DC's Demon Knights; Sexuality and Gender Done Right

A long time ago, I got my first exposure to a gay character in mainstream comics. Terry Berg, Kyle Rainer's assistant in his day job as an illustrator/comic artist, got brutally assaulted because he was gay, and for a few issues of Green Lantern, it was very upsetting to everybody.

When I was young, this was groundbreaking; first that gay people could exist in comics, and second that even in the realms of a comic book gay people were getting the shit pounded out of them, no questions asked. You know, normally in comics, victims brave their way through horrible circumstances like this one and get superpowers, or martial arts training, or something like that, so they'll never be victims again. Not Terry Berg! He woke up from his coma, thankfully, but he got jack-diddly-squat. Apparently he was going to be a Green Lantern or something, but his character arc was totally scrapped before DC execs had to think of the PR headache that a tertiary gay Lantern would have caused.

Growing up as a painfully conscious gay girl, I loved comics and it broke my little sparrow heart when I could find literally no characters that were like me in Batman or X-Men. When the Terry Berg arc happened, it became very clear to me that gay people served the exact same purpose in comics as they did in news reels; shock factor and sympathy.

It wasn't until I was a teenager and found Batwoman that I started to see gay characters that were empowered, in control, and not likely to be crucified for the sake of pathos. Gay characters were still very few and far between, a problem I'd hoped that the New 52 would fix. I will never ever expect the New 52 to fix anything ever again, but there have been a couple of triumphs. Take Demon Knights.

Demon Knights, next to maybe Batwoman, is by far my favourite title in the New 52. To explain briefly, it follows a group of seven warriors who have been brought together in Medieval times to go on an Arthurian style quest. It also deals with gender, sexuality, and race with a deftness and interest that I have not yet seen in comics. I find this hilarious because, far from being a social issues comic, Demon Knights is a fantasy adventure story which just so happens to have a ridiculously diverse cast.

To sum up, we have Jason Blood, bonded with Etrigan the Demon, who travels with his lover of many centuries, Madame Xanadu. On the way they meet Vandal Savage, who at this point in time is living up to the Classical aspect of his first name.

These three characters are joined by the transgender/asexual/something else Shining Knight Sir Ystin, a lesbian Amazon named Exoristos, a paraplegic Horsewoman, and Al Jabr, a Muslim engineer.

The team is having adventures in a kingdom presided over by happily-married princess lesbians, and holy shit if this comic had come out when I was eleven or so I would have been incredibly happy and at peace with myself.

In addition to having almost complete gender parity, this title makes an effort to create a diverse world. Arthuriana is typically a field dominated by neckbeardishness, EVERYONE IS CATHOLIC AND WHITE syndrome, and strawman feminism, and while there is some of the latter in Demon Knights, I find that it's drowned out by the positive and complex representations of many kinds of people.

Sir Ystin is one of the most pure-hearted, golden characters I've ever read, and by far one of the best representations of trans people I've seen in DC. Though his gender identity is frequently misunderstood by the characters in the comic, it is not meant to be misunderstood or ridiculed by the readers, and in the end Sir Ystin's choice of gender representation does not stop his allies from supporting him in battle. As it should be.

The Horsewoman is paralyzed, but though she receives many offers to be 'repaired', she rebuffs them because she sees herself as more than capable with her magic saddle and her link with horses. She is at peace with the loss of her mobility, and has learned to use it to the best of her abilities.

Al Jabr's Muslim heritage is illustrated with dignity and without sensationalism, for once. I disliked the introduction of the Muslim Green Lantern in the New 52 because it felt tokenistic and ill thought out. In Demon Knights, Al Jabr's faith is a central and positive part to his character. Because of the time period, his faith is also relatively new, which means he faces a lot of prejudice for practicing it in the Christianish setting the title takes place in. This makes his adherence to Islam even more impressive and heroic.

Exoristos is a bit of an odd case, in that she appears to be a subversion of the 'strong independent woman' who plagues our Hollywood blockbusters. Her radical views about woman's place in the society that she isn't used to has caused more harm than good. She wears very impractical clothing, and has a militant attitude towards men, though I suppose if I were just off the boat from Themiscyra I would too.

Exoristos appears to be the uncompromising bruiser of the group, and sometimes her hard-headedness needs to be taken down a notch. However, her attitudes about women in society contrast pleasantly with those of the more worldly Madame Xanadu and down-to-earth Horsewoman, leading to a lot of interesting conflict between these ladies. And her heart is in the right place; she uses her strength to protect those who are weaker than she is and to honour the society that she's been expelled from.

What's really great about Demon Knights is the fact that while it represents people from all kinds of backgrounds and sexualities, the book isn't self-congratulating about it!

Too often in media, though especially in comics, when minorities are portrayed it's scene as an act of charity, as a signpost of progress and magnanimity. And it is extremely frustrating for the targets of such extremely generous gestures. Demon Knights, on the other hand, is a dark adventure comic marketed towards everyone with a taste for high fantasy. It just happens to also have folks in it who are LGBT, handicapped, and of different religions than 'the default'.

But, because Demon Knights doesn't wear its progressive nature on its sleeve, I don't think very many people have realized just how wonderful it is. Certainly, I have not seen that much feedback for Demon Knights. So in conclusion, track down issues of this great book, or get an account on comixology and read it all in one sitting!


  1. Nice post!

    Great to know that you are a fan of the DC Comics as well as Sherlock Holmes :)

    1. I'm glad that you enjoyed the article! It's great that you are too!