Or – “Because *I* Demanded It!  Again!”

These days, getting a comic book published seems to require excessive amounts of money, computer coloring, money, some sort of gimmick, money, corporate backing, money, and more money.  But there was a time, waaaaaay back in the 1980’s, when three guys with a photocopier and a dream could become comic superstars.  Those were the days of Eastman and Laird, of Dave Sim, of the endless horror that was Solson Publications…  Among the most fondly remembered relics of this era for me is a little book that initially tried to call itself ‘The Crusaders.’  Foreshadowing MTV’s “The Real World,” it told the story of what happened when a physicist, a fencer, a rich girl, a sorceror and a dragon (!) stopped being polite and started fighting crime.  You may have heard of it, you may not, but after you read this, you won’t deny their awesome appeal.

Southern Knights #5
Script: David H. Willis; Henry Vogel; Audrey Vogel
Pencils: Chuck Wojtkiewicz
Inks: Steve Kent
Letters: David Willis
Published by The Guild

Previously, on Southern Knights: A random car chase led to the intervention of Atlanata’s superhero, the man called Electrode!  During the melee, the hero found himself facing down an enormous dragon, and encountered two other random passersby with powers of their own.  The battle with the dragon went poorly, when it was revealed that the creature was chasing the car because it contained kidnappers fleeing the scene of a crime.  Electrode (secretly physicist David Schenk, who actually engineered his superpowers to fulfill his fanboy fantasies), Dragon (also known as romance novelist Mark Dagon), Connie Ronnin (former Olympic fencer) and Kristin Austin (super-strong Georgia peach) combined their forces as…  THE CRUSADERS!  Archie Comics didn’t find this nearly as entertaining as some might have, and a sudden cease and desist order later, Kristin impulsively redubbed them The Southern Knights.  Having purchased a mansion to serve as their headquarters, the team has begun the process of moving in to their new home.  True to form, David quickly starts overthinking things…

Even though their ostensible leader is gung ho, Connie’s mood is dour, leading Kristin and Dragon to reschedule the order of events, in a rather charming fashion…

The male members of the Knights set off for lunch, leaving Kristin and Connie to bond a bit.  They explore their new home a bit more, and Connie even opens up a bit about her depressed state.  It seems that moving day coincides perfectly with the anniversary of her pathologically abusive parents divorce, and the day always brings back bad memories for her.  The young women bond, and even find common ground before getting lost in one of the seemingly endless corridors of their mansion home…

Kristin’s enthusiasm gets the best of her, and she starts searching for hidden doors and secret panels and passageways.  Amazingly, she not only finds a hidden room, but some sort of mystic barrier within, and trapped in the field is the form of a man!

With her new BFF blasted through a wall to her seeming doom, Connie quickly goes on the offensive against her seemingly mystically powered foe.  At the same time, David and Mark have arrived at their destination for lunch, unaware that a pair of assassins named Carl and Larry are trailing them, tasked with killing Mark Dagon!

Before they can finish their McBurgers, though, a crossbow bolt flies across the food court, nearly impaling Mark through the heart!  David chases after the assassins, while Mark considers transforming into his lizard form in the midst of hundreds of bystanders.  Back at the mansion, Kristin tries to reason with the attacker from inside the closet, but his disorientation causes him to keep blasting away at her.

Back at the mall, David and Mark are unable to use their super-powers, and chase after the would-be assassins in their normal guises.  Unfortunately for our Knights, their attackers are really, really good at their jobs…

David’s electrical powers, in case you are wondering, do include enhanced speed and strength.  Carl and Larry attack again, leaving David with a throwing star (it was the 80’s, thank you) in his back, and Mark nearly run down by a van.  The assassins escape, but the question of why they don’t just get an Uzi is still in the air…

I love the fact that Carl and Larry have so much fun with their job, and find it not at all strange to be enjoying the comedy stylings of two guys trying to murder one of our heroes.  At the mansion, the young magician and Connie both start to feel the strain of their battle, and he is forced to abandon his arcane ways and grabs a sword off one of the walls to fight her.  Of course, he doesn’t reckon on Connie’s martial prowess.  (There’s a reason why her mental projection comes in the form of a sword, after all…)

With the villain of the piece dispatched, Connie is surpised to find that Kristin not only isn’t dead, but is perfectly fine, and has been watching her laying the smack down on their intruder…

The answers to the various questions, in nor particular order, are:

*Aramis Merrow, whose parents hid him away to keep him from being killed in the Salem Witch Trials.
*Because they’ve been tasked by a mysterious mastermind.
*Because she can.
*In her left brassiere cup.
*Dragons eat their young.

The Southern Knights were one of those books that can never be replicated, as much about the interaction of four people as about their heroic adventures, and even the villains have complicated, involved, and mostly relatable backstories.  At least one of the major villains of the first arc ends up being one of Mark’s closest pals, and the team is as likely to continue interacting with those they fight as not.  This is truly a series ahead of it’s time (Connie’s power was later horked by Psylocke of the X-Men, while Kristin is one of the first “Cute Bruiser” types, predating Molly from Runaways, Hisako from Astonishing X-Men, and a host of others, while Mark’s origin as “dragon who can change into human form” is pretty neat) with meta statements about comics publishing, fandom, and the ludicriousness of “realistic superhero stories.”  Southern Knights #5 was my introduction to the world of the Knights, and is a well-drawn, uniquely written issue with amazing characterization and depth, earning all the stars I could find on short notice…  If you ever get a chance to pick up these issues, don’t let the black and white pages fool you, you’re looking at some seriously quality comics work here.

Rating: ★★★★★★

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  Why do people have such a problem with black and white titles?  Even books like Cerebus, which were designed to look amazing, got flak for not having color…

 

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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9 Comments

  1. Antonio Sanciolo
    September 6, 2010 at 1:23 am — Reply

    Well the first thing I think of when I see black and white art, stiff poses and improbable anatomy; is the indie comics that guys at university used to sell on the south lawn for $1.50 each (proceeds going to the purchase of a new ornamental recreational smoking device). I’m exaggerating on the riff, sure, but the tune remains the same; black and white looks independant and cheap; and indie/cheap more often than not comes off as amateur and out of key.

  2. Navarre
    September 6, 2010 at 2:51 am — Reply

    Black & white or not, the finished product leaves a lot to be desired. The characters and story might be good but the layout and overall art is no better than what I can do. In fact, I have drawn comics that look as good as the examples here, and that’s not a compliment to either of us.

    • September 6, 2010 at 9:38 pm — Reply

      Black & white or not, the finished product leaves a lot to be desired. The characters and story might be good but the layout and overall art is no better than what I can do. In fact, I have drawn comics that look as good as the examples here, and that’s not a compliment to either of us.

      As with anything, mileage may vary… It’s clearly the work of a young artist, but I strongly caution anyone against taking these images as representative of a whole.

  3. September 6, 2010 at 10:14 am — Reply

    I loved the review Matthew, especially, ” But there was a time, waaaaaay back in the 1980′s, when three guys with a photocopier and a dream could become comic superstars.”

    I think that people hate on B&W titles because of being spoiled. A majority of the comics market is color, but having color doesn’t make it a good comic. If you have a dream to publish a comic, but your wallet only allows you to do so in black and white, color is only reserved for the cover. Black and White comics to me represent a even playing field where Mr. Sim, Mr. Smith, Ms. Doran, and Mr. Veitch, and Mr. “Newcomer” can all have chance. But blame comics like “Sultry Teenage Super Foxes” for ruining everything, if ya want.

    I am going to continue to read my black and white comics, and also draw black and white comics, nah-nah-na!

    • September 6, 2010 at 9:16 pm — Reply

      I think that people hate on B&W titles because of being spoiled. A majority of the comics market is color, but having color doesn’t make it a good comic. If you have a dream to publish a comic, but your wallet only allows you to do so in black and white, color is only reserved for the cover. Black and White comics to me represent a even playing field where Mr. Sim, Mr. Smith, Ms. Doran, and Mr. Veitch, and Mr. “Newcomer” can all have chance. But blame comics like “Sultry Teenage Super Foxes” for ruining everything, if ya want.

      I think that Sultry Teenage Superfoxes and many of the other obviously glutted marketing decisions of the black and white boom were a necessary correction… I enjoyed a lot of books without color, and find that black and white art when done well (like Chuck Wotjiehooziwhatsis does in this issue of “Knights”) is a different deal entirely than color.

  4. Navarre
    September 6, 2010 at 2:15 pm — Reply

    I see no reason to hate on black & white comics. There was a time, before Digital Chameleon and all those companies, when the colorist got even less attention than the letterer.

    Fortunately, it seems each part of the production team gets its due these days and I’m glad for that. Sure, color comics seem more vibrant and true to life but if the comic isn’t in color then judge it on the rest of its merits.

  5. Damascus
    October 4, 2010 at 6:57 am — Reply

    Is this a comic about Hall and Oates? I keep hearing Private Eyes in my head, btw, They’re watching you, watching you…

  6. Damascus
    October 4, 2010 at 7:25 am — Reply

    I still have a bit of a stigma toward black and white comics due to when and what I was first exposed to. I first got into comics when I was 7 or 8 and I was used to watching cartoons and stuff like that, and I had been reading Spider-man and some Disney stories and Alf and stuff like that and then I got a fairly tattered copy of an early TMNT book written by Eastman and Laird and the cover I think was in color and the inside was black and white and it was okay but not what I was expecting and then the next title I got was Sin City: A Dame to Kill For #6 which was WAAY above my head at an age of 11 or 12. I didn’t have the appreciation for the unique ways that the panels were put together to have a majority of black throughout that still showed details and told the story.

    I still have to force myself to flip through a black and white book to this day. Another factor in my dislike probably stems mostly from the time in which I really got into comics; it was during the early-mid 1990’s when artwork was king. If the art didn’t hook me, I wouldn’t give the story a chance. It’s why a have a little stack of Image comics and stuff like Darkchylde in my longbox.

  7. Aramis du Bois
    November 1, 2015 at 10:55 am — Reply

    The anti black and white feeling is only in America. In Europe and Asia and even Canada, black and white is the norm for comics. Southern Knights is good in so many ways.

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