Monday, February 16, 2009

Knight and Squire and the Club of Heroes

One of the coolest Silver Age concepts Grant revived was the idea of The Batmen of all Nations (now referred to as The Club of Heroes), a group of heroes inspired by Batman throughout the world who occasionally meet to solve mysteries.

Initially, the idea was presented as kind of hokey, with their adventures involving goofy gimmicks and bad guys.

Early appearance by the Batmen of All Nations

Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths, though, they were retconned into a group calling themselves the International Club of Heroes, and they operated as an arm of a group called the Dome, which worked toward world peace by employing an international group of superhumans. The International Club of Heroes were now inspired by the original Justice Society of America, had ties to the All-Star Squardron, Infinity Inc., and the Young All-Stars and they begat the Global Guardians - a modern, international peace-keeping super-team.

That's a VERY brief historical synopsis, but you'd do well to check out this link, which has an easy-to-follow detail of the team's incarnations along with images to support the info. I'm skipping the dive into too much detail on them because I want to focus on Grant's work with the team. For our purposes here, all you really need to know is they have ties to the Global Guardians.

Anyhow, in Grant's run on Batman, which began with issue #655, the Club of Heroes has popped up a couple times. First, and most notably, an updated, more serious version of the Club joined together for one of their meetings in the storyline "The Island of Mister Mayhew" in Batman #667, #668 and #669. This time, looking like this:

Left to right: The Musketeer, Dark Ranger, El Gaucho, Raven Red, The Legionary, Man-Of-Bats, and Wingman.

For those who want to know (and you should), artist J.H. Williams III (who drew the "Mayhew" arc) explains who he was paying homage to with each of the characters right here. He explains that each character was drawn in different homage styles, adding to the "holy shit!" of the mind-blowing art.

Other than their appearances here in the "Mayhew" arc, the Club showed up in Batman #681 near the end of the "Batman: R.I.P." arc to lend Robin a hand as he tries saving Gotham from imploding in the absence of the Dark Knight.

The Club in Batman #681

Of all the Club of Heroes members, Knight and Squire are the most interesting, in my opinion. They are also the members Grant played with most. There was the original father and son version, which were practically just a British Batman and Robin crime-fighting duo. Then, the father died and the son took over as the new Knight. The new Knight then recuited in a young girl as his new Squire. In effect, they are a "What if Dick Grayson became Batman and hired a new Robin?" team.

But it gets very interesting when you take into account that the first place Grant played with the Knight and Squire characters wasn't in the pages of Batman.

As far as I can tell, Grant first wrote the characters into his continuity starting with 1999's JLA #26, the third chapter of a 3-part fight between the Ultramarines and the JLA. Just as a brief aside, the Ultramarines were an all-new, four-man military superteam who made their first full debut in JLA #24. They fought the JLA for a couple issues, then realized the error of their ways and started in a new direction with issue #26. Knight and Squire joined the Ultramarines in the final few pages of issue #26 alongside fellow former-Global Guardian members such as Vixen and Jack O'Lantern (as you'll recall earlier, I noted that in post-Crisis continuity, the Batmen of all Nations/Knight and Squire had ties to the Global Guardians).

Here's a shot of the new team as they appear at the end of JLA #26:

Far left is Knight and far right is Squire

This scene features the Corps announcing their new line-up and debuting a new headquarters called Superbia, a floating futuristic city hovering above the ruined remains of Montevideo, a South American city destroyed in the pages of DC One Million. It's interesting to note that the four-man incarnation of the Ultramarines had a cameo in the shadows of DC One Million #2 before their full debut in JLA #24. Likewise, the roles of Knight and Squire on the team aren't explored beyond the above group photo, making their appearance really just a cameo. But this is still the first Grant plays with the characters.

It wasn't until 2004's JLA: Sceret Files #4 that we got a glimpse at the Ultramarines again. They only appeared in the following pin-up in that issue:

This was in anticipation of 2005's JLA: Classified launch, in which Grant made a return to writing the team for issues #1-#3 alongside artist Ed McGuinness. It's all collected here.

JLA: Classified #1-#3 are BRIMMING with connections to other Grant stories including all of Seven Soldiers (2005) and parts of All-Star Superman (2006), but I'm NOT going to get into that more expansive stuff now. I will in time, though, I swear. :)

Variant cover to JLA Classified #1 featuring Knight and Squire

For now, though, I want to focus on Knight and Squire in the story arc. Basically, the JLA (minus Batman) become trapped in a parallel dimension (that we later learn is Earth-Prime/Qwewq, the infant universe, which I plan on exploring in a future post) while Gorilla Grodd teams with Nebula Man (who we later find out is a matured, evil, sentient Qwewq and we later-later find out is a major player in Seven Soldiers) to take out the Ultramarines (minus Squire). So it's up to Squire and Batman to save the day. Get all that? I recommend reading it again without the parentheticals.

This arc is the first time we get to see the Ultramarines working as a team and using their extraordinarily science fiction-y powers in new ways. We also get to see Knight kicking major ass as a near Batman-level goodguy and this is the first time Batman meets or works with Squire, although Batman has known Knight since Knight was a young boy (when Knight was formerly called Squire). In the following panel, Batman discusses this very subject while Alfred name-drops the Club of Heroes. It's the first time under Grant that the team name has been uttered (almost three full years before he'd do anything with the Club in the pages of Batman):

Sci-Fi closet

I'd like to selfishly note the "Sci-Fi Closet" and how I'd love to read a miniseries by Grant about its origins/artifacts. It feels a bit like the Black Casebook, a notebook referred to several times in Grant's Batman run which contains notes on some of his most extraordinary, unexplainable adventures. I'd also like to note the little Dalek (from Doctor Who) in the bottom-right of the closet under Batman's armpit in the above image.

Anyhow, Batman and Squire face Gorilla Grodd and Nebula Man with a team of JLA robots and then have to battle a more Global Guardians-infused, albeit mind-controlled Ultramarines team:

Eventually, the JLA escape Qwewq and square off in a very cool fight with the Ultramarines before learning that this has all been a scheme by the Nebula Man (who is way more substantial a threat than he ever let on before) to prepare for the coming of the Sheeda (a race he works with in Seven Soldiers, and, again, I swear I'll tackle this in way more depth down the line...). Superbia crashes into the Earth and the arc ends with Superman sending the Ultramarines into Qwewq to protect it, because until then, it had no superheroes.

Heading inside Qwewq

Knight and Squire next appear under Grant in the pages of Batman alongside the Club of Heroes (which I mentioned earlier in this post), so that catches you up on Grant's use of the characters.

As for the rest of the Ultramarines, the next time they're seen is briefly in the pages of 2008's Final Crisis#4 as Superbia is seen AGAIN falling from the sky:

Superbia crashing...AGAIN

Quick general notes:

I assume Grant will one day tell the story of how Knight and Squire got from Qwewq back to the DCU and into the pages of Batman. But, then again, maybe that's a story he plans on leaving between the panels.

It's interesting how Grant kept the Global Guardians and the Club of Heroes and the Ultramarines only a step removed from each other. The connection between the Global Guardians and the Club of Heroes was something that predated him, but I'm glad he kept the connection going and even expanded it by adding in the Ultramarines.

It's also interesting how much of a springboard JLA: Classified was for Grant's other stories between 2004 and today. He's still mining that arc for mind-bending content and almost not even a page goes by without ties to something he's done since.

Quick note from JLA: Classified #1-#3: We find out Batman has a remote JLA lab on Pluto that he travels to by Boom Tube. In DC One Million, each of the JLA members looks after a single planet all their own. Future Batman looks after Pluto. It would seem present-day Batman is just getting in early on the renovations. :)


Adam said...

Really wish you'd get back to this, Zibarro!

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