Spoilers ahead for Dark Nights: Metal #5.
This week's Dark Nights: Metal #5 brought the beloved a Justice League member back into the DCU, but it ended with all hope seemingly lost for the heroes fighting the dark invasion by Barbatos.
After last issue's appearance by long-missing Black Adam, this week's #5 brought Martian Manhunter into the "Rebirth" DCU, revealing that he's been on Thanagar Prime all this time.
And the issue explained why Plastic Man is now egg-shaped and how he's connected to the metals that are so important to the story of Dark Nights: Metal.
The mini-series, written by Scott Snyder with art by Greg Capullo, has featured the heroes of the DCU fighting against forces from the Dark Multiverse who serve the evil Barbatos.
As the villains try to pull the Earth down into the depths of their dark realm, Batman and Superman are visiting the Forge of Worlds (where new DCU worlds are made) while other heroes are searching for Nth Metal to use against Barbatos.
And as dark nightmares mix with reality, Dream of the Endless has revealed that his library of dreams is burning, and its demise spells doom for the world.
When we left the heroes, things didn't look good. Most of the Justice League characters were in peril, and Batman and Superman had discovered that the Forge of Worlds appeared to be dark - and guarded by a monstrous, dark version of Hawkman.
So what happens in Dark Nights: Metal #5? Let's take a look…
Hope versus Dark
The issue opens with a villainous love-fest between the Batman Who Laughs and his master, Barbatos. It's time, apparently, for Barbatos to "wail" and "call the dark army."
That doesn't sound good.
Meanwhile, down at the Forge of Worlds, Batman and Superman have just found Carter Hall serving Barbatos as the "dragon of Barbatos, keeper of the Dark Forge."
As this monstrous version of Hawkman swings his enormous forging hammer toward Clark and Bruce, the two begin experiencing alternate worlds where things have gone awry - dark worlds that are presumably being created by the now-dark Forge.
But Batman says he's not falling for it this time.
Batman pursues the plan they hatched with Dream in the last issue - to find a glimmer of light within the Forge of Worlds. But Clark is reluctant to continue. "We're too late," Clark says, urging a retreat so the two of them can regroup. "The Forge has gone Dark! All it creates are nightmares."
"No," the still gray-haired and aged-looking Bruce says. "Barbatos made me lose hope once before! Never again!"
Batman, still looking for some brightness within the Forge, yells a quote to Hawkman: "To retreat is to walk alone, to explore is to walk with generations, dead and alive, in an act of love."
The words are from Carter Hall's journal, and although the giant, dark version of Hawkman talks a good game, he pauses as he speaks, as if something within him is fighting.
Just then, Clark sees a bright blue spark in the otherwise hot-orange Forge. The two jump into the bright spot.
Snyder's Justice League
As the comic book checks in with DC characters who are elsewhere in the universe, readers get a glimpse at what Scott Snyder's Justice League writing might be like.
First up: Aquaman and Deathstroke in the ocean depths under Atlantis. The two recently discovered that a sacred spot in Atlantis had been violently accessed by someone - a tomb that contained a secret portal to the depths below. As they arrive at the end of the journey through the portal, they are "at the planet's core."
The two find a "magma extract" that is encased in some sort of orb, held there by a method that incorporates both Atlantean and another mysterious technology. Deathstroke senses the Nth Metal in the orb, so Aquaman tries to turn on the technology surrounding it.
Aquaman wonders what kind of deal Lord Arion (from ancient Atlantean mythology) struck to save the city.
As it appears that a drop of Nth Metal has been extracted from the orb, Black Manta shows up. He has also made a deal with Barbatos, with a promise that Black Manta will rule an underwater earth in the Dark.
He's brought some of the Nightmare Batmen with him.
Green Man from Mars
On Thanagar Prime, Mr. Terrific and Hal Jordan were looking for Nth Metal but have been captured and locked up by the planet's ruler. Hal can't use his ring because his thoughts are being scrambled by Starro the Conqueror.
As the two talk, Terrific reveals why Plastic Man is so important. The character's well-known origin story - as thief Eel O-Brien turned stretchy by chemicals - is still intact.
But readers learn that those chemicals are tied to "cosmic metals" and Plastic Man is a "super-conductor for cosmic energies."
So recently, when the "dark energy started rising," Plastic Man began struggling with nightmares that pulled him toward evil. As he was helping Terrific (presumably with the research Terrific was doing for Batman), Plastic Man finally couldn't take it anymore and assumed an egg-shaped form, fighting off "millions of dark impulses."
Suddenly, one of the Thanagarian guards offers to help. He pulls off his mask and ta-da! It's Martian Manhunter.
J'onn has been on Thanagar Prime all this time, exploring the "very questions you've been asking yourself" (including why nobody knows about the existence of the place).
He shape shifts his finger into a key to unlock the cell door, gives Terrific back his T-spheres, and block Starro's mind-control.
Hal promises to kick Starro's ass. When Terrific says the villain technically doesn't have an ass, Hal promises he'll find one.
It turns out that Starro has five asses (don't ask). And when J'onn, Terrific and Hal capture the Plastic Man egg, they discover that the Phoenix Cannon has been tampered with. Instead of being calibrated to raise planet Earth and keep it from sinking into the Dark Multiverse, someone has reversed the polarity, meaning it can be used to push the Earth further down.
Some of the Nightmare Batmen show up and do just that - fire the cannon at the Earth, causing it to sink and allowing Barbatos to call his dark army.
On the Rock of Eternity, Wonder Woman and Kendra Saunders were looking for Hawkman's mace when Kendra suddenly turned into a dark, Barbatos-serving version of herself.
Then Black Adam showed up. He and Vandal Savage had made a deal with Barbatos, who promised that Black Adam's home country of Kahndaq would thrive.
Wonder Woman's attempts to reach Kendra keep failing, then Black Adam knocks her through a wall. She sees Hawkman's mace there and begins to reach for it, just as Black Adam blasts her with some of his energy.
The villain's attack backfires, though, because Hawkman's mace (which is now in Diana's hand) has absorbed the energy. She swings it into Black Adam's head.
But just as she's admiring the mace with a smile, Batman Who Laughs shoots her in the head with a bullet made of Eighth Metal (the same metal used in her invisible jet). She's still alive, her tiara apparently blocking the blast (or maybe she's just healing). She tells Batman Who Laughs that Batman and Superman will find a way. But things don't look good for the Themysciran princess.
Batman Who Laughs leaves her there, along with the dark Hawkgirl, so Diana can aimlessly fight and fail, as she does on all the worlds he's conquered.
But Wonder Woman wraps her golden lasso around her fist, punching Kendra and causing her to remember who she is. The two use a portal to jump to Earth and discover they might be too late.
Hoards of twisted, dark versions of DC characters await Kendra and Diana. "Great Hera," Wonder Woman says.
As Batman and Superman sink into the glowing depths of the Forge, Clark apologizes to Bruce, telling him they can face whatever happens together. But Bruce still has hope. "It's not over! Diana, the others … we'll win! W---," Bruce says as he and Clark disappear into the molten liquid.
Wonder Woman prepares for the battle, which seems hopeless, and she tells Kendra to yell. "Yell so loud that Barbatos and that laughing Batman … understand it's not a scream - it's a war cry!" she says.
On the final panel, books are burning violently - signaling that (as Dream said last issue) all of the Dreaming is being consumed, "and with it, all stories, forever."
The story continues in March 14's Dark Nights: Metal #6.