Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Review: Dark Knights Of Steel #1

Last week Dark Nights of Steel #1 came out, an Elseworlds look at DC characters in medieval times. From the time the book was first solicited, I have been excited. It seemed like a great project. Tom Taylor is a writer I trust. Yasmine Putri's art is gorgeous. Supergirl has been hinted as being a character in the book and I have wanted to see Taylor's take on Kara since he wrote All-New Wolverine

Now I have been reading comics for some time and lived through the heyday of the Elseworlds boom, reading everything from a Civil War Superman to a the Justice League in the old west. To succeed, things need to be similar enough to recognizable but different enough to be interesting. Sometimes that is a change of venue, or a new wrinkle in the origin. 

Here, Taylor does a good job of both. There are a lot of interesting wrinkles in this first issue and that isn't even counting the Medieval setting. I am intrigued and already forming some theories. New origin threads, new relationships, even a death. This is a meaty first issue. I also get to see Harley Quinn as a true harlequin court jester. For that I will forever be in Taylor's debt.

Putri's art is just a gorgeous as expected. The pages sing. In particular, the Black Canary pages are incredible. 

On to the book.

We start as many of these stories start, on doomed Krypton.

Except instead of a rocket built for one, the whole El family is able to fit. Jor-El and Lara make the trip and on arrival, Lara delivers Kal. Now this isn't the first time we have seen an Elseworlds where the whole family survives.

But when some knights come and investigate the crash, a panicked Jor-El lashes out, immolating them with his heat vision. 

We have seen evil Jor-El's recently. So seeing this didn't shock me. But here he seems like a good man trying to protect his family. I do hope we get some look into what it must be like for the Els to go from a high-tech world to one mired in the Iron Age.

Across the land in Kingdom of Storms, King Jepherson (Black Lightning!) hears an omen and vision of the Els arrival from his oracle ... John Constantine!

I do love that Black Lightning is ruling a kingdom. And Constantine as an oracle is a brilliant new take on him. Court Wizard! Ingenious.

Flash forward 19 years. A young prince Kal, from the Castle El, is talking to his best friend Bruce. Bruce is a knight in the employ of Jor-El, there to protect Kal from magical threats.

We learn that Bruce is the bastard child of Martha, the former queen of the land. The Els have taken him in and he is their errand knight rather than errant knight; he is there to solve problems.

It is clear that Kal and he are friends. But Bruce is all business here. He won't let Kal join him on this mission which would clearly endanger Kal. That said, Bruce is in as much danger.

I am glad of this friendship. I like the World's Finest. But I get the sense this will be short-lived. More on this later.

I like Bruce's bat inspired armor, his stern silent look. It works. And I love that the Alfred equivalent tells Kal that the silent look from Bruce means he has nothing to say because Kal is right. A very funny moment. 

Stunning art and color here.

Bruce is on the trail of a banshee. That makes sense that a banshee, a magical being, could endanger Kal.

What I really love is Bruce has his network of informants and spies. He has a gang of 'Robins'. That group has tracked the banshee to an inn.

A Batman and Robins ... but in medieval times. I like this wrinkle. 

Now I thought for sure the Banshee would be the Silver Banshee. 

But in a great turn, the Banshee is Black Canary. And Canary is even wearing a costume quite similar to her current one.

Canary isn't going to let Bruce kill her or imprison her, so she unleashes a lethal scream.

Unfortunately and amazingly, Bruce isn't killed. Sure, he is battered. But he is still standing ... and hearty enough to weather another sonic attack. 

He eventually knocks her out with the plan to bring her to the El dungeon.

I really love these pages. Putri really gives great energy to this fight. You can sense just how strong and ripping this scream attack is.

Black Canary seems human here. But I like her powers make others think she is a Banshee! Another nice new look at an old character.

Harley Quinn as court jester!


Even in this world she is amusing, poking fun at the dark, brooding Batman.

Just brilliant!

There is some discontent within the House of El.

Jor-El is acting to protect his family, locking up any 'magic' creatures that might be considered a threat to Kal, even if they haven't been threatening.

Even in this world, Kal stands for truth and justice. He can't believe his father is locking up innocents. 

Putri's Kal is young and idealistic and full of vitality. 

Sorry to see Jor-El once again take on the role of a sort of villain. How easy it could have been to lead this world into enlightenment, Instead, he reacted from fear.

And very interesting that the Els are now the monarchs in this land, replacing the Waynes who I presume are dead.

Well away from the castle, we see a Green Lantern energizing an arrow that Green Arrow fires from a sort of telescopic bow.

There are more of the Leaguers out there. And given Jor-El's totalitarian approach to this with powers, you can guess who the target of this shaft is. (Indeed the ending of the book is this arrow hitting the mark. Indeed, I was not expecting that end. Comic books surprises are always appreciated.)

Is there an Green Land, a Castle Emerald? Is this Alan Scott with a magical ring or Hal with an Oan one? But Ollie as Robin Hood? No complaints here.

But then the most delicious new wrinkle. 

Bruce worries that he survived the Banshee's attack because he is cursed with Dark Magic. In a quiet moment on the walls, Jor-El reveals that Bruce is his son. 

Bruce is the bastard son of Martha and Jor-El. This is how Bruce has some powers. This is why the Els have taken him in. 

So much to take in here. Bruce and Kal half brothers? Brilliant.

But I would bet a lot of money that it will be uncovered that Jor-El was behind the deaths of the Waynes. This wasn't some unfortunate murder or accident of Bruce's mother and stepfather. I am sure this will be regicide planned by Jor who wanted to take over and 'raise' Bruce, or keep an eye on him. 

How much you want to bet that this will put Bruce and Kal at odds?

One thing we do know, It is unlikely that Jor-El will be divulging anything given what happens on the last page.

What an excellent first issue! The stage is set. We have some good character moments. We have the seeds of some upcoming plots. The whole thing is just beautiful. And we have court jester Harley. Tremendous stuff.

Overall grade: A


Martin Gray said...

Great review! That’s an excellent theory about Jor-El perhaps engineering the deaths of Thomas and Martha. At one point that would have been unforgivable, even in an Elseworlds. How times have changed, sadly.

I enjoyed this too, it’ll be interesting to see where it goes next.

Anonymous said...

Yeah that last page took me right out of this one, some things just rub me the wrong way. I am sure if Kara somehow shows up she'll be cannon fodder as usual, that seems to be her fate this year.


Anonymous said...

So far I think this is ingenious, and Putri's work is gorgeous. Even if the writing does slip, the art may be enough to keep my interest.

Having read the first issue, it's easy to see how this will fill 12 issues. Taylor has a zillion DC characters he can compose medieval spins on. I trust in Taylor's imagination to keep it surprising and engaging.

It does look like Supergirl on the cover of #3, which you speculated about when you blogged about the December solicits. (That issue is appearing in late January, but DC solicited it a month early.)


Anonymous said...

Hello from a french fan of supergirl,

I can't wait to see the meeting with wonder woman who came to deleviers the magical beings to pose an even greater threat (the bets are open on the big bad guy). Kara is probably with the amazons and maybe poison ivy ?

WE will surely see more people at Jor-El's funeral, it is still missing the commissioner Gordon and his daughter Barbara in the batman team.