Interview: Paul Cornell on “Knight and Squire” and “Action Comics”

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Paul Cornell has been writing novels, comics and TV screenplays for 20 years, most notably as part of the Doctor Who franchise. More recently, he’s been making a splash in American comics, with Marvel’s Captain Britain and MI: 13 and Dark X-Men. He recently took over Action Comics for a serial starring Lex Luthor, and he’s about to launch two new projects: Knight and Squire (a miniseries about the British Batman and Robin) and Soldier Zero (one of Boom’s new Stan Lee-created titles). We caught up with him at Comic-Con.

TECHLAND: Tell us all about Knight and Squire.

PAUL CORNELL: Knight and Squire is an insane spinoff from Grant Morrison’s Batman and Robin, whereby the two greatest British heroes of the DC universe are joined by, over the course of six issues, one hundred–exactly one hundred–new British heroes and villains. It’s insane! We’ve come up with an advertising slogan for the whole thing: “The Knight and Squire are going to have some reasonably exciting adventures if that’s all right with everyone.” It’s six one-offs. Because when Grant started the Knight and Squire, every time they would appear he would add something to their world, we just felt that with a miniseries we had to exponentially increase that. So they will get enormous. We’ll fill in huge swathes of DC Britain. There are Richard III and the rest of the cloned ex-British awful kings, who seek to take over Britain by means of Facebook.

Facebook.

Yes. And there are the Morris Men, who are ninja cider-drinking West Country assassins. In the first issue, there’s the pub where British superheroes and villains meet in truce on the first Thursday of every month in London. And we discover the concept of cover versions: that there are, dating back to the 1940s and ’50s, rather awful, lackluster British cover versions of American supervillains. So we meet the British Joker, who likes the image but thinks that actually harming anybody would be a bit beneath him. Throughout, we’ve got a rather little tween romance with Beryl, and we discover that the lifestyles of the Knight and Squire, which is to say that he’s got an enormous castle and she lives in a council house at the bottom of the hill where the castles are. We discover how they have a sort of secret identity, in that every British person sort of knows who they are but won’t tell anybody. It’s a very, very silly book.

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So what is Cyril and Beryl’s relationship?

Oh, they are big brother and little sister. She’s got a fantastic home life with her mum, and he’s trying to have awkward dates with one member of a nine-member girl singing sensation group, all of whom can predict the future in different ways, called the Muses–they’re like Girls Aloud or the Spice Girls, except they’re all extraordinarily intelligent and superpowerful. So they have a lovely brother-sister relationship, which we’ll be exploring. What I like about them is that they’re so straightforward. I love Beryl’s can-do attitude. Grant created her really well–she sort of marches along. Cyril’s a big blusterer: once you get him moving, he’ll keep going, but especially in social situations, he’s sometimes a bit awkward, and needs Beryl’s communication skills to help him out.

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In the meantime, what’s going on with Action Comics?

Action is just a terrific thrill-ride. We have ten of the DC universe’s greatest supervillains, and one absolutely lovely personification of a natural force (laughs). It’s Lex Luthor on a quest for power. He encounters a different supervillain every issue, he trips over them, he tries to employ them, they get in each other’s way… but it comes down to–“Super-Villain Punch-Up” is the in-house title for this. Rather like “Hush” was a wonderful gallery of Batman villains, this aims to show the extent and loveliness and interestingness of DC supervillainy. The art is fantastic, from Pete Woods–I’m loving his storytelling, his acting is awesome–Lex and Robo-Lois are my favorite couple. We love Robo-Lois. Death appears at the end of the Gorilla Grodd issue. Grodd has come after Lex with his #1 attack spoon, with which he aims to eat Lex’s brain, and as you might imagine, hence, Death. So you can probably see how she appears. For those of you who aren’t following what we’re going to do with Death, I might add that she’s not going to have a supervillain battle with Lex Luthor: it’s going to be 22 pages of intense, meaningful conversation and drama in the Vertigo manner. And just because she’s in the DC universe, it doesn’t mean she’ll start hitting people with hammers.

So what you’re saying is it’s going to be the best thing ever.

Absolutely! They’re both equally the best titles ever.

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