Joe Meola ‘25 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Dark Knights of Steel is finally back! After a months-long hiatus following the release of issue #7 in June, Tom Taylor’s acclaimed medieval fantasy Elseworlds reimagining of its iconic catalog of heroes and villains has made its return. However, fans of the series’ continuing narrative will have to wait a bit longer until the November release of issue #8, as they were instead treated with a special over-sized one-shot issue delving deeper into this unique new take on the DCU and its characters.
Curated by series creator Tom Taylor–the mind behind other acclaimed DC Comics alternate universe stories like Injustice and DCeased–this 48-page one-shot contains three standalone stories, each delving into the past of the main characters of the series.
The first story–untitled–is written by Taylor himself, with art by Casper Wijngaard. The story centers around Arkham Orphanage–this world’s answer to Arkham Asylum–from which several children have gone missing. Most notable among the missing kids is Jimmy Olsen, who had just been adopted by Perry White and befriended Prince Kal-El. Olsen’s disappearance, in addition to those of other children from Arkham, prompts Prince Kal-El, Bruce Wayne, and Princess Zala (Perhaps better known as Superman, Batman, and Supergirl in mainstream DC continuity) to launch a secret investigation into the matter.
The trio eventually discovers that the kidnapper behind these disappearances is actually Kirk Langstrom–AKA Man-Bat–who himself is an orphan from Arkham and was actually attempting to save his fellow orphans from being experimented on by the head of the orphanage, Elizabeth Arkham. The story concludes with Arkham’s capture by General Amanda Waller, who intends to use Arkham’s skillset for her own nefarious purposes.
Taylor has delivered to fans of the series not just a fun tale from the childhood of the three main characters of his Dark Knights of Steel series, but he also manages to perform a bit of worldbuilding to expand upon readers’ knowledge of this vast fantasy world. The introduction of Arkham Orphanage both establishes this world’s version of an iconic DC Universe location and showcases new versions of characters previously unseen in this universe.
The use of popular characters such as Oswald Cobblepot (The Penguin) and Waylan Jones (Killer Croc) help to make Arkham feel like a major part of this universe, and small easter eggs like the reference to “the Hawks of the Sky Kingdom” (Hawkman, Hawkgirl, etc. and Thanagar) and Harvey Dent (Two-Face) being gifted his iconic coin serve as fun little treats for fans of mainstream DC lore. Furthermore, the ending of Amanda Waller capturing and recruiting Elizabeth Arkham may serve as a precursor to major events in the main series; maybe we’ll see the medieval fantasy version of the Suicide Squad?
Wijngaard’s art is simply gorgeous, no doubt about it. The style gives off a YA vibe, which definitely fits the tone of this specific story, especially considering the younger ages of the protagonists. Moreover, the colors–also done by Wijngaard–really pop while also giving the energy of a medieval painting (albeit a bit more vibrant).
The second story in this issue is titled “The Flock” and is written by Jay Kristoff with art by Sean Izaakse. The story, set five years prior to the events of the main Dark Knights of Steel series, begins with Prince Kal-El, Harley Quinn, and Bruce Wayne attending a Halloween party together (disguised, of course) so that Kal can get to know his subjects better and see the city. At the party, the trio comes into conflict with a gang of young orphans called the “Robins,” who rob Quinn. They are caught when their leader, Richard (Dick Grayson) stops to rescue a young boy from being trampled by a horse drawn carriage. Impressed by the kids’ skills and heroism, Wayne takes the gang under his wing as his protegees.
This is an overall very fun story. While it doesn’t heavily expand upon the universe or set up potential future plot points, it does provide a good backstory for how Wayne begins working with his Robins. Unfortunately, because the story is so short, the individual Robins do not get much characterization; each kid’s lines could be interchanged with those of another without impacting the story at all. The Robins are beloved characters in the DC Universe, and it is a shame that we don’t see them get that much development in their appearances in Dark Knights of Steel, not even in their own origin story.
Izaakse’s art is adequate. It is not as breathtaking as that of the other two stories, but there isn’t anything particularly bad about it either.
The third and final story in the issue is titled “King’s Bane,” written by C.S. Pacat and illustrated by Michele Bandini. The story begins with a young Bruce Wayne and his guards being ambushed by “The King’s Bane” (Bane), a former palace guard from when the Waynes were in control of the kingdom. Bane offers to train Wayne how to fight and kill beings with superpowers and overthrow the El Royal family. Wayne accepts the offer and trains with Bane, and the two eventually set out to kill the family. However, Wayne betrays Bane, using his weakness against him as he cuts him off from his source of power and defends the Els.
This story gives us a much-needed look into Wayne’s past following the deaths of his parents in this universe. The training of Batman is always an interesting point of DC canon, so it is interesting to see how it played out in the Dark Knights of Steel universe. Wayne training under Bane is an incredible concept that unfortunately would not necessarily fit into main continuity, so it is interesting to see it utilized in this universe. Furthermore, the backstory provided for Bane–while skewing a bit from his usual history–is a really cool reimagining of the villain. In particular, the replacement of the steroid Venom with magic potion pumping into Bane is a nice touch.
Bandini’s art fits both the story and universe very well, and it is very reminiscent of the art in the main Dark Knights of Steel series. The medieval redesigns created for this particular story are also really well-done, especially Bane’s. His design is incredibly reminiscent of the character Guts from popular manga series Berserk, especially with the addition of an oversized broadsword.
Dark Knights of Steel: Tales from the Three Kingdoms #1 is a solid collection of tales from this new universe crafted by Tom Taylor. Each story is incredibly well-written and illustrated and gives a fun look into the past of the main characters. However, outside of a few details, it does not do much to expand a universe with vast potential. This is due to the fact that each story is short and rather self-contained, and they primarily focus on characters that are already the focal point of the main series.
Batman in particular plays a main role in all three of the stories, and Superman plays a main role in two of them. We already have an entire series that primarily focuses on the two of them in this universe–among other characters like Constantine and Wonder Woman–so it seems like Tom Taylor and co. missed out on an opportunity to flesh out some of the supporting cast. For example, Zala, while a main player, sort of plays second fiddle to her brothers Kal and Bruce and could serve as an interesting solo focus of an anthologized story. Furthermore, the Titans–who have just been introduced in the main series–could serve as great subjects for a standalone story.