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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Kal & Batman: Dark Knight of the Round Table - From 1999

Modern literature abounds with re-tellings of myths. James Joyce and Eugene O'Neill are only two examples of modern writers who reshaped Greek myths. Does the opposite approach work and can modern myths be grafted onto old ones?

The King Arthur mythos has been utilized frequently. In the 1980s, DC Comics gave us Camelot 3000, an SF version of Arthur. If Arthur can nourish in the future, why can't modern heroes function in Arthur's fifth century world? Two of DC's more recent "Elseworlds" stories make valiant attempts.

Dave Gibbons gives us Superman: Kal, a single issue story in which Kal-El (Superman) is raised in England's Dark Age by peasants who consider his powers a form of witchcraft.

No story set in the Middle Ages is complete without a robber baron and a damsel in distress. On this Elseworld Lex Luthor and Lois Lane are cast in those roles. This tale is as dark and grim as any Elseworld story I can recall, yet it ends triumphantly.

Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez's art is not the best I've seen in Elseworld, but it is appropriate. I do quibble at some anachronisms: pipes and tobacco did not exist in the fifth century (unless this reality has a very different history).

Almost as grim are the two issues of Batman: Dark Knight of the Round Table. Bob Layton bases his story on one of Authur's darkest deeds: the attempted slaughter of young males in a futile attempt to destroy the infant Mordred. To this abominable deed, Layton welds the Batman mythos.

Young Bruce Wayne is one of the youngsters targeted by Arthur. He vows to destroy Arthur. Add the Holy Grail, Morgan Le Fay, Merlin, and Ra's al Ghul and you have a potent brew.

Layton's script is deeply influenced by John Boorman's film Excalibur. Dick Giordano"s art is up to his usual high standards.

Give Kal an A- and Batman an A, but give priority to finding the twelve issues of Camelot 3000 or the paperback reprint.

-- Dr. Jon Suter