DC Comics’ Dark Knights of Steel #4 answers plenty of questions. Writer Tom Taylor, artist Bengal, colorist Arif Prianto, and letterer Wes Abbott give us a history lesson about this alternate version of the DC Universe. While this issue has plenty of action and drama, it’s the quiet, intimate moments that shine.
Taylor’s script fills in many of Dark Knights of Steel‘s blanks. But, in some cases, the mystery was more interesting than Taylor’s answers. Taylor takes us through the lives of the Els. With exploding volcanoes, twisted villains, and devastating heartbreak, there’s plenty to talk about in these pages. It often feels that it’s the flashiest moments, however, that fall flat. They blend into the usual chaos of comic book madness. Instead, it’s the details of the friendship between the Waynes and the Els that feel like a breath of fresh air. Taylor takes typical family drama tropes and turns them on their head in heartwarming ways. So while this issue’s action felt run of the mill, their were still stunning moments to witness, like pauses between crashing waves.
Bengal similarly struggles with this script. His art is stunning, but it’s jam-packed with emotional sequences. These moments feel melodramatic in a way that robs the story of stakes. When King Jefferson’s eyes crackle with power at the sound of bad news, it feels like too much. And when Jor-El screams at someone for looking to the stars for insight, the outburst is sudden and less terrifying than a calm delivery of the same line. But then, the same moments that work well in the writing work brilliantly in the art as well. When characters hide their faces, or turn away from the reader, it speaks to us more than any expression could. And when the characters are full of a simple happiness, a slight smile on their faces, you can’t help but smile along with them.
There’s a wonderful thing that Prianto does with the color scheme of Dark Knights of Steel #4. It quickly becomes clear that certain colors mean specific things. Red is often associated with the power of the Els. Even the red glow of a volcano quickly provides an opportunity for the Els to show their might. Conversely, green is the color of encroaching evil. It’s the color of Kryptonite and death. Right after we see a character undergo a green tinted metamorphosis, we come back to a peaceful scene of celebration. But in the background, there’s a green tarp that’s held up by sticks. It feels as though Prianto is hinting that the danger hasn’t passed, it’s still hiding in the shadows. And with that, even joyful moments in garden paradises can become omens of oncoming doom.
Abbott’s approach to lettering in Dark Knights of Steel #4 manages to be both straightforward and fun. His sound effects mimic what’s happening in the scene. The sound of a fist breaking a rock into bits looks cracked and like it’s splitting into pieces. The noise of heat vision piercing the air is written in a font that looks like it’s made up of lasers. The quiet snapping of wood is shown in small, jagged lettering. Abbott blends his letters into the story, but if you stop to notice them you see how they’re full of a playful flair.
DC Comics’ Dark Knights of Steel #4 is full of punchy action that ultimately feels quite forgettable. But in the margins of these scenes, in the respites from the chaos and drama, there are beautiful moments that will stick with you. Pick up Dark Knights of Steel #4, out from DC Comics February 1st, at a comic shop near you.