Dark Knights of Steel: Tales From The Three Kingdoms features an anthology of three young adult tales set within the Knights of Steel universe. Tom Taylor, Jay Kristoff, and C.S Pacat transport readers to a simpler time before the war between kingdoms breaks out. Each adventure follows orphans or members of the El family in high fantasy coming of age stories.
We begin with a Gotham story about Arkham Orphanage. The kingdom’s wayward children all end up bonding together in a group home. Jimmy Olsen is adapted as a medieval Oliver Twist-style protagonist. Seeing the world from his perspective contextualizes the experience of living in a dangerous magical kingdom. Subsequently, the plot picks up when the curious El children leave their castle to investigate the disappearance of several orphans, including Kal-El’s new friend Jimmy.
Much of the story involves the mystery solving shenanigans of the El siblings. Zala is written as the plucky younger sister, Bruce is the serious half-brother, and Kal-El is the heroically kindhearted leader. As the wholesome mystery closes in on the unmasking, it takes on an unmistakable A Pup Named Scooby Doo quality. The artwork’s cool atmospheric hue and beautiful wintery landscapes compliment the rosy cheeked character designs. Even during some of the stories more intense reveals and action sequences, Caspar Wingard’s art remains friendly and lightly colored. Not to mention, the tone of the overall moral is also innocent as well, despite it’s dark implications.
The Flock surrounds a young Bruce third wheeling on an outing with Harley Quinn and Kal-El. Consequently, the conflict involves the overprotective Prince Bruce chasing down the gang of “robins” who steal from them. It’s neither here nor there, but I’m almost completely sure that Jay Kristoff is unaware that a group of robins is called a “round” and not a flock. This story functions as the origin story of how the each of the orphaned Robins end up working for the Batman. Additionally, it serves as a character analysis on the dynamic between the two half-brothers through Harley’s perspective.
Keeping with the theme of the main book, a lot of the inhabitants of the El Kingdom are extremely poor. While the upper class engage in frivolity and masquerades, the Robin Hood gang steal from the rich to give to the needy. At this stage in his development, Bruce only sees crime in black and white. However, Batman will learn much needed discernment when he becomes sheriff in the future.
Personally, I found this story to be the least effective of the three stories. Although Sean Izaakse’s artwork has pleasing style and momentum, the narrative doesn’t have a clear objective. The bulk of the story hinges on Bruce discovering the truth about the Robins, despite coming at the expense of what Kal-El was dealing with. While I do like the “Harry Potter goes to Hogsmede” vibe of the premise, I don’t like the lack of a cohesive denouement. At the very least, readers might get a kick out of the costumes and Easter eggs.
By far the darkest story of the anthology, King’s Bane pits a young Bruce Wayne against his first major threat. After slaughtering all of the king’s men, Bane reveals that he only intends to liberate the Prince. The duo end up with a training relationship like something out of Shogun Assassin/Lone Wolf & Cub or Gangs of New York. Bane’s unexpected mentorship draws out glimpses of the Batman-That-Will-Be in the Prince-That-Was. This is also the only story with significant ties and ramifications to the lore of the main book.
On another note, I can’t tell if the El’s not noticing Bruce’s disappearance is on purpose. Was he only gone for an afternoon or do they not care? Secondly, I have a problem with Bruce becoming a credible fighter after only two pages of training. Even in a short story, it seems like a stretch of the imagination. King’s Bane also commits pet peeve of mine in treating Bane’s obvious weakness like an off switch. Lastly, the artwork is fine though the least impressive of the three stories. Regardless, the story remains an engaging tale, despite a few major chinks in its plot armor.
- You admire Young Adult fiction stories in the Sword & Sorcery genre.
- Seeking more Dark Knights of Steel content.
If you were taken in by the mature side of Dark Knights of Steel, then this book is not for you. However, I can recommend reading this issue for wholesome palette cleanser. Albeit, The Tales of The Three Kingdoms are not entirely necessary to the main story, nor are they devoid of their individual problems. Simply put, the book is extremely harmless, but harmless to the point of being rarely noteworthy. On a positive note, I am looking forward to more Knights of Steel.
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purposes of this review.