Friday, August 05, 2011

Batman: Knight and Squire by Paul Cornell and Jimmy Broxton

First introduced in a story called "The Batmen of All Nations", Knight and Squire are the British version of Batman and Robin. The Current Knight was once the Squire to his father, Percy Shelldrake, the Earl of Wordenshire. But when the first Knight was killed by his nemesis, Spring-Heeled Jack, Cyril became a drunkard and lost his fortune. He was only saved from disgrace when Beryl Hutchinson, a girl with powers of Communication, called him out on his behavior and undertook to rehabilitate him, by offering to become his baby sister.

Percy straightened up, found his own life and once more became the Knight, with Beryl as his Squire. Now the premiere superhero team of England, they fight various foes and keep England safe for all her people. This book collects issues of the six issue limited series.

In the first story, Knight and Squire visit "The Time in a Bottle", a pub where all of England's super heroes and supervillains are able to have a drink and hang out without having to fight and battle each other. A new supervillain, named Shrike, shows up, and Beryl offers to show him around the place and introduce him to the locals. A great deal of British Superheroes and Supervillains are introduced, from the British Joker (who likes the Joker's style, but never took to crime), the Milkman, the Professional Scotsman, Salt of the Earth, Captain Cornwall, and his sidekick, Cornwall Boy... along with a whole host of others. Prevented from battling by a spell cast by Merlin, what side will Shrike come down on when someone interferes with the spell and the entire tavern breaks out into violence? And can Knight and Squire sort out what happened and reinstate the status quo?

The next story takes Cyril and Beryl into Somerset to prevent the Morris Men from summoning aid from a alternate dimension to make a communist version of Britain a reality.

The third chronicles what happens when Britain's version of Star Labs, the Council for Organized Research, manages to clone Richard the Third and bring him back to life. But when Richard turns out to be exactly the villain that History and Shakespeare have painted him to be, and he repays the woman who brought him back by killing her and resurrecting six other Kings to help him take England by force! But Knight and Squire team up with Shrike and a few other heroes to defeat the formerly dead Kings to keep England free for its people!

Afterwards, the Shrike comes to visit Beryl. First, she shows him around the Castle, but when she outs the Shrike's real name as Dennis Ennis from Colchester, Shrike has a bad reaction, despite Beryl's already having told him her secret identity, and Cyril has to talk some sense into him. But when Cyril's suit of armor comes to life and thinks his body has been taken from him by an unknown intruder, can Beryl, Cyril and Shrike take it down without getting taken out themselves? And will Beryl and Shrike ever be comfortable with each other again after the things he's said?

The last two books are about Jarvis Poker, the British Joker, who learns that he is dying of cancer, and who, devastated at a life where only he has seemed to be the Joke, decides to go on a crime spree and go out in a big way. At first, Knight and Squire are puzzled as to what he is doing, but when Beryl susses out the reason for his "Crime Spree", they decide to go along with it, knowing that unlike the real Joker over in America, Jarvis isn't going to do anyone any real harm.

Until, that is, the American Joker, angry that Jarvis is stealing his thunder, comes to England to give his "opposite number" a hand, and also upping the bodycount to unheard-of levels. With Jarvis the unwitting accomplice in crime to the Joker, as well as prisoner of his more ruthless namesake's penchant for killing people, can he somehow work with Knight and Squire to bring the American Joker to justice, and what will take him first, the Joker, or his disease?

I remember that Batman of All Nations story, and as a devout lover of Britain, a British Batman was something I loved the idea of. Being that Britain tends to have less gun crime than America (we all know that Americans love their guns, but it's illegal for private citizens in Britain to own the sorts of guns that are responsible for much of the gun crime in America. Rifles and shotguns for hunting are okay, but not handguns and not automatic rifles.), so Knight can be less violent in the way he hunts crime and mostly use fisticuffs, and perhaps a lance once in a while.

What I really loved, though, were the Britishisms in every panel. Paul Cornell is British, and so he introduced everything British, with a slight twist. Instead of America's "Red Bull", Britain has "Red Gull" ("It already has wings!") and "Moomite" instead of that great (?) British spread, "Marmite" (it also recalls Moomins, which, although the creator was Swedish, was big in England. Other jokes include riffs on Monty Python and the Flying Circus, The Avengers (in the second story, Cyril rings Beryl at home and tells her "Beryl, we're needed.") along with nods to The Thunderbirds, among others.

This riff on a British Batman is smart, stylish, and has plenty to interest Batfans and non-Batfans alike. I just wish the series was continuing rather than a limited series, as it definitely left me wanting more! Even one set in this version of England would be just fine, as I loved all the heroes and villains that appeared in this book. Yes, okay, some of them are just meant to be one joke, but I'd love to spend more time in Marvel Britain with Knight and Squire, and yes, Shrike, too. Highly recommended.

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