The drums are beating, the faces are melting, and Dark Nights: Death Metal is on the horizon.
With the series comes the culmination of Scott Snyder’s Justice League, and this entire era of DC comics. We still don’t know exactly when the event will launch given the current state of the world. While we await its arrival, I wanted to take the time to revisit its predecessor, Dark Nights: Metal, featuring the same creative team of Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, and FCO Plascensia. I loved Metal at the time of its release, and for a time I even called it my favorite DC event. It pulled the DC universe together in a way that Rebirth had promised but ultimately failed to deliver. There were elements I didn’t care for, but I was strongly positive on it by the end. My look back at the book left me with a more middling take outside of the initial rush of the moment.
One of the most defining scenes of Metal is the opening of its first issue. The Justice League forms a Voltron-style mech by combining smaller robots to fight Mongul in a scene that is incredibly absurd, and yet it also illustrates Metal’s tone. Metal is ridiculous in the best way possible. It’s six issues of Snyder and Capullo dumping out tubs of DC action figures and throwing them at each other. This team shows such unrelenting love of nonsensical comic book stuff. While this may be more of a surface level element, it’s also important to Metal’s major successes.
The Justice League before Metal was defined largely by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee’s take in the New 52. It’s a run I don’t personally like because it drew on the superhero task force take without understanding why that works, removing the team’s mythological aspects. The Justice League felt like competing personalities that were forced to work together to get the job done, rather than this group of old friends that loved each other and actually enjoyed each other’s company. Metal revives this feeling, both by bringing back old characters and having them come together in a meaningful way. The event ends with this big silly party at Wayne Manor with all the heroes in attendance. Everyone is together and having fun, and we get this end tease of the Hall of Justice’s return. The New 52 created a DCU that felt divided, and Metal broke down those divisions and made a proper superhero community.
Metal uses the classic Snyder strategies of “everything you think you know is wrong” and “everything is connected.” These themes proved very successful with Court of Owls, but here it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, we have the inter-connectivity of the DC Universe. Metal, in many ways, is the most successful at delivering the promises of Rebirth. In addition to the core Justice League, characters like Hawkman, the Blackhawks, Doctor Fate, and Plastic Man are all connected to the main plot. Martian Manhunter makes his long-awaited return, re-establishing himself as a member of the Justice League. The Metal Men, the Outsiders, the Challengers of the Unknown, and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman are all here and part of the same story. It’s the entire DC Universe fighting together for the first time since the New 52.
On the other hand, all of these characters are drawn into the same great conspiracy. Nearly every DC character’s powers and tools are connected by these magical metals. This is all to make the Dark Multiverse threat seem total and all-encompassing. What you knew about all these characters is revealed to be wrong and they’re all connected by this great threat. While this trick works in the short-term to make Barbatos and the Dark Multiverse seem like a big deal, it wears off in the long-term. Connecting all of these characters makes the universe feel so much smaller. The mysteries of the DC Universe and the powers of these characters are now capped by these metals. Metal lacks the nuance to leave mysteries open and create a sense of wonder. Everything we knew was wrong, and the truth is so much less interesting.
Metal also uses another classic Snyder theme of confronting the dark. Much of his work involves our darkest anxieties being thrown at us and confronting them when all hope seems lost. It’s an approach that comes out of his horror experience, and on paper it’s something that could really work for an event comic. Unfortunately, it misses the mark and doesn’t land like it should. The Dark Multiverse is a cosmic space of all our worst nightmares. It’s nightmare worlds that shouldn’t exist. Conceptually, this could be interesting. Exploring terrible and twisted DC worlds could make for great horror. The DC Multiverse already features alternate Earth’s that are pretty terrible places, and we can only wonder how much worse these nightmare worlds are if places like Earth 3 get to rise into the light.
However, everything we see of these dark worlds is alternate Batmen. They aren’t particularly scary or interesting, and they seem more like an attempt to generate profitable Bat-characters rather than having meaningful significance. We’ve since seen “Tales of the Dark Multiverse” stories that add to this concept, but all of these are dark versions of already existing stories. The DC Multiverse contains Earths that are similar to the ones we know, but there are also wildly strange Earths that bring something new to the table. The Dark Multiverse feels so shallow by comparison. This limit in scope is one of Metal’s largest disappointments, and I hope for Death Metal we see something more original and less Bat specific crawl out of the dark.
Metal is a deeply flawed event comic. There are places where it really works, making it a fun celebration of the DC Universe that brings all of its corners together. Ultimately, it fails at doing something original and lasting. I’d still say I like this story, but I don’t have that love and excitement for it anymore. I really hope Death Metal can break out of this story’s limitations and become something really special.
Death Metal has the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of its predecessor while expanding on what worked. First and foremost, it must retain the sense of community in the DC Universe. Seeing a lot of these obscure characters fighting alongside the A-listers was a huge part of the fun. Now that the JSA and Legion of Super-Heroes have returned to DC continuity, I’d love to see some of those characters make an appearance, too. We’ll undoubtedly be getting more Dark Multiverse stuff, but I hope for something more original. World Forger was one of my favorite Snyder creations from his Justice League run because he felt like a meaningful addition to the DC Universe. I hope to see more original content like that rather than just another set of evil Batmen.
Above all, my hope is that Death Metal leans less on literal connections between heroes’ powers and tools and much more on their relationships. Metal’s biggest strength was the way it celebrated everything DC Comics, and I believe Death Metal can be an even bigger encore.
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