WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Dark Knights of Steel #5 by Tom Taylor, Yasmine Putri, Arif Prianto and Wes Abbott, on sale now from DC.
Dark Knights of Steel has taken a turn when it comes to colorful and creative reinterpretations of old standards. The ongoing series takes classic characters from the DC Universe and transports them into a world of swords and sorcery. Thomas and Martha Wayne are the rulers of a kingdom, until Jor-El and Lara-El land, the last survivors of the planet Krypton. They hide their powers as best they can, but are forced to reveal them to save the kingdom from an erupting volcano. They soon develop a close friendship with the Waynes.
In classic comic book fashion, Thomas and Martha Wayne meet an untimely end when Bruce is just a boy, leading to Jor-El and Lana taking the throne as rulers and protectors of the kingdom. His son, Kal-El, becomes a prince, and it is years later that the Dark Knights of Steel. This is already an interesting premise for a story, but writer Tom Taylor doesn’t rest on his laurels, instead revealing at the end of the first issue that Bruce is the bastard son of Jor-El and Martha. A half-Kryptonian Batman is something totally new to comics, and Kal-El doesn’t take it well when he discovers it in the latest issue of the comics. He tells Batman that “there can be no challengers”, he drags him into the sky and stabs him with a kryptonite shard before sending him back to earth.
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And who does Bruce meet as he bleeds to death in the crater formed by his impact? None other than Jonathan and Martha Kent, who do their best to heal the fallen prince before taking him on a wagon to his farm. Although it’s a great cliffhanger to end the fifth issue of the series, it’s also an example of what he does best. Dark Knights of Steel: play with patterns. Almost everyone who reads the book probably knows the story of the humble Kent family caring for a kryptonian fallen from the sky. Taylor subverts this expectation at first, letting Kal-El’s parents live and raise him as their own.
The twist is to reintroduce that part of the story later, but in a different context. Fans automatically understand why the Kents care about Bruce. They are the kind and honest people who taught Superman to be the Great Blue Scout that he is. So even if they perform the same literal action, bringing a Kryptonian who fell from the sky to his farm, the results will be different. Batman will wake up knowing that he can no longer trust Kal-El, that he is just as determined to take over the world as his enemies feared him to be.
More than anything, this story resembles the books published under the Elseworlds imprint, which began in 1991 and ran through 2004. The Elseworlds comics were unconnected stories, each set in its own fantastical reimagining of what the world could be like. dc universe But unlike many of those stories, Dark Knights of Steel It’s not just about fan service, or an extravagant backdrop for an otherwise ordinary story. The series is clearly establishing a story focused on the conflict between the Kryptonians and the people of Earth. It raises questions about the will to power and whether force does good. Superman and his sister Zala-El have powers beyond what any human could dream of. What happens when they use that power to be conquerors instead of heroes?
This is also not a new idea. Gentlemen Steel doesn’t do anything revolutionary by placing Batman as a hero with one foot in both worlds, the alien and the human. Superman fills a similar role in many of his stories. But he does it with a creative talent and a capacity for reinvention that surpasses the rest of the group, even in an industry dedicated to telling stories with existing characters. Whether it’s a half-Kryptonian Batman, a Joker/Lex Luthor-crazed Green Lantern, or Poison Ivy reimagined as a dryad queen of the woods, the fantastical world Taylor, Putri, Prianto and Abbot have conjured up never ceases to amaze readers. .
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