When I saw the original announcement for Dark Knights of Steel I was incredibly excited. I mean DC comics meets Dungeons and Dragons? Batman as a literal knight? Those teaser pages with his Robins? The variant cover by Yasmine Putri featuring Clark and a D&D style character sheet? Also just Yasmine Putri on art? Written by Tom Taylor? Every single aspect was a check in my box of “must read”.
It wasn’t just me excited about this book. If I remember right there was a bit of a battle in the review team discord over who was going to cover it. Hence, another team up between Nick and I.
We had a lot of fun with the Endless Winter team-up, and this book felt like another great chance to do this!
We did! And it is! So, does issue #1 live up to the hype?
In my book it does.
And in my book, it’s… close.
In true Elseworlds fashion Dark Knights of Steel poses the question: What if something concrete about regular DC comics continuity happened differently? The obvious question in this case would be “what if it all happened in a fantasy setting” and sure, that’s a big one. But the real question posed here is not that. Instead, Taylor asks: What if Clark’s parents didn’t die on Krypton? What if they came to Earth alongside him? This sets the stage for the whole rest of the issue from beginning to end, and I suspect through a large chunk of this series.
Stupid mainline continuity Jor-El, not stuffing himself and his wife in a spaceship.
The issue spends its first few pages illustrating that initial change. Highlighting the dying planet of Krypton, Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van as they race to find a way to save their son’s life. These opening pages are paired with a prophecy, giving us insights into more familiar faces with different roles in this world: Constantine and Black Lightning. I love seeing just where Taylor has placed each character in this world, what status he’s given them, and how what we know of them might be similar or different. Almost no one in this series has a role I’d totally expect of them, and if they do their reasons are often different than what I had guessed it might be.
Conceptually, there’s a lot to like here – but I don’t think it delivers that content in the most efficient way. When you’re trying to introduce a whole new world, I don’t think you need three whole pages of the same Krypton flashback we’ve seen time and time again – even if it does make for a great reveal on page four. Meanwhile, you have Constantine reciting a prophecy a few pages later: a prophecy that, apparently, requires both repetition and an opening narration that speaks to the nature of prophecies. None of this is bad, but I’m not sure this is the most effective way of immersing your reader in the book.
Agreed, I think the execution does have those flaws. The prophecy repetition in particular really didn’t need to be there.
After the intro issue jumps ahead nineteen years and features Bruce on a mission to stop a banshee and find out if there is a plot against the royal family. The family Bruce is a knight for is of course the Els. Taylor gives us a ton of world building in this simple mission. We learn that because of the opening prediction there are people out to kill Clark and his parents because of who they are. And because of that certain restrictions have been put in place by the Els to keep their land safe. One of those is a restriction on magic, hence Bruce’s mission to stop the banshee.
We also get to see the Robins and a little bit about how Bruce as a character functions in this world. I love the idea of Dick, Jason, Duke, Stephanie, and others we haven’t seen yet all being Robins and assistants to Bruce. It’s a fun idea and great way to bring them all in without having to assign each one their own designation and full backstory right away. I also love their designs.
Maybe this is just me, but there’s a part of me that wants slightly more fantastical names for a few of the characters – hearing “Stephanie” and “Duke” feel out of place in medieval times, especially with Duke being an actual title in a typical Arthurian setting.
I don’t think there’s a single character design in this book I don’t like –except perhaps Harley who doesn’t feel like she’s got the most creative design, but I get it. Yasmine Putri does an amazing job making each character easily recognizable to their canon counterpart and yet distinctly fantasy. The Robin’s armor is all similar, yet unique: Stephanie has her hood, Jason red detailing around his shirt, Duke has more color than any of them on his armor, and Dick’s the Nightwing blue. Clark carries his same Superman color scheme, and symbol but you can very much tell he’s a prince not a knight. It’s all just a lot of fun. And his colors are often stunning, like in the shot above. The whole scene is glowing with the sunset and feels so alive.
No arguments there. Yasmine Putri’s work oozes with charisma, and that unique style is part of what sells you on the book. It’s charming, detailed and loaded with a weight that sells you on these heroes being a natural part of medieval myth and legend.
Reading the book you’re filled with the unique kind of excitement that comes with exploring a brand new world. Taylor doesn’t waste time with captions detailing who everyone is or other exposition tropes like too much internal dialogue, the story is just about all showing. You learn a character’s name when someone calls them that, you learn about the world just looking at it, or hearing how characters talk. It’s really nice to simply be dropped into this adventure. It sweeps you in and keeps you moving through the pages at a steady rate that makes learning everything new interesting and fresh.
I think that’s the case with Bruce Wayne in particular, who I feel is easily the standout character of the issue. One issue in and he’s already a character with layers – a superstitious bastard whose values are steeped in tradition, yet in equal measure a loyal ally who will cover for and defend Kal-El to a fault. He’s responsible for my favourite moment in the premiere, which encapsulates exactly what I want from a fantasy DC book: familiar heroes with entirely unfamiliar roles, traditions and conflicts.
I totally agree, Bruce is by far the most compelling character here. And yes, that scene really highlights some interesting new conflicts for him to tackle this series:
All in all, this issue is packed full. Taylor introduces us to this new world. We’re shown a prophecy and character’s reactions to it. And it even ends on one inciting incident of a cliffhanger. For me, it’s a strong introduction to a bigger story. Especially in that ending. Everything changes in the last few pages, and the tension ratchets up to like 100 on that last page. Walking away from this book I want more. I’m excited to learn about how this world got here. Just how different some of these characters are. Where others are at I haven’t seen yet. This is issue one of twelve so there is more than enough room for Taylor to really play in this sandbox he’s created and I honestly cannot wait to see where it goes from here.
Unfortunately, this is where I have to voice my criticisms again. I’d feel remiss if I didn’t bring this up here, at the advent of what might be Taylor’s biggest Elseworlds story yet:
These books move too damn fast.
Injustice can get away with blowing up all of Metropolis in the first issue, because it’s an exciting event that shakes a status quo relatively known to readers. That’s not what got people into that comic, though – because after Metropolis was destroyed, Taylor stuck with those characters in the aftermath. From issue to issue, we dealt with the slow but sure degradation of Superman’s ethics, watching some heroes follow in his trail while others stood against him – and it was, in my opinion, pretty damn good.
Then DCeased came along, and before you knew it, it already had three separate comic books, two of them being released concurrently. Definitely more frustrating, but still manageable – after all, the original series does a good job of changing the status quo once again, establishing which heroes live and die as a new world begins amidst the ashes of the old one.
Dark Knights of Steel, however, is not a book about status quo – because we don’t have a status quo to work with. Outside of what we learn in this issue, we don’t know a single thing about this new DC Universe, from the kingdoms to the conflicts to the characters. This is all new territory, so I would appreciate a slower pace – not one that feels like it needs to cram so much exposition in one page, to the point where they sometimes feel less like characters and more like info-dumps.
To me, the biggest offender of this is the ending – the death of Jor-El coming immediately after the revelation that he was Bruce’s true father, and that Bruce is half-Kryptonian. I’m not sure I understand why both of these things needed to be cramped together in one issue – is the second twist not worthy of its own cliffhanger? Should we not learn about what the world’s status quo is before it’s so thoroughly disrupted? A Game of Thrones may begin with the death of Jon Arryn, but he means nothing to us – it’s only when King Robert dies that we truly understand what the status quo was for this world, and how fundamentally it has been disrupted. As it is, I don’t feel much emotion from either moment.
Putting it that way, yes I totally agree. It does rush through a lot and doesn’t give us that proper foundation we need in this brand new world. It’s like Taylor’s relying on us to accept previous status quo elements from canon, except that in this world it is very clear that much of that is not the same. And because of that it just misses the mark a bit for me.
There is nothing wrong with stopping and smelling the roses – and I’d very much like to tell DC that. While I can’t see within the minds of Taylor and Putri, I have to assume they wanted to work on more than twelve issues. Why limit this creative team to a miniseries when this content should be an ongoing? The pace of this book makes me feel like its creators don’t trust their readers to be patient with the story – and the duration of this comic makes me feel like the executives don’t trust the success of it. This is obviously all speculative, but it’s formed from doubt – doubt that this is the best way to tell what I think is the best concept DC has had in years. I hope in future issues, we’re able to sit in the world a little more, and to take in the house of cards before it all comes crashing down.
- It’s DC & fantasy, must I say more?
- You like familiar characters put in new situations
- That Yasmine Putri art is just stunning
As a start to a sweeping and epic new series I have to say that Dark Knights of Steel hits a lot of positives for me. Taylor does a great job introducing a new world, new situations for characters, and engaging me as a reader from the start. It does have a few drawbacks, including the fact that the story moves at a rapid pace that doesn’t give much time for readers to get to know the world, and some repetition in the opening. All in all, I can still say I’m excited to see where this adventure goes from here. I’m fully on board for more of my favorite characters steeped in this fantastic world.
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.