DC Comics released the first handful of pages from Dark Nights: Metal #1 and they’re a doozy. Not only do they feature DC’s greatest heroes in a knockdown, drag-out battle on an alien planet befitting the “rock n’ roll epic” feel that Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are going for, there are a number of fun cameos and Easter eggs hidden throughout.
Page one opens with three symbols in the sand - a wolf, a paw, and a bird. The symbols echo what readers were shown in June's Dark Days: The Forge #1, which Snyder has described as a "zero issue" to the event. In Forge, Hawkman described a "glimpse" he experienced while investigating Nth Metal - “a story that began with the first men to walk the Earth - three tribes.” He was shown to have some type of artifacts that represented what he discovered about these tribes, as readers are shown what appear to be the sign of a hawk, a bear and a wolf.
Other clues in The Forge indicate that the three symbols probably refer to the following:?
- The wolf: With Metal's focus on immortality, the symbol of the wolf appears to refer to Vandal Savage, one of the oldest Earthlings in DC continuity - and one who's had the power of immortality the longest. Savage was part of the Wolf Clan during DC's pre-history, when he first gained his powers. In fact, in Grant Morrison's Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne, Batman actually fought against Vandal Savage and his Wolf Clan.
- The paw: Vandal Savage's mortal enemy in DC's history wasthe Immortal Man, a character who made an appearance in Dark Days: The Forge. And what tribe was The Immortal Man a member of? The Bear Tribe. Although this new Immortal Man could have a different history, in past DC continuity, he was constantly reincarnated to find the evil Vandal Savage and stop him.
- The bird: If we're correct that the two other symbols - the paw and the wolf - involved two characters who have the power of reincarnation and/or immortality, it's likely that the bird symbol refers to a "tribe" that's connected to yet another such character - Hawkman. He and Hawkgirl have been constantly reincarnating over time, challenged to find each other before their mortal enemy kills them again. They were not, as far as we know, alive during pre-history, but their connection to immortality (and Hawkman's obvious inclusion in Metal) make this "bird" look rather hawkish.
It's worth noting here that Vandal Savage, the Immortal Man, and Hawkman were all three given immortality by a metal that fell from the sky (the first two from a meteorite and the last from a spaceship). With Metal's exploration of the "dark energy" in certain metals on Earth (which all seem to be connected to Nth Metal), it's likely that Snyder is connecting those pre-historic meteorites to the same strange energy in Nth Metal. After all, they all imbued earthlings with immortality.
Of course, this is just speculation, and the three tribes don't necessarily refer to these characters. This is a Batman story and Batman has been teaming with Vixen over in Justice League of America, who would lend herself well to symbols featuring animals. Also, considering the Grant Morrison connection that shows up elsewhere in the issue, maybe this is a reference to Animal Man and an opportunity for Snyder to make a more meta-statement about these DC heroes.
In the last couple panels of the "symbol" page, a shadow that looks like Batman's cowl appears, seemingly looking at the three icons. In the next panel, it looks like someone (Batman? Or an alternate version of Batman?) has wiped away the three symbols, spilling blood on top of them.
More symbolism, we presume?
The next couple of pages show off the coliseum-like setting known as Warworld, introducing the Justice League and the villain Mongul. Warworld has shown up in past DC stories where Mongul forced heroes to participate in gladiatorial games, and this scene seems to go along with that premise. The heroes are wearing armor and, at least in the scenes we're shown, are not using all their powers.
Aside from Capullo’s excellent interpretation of Mongul, there are some interesting hints on the pages. We get close-ups of Superman’s crest, what looks to be the Flash’s foot, and Wonder Woman’s crest. What’s notable here is that Diana is sporting a golden snake on her breastplate. The snake could also be a clue about the involvement of some serpent-themed characters from Wonder Woman's mythos - maybe Medusa or Deimos (a minor god with something of a snake theme), or even some new god-like threat such as Apep or Apophis. Maybe Diana has called upon some dark power to aid in this fight?
Then again, the snake could just be an attempt by Capullo to make Wonder Woman's armored costume even more intimidating.
There's another character on one of the Warworld pages - a more generic-looking gladiator fighting near Aquaman. He could be fighting beside the Justice League, or he might just be one of Mongul's "gladiator handlers" who got caught in the crossfire.
Watching the fight, Mongul sits in a huge throne-type chair with a small human nearby. It appears to be Hiro Okamura, the young Toyman, who previously turned from being a menace to Superman and Batman to being the Justice League's helpful ally. It looks like Hiro is a prisoner, and maybe that's why the Justice League is being forced to fight. Or even more likely, the genius Toyman was forced by Mongul to design custom giant robots to fight each of the heroes, because...
There are a couple more pages of the League fighting giant robots that are matched to their costumes and, probably, designed to counteract their various skills and powers.
The next page shows a mountain that has apparently risen up and destroyed part of a city (possibly Gotham, if that Wayne-like tower looming over other buildings means anything). The mountain resembles the Challengers of the Unknown mountain (which, honestly, we wouldn't have realized if not for the following page featuring the Challengers themselves).
Standing in the city, looking at the mountain, is the League, in their normal costumes. The Flash scouts ahead and finds a door that features an hourglass logo in a circle. That hourglass might be a reference to Hourman, but it's more likely a play on the Challengers of the Unknown symbol — an "X" in a square.
However, the X symbol here is in a circle, and it indicates that time is passing. (In fact, the hourglass looks like there's very little time left.)
Blackhawks and Cameos?
The last two pages have a ton of cameos of fan-favorite heroes - but they're only in pictures that are being shown to the Justice League by the Blackhawks.
This isn't the old-school Blackhawks (although they show up in one of the photos). This is the new Scott Snyder Blackhawks - the group calling themselves the "Blackhawks" who showed up in recent issues of All-Star Batman, fighting against Batman. And someone calling herself "Lady Blackhawk" (but wearing a mask while piloting a jet) was seen in The Forge, talking about hiding something from Batman.
On these preview pages, a woman with dark auburn hair is showing League members photos from the past. Wearing a Blackhawk symbol on her uniform, this might be Lady Blackhawk.
The photos feature the Challengers of the Unknown, the old-school Blackhawks, Red Tornado, the Metal Men, their creator Dr. Will Magus and T.O. Morrow and Starman. They're all seemingly from the past (the Starman is the Will Payton one from the '80s). Also, keep in mind that DC is launching a New Challengers title (by Snyder and Andy Kubert) this fall when the "Dark Matter" line spins out of Metal.
And there’s what leads us to a big reveal in all of this. One of the Blackhawks is holding the Map of the Multiverse, last seen in Grant Morrison’s epic Multiversity.
Due to the nature of that event, readers weren’t able to look at every piece of the Multiverse - some earths were still unknown, left for other writers to explore in later stories. That might be an explanation for some of the strange Batman characters teased in upcoming Metal one-shots - they're from other worlds. This Multiversity map certainly indicates that's true.
However, we should remember that Scott Snyder specifically told Newsarama all the way back in May that Dark Nights: Metal is exploring the "Dark Multiverse" beyond Multiversity.
He made it clear that he was exploring something outside of the 52 universes that Morrison had established - in fact, he said the Dark Multiverse was 'beneath" the known Multiverse.
"I started thinking," Snyder told Newsarama, "what if the Multiverse essentially has these 52 universes, but has almost this ocean of possibility, this ocean of almost reactive matter beneath it that's like a Dark Multiverse."
The preview ties directly into the 52 universes, but as Newsarama readers know - and, apparently, Batman and Hawkman are discovering - there's something dark and sinister beyond them.
Do the Blackhawks know about the Dark Multiverse? Are they trying to hide it from Batman? Why are they telling the League about it? Why is Challengers Mountain suddenly invading the DCU? And what do the Metal Men and Starman have to do with it?
We can't even begin to guess on the answers to those questions. But we should emphasize that just about everything else we've said is just that - a guess. There's a reason comic books (generally) have words on them. Sometimes it's a little hard to know exactly what you’re looking at. But there’s no harm in guessing.