The DC Multiverse is a strange and wondrous thing, full of unique, vibrant worlds both familiar and unlike anything you’ve ever dreamed. Tom Taylor has a knack for writing both. In bestselling, continuity-set books like Nightwing and Superman: Son of Kal-El, he’s continued and expanded the stories for some of DC’s most beloved superheroes, finding new depths of characterization to explore and making bold decisions to broaden his heroes’ appeal. But Taylor first made his mark on DC fans by showing how far he could push, stretch and alter those same characters, while keeping them true to the people we know and love. Injustice showed us a universe of heroes at war with each other and how quickly good intentions tarred by unlimited power can spiral into tyranny. Meanwhile, DCeased pushed its version of the DC Universe to the brink of an undead apocalypse, showing us that the only thing worse than a zombie is a super-powered zombie.
Now, teamed with artist Yasmine Putri, Taylor is once again taking us to a new corner of the DC Multiverse, a medieval world where castles and kings reign supreme. But this realm of swords and sorcery is about to get an unexpected visitor from the stars who will change its destiny and possibly bring about its destruction.
…or maybe be its salvation. It’s so hard to tell with prophecies at times.
The twelve-issue, limited series Dark Knights of Steel launches next week with a debut chapter that’s so unlike anything we’ve seen from Taylor, we had no choice but to sit him and Putri down for a chat about how they pulled it off and what fans can expect from the series going forward. And as if that’s not enticing enough, we’ve paired it with an exclusive sneak peek at the first issue.
Give us your elevator pitch for people who haven't heard about this limited series so they can get a sense of what to expect from this.
Tom Taylor: Look, it’s swords, sorcery and superheroes. And it’s the birth of a new DC Universe. It is the smashing together of high fantasy, epic fantasy, and superheroes in a way that I don’t think has ever been done before. It has the absolutely stunning art of Yasmine Putri in what is, amazingly and mind-blowingly, her first ever 26-page issue.
How did you choose the medieval world as a setting? Was that part of your pitch for the series all along?
TT: Ben Abernathy came to me about two and a half years ago, when we were first starting out on DCeased, and asked what sort of other books I’d like to do, what sort of other alternate worlds, and in the end he suggested a fantasy book. He didn't know at the time that I am a fantasy nut. I read comics and I read fantasy books—that's literally all I read. And I've read fantasy books from as young as I could remember, like I read Lord of the Rings when I was nine. This is my world.
Being able to combine the two things that I love the most in storytelling was one of the most exciting prospects I've ever heard. And so, it was really Ben, and then Yasmine started doing character sketches. We were playing with different styles and different influences. I think there are a lot of early designs that were sort of more intricate, so we simplified and also made characters instantly recognizable in this setting.
How much research went into find the style for this medieval era?
Yasmine Putri: We pitched different ideas at the beginning. We started with more intricate details that closely resembled typical high fantasy more. After a lot of back and forth, we decided on a more recognizable approach because it’s what the story needed. The characters that you’ll see in issue #1 especially will be recognizable. They will be draped in costumes that are more familiar with the reader, so they will be instantly recognizable. Not too intricate, not too crazy, at least not yet. We’re not allowed to say what the future holds yet.
Yasmine, were you attached to this project from the beginning? How did you wind up coming on board?
YP: I was brought into this by Ben Abernathy. He pitched the story to me like, “It’s a high fantasy story and Tom Taylor is going be writing it.” And so I said, “Yeah, sure! Count me in.” I was involved in the project from the start. Ben pitched this particular book with Tom Taylor’s name already in it, and since I’ve worked with Tom before, it was an instant yes for me.
TT: I will say Yasmine was the first and then consequently only name that ever came up for this. It was exactly who I wanted who could create this world with me. Ben agreed, and we’re very grateful that she said yes.
I would love for the two of you to describe your working relationship and how you collaborate on stories like this.
TT: It's just heaps of emails. That's all it has been. This is the first time we've actually spoken in person, which is weird. It's just heaps of emails. Yasmine sending layouts and designs. Ben and I weighing in, and going back and forth. I think in issue #1, we got into it a lot. There was a lot of discussion, especially because was it was Yasmine's first ever full-length comic. But since then we've needed less and less feedback, because with everything Yasmine delivered, Ben and I just tended to send back, “Wow. Oh my god, that's so amazing.”
YP: What Tom said! There was a lot of support at the beginning because we’re still building the entire world and we’re still deciding on the on the look and on the style. But as the story and design process progressed, the back and forth became less and less and it became this more seamless collaboration. Emails are more infrequent. We get together every once in a while to show the new design for the new script, and everyone goes yay or nay. That’s it. There are no lengthy emails threads about how this should look like this, that should look like that, and this should not be influenced by this. I think the process nowadays is a lot more seamless than the process was last year.
This series will bring in DC Universe characters in unexpected ways and places. Talk about building a new DC Universe in this fantasy realm and what it’s like to reimagine these characters.
TT: You go through all your favorites. So obviously, it all starts with a prophecy from John Constantine, because he's one of my absolute favorite characters. I love him and Harley Quinn—two great characters that speak truth to power. So, you've got Constantine as the advisor to the court of the Kingdom of Storms, which is Black Lightning and his family. And then you've got Harley Quinn as the adviser to the El court—Superman. I won't give it away, but the third advisor for the Amazons makes a lot of sense.
I always look to who's going to have the best voice in this world. Who's the best to describe this, and who is the best to narrate this? That was John Constantine. And then Harley coming in, instantly, you've got this sort of stoicism in what would otherwise be stilted court scenes. You've got Harley just giving them crap constantly. She's flicking Batman's ears and is dressed as a court jester. She is a jester in this as well as an advisor. She says she's paid to juggle and advise, and she can do both at the same time.
It's just taking those characters we love and also characters that I've loved seeing Yasmine draw before, and then changing it up so that we've got interesting dynamics. We've got these three different kingdoms that we see in the first few issues and, and Black Lightning is one of those kings, which makes a lot of sense.
All of us are a product the time period that we were born in. How are Batman and Superman different in this era? How has it shaped their personalities?
TT: This isn’t just transplanting the DC Universe and sticking it in a place with castles and horses. This is an entirely new spin on the origins you know. These origins are completely different, these people are different. Their soul is similar, and their mannerisms are similar. Superman and Batman, I think, are still Bruce and Clark in a lot of ways, but their roles are different. Batman is essentially a witcher. His job is to find magic users and lock them up. That’s his quest. Instead of crime, it’s fighting against magic. What he sees as magic is anyone with powers, because magic is the one thing that can threaten Superman. That’s his role, and Superman doesn’t like that Batman is always trying to protect him. Especially when axes break on his skin, he wants to be out there, he wants to help, and Batman won’t let him. It’s a different dynamic, but it’s still a fairly recognizable dynamic with recognizable characters.
Dark Knights of Steel #1 by Tom Taylor and Yasmine Putri is available in print and as a digital comic book on Tuesday, November 2.
It’s great to escape to a new world, but right now, Christopher Chance would just be happy to escape with life. Head on over to the DC Community for an exclusive sneak peek at Tom King and Greg Smallwood’s The Human Target #1!