Warning: spoilers for Dark Knights of Steel # 1 are ahead.
One of the most provocative matchups in DC Comics history will always be Batman against Superman. As two of DC’s oldest characters, as well as their most popular, a battle between Batman and Superman is shocking to consider because they are both considered benevolent heroes. While there are qualities that make them relateable to readers, both characters have at least one immovable thing about them, whether it’s Superman’s powers or Batman’s extreme wealth. These elements, along with their moral codes, are what permeate Batman and Superman with a sense of power and authority within the world of superhero comics. That said, a new series is called Dark Knights of Steel deconstructs all about the power of Batman and Superman and reveals the seams of fans’ expectations forged through decades of release history.
Tom Taylor, Yasmine Putri and Wes Abbot’s new limited series, Dark Knights of Steel, offers the boldest re-creation of Superman and Batman myths in recent memory. Set in a medieval world where Superman’s parents survived the destruction of Krypton and established their own kingdom on Earth, Dark Knights of Steel brings together some of the greatest figures in the DC Universe into a story of epic, mythical proportions. The first issue is about a young Kal-El, as he becomes more and more dissatisfied with his father’s intolerance of magical creatures, the only figures on Earth who pose a threat to their kingdom. Kal-El’s best friend, Bruce Wayne, is a Witcher-like figure responsible for chasing the magical creatures that enter the House of Els territory. The future of Krypton’s last family changes irrevocably as Jor-El admits to Bruce that he is in fact his illegitimate son, shortly before he is murdered by Green Arrow.
While circumstances know Dark Knights of Steel is vastly different from any DC Comics story that came before it, it operates along familiar themes of power and authority, which are also present in the 2016 DCEU film, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. But in this case, the conflict is in Dark Knights of Steel deconstructs the ways in which power and authority exist as the basis of superhero comics. While Zack Snyder’s film treats power as an innate quality to be inherited, seen in Superman’s cryptic abilities and Batman’s family wealth, Taylor and Putri’s cartoon demonstrates that this legacy is in itself a construct formed to maintain a ruler’s image as a moral authority. Using a medieval context to their story, Taylor and Putri revise the themes of power from Batman vs. Superman to reveal how superheroes achieve their own sense of moral authority in the first place.
The medieval vision of Dark Knights of Steel draws a connection between the sanctification of rulers in the Middle Ages and the deification of characters like Superman in comics and movies. Zack Snyder portrayed Superman as a messiah-like figure in Batman vs. Superman because of the immense power that his abilities give him over humans on Earth, while Taylor is quick to avoid this by revealing the truth about Bruce Wayne’s birth. By creating flawed characters in a world where there are consequences for the discovery of these flaws, Taylor illustrates how power is something to be protected and controlled by the House of El, instead of remaining a static quality as in Batman vs. Superman.
Dark Knights of Steel creates real stakes for a Batman and Superman battle.
Batman vs. Superman is relevant to a story like Dark Knights of Steel because its history outlines the differences between Batman and Superman’s power in the DC Universe by setting them diametrically apart. For Snyder, Superman’s physical strength is a term for his morality, while Batman’s power is derived from material wealth. However, Dark Knights of Steel gives its story a set of moral efforts that Batman vs. Superman deficiencies, represented by the symbolic object of the throne.
Taylor’s decision to put Dark Knights of Steel in a medieval world, attention is drawn to the ways superheroes are made to be as morally exceptional as monarchs, where the throne is representative of this. In medieval stories such as Dark Knights of Steel, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and Thor, the throne is an object that represents power, often within a moral framework. Characters fight over who gets to sit on the throne in a demonstration of the conflict between good and evil, and all the nuances in between. This goes back to how monarchs in the Middle Ages were considered to have a God-given right to rule, giving them a sense of moral superiority over their subjects. And yet, as Jor-El’s death and the revelation of Bruce Wayne’s descent at the end of number one show, the throne exists in an uncertain position at all times.
The Dark Knights of Steel permeate Batman with a new kind of power.
IN Dark Knights of Steel, with the revelation of Bruce Wayne’s true lineage and status as a bastard, Taylor again sees Batman as having a form of subversive power that stems from moral imperfections, as opposed to perfection. The medieval context of the story creates specific efforts for this, as Bruce’s existence shatters the House of Els image as rightful rulers. Bruce’s political threat to the throne, represented by the fact that he is entitled to it as Jor-El’s son, thus also exists as a moral threat to the sanctity of Superman’s family. This differs markedly from Batman vs. Superman‘s conflict because there are actual political consequences for Jor-El to be seen as anything but a perfect ruler.
Moreover, the fact that Bruce gained this power when he learned the truth about his lineage reflects how power is a construction in both medieval stories as well as superhero stories. Although Bruce has always been Jor-El’s biological son, it was only before he was recognized as such that he actually had any power in history, in contrast to Kal-El, who is “practically a God” in comparison . This is a much more complex vision of power in DC Comics, and one that does Dark Knights of Steel such a bold bid for the origin of Batman.
With the first issue of Dark Knights of Steel, Tom Taylor and Yasmine Putri have set the stage for a deep study of the authorities’ input into a medieval world of superheroes. This continues a major discussion related to power in superhero comics, especially when it comes to Superman, which is currently taking place in this new era of Infinite limit. And while the events in Dark Knights of Steel is not canon, they provide an alternative understanding of the relationship between Batman and Superman, which will continue to remain relevant as more stories are written in the future.
There are many parallels between the Middle Ages and the superhero genre, and Dark Knights of Steel makes use of its brand new context to get into the heart of Superman and Batman’s characters. While the fight between the two heroes enters Batman vs. Superman stopped because both their mothers are named Martha, the fight between Batman and Superman has only begun in Dark Knights of Steel because both their fathers are Jor-El. Either way, this series is ready to take Batman and Superman to new heights, this time with a cause worth fighting for.
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