Dark Knights of Steel: Tales from the Three Kingdoms #1 is out with three stories delving deeper into the foundation work of this medieval world. Having taken a break since Dark Knight of Steel #7‘s release, it’s good to see this series hasn’t been forgotten.
This intermission comic takes place solely in the past of Prince Kal-El, Prince Bruce, and Princess Zala’s lives but highlights events that could easily impact the main storyline. Although solicited as a One-Shot, a spin-off series in this style would make a great companion piece.
The four covers to Tales from the Three Kingdoms #1 are absolutely amazing. The standard cover by Neil Googe and Antonio Fabela is an adorable depiction of the three young royals of The El Kingdom. Kal and Zala are all smiles as they hover next to Bruce scowling atop a gargoyle. You could almost imagine the three of them were playing a game of hide-and-seek and Bruce is annoyed he was discovered yet again. Although these are typical poses we’ve seen these characters in before, showing them at a younger age and in their fantasy stylized attire resonates an innocence that’s just too darn cute. I especially appreciate the use of colors with Kal and Zala posing in the sun while Bruce is on a shadowy part of the building.
Dan Mora’s variant adds a more serious tone to the concept of a young Prince Bruce. Still too small to fill out his Batman regalia, young Bruce brandishes his sword with intent in his eyes. The sun is setting off panel casting a literal Shadow of the Bat on the stone wall behind him. Mora’s expert use of colors really comes through as a bright, polished, metal sword doesn’t overpower the darker tones of Bruce’s outfit or the earthy stone wall.
We get a reinvented homage variant by Ejikure. Princess Zala Jor-El keeps a wall from falling on innocent bystanders as they run to safety. The angle of the wall and stance Zala has while keeping it aloft are undeniably nods to Action Comics #1’s iconic cover. The bright hues of Zala’s outtfit are really striking as it stands apart from the rest of the piece and adds the necessary heroic mood to the determination on her face.
Jay Anacleto and Romulo Fajardo Jr. offer up a fantastic Wonder Woman variant. Diana exudes pure joy riding her pegasus through the air. It’s hard to tell whether she’s joining a battle or just having a bit of sparring fun by the look of excitement on her face, but wielding her sword suggests some sort of conflict is about to take place. The Sun is almost blinding in the background adding to the overall “happy” tone of the cover.
Strangely enough the first story in Tales from the Three Kingdoms #1 isn’t given a title, but is written by regular series scribe Tom Taylor with letters by Wes Abbott and art by Caspar Wijngaard. On the surface it’s the story of how Prince Kal and Jimmy Olsen meet and become friends. It quickly turns into a World’s Finest outing, however, when children from the Arkham Orphanage go missing and Kal decides to get to the bottom of it himself.
Keeping tabs on the young prince, Bruce decides to follow and help investigate the disappearances. Not wanting to be left out of the fun, Zala also appears and the two older boys begrudgingly allow her to tag along. The orphanage angle is an interesting way to bring in Batman’s rogues gallery as Madam Arkham turns out to be a bit more than she seems. The story concludes with the fate of Elizabeth Arkham in the hands of General Waller and a questioning “The end…?” suggesting a possible future appearance of the characters introduced.
The second story entitled “The Flock” is written by Jay Kristoff with letters by Wes Abbott, colors by Romulo Fajardo Jr. and art by Sean Izaakse. It’s a Halloween celebration and Prince Kal has decided to mingle amongst his subjects. Along for the ride are the royal advisor Harley Quinn and Prince Bruce. Fajardo Jr takes this opportunity to put spectacles on Prince Kal as part of his costumed attire obviously having him resemble his Clark Kent persona.
As the three discuss varying principles of what it means to be a noble, the story turns into how Batman acquired his network of Robins. A small group of street urchins are using the Halloween Festival as a prime opportunity to steal from the rich and keep for themselves. When discovered and their ringleader ultimately captured, Bruce decides their talents may have a bit more usefulness. This story is more exposition heavy but I feel it adds an in depth look at the way these characters view the world and their role in it. Still remaining loyal to the characters they are, the dialogue they share gives them a uniqueness than just counterparts of their namesakes.
“King’s Bane” is the final tale by C.S. Pacat with art by Michele Bandini, colors by Antonio Fabela, and letters by Wes Abbott. As the title alludes, this story features Bane and his involvement in Prince Bruce’s life. The story fills in the gap of how Prince Bruce acquired some of his fighting style, but really showcases the civil unrest some of The Kingdom of El citizens have about Lara and Jor-El’s appointed rule. There’s some unexpected developments in Bane’s backstory that I found interesting along with a nice cameo/nod of The Secret Six that may or may not lead to something more. How this story plays out was truly unexpected and I feel the true consequences are yet to be seen.
Overall Dark Knights of Steel: Tales From The Three Kingdoms #1 is a great intermission issue to the main story that helps flesh out this world on a deeper level. It may have been nice to see stories from some of the other kingdoms as the cover title suggested but these stories felt more impactful to the world as a whole. Whether it’s giving us a bit more insight on how these characters think and act or filling in gaps on how certain elements came to be, this comic serves as a nice companion piece.