Marvel Twist Vs. DC’s Dark Medieval Superhero: Which Story Works Best?

Warning: The following contains spoilers for Dark Knights of Steel and Marvel 1602

DC Black Knights of Steel offered fans plenty of twists on established DC Universe narratives, from surviving Superman parents to the new Batman bloodline. As writer Tom Taylor’s series continues, however, war looms on the horizon, and perhaps its most significant inclusion is how much the heroes’ moral dullness weighs on the reader. In fact, its historical setting and canon revisions are reminiscent of one of Marvel’s defining alternate universes, that of Neil Gaiman. Wonder 1602.

Marvel 1602 is a 2003 publication imagining the universe’s heroes beginning their careers in 1602, not the mid-20th century. Andy Kubert’s art depicts a dark and grimy London, a gothic Latvia, and a bright and wild America. Since this series defines the Marvel Universe long before the Industrial Revolution, many story beats echo those of Black Knights of Steel.


Given Wonder 1602exemplary text status in the history of comics, comparing Black Knights of Steel on the other hand, it seems right. The art, plot, and characters are front and center for fans in new universes, and their structure can show the strength of spinoffs.

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The evocative visual storytelling of Marvel 1602 and Dark Knights of Steel


Marvel 1602 Crew

The art of Wonder 1602 delves into the atmospheric intentions of the scene. The mysterious figures are in the shade and the heroes are illuminated according to their audacity. Matt Murdock, a blind bard in this universe, stands out from the other patrons of a tavern not only because of his personality and the Todd Klein lettering, but also because his bold character takes up the panel as much as possible.


However, all this attention to atmosphere is not as important as the overall style itself. The panels appear inspired by woodcuts and lithographs of the time; large straight lines for the shadows and soft edges evoke the style of the technologies, which defined the images at the time the narrative was defined. This careful limitation of essentially straight lines or circles makes a unique artistic style shine through. Even the series’ dinosaurs feel both unique from other appearances in comic media and at home in Kubert’s world.

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Black Knights of Steel endeavors to evoke the art of medieval Europe, but does so less directly than Wonder 1602. Yasmine Putri’s art seems to draw more inspiration from the colors found in medieval paintings, with a heavy emphasis on gold and a dark, stark contrast. Putri’s art direction also focuses more on the page as a whole, layering images or separating them to convey a target emotion or sensation to the reader. It also evokes medieval art, in particular the triptychs: a set of three paintings considered as a whole as a single image or as one of its three parts. Since triptychs often display movement or tell a story, the transfer to comics is borderline obvious. Putri using it is incredibly simple and very effective.


Wonder 1602 doesn’t suffer from a lack of characters, as nearly every major Marvel actor makes an appearance. The story reimagines what would have happened if the Roanoke Colony hadn’t disappeared, as Steve Rogers travels back in time in his fight against the persecution of superheroes. This makes Marvel heroes emerge early, and the story follows suit.

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Marvel 1602 and Dark Knights of Steel: The twists of Gaiman and Taylor


Gaiman’s story is a masterpiece, weaving together familiar heroes but giving them new roles that naturally put them in orbit with each other. Captain America’s role in the story is particularly masterful, as the characters identify him as a Native American who happens to be blond. Given that the other characters are altered versions of themselves, Captain America’s twist on just being himself is a brilliant subversion of expectations.


the Black Knights of Steel The series is currently ongoing, so the main plot points are limited to the revelation of Batman’s Kryptonian parentage and the death of his father. Zala Jor-El, Superman’s younger sister, kills the royalty of the Kingdom of Storms. These events, both malevolent, paint the characters as morally grey.

The non-traditional version of Superman in Black Knights of Steel highlights the effect that being a royal had on him. Instead of being a duty-bound protector of rights, he forges ahead as a privileged monarch. These characterization changes follow in Gaiman’s footsteps to great effect. Since the characters act differently than how fans have seen them, the next story beat is as unexpected as the last.

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Perhaps the most impactful “character” of Wonder 1602, however, and where Gaiman and Kubert shine the most, is the setting of the story. Wonder 1602 operates in Roanoke Colony and London, with a guest appearance by Latveria. Black Knights of Steel, on the other hand, is set in The Kingdom of Storms, Themyscira, and the lands surrounding The Castle El. While this is meant to bring out the fantasy setting, these kingdoms aren’t quite as fleshed out just yet.

This is partly an apparently deliberate action. DC’s heroes tend to operate out of fictional cities, while Marvel’s 616 takes place in the real world. Gotham feels alive with crime and gothic impressionism, and the grand splendor of Metropolis, with the golden dome of the Daily Planet, is almost as recognizable as the skyline of New York or Los Angeles. However, the stories that take place in these places make them feel alive.

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In 1602, the characters interact directly with real historical figures. Captain America’s actions are directly tied to the historical significance of Roanoke. The minute changes in each place show the care taken in reconstructing the places. The most detailed location from Black Knights of Steel #3 was the dungeon beneath Castle El, which fleetingly shows familiar DC magical characters.

Like Black Knights of Steel finishes its race, other comparisons with Wonder 1602 will – and should – be done. Between the art, the story and the setting, the two stories are more similar than it seems at first glance. Gaiman’s masterpiece can serve as greater inspiration if Black Knights of Steel have fallout. Ultimately, though, both series shine in their own way, and the comics community is richer for its imaginative approaches to decades (and centuries) old subjects.


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