Dark Knights of Steel #1 (of 12)

(W) Tom Taylor (A) Yasmine Putri

Welcome to the latest edition of the Tom Taylor corner, who we have recently learned has signed exclusively to write for DC.  And as a DC fan, this is certainly excited, though I had always secretly hoped for another volume of Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man….

But anyway, back to the DC Universe meets Game of Thrones.  This was an exceptionally fun opening issue.  We see the familiar beats of Krypton exploding, and Jor-El and Lara talking about needing to send their son away from here and start a new life.  Thew twist this time?  The parents actually flee their dying planet with their son this time.  They crash land in a strange place, where Jor-El instantly uses his powers to defend his family.  At the same time, a seer named John Constantine is having visions of strangers arriving and how they will spell humanities end.

Flash forward 19 years and Kal-El is all grown up and the lands are now known as the Kingdom of El.  Bruce Wayne’s parents used to rule the lands but are now deceased and have entrusted the ruling of the land to Jor-El, relying on their abilities and moral fibre to rule over the kingdom, and usher in peace.  Batman acts as a Knight for the El Family, and is dark and brooding as we’ve always come to know him to be.  He has a fleet of Robins under him to utilise.  And Harley Quinn is present as the King’s Jester and provides most of the comic relief for the issue.

The main hook that they story ends on is to do with Bruce Wayne’s heritage.  He was subject to an attack from this worlds Black Canary, whose scream should have torn Bruce to pieces.  However, he survived and is not sure why any mortal would have.  He believes himself to be cursed.  But maybe in this world, Bruce Wayne is more than a mere mortal…

This was an awesome first issue.  As ever, Taylor’s strength is in his world building and his trust in his audience that they will recognise characters from the DC Universe, and enjoy his twists on those characters.  In the first issue here we are introduced to Batman, Superman, Constantine, Black Lightning, Black Canary, Harley Quinn, Stephanie Brown, Dick Grayson, Green Arrow and more.  Batman and Superman are almost warring brothers, unsure of each other’s motives and practices.  It’s a relationship that has been explored in so many ways in previous comic series, yet Taylor may have just found a fresh take here given revelations that are unearthed towards the last few pages.

Yasmine Putri’s art is fantastic.  It is by turns bright and heroic, but also dark and foreboding.  It is a perfect fit for this kind of material.  The designs of the character’s suits all include subtle hints to classic looks meaning you know who is who, but they also feel new and interesting.  She also does the colouring work for the series and it elevates the art even further.

A supremely confident, entertaining and beautiful start to DC’s latest maxiseries, and once again Tom Taylor remains a writer you know will deliver.

Batman: The Long Halloween Special #1 Review

(W) Jeph Loeb (A) Tim Sale

Just as I’d mentioned the pairings of Brubaker/Phillips and Condon/Phillips as being a mark of quality, you can certainly have Loeb/Sale in that list.

The Long Halloween was one of the first Batman maxiseries I ever read, and since that time, has remained firmly in my top 5 Batman stories of all time.  A series that managed to incorporate everyone in Batman’s rogues gallery effortlessly into the story, while exploring the dynamic between Batman, Harvey Dent & Commisioner Gordon, it also manages to focus on the crime families in Gotham as well as introduce a new villain.  It was all absolutely effortless, brilliant writing weaving the tale and career best art from Sale as he presented a noir tinged, stylised version of Gotham.  It’s no surprise that Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was so heravily influenced by the book.

So when I see we’re returning to this world, with the original creators, to tell a one shot tale, I approached it with massive excitement but also with a tinge of trepidation.  Could it possibly match up to the original masterpiece?  Would it add anything new?  Was there any point?

I’m glad to say it was a big fat yes on all counts, as this was one of my favourite single issues of 2021.  The set up alone was brilliant.

In The Long Halloween, Batman was chasing a killer who always committed the acts on holidays.  So a murder takes place on Halloween, on Thanksgiving, on Christmas etc.  In Batman lore, the obvious suspect was Calendar Man. However, it was not him, but someone who would take on the moniker of The Holiday Killer.  I won’t reveal who that killer was, as trying to work it out is one of the big pleasures of a first read through.  However, it has always grated on Calendar Man that someone essentially stole his gimmick so to speak, so this special starts out with him essentially trying to reclaim his name, by committing criminal acts in the lead up to Halloween.

Harvey Dent/Two Face has also resurfaced, Robin is kicking around, and the relationship between Gordon and Batman is as strong as ever.

Considering this is only a 48 page special, there is so much great storytelling here.  It feels longer.  Jeph Loeb has slid brilliantly back into this world and it’s like he’s never missed a beat.  There’s a brilliant central mystery and noir sensibility driving the story, but there’s also some levity and humour.  Barbara Gordon wanting to go trick or treating with Robin (who of course is much younger here than Batman), and she dresses up as Batgirl right in front of her father to do so?  Fantastic stuff.

Sale’s art, while not quite as sharp and detailed as the original tale (though to be fair, not many people could reach that standard in their prime let alone 25 years later), still connects to this world, and his character design remains fantastic.  The colours from Brennan Wagner perfectly conveys the film noir feel Loeb and Sale are going for and letterer Richard Starkings shines, using different fonts from when Harvey speaks or Two Face speaks, adds a subtle touch that just adds to the overall atmosphere of the book.

The ending is both definitive but also open ended.  If it all came to an end her then this was a perfect, unexpected send off.  Though a thread or two remains, so if Loeb and Sale ever wanted to revisit this world, they would have my money.  A thoroughly brilliant one shot title.

And if you haven’t read the original The Long Halloween, stop reading this right now and go do yourself a favour and grab it right away.  In fact, talking about it, I may just indulge in a re-read myself over the weekend…

DC vs Vampires #1 Review

(W) Matthew Rosenberg, James Tynion IV (A) Otto Schmidt

A new supernatural DC event from the creators of Hawkeye Freefall, with Tynion thrown in for good measure?  Sign me up.  Hopes were understandably high for this one, and I’m glad to say that it didn’t disappoint!

These are always great titles to enjoy for the simple fact that no-one is safe in these Elseworlds tales, as evidenced by the character deaths straight out of the gate in issue 1.  There’s always something great about taking the safety blanket away in terms of knowing your heroes will always come out on top, and win in the end, surviving to see another day. Titles such as this, and DCEASED, take that feeling of safety away and replace it with a feeling of dread…

Bringing back Andrew Bennett, the protagonist from the absolutely brilliant and criminally underrated I, Vampire series from the New 52, is an inspired choice, as is suggesting that these plans for the undead to overthrow civilisation have been in the works for a while.  This is no sudden occurrence, or change to the status quo brought about by an apocalyptic event.  Vampires have always been there in the background, and you don’t know who they’ve got to, or which of the heroes we can trust.

This is always a great set up, similar to John Carpenter’s The Thing, one of my favourite movies, because it engulfs this horror tale with a mystery as well, and a large sense of distrust.  We find out in issue 1 that a longtime legacy character is in league with Vampires, and it’s quite a shocking moment.

This was simply a fun ride, and a maxi-series of 12 issues seems the perfect length for this tale, in which there’s enough time to flesh out the story and characters, but that it won’t outstay its welcome.