Whether in comics, TV or, Film, fans have witnessed variations of Batman’s origin story countless times, but perhaps the most most interesting take on the character’s genesis was when he was one of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. Not only that, but The (in this case literal) Dark Knight was invited to pull up a seat twice. And both times were pretty weird. Apparently Arthurian legend was a hot commodity in the late ’90s, because the two separate DC imprints – Tangent Comics and Elsewords – brought us their interpretations toward the tail end of 1998.
Beginning with Tangent Comics’ Batman #1: Covenant of Iron, from writer Dan Jurgens and artist Klaus Janson. The story opens in what seems to be the near future, which is strange, because the voice-over panels read like ye olde English. The unseen speaker is tracking a super villain called Prysm. When it’s finally revealed who’s narrating, it’s quite a spectacle to behold. A red-and-purple-armored Batsuit, armed with a sword and a shield is on the villain’s trail, but is unable to stop her from breaking into a lab and kidnapping a scientist. Flying off like Iron Man, Batman returns to his lair – The Castle Bat – where readers learn there was no Batman in the suit at all. Instead it was being psychically controlled by a several-hundred-years-old man name Sir William. And this is where things get really strange.
William had been a Knight of King Arthur’s Court, bud after defying an order from Arthur, he is banished to the Castle Bat and a spell is placed on him that will confine him within the castle walls until he does enough good deeds to atone for his betrayal, hence the mind control heroism. After using his suit to rescue the doctor and exploding the building containing Prysm and her cohorts (Batman murdering is going to become a theme here), the suit returns to Castle Bat, where William continues his life of solitude.
Next up is the Elseworlds story Dark Knight of the Round Table from Bob Layton and Dick Giordano and if that last story wasn’t bizarre enough, this one should scratch that itch. After Sir Thomas of Waynsemoor and his family, including Bruce of Waynesmoor, are exiled from Camelot they find their ship attached by giant man-sized demon bats sent by the sorceress Morgana LeFay. They quickly take out Bruce’s parents in a wholly original take on the foundational moment. They don’t even bother with the pearls.
Craziness follows. The young Bruce ends up being trained in combat by Merlin, who himself has been transformed into a giant bat. Once grown, Bruce is given an enchanted suit of armor and his battle prowess impresses them so much that the Knights of the Round Table invite him to join. Also now Bruce can use the suit to magically teleport and rides into battle on a unicorn named Stormrunner. And a fairly abrupt time jump in the final panels sees the Batplane shooting down Nazi planes in WWII. Plus, readers get to meet Arthurian-era versions of Alfred, Robin and Ra’s and Talia Al Ghul,
The books also contain some seriously brutal moments. Like when Robin – still a child – is stabbed to death by one of Ra’s Al Ghul’s assassins, after which Batman decapitates the attacker. The death toll in these books are astounding, literally topping 100,000. Besides the dozens, if not hundreds, of people readers see Batman kill in the earlier pages, a panel toward the end of the story tells readers that out of the 100,000 men that entered the final battle, only three were left standing.
Whether you’re a fan of Arthurian legend or not, the books should prove interesting to any Batman, even if it’s just for the sake of getting a totally fresh take on the character. Just know that either way you’re in for a while ride.
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