Warning: The following contains spoilers for Dark Knights of Steel and Marvel 1602
DCs Dark Knights of Steel has offered fans many twists and turns on the established tales of the DC universe, from Superman’s parents surviving to Batman’s new lineage. As author Tom Taylor’s series continues, however, war threatens the horizon, and its perhaps most important inclusion is how much the heroes’ moral greyness weighs on the reader. In fact, its historical surroundings and revisions of the canon bring to mind one of the defining Marvels’ alternative universes, Neil Gaimans Marvel 1602.
Marvel 1602 is a 2003 publication depicting the heroes of the universe beginning their careers in 1602, not the mid-20th century. Andy Kubert’s art portrays a dark and dirty London, a Gothic Latveria and a bright and wild America. Since this series sets Marvel’s universe long before the Industrial Revolution, many of the history beats repeat them Dark Knights of Steel.
Given Marvel 1602‘s status as an exemplary text in comic book history, compare Dark Knights of Steel against it seems only appropriate. The art, plot, and characters are a fan focus in new universes, and their structure can show the power of spinoff.
Marvel 1602 and Dark Knights of Steel’s evocative visual storytelling
The art of Marvel 1602 leans into the atmospheric intentions of the scene. Mysterious figures are in the shadows, and heroes shine according to their boldness. Matt Murdock, a blind bard in this universe, stands out from other patrons at a pub because not only of his personality and Todd Klein’s characters, but because his bold character fills as much of the panel as possible.
However, all this attention to the atmosphere is not as important as the overall style. The panels appear inspired by contemporary woodcuts and lithographs; large, straight lines for shadows and softened edges evoke the style of the technologies, as defined images at the time the narrative unfolds. This careful delimitation of essentially straight lines or circles makes a unique art style shine through. Even the series’ dinosaurs feel unique at the same time from other appearances in comic book media and at home in Kubert’s world.
Dark Knights of Steel makes an effort to evoke the art of medieval Europe, but does so less directly than Marvel 1602. Yasmine Putri’s art seems to draw more inspiration from the colors of medieval paintings, with a strong emphasis on gold and sharp, dark contrast. Putri’s art direction also focuses more on the page as a whole, overlapping images or separating them to convey a sense of purpose or sensation in the reader. This is also an expression of medieval art, especially triptychs: a set of three paintings that are considered as a whole as a single image or as one of its three parts. Given that triptychs often show movement or tell a story, the transition to comics is cross-border. Putri using this is amazingly simple and extremely effective.
Marvel 1602 does not suffer from a lack of characters as almost all major Marvel players show up. The story recreates what would have happened if the Roanoke colony had not disappeared, with Steve Rogers traveling through time in his fight against superhero persecution. This causes Marvel heroes to show up early, and the story follows as a result.
Marvel 1602 and Dark Knights of Steel: The Twists of Gaiman and Taylor
Gaiman’s story is a masterpiece that weaves itself into well-known heroes, but gives them new roles that put them naturally in orbit with each other. Captain America’s part of the story is particularly masterful, as the characters identify him as an Indian who happens to be blonde. Since the other characters are altered versions of themselves, Captain America’s twist of just being itself is an ingenious undermining of expectations.
That Dark Knights of Steel The series is currently underway, so the main plot points are limited to the revelation of Batman’s cryptic ancestry and his father’s death. Zala Jor-El, Superman’s younger sister, kills the kingdom in the Kingdom of the Storms. These events, both malicious, paint the characters as a moral gray.
The untraditional version of Superman in Dark Knights of Steel highlights the effect it had on him being king. Instead of a dutiful protector of rights, he emerges as a privileged monarch. These changes in characterization follow in Gaiman’s footsteps with great effect. Since the characters behave differently than how fans have seen them, the next beat in the story is as unexpected as the last.
Perhaps the most effective “character” in Marvel 1602, but where Gaiman and Kubert shine most clearly is the setting of the story. Marvel 1602 operates in the Roanoke Colony and London, with a performance by Latveria. Dark Knights of Steel, on the other hand, is set in The Kingdom of Storms, Themyscira and the lands around the Castle El. While this is intended to bring out the fantasy environment, these kingdoms are, yet, relatively not yet so concretized.
This is in part an apparently targeted action. The heroes of DC tend to operate out of fictional cities, whereas Marvel’s 616 takes place in the real world. Gotham feels alive with crime and gothic impressionism, and Metropolis ‘magnificent splendor with the golden dome on the Daily Planet is almost as recognizable as the New York or Los Angeles’ skyline. But the stories that take place in these places make them feel alive.
IN 1602, the characters interact directly with real historical figures. Captain America’s actions are directly related to Roanoke’s historical significance. The meticulous changes at each location show the care taken to reconstruct the locations. The most detailed place per Dark Knights of Steel # 3 has been the dungeon below Castle El, which fleetingly shows well-known magical DC characters.
As Dark Knights of Steel ends his race, further comparisons to Marvel 1602 will – and should – be made. Among the art, the story and the setting, the two stories look more like they may look at first blush. Gaiman’s masterpiece can serve as greater inspiration should Dark Knights of Steel has spin-offs. In the end, though, both series shine in their own unique way, and the comic book community is richer for their imaginative approaches to subjects that are decades (and centuries) old.
Keep reading: Dark Knights of Steel artist Yasmine Putri teases a new realm of possibilities
Marvel’s next war will bring shame to the clash between The Avengers and the X-Men
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