Steel and Azrael once replaced Superman and Batman, and now in a new one-shot from DC, these two join forces as a new version of the World’s Finest.
Spoilers for Dark Nights: Death Metal: The Multiverse That Laughs #1 ahead!
Superman and Batman’s most underrated replacements have joined forces. Steel AKA John Henry Irons and Azrael, AKA Jean Paul Valley meet in Dark Nights: Death Metal: The Multiverse Who Laughs in “The Fear Index” by writer Brandon Thomas, artist Tom Mandrake, colorist Sian Mandrake, and letterer Deron Bennet. The one-shot, also featuring the talents of Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Amanda Conner and Patton Oswalt, is in stores November 24.
Both men have at some point replaced either Superman or Batman; Steel during the Reign of the Supermen story, when Superman was dead, and Azrael when Batman had his back broken by Bane during the Knightfall saga. They were successful to various degrees; after Superman and Batman returned, both pursued their heroic careers further and developed identities of their own. Azrael would seek redemption for his extreme methods as Batman, and Steel would become an important member of the Superman family, as well as a tech guru for the DC Universe. Both characters’ origins were revisited recently during DC’s forays into the Dark Multiverse, and this short story likewise asks how their lives might have been different had they been twisted up in a crueler narrative.
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The Dark Multiverse is a horrifying dimension in which many classic DC stories are retold, only in a much grimmer fashion. Villains win and heroes go bad, or are killed. On one of the Earths in the Dark Multiverse, the Scarecrow has unleashed his fear gas on the entire planet, creating a nightmarish hellscape. Jean Paul Valley drifts into Gotham and is attacked by a gang of criminals. With his mask removed, he begins hallucinating (including a vision of himself as Batman as well as a vision of Bane) but is saved by Steel. Impressed by Steel’s heroism, Valley asks if Steel will take him under his wing and train him, and he agrees.
Longtime readers will see this as a riff on Azrael and Batman’s relationship: after breaking free of the mental programming of the Order of St. Dumas, Azrael was taken on as Batman’s apprentice, and began training. Steel here agrees to similar terms. Hopefully, Valley will prove himself worthy this time, but the suggested relationship is a fascinating one, bringing together two characters who began as new angles on the World’s Finest heroes and charting a new relationship for them in the style of Batman and Superman. Fans have reason to be excited by this pairing, as rumors that DC will abandon its singular continuity have opened the door to stories like this taking center stage in future.
The Dark Multiverse is meant to be a place without hope, yet Azrael and Steel, Superman and Batman’s replacements, coming together represents a beacon of light and hope for a dark and dismal place. Hopefully it’s one that will give the characters new life in DC’s future, and even allow the two to learn from each other in a union of Steel‘s tech and Azrael‘s hardcore commitment to justice.
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