There are many AUs (alternative universes) that fandoms love to indulge in, but fantasy AUs are without a doubt the greatest. And who can blame them? To see modern or futuristic characters who look like they belong Dungeons & Dragons is always fun to watch. The Big Two comics have slowly entered this area: Marvel tried it teenage Master back in 2018, and now DC is tackling it with Dark Knights of Steel, complete with variant cover styled according to character sheets.
Currently writing Superman: Son of Kal-El and Natvinge, Tom Taylor came to fame primarily through Injustice and Dophørt. These books also provided alternative bids for DC characters, and Steel makes its biggest change right at the start when Jor-El and a pregnant Lara escape Krypton’s end. After a crash landing in medieval Europe, just as Kal was born, the story leaps about 20 years forward and into the actual story. With Kal as the gaping young prince of the Kingdom of El, eager to explore the lands outside his castle, Batman serves as his bodyguard – a bastard knight who swore to protect Els along with a troop of Robins serving as a strike force.
As for setups for an AU, this is not a bad place to start. Taylor continues to excel at writing DC’s A and B tier characters, and there’s something fun about watching medieval versions of Robins, Green Arrow, and Black Canary strut around. (Even if in this first issue there is no real reason for anyone like Harley or Constantine to be here other than to remind you that he likes these characters.) Yasmine Putri, who specializes in variations of covers for DC , blends reality and imagination perfectly into her art. Scenes of Black Canary exploding a pub with her Canary Cry or Black Lightning as a king hold a different sense of awe than how we have seen them today.
If only history could match the visual. Where Injustice and Dophørt had their own absurd energies that were relatively clear from the leap, Steel feels lifeless in comparison. Not that it needs to be as bloodthirsty as Taylor’s other AUs or other fantasy contemporaries (or full of self-conscious narratives, for that matter), it needs to have something in addition to simply inserting these characters in the Middle Ages. It could do a lot more with his attitude – even if it at least tries to offer something new with the help of Batman, who finds out that he is Jor-El’s son.
That revelation is decent in itself, but then an arrow fired from Oliver Queen (and suppressed with Lantern energy) gets Jor right in the eye and kills him. It is completely absurd, and has nuances of Injustice occasional cruelty. If the question had more of that energy, it would be a nice start to a new AU. As it is, it feels like a mixed performance roll: compelling enough, but you know it can do better.
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