Spoilers ahead for Dark Nights: Metal #1.
In this week's Dark Nights: Metal #1, the first issue of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's reunion event series, not only does the Dark Multiverse threaten frightening possibilities, but the story itself plays with some unexpected possibilities as well.
Some of the deeper mysteries that the characters discover in Metal aren't new to readers - thanks to the two Dark Days prequels - but the characters' journey to those mysteries is peppered with surprises and insinuations about unexpected revelations to come.
For example, who is the mysterious new Lady Blackhawk that's been hounding Batman lately? When she takes off her helmet in this issue … surprise, surprise. She's actually Kendra Saunders, better known as Hawkgirl.
What does Plastic Man, whose return has been promised, have to do with a series called "Metal?" Well, don't look now but he's somehow "attuned" to Nth Metal - hinting at a tweaked origin that might tie him even more closely to the rest of the DCU.
And although the final page of the series has been spoiled (by DC itself, no less), it's still downright unsettling to see Neil Gaiman's Dream standing next to Snyder and Capullo's Batman.
What else do we learn about the mysteries of Metal and the Dark Multiverse? Let's take a look at the issue and find out.
Then and Now
On the issue's first page, it's 50,000 years ago. A lizard runs across the sandy landscape.
The narration for the page appears to be Hawkman/Carter Hall's journal (as seen in Dark Days: The Forge and Dark Days: The Casting). The journal tells readers that during the Stone Age, there were three tribes, one each representing the Wolf, the Bear, and the Bird.
As Newsarama has conjectured previously, the Wolf and Bear tribes probably refer to clans that were associated with Vandal Savage and the Immortal Man, respectively, in previous DC continuity.
The Bird tribe is associated with Hawkman and Hawkgirl, according to Hawkman's own admission in Dark Days: The Casting (although their connection hasn't been explained).
Metal #1 then mentions a fourth tribe, one that's called a "dark" tribe, although not named. The journal says that with the rise of the fourth tribe, the 'Age of Metal' began.
Back in the present day DCU, the Justice League is off-world, captured by Mongul and forced to participate in a gladiator-type battle on a new War World (a familiar scenario for Mongul versus the League). Mongul has taken away the League members' abilities by dressing them in power-inhibiting armor.
Mongul has also captured Hiro Okamura, the young and inventive Toyman (who helps the League nowadays). Mongul enslaved Hiro and forced him to make giant machines to battle each of the League members.
But Hiro, who is given one chance to speak, gives a cryptic clue to Batman about how the machines can be controlled and turned against Mongul. And of course Batman figures it out.
What results is a composite of all the machines into one ginormous battle mech that all the League controls.
As the scene ends, Metal gets two black-background pages for its title, with all the issue's creators and editors getting nicknames like Scott "Doom Commander" Snyder and Greg "Pain Bringer" Capullo.
Having defeated Mongul, the League comes to the conclusion that their capture didn't make any sense, because Mongul was being watched by the Braalians after his fight with General Zod. He should not have had time to build a new War World.
Well, there's a lot that doesn't make sense. Because when Batman gets home, Alfred warns him that there's a mountain in the middle of Gotham City.
Yes, a mountain.
It arrived during an energy storm, although it didn't show up on the League's warning system in the Watchtower.
The League surmises that the mountain did not come from beneath the surface - but from "somewhere else" - and they find a door leading to the inside. The door has a symbol on it that is similar to the Challengers of the Unknown logo, but it looks more like an hourglass that is running out of time.
(Sidenote here: This mountain is most certainly Challengers Mountain, the headquarters of the DC heroes known as the Challengers of the Unknown. The shape is unmistakable, and the fact that it's hollow - just like Challengers Mountain - would seemingly confirm its identity.)
The League walks through the door and finds a laboratory crackling with energy that's "off the electromagnetic spectrum." Inside is a space pod made of titanium alloy.
The League finds what they believe is the core of the mountain, and we're told that it has five people inside in some type of cryo-state. (The five team members of the Challengers of the Unknown themselves, perhaps?)
The League finds a hand-written warning that says, "It's chasing us: Run." And they also find an android they don't recognize - but readers will. It's Red Tornado.
Suddenly, a group of Blackhawks enter in full armor - the ones that have been plaguing Batman in recent issues of All-Star Batman.
The League is introduced to Lady Blackhawk. And the name should have the emphasis on "hawk," because her identity is revealed as Kendra Saunders.
The appearance of a mountain in Gotham, Kendra says, is what she calls "the first shot fired of a full-scale invasion, one that's been planned for centuries."
And lucky for the League - and for readers - she's in the mood to explain exactly what she means. But doesn't want to say it while they're standing inside the mountain. She gets the League to come with her the South Pacific – to Blackhawk Island.
She says there are places in the DCU that exist at "phantom frequencies," where energy conducted through the Earth's metal core cancels itself out and interrupts space-time.
Included among these places are Dinosaur Island, Themyscira, Skartaris, Nanda Parbat, and Blackhawk Island.
Blackhawk Island was, in the past, the base of operations for Hawkman/Carter Hall. Kendra says that she and Carter were stabbed thousands of years ago with a dagger made of Nth Metal (which is probably the same dagger that Batman manipulated in The Casting).
She tells the League about Nth Metal - that it gives different powers to people, that it defies the rules of science and magic, and that it broadcasts a strange energy at times.
Carter investigated the Nth Metal and found warnings that it came from evil. But he kept digging, recruiting heroes to help him - including the original Blackhawks, T.O. Morrow, Will Magnus, the Metal Men, the Challengers of the Unknown, Red Tornado, and the '80s Starman, according to pictures on the wall behind Kendra.
Kendra shows the League a map of the Multiverse - and it's an exact duplicate of Rian Hughes' Multiverse map that appeared in Grant Morrison's The Multiversity Handbook. The Flash recognizes it, and he and Kendra both say 52 universes are "all there is."
So…no "infinite" multiverse yet, DC fans.
However, Kendra turns over the map and shows the League the black-colored back of the paper. She says it represents the "Dark Multiverse."
She explains that the recently discovered (and not-quite-understood-yet) Dark Matter and Dark Energy make up the majority of the universe. And Nth Metal connects the the known universe to a realm much older and vaster - "an oceanic, subconscious realm our tiny multiverse floats on."
She says that when Carter sent a team to investigate the Dark Multiverse, "the entire mountain was ripped out of reality." The last transmission from the team was screams about worlds of nightmare and evil and a warning from Red Tornado about a beast called Barbatos.
(The name "Barbatos" pulls from Grant Morrison's Batman run and Bruce Wayne's time in pre-history during the Return of Bruce Wayne. Barbatos was one of the names used to describe a "Hyper-Adapter" sent backwards through time. And Vandal Savage of the Wolf Clan defeated Barbatos during Morrison's run.)
Kendra mentions Carter's journal (which was shown in The Forge and The Casting, but was given in those one-shots to a mysterious trusted friend). Kendra says that she has discovered visions that are transmitted through "high metals" - communications about the evil Barbatos. She calls him several names, including (perhaps notably) the "enemy of the Birds."
Kendra repeats a legend about how Barbatos will come through a "human doorway," a hero treated with "five divine metals." And she says Barbatos collects this hero's nightmares as its army.
(This refers to Batman, no? And the seven evil Batmen that DC is hyping in upcoming one-shots are the "nightmares" that serve as the creature's army. Right?)
Then Kendra calls this "human doorway" a "wagon," a "vessel" that will carry Barbatos here.
And "Wagon," she points out, is the root of the name "Wayne."
Superman figures out that the Dark Multiverse is what Batman's been investigating. Batman doesn't deny it.
And the Blackhawks - faced with Challengers Mountain showing up in Gotham City - decide the Dark Multiverse is threatening and it's time to end Batman-the-Wagon's life.
They all point guns at Batman's head.
Suddenly, Red Tornado shows up. He's freaking out about the "door" being opened. "I warned you," he screams as he overwhelms everyone in the room. "He's coming! He's coming for us all!"
Lady Blackhawk realizes that Batman must have triggered Red Tornado somehow to distract them. And Green Lantern basically says…duh…of course he did. He's Batman.
In the fracas, Batman has escaped and jumped on the back of one of the odd dinosaurs that inhabit the island. He's outta here.
He communicates with Alfred, saying, "I got what I came for. Ready the hyper sub."
The narration of the story by Hawkman's journal returns (like on the first page – and also in The Casting and The Forge).
The journal says the "end" will begin when a "shot fired from the dark" will tear a whole in reality and dark energy will pour into the world. (We assume the mountain's appearance served this purpose, since Kendra already called it a first "shot.")
Then, the narration says, visions will start.
A whole page is shown where various DC characters are having a vision. They see a glimpse of "what's coming" - a group of shadowy creatures who form an evil army.
Among the characters shown experiencing the vision are Doctor Fate, a Silly Putty egg-shaped Plastic Man (as seen previously in The Forge), and a character who appears to be Steel (John Henry Irons).
The narration says these characters are "attuned to the power of Nth Metal." They are? Hmm… is there a retcon coming for a couple of these characters' origin stories?
Meanwhile, back at the Batcave, Batman - whom the narration again points out is the "wagon" and the "son of the House of Wayne" - is excited about the "dark energy" he collected when he was with the Blackhawks. (He realizes that it also explains why the Braalians stopped watching Mongul, since Braal is heavily magnetic.)
The journal's narration says, as the pre-historic lizard is again shown running, "If Wayne has been prepared by the Judas Tribe…then there will be no running for him. No running for any of us."
The narration refers to Grant Morrison again, saying that Barbatos "has been after [Batman] since the dawn of man. It first saw him in a final moment of crisis." Get it? Final. Crisis. And the art shows a pre-historic slaughter.
After Alfred and Batman hear a noise upstairs, Batman walks through Wayne Manor, through the study, and sees some type of hidden door in the floor. It has been triggered, and it opens through the floor in the shape of a bat.
It is the journal of Carter Hall.
The narration says, "I have left this journal for you. In your house. The house of the family I trust most. Turned from Tribe Bat, to Tribe Bird. The Waynes."
It appears that the return of the dark energy triggered the doorway. Of course, Carter wrote in his journal that he hoped the book would never be found. But…too late. Batman has his hands on the journal.
"My God," Batman says as he opens the journal. "So it's all true."
A voice replies: "Yes, Batman."
On the final page, standing before Batman in a cloud of smoke and sparkles, is Dream of the Endless.
"I have come to tell you that this nightmare….has only just begun."
The event is scheduled to pick up next on September 13 with Dark Nights: Metal #2 and the first tie-in, Teen Titans #12.