi’s work marks a welcome European stylistic incursion, one whose stage has been set by DC’s Humanoids imprint. European superhero art differentiates itself from the American variety with a more supple rendering of faces, lighter pencil work, and a finer, more painterly sense of shade. Bianchi’s compositional eye is wildly creative, particularly in the four panels depicting Sir Justin and Vanguard’s fall to Earth. Here, the moment of impact is frozen as it would be in a piece of church iconography.
As he often does, Grant Morrison has placed an apt motto for this issue in the mouth of one of his characters: “I took her on a little spin to the upside-down world, the topsy-turvy place.” This reviewer can’t wait to go again.
Wow. Just Wow.
Simone Bianchi creates a fantasy world more bizarre, organic, and alive than any I’ve seen in comics. Grant Morrison writes an origin for a hero pure, tragic, and rich with possibilities.
The Knights of the Broken Table, the greatest knights of Camelot, fight valiantly against The Sheeda, the alien invaders hinted at in Seven Soldiers #0. Neh-Buh-Loh, from JLA Classified, is also with the Sheeda. Just as in Seven Soldiers, the six heroes fall before the Sheeda. Camelot is destroyed. Europe begins its descent into the Dark Ages.
But Sir Justin, and his winged horse Vanguard, have sneaked into the Sheeda’s Castle Revolving. There they face the monstrous Queen of Terror, Gloriana Tenebrae. Justin strikes down long enough to go through the Undry, the Cauldron of Youth, into the waters that flow through time itself. Glorina jumps in after it. With no other escape, Justin and Vanguard follow.
They land in modern day Los Angeles. Vanguard dies on impact. Justin doesn’t speak modern English. He’s quickly arrested and taken to jail.
This story is especially tragic. It presents the death of a golden kingdom, once the hope for all mankind, contrasted with the extremely mundane, flawed, modern world. Justin is all that remains of an age of magic and wonder. And he’s the only one who knows about the great evil from that time that threatens to destroy us all.
I’d paged through Morison’s Seaguy, and I noticed some surface similarities between that story and this comic. Both stories had a pure-hearted hero in a age where heroism was dead/dying. Both heroes had a talking animal sidekick that drove aided and encouraged them. I’d like to read the whole story for a more thorough analysis.
I cannot accurately describe the feelings I get from Bianchi’s art. It truly does inspire a sense of wonder, history and life we never knew. There is magic in his work; Magic that cannot be duplicated anywhere else.
The only downside to this mini-series is the high standard it sets for the rest of the Seven Soldiers project.
Camelot has fallen at the hands of the invincible Sheeda, but young Sir Justin has one chance to avenge the Knights of the Broken Table. On his winged steed Vanguard, Justin has infiltrated the floating fortress, Castle Revolving. But a showdown with Sheeda queen Gloriana Tenebrae and a treachery most dear leaves Justin on the brink of weakened and demoralized, until he’s left with no choice but to escape into a river that flows through time.
Medieval stories, when they’re good, are remarkably good; when bad, likewise. With writer Grant Morrison at the helm, it’s not hard to guess which category Shining Knight would fall into. Morrison has mastered the tone and cadence of medieval speech, without relying on a bunch of “thees” and “thous,” the standard and superficial epoch indicator. Furthermore, upon arriving in present-day Los Angeles, Justin does not know (modern) English, which makes sense. For these strengths, it’s easy to excuse the anachronistic armor the knights wear, which falls in line with the convention of moving the Arthur legend several hundred years forward into the middle of the second millennium A.D. Plus, when the bad guys are using lasers, it’s easy to suspend disbelief.
The story itself is exciting, drawing on thematic staples of horror and fable but injecting strong characterization. Simone Bianchi’s art is a tremendous asset in this regard, as heroic glances and wicked grins boil with hidden passions. Bianchi’s art, too, is dark enough and realistic enough to convey the appropriate mood without falling into the popular mode of photorealism, which would work counter to the fantasy of Sir Justin’s tale.
If Shining Knight is an indicator of the other Seven Soldiers titles, Morrison’s ambitious project is golden. With two to three issues shipping every month, the quality of each series will have to be superb to justify the expense–but, with Seven Soldiers #0 and now Shining Knight #1 , Grant is two-for-two so far.
Shining Knight, the most conventional thing Grant Morrison has ever written, still blows the mind and makes one grin. Morrison takes the gist of the classic version of Sir Justin from Leading Edge Comics and adds his own madness.
The Sheeda-Side--which burn black with Celtic dark fey badness--snuff out the candles of Camelot home to one of the original super-hero teams: Arthur and his Round Table of Knights. I tend to distinguish Grant Morrison’s continuity as an entity far removed from the senseless chaos of DC, but Geoff Johns fans need not fear, yet. Given that time travel is involved, it’s too early to say how Shining Knight affects Sir Justin’s established history. The Shining Knight was found in a block of ice. He could still end up there when this component of the modular series’ ends. What’s rather fascinating however is how the end of Camelot which was never really fully detailed in comic books fits in with the Demon’s origins. Was Etrigan an ally of the Sheeda-Side? The ideas Morrison instills just swirl.
Morrison is a continuity maven, and there are little metal Easter eggs all through the book. The most notable though for fans of Dollar Spectaculars of the seventies is how he merges one of Arthur’s coolest knights with one of DC’s coolest knights. JLA Classified readers will be delighted to see a returning menace from that series, and by putting a vanquished villain into the timeline of Seven Soldiers, Morrison actually foreshadows that these beings that hunt the heroes can be defeated.
Another fiendish character Morrison dubs Gloriana Tenebrae. Morrison is no stranger to pop culture. His past work has been loaded with references to Doctor Who and The Avengers. Perhaps, he simply evokes Latin to imprint age and style to the Queen of Terrors, but can Morrison also through this name be alluding to horror maestro Dario Argento and his film Tenebrae?
Regardless of the references from pools that permit time travel to lanterns glowing green, Morrison just proves himself to be one damn good writer. The dialogue sings off the pages, and it takes on the period flavor without miring the speech. The theme of good versus evil of course is easy to see, but more importantly Morrison has not grown tired of this theme. He loves this theme, and his love for the theme shows. He doesn’t just let the theme lie there like carrion. He breathes into it with his own creations and fuses fantasy and science fiction together to create a theme-worthy craft that’s capable of carrying his story.
Simone Bianchi is likely unknown to American readers, but readers who have a broader palate are aware of Bianchi’s experience in European comic strips and comic books. His work here impresses with visceral fight scenes that nevertheless still radiate an ethereal beauty that fits with the time in which the battles take place. The colors enhance Bianchi’s atmosphere, and the art team inflate Morrison’s tale with the kind of majesty it deserves.
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