Dark Days: The Casting #1 review

Dark Days Casting 1

I’m just going to level with you all: I had to read this comic three times before any of it even began to gel with me, and by then I felt as bloated as if I’d eaten six sleeves of soda crackers and drank a gallon of water.

“The Casting” completes Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV’s prologue on our way to Dark Days: Metal.

First you need a good hot forge to kick things off: fire and a vessel where you put your ore to melt down. Then you need a cast to pour out your molten product, and when it cools, you break the cast and you have something in metal, typically in the shape of some tool or weapon. So if our first issue was setting that white-hot fire and dumping our raw ingredients in, this issue should have been the cast that gives those ingredients shape.

But casting also refers to throwing out: casting away, casting off. And woven into the narrative here are more hints regarding the Immortals and one among them who was cast out.

+1 for clever titling.

But clever is the watchword of the day with this comic perhaps, and that’s not always a great thing.

Prepare to wade through walls of exposition. Walls of exposition within exposition. Katar Hol tells stories about people who tell stories while Joker tells stories and Batman tells stories. Wonder Woman also makes a nice appearance to, yeah, tell stories, and at some point I’m just shaking my head wondering when is this story going to actually move?

Enjoy the action: these moments are spare to the point of stingy

I really don’t consider myself a lazy reader, but I will admit I have a short attention span for walls of text in comic books. It’s possible that the immensity of this tale will ultimately justify all this verbiage, but I’m not convinced at this point and as a narrative strategy I think it’s actually kind of lazy on Snyder and Tynion’s part.

He might be trying to cram too much into too few pages and therefore we get these long monologues of backstory, but at the same time, I found myself on almost every page wishing he would just cut to the chase. It’s entirely possibly for Joker to be crazy and concise at the same time and I would have gladly sacrificed all the random scrabbling in the dark with Hal and Duke to get more overt show and less journal entry tell from Katar Hol.

Because can we even trust Hawkman as a narrator? How can he be making observations about the Immortals and overhear the hushed conversation of a certain Seward and Al Ghul? He can’t–that’s there for our benefit. So have we left the journal? And if we have, then Snyder is just messing with us because he’s deliberately withholding details and has now drawn attention to the fact. It’s pretty much the equivalent of breaking the fourth wall in an otherwise naturalistic presentation. Rather than actually hear what the old dude says about the metal, we get this side stuff–all of which could be really cool and actually work as a scene, if we actually got to see the whole scene and not Snyder’s cryptic edit of it. You can’t have it both ways: that’s not fair to the reader.

The rest of the book follows the same pattern. As with Batman in the previous issue, we keep being told this or that is important, but we still have no idea why or how. Joker fills in another small part of the puzzle by suggesting they’re toying with something so earth-shatteringly destructive that even he won’t tolerate having to co-exist (or die) by it.

He can’t get away? He’s right behind you, Duke (sigh)

And of course Batman is the most cryptic of them all, muttering half-answers (or none at all), and stoically accepting all the fire of the cosmos down on his head as he goes through with his own casting (this time in the magical sense of the word–did I give a +1 for a clever title? I did).

My problem with this book is I still don’t care. I like some of the callbacks to golden age Hawkman and I am almost intrigued by how Snyder is going to work Nth metal into this whole shindig, but I also feel like Batman is behaving obnoxiously and there’s entirely too much overall drama surrounding mystical artifacts and iterative incarnations and immortality.

If that’s how you like your comics to swing, yippee!  You have hit the jackpot.

I feel more like I pulled the lever and got two lemons and one of those “BAR” icons (which basically means I just threw away my nickel, quarter, dollar–whatever).

Being the optimist that I am, I can see some possibilities here. Possibilities that involve course-correcting (or let’s say re-introducing or re-canonizing) some concepts and storylines that were jettisoned post-Flashpoint, post-Rebirth, post-post. Basically, the opportunity for the writers to cherry pick things they want to throw back on the continuity bus-and perhaps leave that magical gate open for other writers to do the same.

This would be a noble and interesting experiment and could very well justify all this rigamarole.

Unfortunately we have to continue to wade through to find out.

Lee, Kubert, Romita Jr., Williams, Janson, Miki, Sinclair, Skipper.  I’m sorry: it’s just too much.

I can’t say much about the art in this book that I didn’t already say in my last review. Although there are a couple of genuinely nice moments, there is also a lot of slop. I’ll let you sort out who’s on which end of the spectrum of that: wonky character modeling, bland plastic faces, a lot of really static posing, and who knew blood was opaque and would show up bright red on a black mask? No. Honestly.

The worst crime, though, is just the sheer inconsistency of it all. You can’t have this many artists on a single book and turn out a product that doesn’t feel totally schizophrenic at the end of the day. This is “comics by committee” and I think it looks terrible. It has no unified “voice”; it’s just noise and it literally hurts my eyeballs to have to re-recognize characters from one page to the next. It’s like the art is trying to mirror this idea of the manifold past-lives of the character in some bizarre and unintentional way.

Recommended If…

  • You’ve always dreamed of Duke being the center of the keys to the universe. His time has come!
  • Altruistic Joker is a thing? I’m almost curious.
  • You love it layered thick because that makes for a longer strip tease. Snyder’s love of the whole DCU is always in abundance; I absolutely believe he loves this world and these characters and means to do best by them. Whether you agree with his style, his direction for Batman, his overall aesthetic for superhero comics–well, that’s up to individual preference.

Overall

Just because I don’t love this, doesn’t mean you won’t, but you should know what you’re getting yourself into. It’s impossible to say yet whether any of this will be absolutely essential to understanding Dark Days: Metal, but it’s all backstory and exposition. If you really love your Batman heavy on the fantasy: time-spanning immortals, mystical portals, and magic swords you might dig this. It’s Scott Snyder driving, with James Tynion IV as his co-pilot so you know you’re paying for passion here: they’ve crammed this to the brim with little hints and mysteries and if you enjoy rabbit holes by all means follow them down…down…down.

SCORE: 6/10

 

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