Dark Nights: Metal #1 review

Metal 1

If you’re just here for the review portion of this article, it starts about half way down.


I’m going to preface this review with some of my personal preferences in regards to Batman, and comics in general, to give you a basis for what is bound to have some effect on the way I see this event.  I’ll try to keep it to a minimum rather than allowing my own biases to dictate my criticisms, instead reflecting on the merits of the story being presented in and of itself.  But just be aware, they are bound to peak through from time to time.

  • I’m not a DC fan, I’m a Batman fan.  That’s not to say I haven’t read tons of other DC stories, but it does mean that the bulk of my knowledge and reading time is spent poring over tomes of Batman mythology.
  • I don’t necessarily like seeing Batman interact with the rest of the DC universe.  If I had my way I’d probably split the DCU into two different realms.  The Batverse and the DCverse.  That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed certain team-up books in the past, but they are infinitesimal compared to the number of times I’ve enjoyed straight-up Batman stories.
  • I like my Batman grounded, not flitting about outer space fighting aliens or dealing with interdimensional demons.  That’s also not to say I haven’t enjoyed contemporary stories that handle this subject matter, but once again, they are few and far between.  I will say that I put my preferences on the back-burner when it comes to the 1950s.  I’ve enjoyed a fair share of stories that involved Batman fighting rainbow monsters or engaging in the space Olympics.  But that’s an allowance I give since that time-frame in history was typified by such storytelling.  So, I’m not above enjoying a goofy alien tale, I just think they have their place and shouldn’t really cross over into other sub-genres.
  • I’m not a fan of giant summer blockbuster events.  To those that don’t know, I’ve been reading comics for decades.  So, I’ve “suffered” through dozens upon dozens of these game changing events.  All that “nothing will ever be the same” nonsense looses all meaning when, from experience, you’ve learned that it never really matters in the end.

Having said all that, some of you probably think I’m about to poo-poo all over this story.  But I assure you, I have no intention of doing that.  I’ll probably be tougher on it than most, but hopefully I’ll still remain fair.


Before we get to the story proper, I wanted to address the marketing campaign.  When you first laid eyes on this cover, I’m sure some of you thought it was a peculiar configuration for the Justice League to be in.  Well, for those that didn’t recognize it, it’s the international symbol for “ROCK ON!”  The “gimmick” that’s being utilized to promote this story arc has to do with double entendres and their connection to musical terminology.  For instance, the title Metal is obviously referring to the strange substance Batman has been researching, but in an out-of-comic reference it’s being utilized as the second half of the term “heavy metal”.

This is also being played up in the way that the creative team have been given kick-ass rock like nicknames within the credits, and how the checklist of pertinent issues related to Metal looks very much like the tour dates one would find on the back of a t-shirt connected with a given tour.  There’s also this image that’s been making its way around the internet for awhile now:

When it was first released, I saw a lot of people taking issue with the fact that Batman was sporting a set of bloody axes.  Not very Batman like after all.  Now maybe this image will play out to be something that happens in the actual story, but ever since coming to the realization that they are playing up the rock elements, I think it might have a less direct interpretation.  Batman is holding axes.  This is a term that is also used when referring to an electric guitar.  Topping that off, I can’t help but think of Frank Frazetta when taking that image of Batman and all the other connotations into consideration.

Frazetta was an artist made popular by his fantasy and science fiction paintings from the 70s.  The ones I think he is most famous for are his depictions of Conan the Barbarian and Death Dealer (not pictured).  For whatever reason, people into heavy metal became quite enamored with his illustrations, utilizing several as album covers.  So, I think the whole idea of incorporating heavy metal influences into the promotional material is what lead to that particular image.

While I’m on the subject of Frazetta, I just wanted to bring up this character.  He is from an animated film called Fire and Ice (1983) that Frank Frazetta was involved with.  Personally, I always felt like Darkwolf looked a lot like a barbarian version of Batman.  And if you’ve ever seen the film, you know the similarities go beyond just that.  Darkwolf is always stalking about in the shadows, taking people out with stealth, and just being an all around badass like Batman.  There’s this one scene where he takes on like 30 dudes all by himself, and at the climax of the film, it’s him that eventually wins the day (and not the main protagonist, the blond guy).

This character may also have been the visual inspiration for the appearance of the caveman Batman from The Return of Bruce Wayne.  Just so you know, I’m not just randomly bringing this up. There is the briefest allusion to this particular story toward the end of Metal #1.  So, there is some method to my madness.  Plus, Snyder spends so much time drawing interesting parallels between seemingly unrelated DC properties that it got me in the frame of mind to do it myself.


**THE ACTUAL REVIEW BEGINS RIGHT HERE***

The story starts off with our heroes at the mercy of the mighty Mongul.  Each of them has been fitted with something to neutralize their powers, forcing them to fight for real.  Wait, doesn’t Batman always fights for real.  Hmm, what could they have fitted to him that would make him stop being a stealthy super ninja with the mind of a chemist/inventory/tactical genius.  Oh wait.  That’s right.  Nothing.  You can’t take away what makes Batman awesome.  And I think that’s pretty much the point of this intro.  It’s a reminder that, despite having no superpowers to speak of, Batman is still able to stand toe to toe with his god-like teammates.  And in many instances, surpass them.

The intro to this comic is very much like something you’d see opening a James Bond film.  I mean, not in the sense that 007 gets dressed up like a gladiator to fight monsters in space or anything like that.  But in the sense that you jump right into a story already in progress and are forced to figure things out on the fly.  It’s a high octane way to introduce the audience to the world of the story they are about to experience and gives them a taste of what they may have to look forward to.  They even do that thing where they drop the credits after the opening scene but before the main plot begins.

If you read it with that mindset, I think it definitely works.  However, I’d be remiss in my duties if I didn’t point out the counterargument.  This opening takes up 1/3 of the entire book.  That’s a lot of page space to dedicate to something that ultimately has nothing to do with the rest of the story.  I mean, it’s offhandedly mentioned that the people who should have been watching Mongul were probably distracted by the whole Dark Matter intrusion thing going on, which was why he was able to do what he did to the Justice League to begin with.  But still, that’s only tangentially relevant.  And then, only to its own cause and not necessarily to the rest of the book or larger narrative at play.

I was also left with several questions/thoughts after the intro.

  • What’s all this stuff about Mongul, Braalians, and Zod?  Is this actually referencing another story, or is it made up backstory inserted here that we are just supposed to use to fabricate our own lead up to these events.  I mean, I’m guessing that there isn’t a story that involves Mongul capturing them.  So since I had to fill that gap on my own, why not this one too.  Essentially, I can’t tell what’s a reference and what’s original to this story.
  • Why is Toyman a little boy?  That’s easy to write off though.  He must be the post 2011 Toyman and I just never ended up reading his new introduction.
  • Is there a previous story where Mongul and Toyman Toyboy had some type of rivalry going on?  Or is this once again just something we are being thrown into and expected to create our own backstory for.   I mean, that’s fine if I have to do that.  But if there is a real story out there that they are referencing, I want to know.

  • This is a fairly unhelpful editor’s note.  Couldn’t they have said, “Aquaman Vol5 #2”.  I mean, without that, what’s even the point?  Further more, it would have been nice to have had an editor’s note on things like Mongul/Braalians/Zod /Toyman.  And not just, see the 2010s, but actually issue numbers if they do indeed exist.
  • I really got a chuckle out of Cyborg screaming in agony and Batman just calmly and coldly telling him to be quiet.
  • I might be mistaken, but I think Snyder might be poking fun at the live action counterparts to the Justice League that will be appearing in theatres later this year.  At one point, they talk about “coming together”, and that just so happens to be the song playing in one of the Justice League trailers.  This wouldn’t be the first time I got the impression that Snyder was poking fun at the movie universe.  Back in EndGame, before Batman had his big fight with Superman, they made a point of discussing how the city blocks in which they were about to fight in had be evacuated.  At the time, it kinda felt like a jab to the climax of Man of Steel.

  • In order to defeat Mongul, the League takes control of the robots designed to destroy them and merges to for “Devastator”.  I wish that I could say this only slightly reminds me of Transformers, but the fact is, there is a Combiner Transformer called Abominus.  And that’s exactly what Toyman Toyboy refers to these things as.  So, is it a friendly homage, or is it borderline copyright infringement?  You be the judge.

At this point, the actual story finally gets under way.  And guess what happens?

Gotham suffers another city-wide devastation event.  Oh My Gosh.  Can we stop already with the city-wide devastation!  I mean, whatever happened to simply stopping people from robing banks and beating up the occasional mugger?  Why does it always have to be these huge calamities?  I get that this is a huge summer blockbuster kind of event, so you have to go bigger than a common purse snatching, but I’m just so tired of seeing Gotham eradicated on a weekly basis.  I mean, at some point the death rate has got to surpass the birth rate, and then you’re on a slow trudge to a waning populace and an eventual ghost town.  And don’t even try and tell me people are actually moving TO Gotham.  You’d have to be suicidal to move here knowing how often people end up getting killed in this city.  I don’t care if I had nowhere else to go, I’d totally end up being one of those cliche hobos with the stick and red bandana.

The team search the mountain, and just as we are being introduced to this new mystery, Lady Blackhawk Exposition-Dump shows up to explain away all the nice juicy tension that had just barely begun to percolate.  At this point, it became plainly obvious to me why the opening had been so high-octane.  To make up for the fact that the remaining 2/3rds of the story would be nothing but exposition and story-time.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with characters talking to one another for extended periods of time when they are discussing something intangible like feelings or ideas.  But here, we learn a lot about things that happened in the past.  Me personally, I ‘d rather see these things enacted as opposed to just reading a story about them within another story.

The transition from “city teetering on the edge of despair” to “friendly power point demonstration” is a little too harsh in my opinion.  After all, Gotham just got laid flat.  I know that they mention evacuating, but I can’t very well believe that everyone made it out in time.  There are probably tons of people trapped in the rubble, hurt or dying.  Definitely the kind of thing that the Justice League would be able to help out with.  But instead, they rush off to Lady BlackHawk’s secret layer because that’s where she keeps all the visual aids she needs in order to tell her tale.  Throughout the rest of the story, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that innocent people were dying while the League was casually attending a Metal symposium.  It’s also peculiar that Batman is relatively silent when it comes to this, Superman being the only one that seems truly concerned about Gotham, bringing it up multiple times.  Future events do give Batman motivation for wanting to get to the island, so down the road, him not objecting to leaving Gotham behind does make sense.  But it’s still very jarring on the first read.  Superman also drops this in there…

…which was really kind of great.  Makes me wonder how many readers were thinking the same thing and thanking Superman for echoing their feelings.

Even though I would have rather seen the story unfolding visually than through text, I still really enjoyed all the backstory that was given.  In fact, I’d be more than happy to get fully fleshed-out stories depicting every single event Lady BlackHawk brings up.  And that’s probably what made me want to see more of it.  It spreads this far reaching net that encompasses the DC Universe to all its peripheral and obscure corners.  It also has this great way of combining existing elements in a way that just really makes a lot of sense.  The idea that HawkGirl would lead the BlackHawks just felt really natural and intuitive.  And I love how the inventors that made the Metal Men and Red Tornado were hanging out together.  This is just all kinds of win and I really hope to see more in-depth flashbacks involving Carter Hall, The BlackHawks, Starman, The Challengers of the Unknown, The Metal Men, and Red Tornado.  While familiar with all these characters, I haven’t read them extensively enough to understand exactly how they fit into this story line.  Or what past stories might have made them relevant players in this new tale.

Odds and Ends:

  • This scene is pretty much lifted right out of Stranger Things.  Maybe that’s because Stranger Things did such a good job of explaining something so complex with minimal effort that Snyder decided it was the perfect way to make a similar point in his story.  Maybe this is an homage.  Then again, maybe it’s another case of Snyder relying a little too heavily on the work of others.  I don’t think it’s unfair of me to say that he does tend to borrow some of his ideas from other sources.  And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  George Lucas borrowed elements from all kinds of different sources and mashed them together to give us Star Wars.  So, it’s definitely a technique that’s been proven to work.  But I think there is a big difference in being inspired by the work of others to create your own original work and then just copying something someone else has done.  Which one is this?  Well, once again, I’ll leave that for you to decide.
  • Within the confines of this story, it’s implied that Bruce Wayne’s ancestors are somehow connected to this Bat Tribe.  I think that’s kind of silly.  I like the idea that Bruce came from a bunch of normal people, and that his special circumstances manifested the bat motif.  Not that it was subconsciously on his brain because he came from a Bat Tribe and that’s why he chose a Bat to represent himself.
  • When Lady BlackHawk was revealed to be Kendra Saunders, I was like, “Yeah, it’s Hawkgirl.  Why’s everyone acting like this is the first time they’ve seen here.”  Then it occurred to me that perhaps Hawkgirl hasn’t been part of the post 2011 DC Universe.  I guess this is another example of being mildly confused by events since I don’t read ever single floppy that DC releases.
  • On top of that, I started thinking about Hawkman.  Earlier this year, there was a 6 issue mini-series called Death of Hawkman.  Was that story a precursor to this?
  • Hey editorial, I wouldn’t mind getting a checklist on all the relevant material that was referenced.

At the very end of the entire story, Dream shows up.  Not familiar with who that is?  Well, he’s from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.  And with this, things are beginning to take shape.  Not necessarily with where I think the plot is going, but with what DC’s current strategy is.  When we look at the properties they’ve currently been pushing, an obvious trend has surfaced.  The late 80s saw three books achieve unparalleled critical and commercial success.  Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, and Alan Moore’s Watchmen.  These are arguably the best books DC has ever put out and hearken back to a heyday of creativity and success.  I get the impression that by using all these properties, DC is attempting to recapture these glory years.

On top of that, Metal and The Button have both featured a slew of characters from (or inspired by) the original Justice Society of America.

So far, we’ve already seen Red Tornado, Dr. Fate, Sandman, Starman, Johnny Thunder, and Hawkman.  And…was that Hourman’s symbol on the door to the mountain?  Probably not, but now I’m seeing connections everywhere thanks to Scott Snyder.

Recommended if…

  • You like big, bold, and ambitious storytelling.
  • You like seeing older characters brought back into the mix.
  • You want to unravel a mystery that’s been in the making for thousands of years.

Overall:

Despite all the little things that were bothering me, I really did enjoy this story more than I thought I would.  The scope is beyond huge, which makes it very exciting.  But at the same time, I wonder if Snyder has bitten off more than he can chew.  With so many intricate pieces at play and so many interwoven plots going on, will he be able to pull off something that will be as satisfying as this has the potential to be.  It also has me wondering how much stuff might be relevant to this event that I’ve never read.  It’s probably completely possible to still enjoy and follow the current story without having reading all the previous material, but the completionist in me is getting major twitches over not understanding every single nook and cranny involved in this massive epic.  I think that whether you are here for the story, here for the action, or simply here for the nostalgia…you are bound to find something in Snyder’s latest tale that speaks to you.

SCORE: 8 / 10 

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