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A Brief History of the Knight and Squire

Yesterday, DC announced that writer Paul Cornell would be writing a six-issue “Knight & Squire” mini-series with artist Jimmy Broxton and covers by Yannick Paquette, finally giving Batman and Robin’s English counterparts their first ever solo story.

According to Cornell, who last visited the world of British super-heroics in Marvel’s fantastic (and sadly canceled) “Captain Britain and MI-13,” his story of the Knight and Squire are going to be a little more lighthearted: “They come from a deliberately over the top, tremendously fun DC Britain that had previously been only slightly explored. If ‘Captain Britain’ was a more realistic take on British super-heroics, ‘Knight and Squire’ delights in Mary Poppins absurdity, in what I think is a quite ’2000AD’ way.”
That sounds awesome, and not just because Cornell’s idea of a “realistic take on British super-heroics” involves Dracula shooting vampires at England from his castle on the moon before getting into his magic space pirate ship. No, the most promising thing for me is that Cornell sounds like he’s going to both explore and build on what Grant Morrison’s been doing with the character, which is exactly what’s made me want a “Knight & Squire” book for years. Because for a character who has appeared in less than a dozen stories in almost sixty years, there’s actually an incredible amount of untapped potential there.

The original Knight and Squire — the originally unnamed Earl of Wordenshire (later called Percy Shelldrake), and his son, Cyril — made their first appearance in “The Batman of England” in 1951′s “Batman” #62. Doing international versions of established American heroes was actually a pretty common theme back in the ’50s; there were similar stories around that time involving Superman and Green Arrow, and it was only a couple of years later (“Batman” #82) that Batman would also encounter the Native American Man-of-Bats.

In any case, the Knight and Squire are upper-class nobility who are inspired by Batman and Robin to fight crime in suits of armor on motorcycle “warhorses,” and in their first appearance, at least, they are aggressively British.

Seriously, the Knight not only wants to stop pursuing criminals at tea-time…

…he also somehow forgets that they’re hunting criminals, not foxes:
He’s essentially a slightly more stereotypical Bertie Wooster as a vigilante. Which, I’ll admit, is actually pretty rad.
Their next appearance came four years later in “Detective Comics” #215 with the introduction of The International Club of Heroes (originally just called “The Batman of All Nations”), where the Knight, Squire and Man-of-Bats were joined by new characters The Gaucho, the Musketeer and the Legionary, but that’s about it. I’m honestly surprised that this wasn’t a more recurring storyline as it would’ve allowed for world travel and exotic non-Gotham City-centric stories, but that later became a plot point.

As for the Knight and Squire, they’d remain in limbo for the next 44 years until they cropped up in a cameo in “JLA” #26 as members of the International Ultramarine Corps:

They were never identified — they didn’t even get lines– but in addition to introducing the new look for the Knight, this was also the first appearance of the new Squire, seen above at right. It would be another six years until they (and the rest of the Ultramarine Corps) would appear again.
In Grant Morrison and Ed McGuinness’ “JLA Classified” #1 – 3, it’s finally revealed that the Knight is actually Cyril Shelldrake, the former Squire, now even more Batmanly than ever.
Morrison also takes a few panels to have Batman and Alfred explain who he is, and it’s this scene that kicks off the slow character building that he’s been doing in the background ever since. Not only does he introduce the idea of the original Knight being murdered by his arch-enemy (“the evil black sheep of the royal family,” which is intriguing enough to make a story on its own), but in identifying the Club of Heroes, it’s one of the first examples of Morrison delving into the 50s Batman stories that, while largely ignored for a half a century after, would form the basis for his run on “Batman.”
This was also where he firmly established Beryl Hutchinson, the new Squire, as a brilliant communications expert from humble beginnings.

It’s worth noting that the idea of a kid who became a super-hero purely through study is a very Golden Age sort of character origin that fits right in with the Knight’s beginnings. In having “brains and a love of the library,” Beryl is essentially following in the footsteps of Genius Jones, an extremely obscure character who last appeared in Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s “Doctor 13: Architecture and Morality,” who read 734 books and used the knowledge to solve crimes for a dime, as well as Marvel’s Golden Age Angel and, of course, Batman himself.

I also like the similarity of the two Squires’ names, Cyril and Beryl, but I don’t think there’s any significance.

The gaps were filled in a little more when the Knight and Squire returned for a reunion of the Club of Heroes in the “Black Glove” storyline of “Batman” #667 – 669, where Cyril’s previous bouts with drugs and alcohol (mentioned in the “JLA Classified” story) as well as the origin of having Beryl as his sidekick were elaborated on a little.

Knight and Squire showed up — along with the rest of the Club of Heroes — to battle the Club of Villains during “Batman RIP,” but their next big moment came in “Batman and Robin” #7 – 9, where Dick Grayson traveled to England in an attempt to resurrect Bruce Wayne. The interesting things here weren’t Knight and Squire specifically, though, but rather that Morrison used the opportunity to build their world:

The effect that Morrison created — and that Cornell looks to be building on — was that there was an entire world of super-heroics across the Atlantic running parallel to Batman’s American adventures that we just hadn’t seen yet, complete with fully realized characters masterfully created through spare bits of dialogue here and there.

There’s an incredible amount of potential there, and given what he’s already done, Cornell is one of the perfect writers to tackle it. I’m excited and the only thing I don’t think is great about the news is that it’s only going to be six issues.

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