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Tom Taylor Has Quietly Perfected DC's Version of 'What If?'

DC has a new maestro of madness when it comes to "What If?"-style stories: writer Tom Taylor. With the new Dungeons & Dragons-inspired limited series Dark Knights of Steel on the horizon, Taylor has been quietly making a name for himself not only in mainstream series, but also in crafting alternate universes (a label so expansive at this point it might as well be called a genre of its own). Taylor comes to this new limited series with two of the most intriguing and popular nightmare fever dreams to come out of DC in recent years under his belt: the Injustice Universe, based on the NetherRealm Studios video game franchise of the same name, and DCeased, a zombie apocalypse with many a satisfying twist and turn. There’s no reason to assume he’s slowing down as he begins this newest venture.

Since as early as the 1940s, DC Comics has always published stories that fall outside of the main continuities of their usual fare, first known as “Imaginary Stories” and later rebranded as “Elseworlds.” Tales of dark futures and divergent worlds proved to be quite useful when discussing the finer points of particular franchise philosophies or presenting enthralling and new perspectives on classic characters. As time went on, these stories ended up providing some of DC’s most celebrated titles including Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Taylor’s most famous alternate universe story, 2013’s Injustice: Gods Among Us (the latest installment of which released earlier this year), received critical acclaim for its focused, character-driven storytelling and heartfelt emotionality.

Related: DC Writer Teases the Return of Their Darkest Alternate Universe, DCEASED

What sets Taylor up as perhaps the premiere alterniverse conjurer is a twofold approach in his writing, perhaps best demonstrated in his demonically savage horror-action thriller DCeased (released in 2019). The story sees the hero Cyborg accidentally spread a zombie-like antilife equation-virus onto Earth, causing an extinction level catastrophe that claims the lives of most of the Justice League. First, Taylor’s sense of character development is always a very personal and immediate action, while at the same time respecting the greater world at large he is building. Secondly, Taylor’s use of the fantastical settings and powers inherent in the superhero world is always incredibly vivid (if not terrifying), and provides fitting counterbalance to the oft-psychologically-intensive journeys of his characters.

Together, these two attributes of his writing style allow him to take full advantage of the speculative nature of the alternate universe stories he excels at, being able to draw upon not only the highly imaginative superhero worlds they’re based upon, but also the added wrinkles of creating new versions of these worlds as distorted reflections of the original. Anchored by a fundamental sense of humanity within these characters, including a brilliant and sympathetic rendition of Superman’s turn to hyperbolic villainy in Injustice, Taylor’s additional creative use of genre trappings grants him extended versatility as well when contending with the strange and alien worlds his alternate universes explore.

While only time will tell if the fantasy-epic Dark Knights of Steel will maintain his streak, Tom Taylor seems to have the whole twisted, post-apocalyptic "What If?" storytelling-style down pat. Dark Knights of Steel (with art by Yasmine Putri) goes on sale November, wherever comic books are sold.

Next: Wonder Woman Gets New, Fantasy-Inspired Armor in Comic Cover

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