Dark Nights: Metal #1
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion and FCO Plascencia
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
The boys are back in town, as they say. "New 52" Batman collaborators Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo (as well as Jonathan Glapion, FCO Plascencia, and Steve Wands) are together again with a story that been gestating since the very beginning of their time together, and perhaps since the very dawn of the DC Universe itself. With Dark Nights: Metal #1, Snyder’s pulling on a lot of different threads of DC continuity and he’s not afraid to involve some deeper cuts. It’s the kind of story that comes at you, asks you to just hold on tight and ride the lightning. And honestly, it’s better for it. It might be a little dense with continuity, but it holds the promise of the Dark Knights, seven evil Batmen with the powers of the Justice League and the groundwork has to be laid for that. To say that Metal is big is an understatement - this event feels huge, and in some ways that is both its blessing and its curse.
Spoilers ahead for Dark Nights: Metal #1.
It’s been a while since DC had a really meaningful summer event, and especially one that wasn’t tied to a relaunch of the line. And while this one doesn’t seem like it will have grave consequences for the DCU, it does look to change or fill in the gaps of some established concepts. At the heart of the story is a mystery surrounding Nth metal. In the one-shots that preceded this issue, readers learned how the metal has affected the DCU in small ways already, but this is where Snyder really gets to dig in.
One of the keys to a successful event book is putting all the truly important stuff in the core event book, and allowing the tie-ins and one-shots that surround it to augment the reader's’ enjoyment of that material. At this point, Snyder does a great job with that. The core story is all on the page: Batman has been investigating Nth metal, while the Justice League finds out that there’s a Dark Multiverse that wants to invade their world and Nth metal might be the key to saving everything. Crafting a solid springboard for the rest of the story is always something Snyder has done well, even going back to his work on Detective Comics. Here he ramps the story up from a fight with Mongul to the reveal of the Dark Multiverse and the explanation about “phantom frequencies” that can cause space-time rifts on Earth.
Even for seasoned DC readers, there’s a lot to take in. We talk a lot about the characters and concepts in DC Comics as being more mythic is scale than those at Marvel, and the idea that these characters (especially the Justice League) are somewhat immortal (conceptually at least) is something that Snyder has played with in his Batman run before. Lo and behold, the paw, wolf and bird symbols at the start indicate the importance of Immortal Man, Vandal Savage, and Hawkman to the story. As the story progresses, Snyder weaves in references to Final Crisis, "Batman R.I.P." and The Return of Bruce Wayne specifically that are very telling. (During the latter story, Batman travels through time and at one point, does have a bat tribe.)
As Batman comes to understand more about the Nth metal from the Blackhawks and discovers Carter Hall (a.k.a. Hawkman)’s journal, confirming much of what he’s learned, a mysterious strangers appears - Sandman's Dream. (That’s right - a book called Metal ends with "Enter Sandman." I see you, Scott Snyder.) We don’t often see characters from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman in the DCU proper, despite Animal Man, Swamp Thing, and Constantine making the jump. But I like what his inclusion signifies here. This is a “go big or go home” story for Snyder, and the pacing is really perfect. Readers will be hit with waves of big moment after big moment, and that momentum will keep them hurtling toward the next issue. It also really helps cover up the fact that the book can get a bit exposition-heavy at times. This is an oversized issue that’s tasked with putting a lot of pieces in place but it still reads really quick. It’s a celebration of this gigantic DC Universe.
Greg Capullo returns to the DCU with Metal, and it’s like he never left. His vision of these characters is one that works a bit better for me than the harsher line work of Jim Lee or Adam Kubert. And in turn, that makes the big bombastic parts of the script work a little bit better in their context. His designs for most of the characters in the book is strong, but Mongul in particular is a standout. But Capullo excels most when Snyder tries to get him to draw the biggest, most ridiculous ideas he can think of like the young Toyman’s Justice League Voltron or Batman hitching a ride on the ride of a dinosaur. The work is bombastic in all the best ways, and Capullo never takes a break just because a panel or page might be heavier on exposition. And it’s refreshing that for a story with “dark” in the title, the book’s colors are bright and expressive when they need to be. When the story needs to get darker, Plascencia allows Glapion’s inks to take center stage and doesn’t use any computer lighting effects to undermine them. There’s a great sense of balance throughout the book.
Dark Nights: Metal is a great event book because it is true to its characters and it’s deeper than just its surface “Justice League vs. Evil Batmen” premise. There are larger implications for what the Nth metal could mean to the DCU moving forward. It’s fun because it doesn’t expect us to suspend disbelief any further than we already do, and it doesn’t compromise what we already know. Instead, it builds on our existing knowledge and brings to light new details. It’s loaded with potential because it actually feels like we’re in uncharted territory. It’s like going back to an album you love and rediscovering that deep cut that you didn’t realize was there before.
You put it on.
The drums get going and the bass is heavy.
The singer’s starting but the guitars are waiting.
And the guitars keep waiting but the riff is coming. You can feel it.
And that’s going to be the deciding factor. Metal’s riff is coming, and as James Hetfield might say, we’ll be off to Never-Never Land.