This week's Dark Days: The Casting #1 has verified some of the hints of its predecessor, The Forge, while also introducing a mysterious new element to recent Bat-family addition Duke Thomas.
A prelude to DC's upcoming event Dark Nights: Metal - the much-anticipated reunion of Batman creators Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo - The Casting was co-written by Snyder and James Tynion IV. The illustrators of the book are a sort of "who's who" of DC artists: Jim Lee, Andy Kubert and John Romita Jr.
Spoilers ahead for this week's Dark Days: The Casting #1.
Similar to the narration in Dark Days: The Forge, Casting features what appears to be a journal entry by Hawkman. He describes his history as an adventurer and philosopher, and his more recent work as a archaeologist in the city of St. Roch.
He describes how he and Hawkgirl had found "secrets hiding in the darkest shadows" over many lifetimes: the "Rhyming Demon of Camelot," brothers who kept secrets and mysteries, a "man as old as America," a grove of ancient humanoid plants, sorcerers, shining knights, cavemen and "Phantom Strangers of all stripes."
Hawkman describes a scene where he brought together these "immortals" (hooded, but we are shown Ra's Al Ghul among them, as well as a "Ms. Seward" that is probably vampire Mary Seward). Hawkman told these immortals about he and Hawkgirl's history of reincarnation. He says that his enemy, Hath-Set, obscured the "truth behind the metal we wore in our wings and belts in service of something darker than any mortal could comprehend."
One of the hooded figures with a "voice like thunder" produces a dagger. (This dagger appearz up later and is said to be the "Wizard's dagger" so this is probably the same artifact, and the hooded figure appears to be Shazam's Wizard.)
Hawkman says that the hooded figure with the dagger "spoke of the metal that changed everything, and the terrible being that it had brought forth, the being from beyond all our understanding."
The being was cast out, the hooded figure said, "and sought desperately to return, to tear down all that was light in the world, and drag it into the dark."
Batman and the Gods
Meanwhile in Methana, Greece, Batman is fighting a beast named Amphitrion when Wonder Woman appears and tells the creature to back off. Apparently, they're friendly. (She literally pets him. Good boy.)
Batman tells Diana he's trying to get into the forge of Hephaestus, but he doesn't tell her why he wants to talk to him. "You're too late," Wonder Woman says. "The gods have abandoned the Earth. They have barred the gates of Olympus behind them."
Then that red-flag word 'crisis' shows up again (after showing up in The Forge as well). Wonder Woman explains that the gods left because "they believe a war is coming … a crisis that will shake the very firmament and douse the light of creation."
Batman admits that he's frightened. (Oh, the abilities of a woman to get a guy to open up!) He was hoping Hephaestus would "shine a light into the darkness."
Wonder Woman says she had a vision before she came to Greece to find Batman. "The great hound, war-form of Hephaestus, sat before me with eyes of fire" and told Wonder Woman to come there and give Batman the "Sunblade." Created for Apollo (the Greek god, not the WildStorm alum) from the "Eighth Metal." Wonder Woman says "Eighth Metal" is "not the pure form you seek, but if you follow its light, it will guide you where you need to go."
(Remember, Hawkman's "Nth Metal" was originally called "Ninth Metal" in DC continuity - as Newsarama included in one of our recent Dark Nights: Metal 101 stories.)
Wonder Woman tells Batman to follow the light (not the darkness) and also warns Batman to be wary of the gods, because they have their own agendas.
Joker and the Boys
In Batman's secret part of the Batcave, the Joker is still chatting with Duke Thomas and Hal Jordan (Green Lantern). He begins to taunt Duke, laughing about poisoning his parents, and Duke gets so angry that he reaches through the energy field that's apparently imprisoning the Joker.
The Joker recounts what happened to him during the Snyder/Capullo run on Batman - that he tried to "rekindle the romance" with Batman, but was thrust into the "deepest corner of the Batcave." There he found the "shimmering green metal" (called dionesium in the Batman run) that put his face back together (after he cut it off - see the "New 52"'s Detective Comics #1). It healed him.
In that deep, dark cave, Joker says he saw "a marking on the wall, older than Gotham, older than civilization - the bat behind the bat." Readers are shown a cave drawing of a bat man (maybe linked to Grant Morrison's Return of Bruce Wayne storyline where Batman went back in time to pre-history, but more likely referring to the "demon" mentioned later in the story - read on).
Joker says the history of this green metal was understood by "the owls" (probably referring to the Court of Owls, who utilize a form of dionesium for human resurrection) and also "that lunatic Crazy Quilt."
Then the issue introduces the idea that Duke Thomas is somehow connected to the "dark energy" of the metal that Joker is describing. "It's still in me. It's in you," Joker says as he escapes through the force field that Duke has damaged.
Duke has this mysterious metal inside him?
Because the Joker has escaped, one of the Batcave's defensive mechanisms kicks in and the lights go out. Hal's ring isn't working and the heroes can't see, so the Joker apparently escapes. But as he leaves, he says, "Oh, I know how this story is going to end, because it's all happened before."
Speaking of caves, Hawkman recalls (in his journal/narration) that he explored caves to find the secret of the "tribes at the dawn of man" and the "arrival of the strange metal that would change everything."
The scene shows another cave drawing - this one discovered some time ago by Hawkman and Hawkgirl - a beast who Hawkman says was "brought to this world by a tear in the fabric of reality, and the demon that rose from the dark and nearly conquered us all," according to a story the "immortals" told him.
They found these types of cave drawing around the world, Hawkman says, and the art tells the story of "the Hawk Tribe," where he says his story "had truly begun," although he didn't remember it. The drawings "spoke of the betrayal by the Judas of the birds, who sided with the demon - the demon who took the sigil of the great and terrible bat, the plague bringer. The scourge of mankind."
So…this is a confirmation of the "Hawk Tribe" from the dawn of mankind that was hinted about in The Forge - a tribe that is connected somehow to Hawkman.
This also explains why The Forge mentioned a fourth tribe that had the sign of a bat. This scene insinuates that the "bat" symbol (from The Forge) is linked to the "demon" described by Hawkman (which is probably also the same creature that the Wizard called a "terrible being" that had been brought forth by the metal).
Hawkman says, "my wife and I died fighting it back into the dark from whence it came, shuttering the door between its world and ours."
Then Hawkman implies that Hath-Set serves the same dark forces, and that he severed Hawkman and Hawkgirl from their memory of having fought the demon.
Hawkman's journal says that the immortals told him to eliminate the metal, even though it had "brought us wonders" and "wings."
Then the issue shows a series of panels - of the old-school Blackhawks team and the Challengers of the Unknown (and Challengers Mountain). According to Hawkman, these people were recruited by he and Hawkgirl to investigate the mystery of the metal and the unknown world the stories described.
"We would challenge it," Hawkman says.
The team used the power of the Wizard's knife to open some sort of doorway to the other world, then the Earth shook and they heard screaming. Readers are shown the eyes of a great beast. And Hawkman says he "saw the eyes of something great and terrible staring back at me through the abyss - eyes waiting in the dark, waiting for something…someone."
Who's the beast waiting for?
Batman, it seems.
In Arizona, Batman is warned by Dubbilex to turn back. Then Talia Al Ghul appears. She tells Batman that there have been "secret battles to suppress the power of the metal for decades, but its power has only grown." She says true war is inevitable.
Then she confirms what Joker said earlier about Duke Thomas.
"You must know this," Talia says. "You have one of the potentials living under your roof."
Talia also mentions an assassin called the "Silencer," which is one of the characters getting a Metal spin-off title as part of the "Dark Matter" line this fall.
Talia shows Batman a dagger (yes, the same dagger from Shazam's Wizard that Hawkman and his "Challengers" used years ago - it seems Ra's Al Ghul has acquired it). She says it has "the power of Shazam."
Batman proposes that Talia trade him the "Ninth Metal" dagger for the "Eighth Metal" Sunblade.
Hal and Duke discover Joker destroying a machine in the depths of the Batcave with a crowbar (yes! really! Joker's beating it with a crowbar!).
"I can't let him dig any deeper," the Joker is yelling. He tells Hal that the Guardians sent him here to stop the machine. "If he uses the machine, that'll be the end of everything!"
As Duke tackles the Joker and begins to beat him, Joker tells Duke that he was "flagged" as a child because of an unusual metal in his blood - and the blood of his mother. "M-E-T-A," Joker says, claiming that Batman knew as well.
"You are the signal," Joker says. "And I can't allow that. So I'm going to have to kill you now."
He throws Duke off one of the Batcave's cliffs, but the teen lands on the wing of a Batplane. Hal is in the cockpit and prepares to shoot Joker.
This fight just got interesting!
But the issue switches to Hawkman again, who is shaken by his investigation of the metal's power. He realizes that the Thanagarian ship that came crashing onto his Egyptian desert was not there to share technology.
It was there to warn.
Yet Hawkman has discovered a way to "penetrate the barrier of our reality and enter the dark."
He talks about his "spies" (and readers are shown a modern team of Blackhawks, who have lost a bloody fight), and Hawkman says the enemy keeps "killing" his spies as he gets closer to determining their plans.
He gives his journal to "the family that has always been most loyal to the birds."
Then Hawkman, hopeful that he'll find "a glimmer of potential" in the dark beyond, enters a nasty-looking, red-dotted (hey, that looks crisis-like) portal of some kind. But he says that he hopes "no man could ever be foolish enough to follow."
Speaking of a Fool
The Joker is laughing maniacally. Again.
"No matter what I do," he laughs, "it just keeps coming."
Hal has him locked in a steel hook-like contraption from the Batplane.
"You don't even realize that this time I was being the good guy!" Joker says.
"A dark crisis is coming!" the Joker warns.
Sure enough, Duke begins to grab his head and says he "feels something" getting closer.
Then Batman arrives.
Batman's Metal Cracks
Hal and Bruce argue, but Batman tells the story of how the "metal" from the dionesium that resurrected him (in the cave, at the end of "Endgame") is still "in the cracks" of his skull.
When Batman was resurrected by the machine that brought him back to life in Batman #49, he had a vision of versions of himself dying over and over again. He says the metal gave him those visions.
He started to rebuild the machine to help him dig into the dark energy.
When Duke confronts Batman about what the Joker said - that Batman used him as an experiment - Bruce says he only "wanted to be there when you decided what you were going to become."
Batman says he has the "dimensional frequency of the energy locked" (a scene from The Forge, when he accessed the dimensional tuning fork in Superman's Fortress). And he has the dagger from Talia (that has the energy of Shazam).
Duke says the dagger is "doing something" to him.
"It's like I can see the whole machine, still together…how it all fits together."
Batman talks Hal into giving Duke his ring so he can create a construct. Hal agrees and tosses him the Green Lantern ring.
"Whoa, it's all here," Duke says. "Psycho Pirate's mask, the Owl's electrum…."
Batman continues, "hyper-elastic molecules, ancient Themysciran and Atlantean artifacts, relics of order and chaos. … They will show me the way."
Readers see a row of columns with artifacts on them. Batman puts the dagger into the middle column (yes, into - or rather through.)
As Hawkman's narration describes the thrill of discovery, Batman begins to pilot the strange contraption made of Duke's construct and the artifacts. He appears overwhelmed by the power and collapses.
When Hal and Duke as Batman what he saw, he says "darkness."
"I don't understand. I did everything right - but all I saw was darkness."
But on the final page, readers are shown that, 3,000 miles below Gotham City, something has awakened.
"It is done," a voice says. "He has stared into the abyss. And we have hidden what lies within. The final seal is broken."
Panels show hooded figures wearing skulls on their faces, one of them saying, "after all these generations, the sacrifice is at hand."
The figures have red eyes. One of them says, "let us see them. Let us see what he should have seen, if we had not prepared him correctly."
And what would Batman have seen?
A giant bat-like creature.
"The dark days are over," a voice says, as a group of shadowy and evil-looking figures are shown, wearing costumes that are similar to known heroes. "The dark knights are coming."
"And with them, the true father of Batman."
A teaser ends the issue: "The invasion begins with Metal #1 in stores 8/16!"