This week, Dark Nights: Death Metal takes over Justice League with the new “Doom Metal” story arc by Josh Williamson and Xermanico. This is a story focused on Nightwing going on his own and collecting a few friends along the way. This leads to a confrontation with a major supervillain and, as the preview suggests, freeing the Legion of Doom from Perpetua’s clutches. As this plays into the main Death Metal event, and will likely hold ramifications for Wonder Woman, Superman, and Batman’s journey, it’s a must-read for fans of the event. But is it good?
The opening to this book is exceptional, revealing the first time Nightwing (who was at the time Robin) saw the Justice League. The creative team quickly reveals how important these heroes are to Nightwing, and at the same time reminds us of the importance of their godlike heroism. This smash cuts to a destroyed city with Nightwing on the back of a robotic horse. It’s an important opening since it helps us know Nightwing won’t lose his love of heroes and of the old way of doing things, even if the world is a crushing dystopia.
Justice League #53 works towards setting the heroes on their journey, collecting new teammates, and then establishing the threat at hand. Like any good fantasy story, this book feels like a quest. Even the enemies have high fantasy looks to them, further reminding us this may be in continuity, but the world is far different than normal Earth. Getting the band of heroes together works quite well here. It also serves as a good adventure story, especially if you’re not into superhero adventures.
This leads to the confrontation I mentioned above with a supervillain, which helps shed light on how we got here. If you read Scott Snyder’s Justice League, you’ll see how this connects to that series finale. I can’t say I agree with how this character was used in “Year of the Villain”, but I’m open to seeing them make amends. This leads to some major revelations that help keep the stakes in play.
Those stakes are articulated well by Xermanico’s art, colored by Romulo Fajardo Jr. When you need a giant godlike figure taking up much of the page, and making the heroes look small, you hire Xermanico. That aspect is captured well and so too are the fantasy creatures in Nightwing’s way. There’s a blending of fantasy tropes and classic Batman villains that’s quite cleverly designed here, too. The use of shadow and light are big parts of why the book looks so epic, and when things get larger than life there’s realism added by the colors you can’t miss.
Something I’ve been struggling with when it comes to this event is caring about the characters in the play. We’ve been told this is very much in continuity, but the traditional world is so far removed it’s hard to believe that. Nightwing rides a mechanical horse, looks nothing like he usually does, and the remnants of the old world are very subtle. I can get on board with the fantasy elements, but it’s hard to believe this story will matter in the long run. As an Elseworlds OGN, I’d love it more, but I’m wrestling with letting my suspension of disbelief guard down.
One other minor issue I had with the book is the cliffhanger. It’s a great full-page splash, but it also feels dropped in. It matches the captioning, but the flow from the second to the last page to the final page was jarring.
As far as side quests go, this book delivers. You get the banding of heroes together, good villains, and high stakes all established in the first chapter. There’s even a good use of the mentor figure you see in the hero’s journey that plays into an untrustworthy world.