Dark Days: The Forge #1, a prelude to Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's much-anticipated Dark Nights: Metal, offers few significant clues to the summer event, but it reveals plenty of concepts and characters that should generate excitement among DC fans.
Spoilers ahead for this week's Dark Days: The Forge #1.
Among the revelations: the promised return of Plastic Man, the use of a "dimensional tuning fork" from one of DC's various Crises, and the introduction of the Immortal Men who are expected to continue in October's "Dark Matter" series of the same name by James Tynion IV and Jim Lee.
Appearances are made by Lady Blackhawk, Immortal Man, Mister Terrific, Mister Miracle, Batman's black ops Outsiders, and one more we'll save for later in the article.
The issue makes it clear that both Batman and Hawkman will regret their investigations into immortality and Nth metal, which serve as the spine of Dark Days: The Forge.
Co-written by frequent Snyder collaborator James Tynion IV, the Forge issue - which Snyder told Newsarama should have been called Metal #0 - features art by high-profile creators Jim Lee, Andy Kubert, and John Romita Jr.
So what else does this #0-type issue reveal? Let's take it step by step and find out:
First, Some Metal
The issue begins with two pages that feature Hawkman/Carter Hall as a narrator, apparently writing in a journal. He shares how he began his life as Egyptian royalty but encountered a mysterious spaceship.
He calls the Nth metal of the spaceship "a clue to the greatest mystery in the history of mankind."
On the third page, the scene shifts to present day, in the Bermuda Triangle. Dr. Madison, a scientist on an island research facility, is about to die in a volcanic eruption. Although he sent his research team away, he stayed to record a message.
"People need to understand … There's something wrong with the Earth's core," he records himself saying. "There's something in the metal."
Madison grabs the data card containing his message and research.
Suddenly, Batman emerges in a giant lava-safe mecha to rescue Madison and his research. The two use the mecha to ride through the volcano and into the sea, seconds before lava engulfs the research post.
They - and the other researchers - are rescued by Aquaman, who was apparently alerted by Batman. Arthur isn't happy about the island's facility - it's a Wayne Enterprises black site - because it was within the domain of Atlantis. Batman was hiding this research from the world, including Aquaman.
Next comes a scene that refers to the Blackhawks (who recently showed up in All-Star Batman), with Batman wondering what they're hiding as Lady Blackhawk flies by in a ship. "He can look all he wants," she says, "but he won't find out."
Meanwhile, on Mogo, Ganthet tells Hal Jordan that he's pulling him from active duty for a "private" and secret mission of "paramount importance."
"There are rumblings in every corner of the universe," Ganthet says. "Whispers of a stirring in the dark. A terrible truth is coming to light on your home planet. And we must not let it."
Ganthet gives Hal the coordinates for the threat, and it's Wayne Manor.
When Hal arrives at the Batcave, he's attacked by Duke Thomas, who lands a pretty good kick. Duke says that Batman told him to allow nobody in the Batcave right now - not even family.
Hal, who thinks that sounds suspicious, subdues Duke long enough to find a "secret" part of the Batcave behind a false wall.
Speaking of Duke, the next scene shows that Elaine Thomas, Duke's mom, was offered immortal life. She's disabled now by Joker toxin. The scene, which features the Immortal Man, hints that there's a "secret battle that stretched back to the dawn of time."
The scene also teases some characters that are the stars of Tynion and Lee's upcoming Immortal Man title (including one that matches the "Ghost Fist" sketch that Lee released). The comic begins in October and will be part of DC's launch of "Dark Matter" title that tie into Metal.
"Our secrecy is paramount to our success," the Immortal Man says. "It will be up to the Immortal Men to preserve mankind's future, if any of us survive long enough to see it."
Hawk and Bat
Speaking of immortality, in the next scene, we're back to Hawkman's story. He reviews how the Nth metal of the aforementioned spaceship gave him, his wife and their mortal enemy Hath-Set eternal life through a cycle of reincarnation.
However, in the time period where Hawkman was dead and not-quite-risen again, he would have visions - "glimpses of something bigger," he calls them.
Next page, readers are shown an apocalyptic-looking scene. It looks like a world where Batman is a bad guy, where hundreds of human bodies are tied to the legs of a giant Batman statue and the Dark Knight's evil-looking drones fly overhead.
Those "glimpses" motivated Carter to secretly investigate the mystery of the Nth Metal, sharing it only in the journal.
Next, we're back with Batman, who has transported to his Lunar Batcave on the moon. He sends a message to Lucius Fox that the island "black site" (destroyed earlier by the volcano) is down. He orders Lucius to establish immediately a new site away from the oceans.
He puts Dr. Madison's data card into a computer and creates an "uplink to the shadow drive." He adds the "geological data for comparisons."
Terrific and Plastic
Batman's time on the Lunar Batcave is interrupted by Mr. Terrific, who's been gathering data from Earth-2 for Batman's investigation.
"The frequency that's being generated across the worlds is growing stronger," Terrific reports to Batman. "But it's not steady at all. It seems random. Like a compass, spinning wildly out of control….
"There's nothing on this earth that I know of that could get you a clean reading on this data. It would take something massive. Something practically cosmic in scale."
Batman smiles - he apparently knows of something "massive" that can help, but "where it leads me, there might not be any coming back," he says.
But as he departs, he tells Terrific that he needs him to do something for him.
Next page, readers are shown what appears to be Plastic Man, or at least the symbol hints that he's there, but he's in an oval shape, seemingly held there by a huge contraption that Batman can control.
"I've already extracted the molecules from his body," Batman says. "We all agreed he was too unstable … that there was no end to what he could do if we weren't careful. But I'm going to need him for what comes next. It's time to let him out of the box."
Mr. Terrific is happy about that.
OK, so back at Earth's Batcave, Hal and Duke start exploring the second, secret Batcave he found. When they hear a voice coming from the darkness ahead, Hal realizes his ring is malfunctioning because of "interference." In fact, his ring starts "burning" in a way Hal has never encountered.
The voice begins to narrate out loud - to Duke and Hal - the story behind how Batman ("our friend with the pointy ears") has been investigating immortality for years. It started with the Court of Owls (all the way back in Batman #1 of the "New 52") and their "electrum" tooth that raised the dead.
"Batman had his thread and he pulled," the voice says, adding that Batman extracted something from the metal, "a strange substance he'd never seen before."
The voice metal shared an energy signature with the most powerful artifacts on the planet - Dr. Fate's helmet, Aquaman's trident, Wonder Woman's cuffs. So Batman began investigating with his black-ops 'Outsiders' team: Metamorpho, Black Lightning, Katana, Halo and Geo-Force.
When Hal tells Duke they should fall back because of his ring's problems, the voice refuses, adding "I've been dying for the chance to see you both face to face … it's been so lonely down here."
The voice points out that the metal is also connected to a "liquid metal - shimmering and green" - called Dionesium (which readers of Snyder's Batman run will remember).
Duke looks like he's figured out the identity of the voice.
"You see, he was dragged into this world for a reason," the voice says to Hal. "The same reason I'm sure your celestial bosses sent you digging for answers. Because Batman is getting closer to the truth."
As Hal points his ring toward the voice, the ring says there's an "anomaly" detected and burns the Lantern even more.
The Hal and Duke finally reach a huge metal door. The voice asks Hal and Duke to open it.
The scene switches back to Hawkman's investigative journal. He says he was "dragged" into following the clues about the Nth metal. "It was conducting powerful energy for somewhere beyond my understanding," Hawkman writes.
He says he got a "glimpse" of a story that "began with the first men to walk the Earth - three tribes."
Readers are shown symbols that appear to be a hawk, a bear, and a wolf.
"Or rather…four," Carter adds. And readers see the symbol of a bat.
Hawkman says there's something else - a secret that was beyond his control and stretches back to the "dawn of my species."
Behind the Doors
Next scene, Batman is flying his plane to the Fortress of Solitude. He gets Superman to open the door and the Man of Steel notices that Batman's heart is racing.
"There's a room you gave me years ago," Batman says, "deep under the Fortress. I asked you to never look at what I put inside." Batman says he needs open that door and walk through it alone. He says he wants to understand what he's dealing with before he brings any other heroes into this mystery.
After Superman indicates that the door is a mystery (and Batman admits that he shot the key into the sun), Mister Miracle shows up. Batman invited him there to open the door for him.
And he does.
"That can't be what I think it is," Miracle says when he sees what's behind the door. "You can't have been stupid enough to hold onto…"
"Thank you Scott, that will be all," Batman says, as Mister Miracle "booms" the heck out of there, clearly bothered by what he saw and telling Batman to "turn back now."
So what's behind the door?
One of those dimensional tuning forks from Crisis on Infinite Earths. It's a huge tower. It might be the big one from Infinite Crisis (although that was made out of Anti-Monitor's body, wasn't it?). Nevertheless, this is Crisis-level stuff here.
As Hawkman's journal warns that no one should follow in his footsteps, Batman says "like a compass" and instructs his computer to run all vibrational data through the tower to track the dimensional frequency of the "dark energy."
"It's time to see what's in the dark once and for all," he says.
But wait, there's one more door.
Back at the Batcave - as Hawkman's journaled narration continues to warn away anyone who wants to investigate the metals - Hal and Duke have discovered the identity of the voice.
It's the Joker.
He's carving numbers into the stone wall.
Joker says, "This is a mystery that stretches back to the dawn of time. It's bigger than all of us. And it sure as hell is bigger than you."
Hawkman's narration says, "Some doors are best left unopened."
The Joker says, "You don't understand. All that was just a cruel joke.
"You're just a couple of pieces in Batman's puzzle. Just like me. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha."
The story continues in July 12's Dark Days: The Casting #1.