The Knight and Squire are the British Batman and Robin. And a lot more besides. The only obvious ways in which they’re copies of the Dynamic Duo are their dedication to justice, and mentor/sidekick arrangement. Some of their opponents – such as Jarvis Poker, the British Joker – are ‘cover versions’ of US originals. Other than that, they’re very much their own heroes, in their own world with its own vibe.
And that vibe is British popular culture – everything from ancient tales to Benny Hill, via some very rude Cockney rhyming slang, Penny Dreadfuls and TV astronomers. The overriding sensibility of this first issue is the British sense of humour, as we’re introduced to the heroes and villains who throng at the Time In a Bottle public house once a month (a possible nod to gatherings of comic fans in London in the Eighties). On the one hand, the likes of The Milkman and Coalface take their activities seriously; on the other, well, they realise it’s all a bit ridiculous, so welcome the monthly truce between good, evil and evil-ish.
The truce is disturbed in part one of Paul Cornell and Jimmy Broxton’s six-part For Six (see what they did there?), a story which shows that a set-up issue can be every bit as entertaining as your average pay-off chapter, and a lot more fun than many. Cornell’s script sketches the characters with economy; we’re given enough to enjoy the story but left wanting to know more about the likes of Blind Fury, thanks in part to Broxton’s striking character designs.
By the end of the issue we’ve a grounding in the Britain inhabited by Knight and Squire, and are ready to see where the mini-series takes us next. If every issue is as entertaining as this Carry on … Capes story, I could easily stand a few more tales set down the pub. But Cornell isn’t a writer to have just the one trick up his sleeve, so I’m expecting great things. Since Grant Morrison gave us the current versions – the Knight and Squire concept dates back to the 1950s – we’ve seen a little more of Squire, Beryl, a likeable acrobat and communications expert, than her senior associate. I’m looking forward to finding out what makes her partner, Knight – aka Cyril, the poor sod – tick.
Cornell’s good-natured script is matched by Jimmy Broxton’s immensely endearing illustrations. There are an awful lot of characters in this story, but the pages, while packed, never seem overcrowded. One sees writer and artist stylishly homage the original Time Machine film, as we see the same spot in the pub at various points down the years. War of the Worlds is also evoked, as ‘so-called Martians’ sign a significant treaty. Pretty much every page brings to mind some joyous aspect of British pop culture alongside, for fairness’ sake, such embarrassments as TV’s Black & White Minstrels.
There’s an amusing bonus page by Cornell and Broxton explaining a few of the British-isms and happily ignoring such in-story terms as ‘a J Arthur’, which had me tittering inanely on page one. If you’re not a British type, don’t be put off this book – remember how much entertainment we UK kids have had from diving into your Colonial comic book offerings. This book, complete with lovely Yanick Paquette and Michel Lacombe cover and a terrific logo – deserves to be a transatlantic hit.