One of the biggest negatives I had while reading the first issue of Dark Nights: Metal, was the sensation that I was missing out by not having previously read all the things that were being referenced. When reading Batman comics, I typically take for granted the fact that I understand ever reference and subtle nuance that a writer chooses to include. Reading Metal has opened my eyes to the comic experience that I assume most readers go through. It brings to mind one of the most common statements I hear when someone is thinking about taking the plunge into comics: “There is so much back story, I feel like I’ll be lost.”
And lost is what I was definitely feeling in regards to many of the scenes in Metal #1. Were they referencing things I needed to have an intimate knowledge about in order to follow the story? Was my Metal experience going to be less than fulfilling because I couldn’t grasp the magnitude and scope of every carefully planted thread that was being woven by Snyder into his grand magnum opus?
I decided I needed to find out for myself. So, over the last month, I made several purchases to test my quandaries.
The first thing I got a hold of was Showcase presents Challengers of the Unknown. It’s a trade collecting the first 21 appearances of the Challengers. It includes stories spanning the time frame from 1957 to 1961, and it’s 544 pages long! This particular copy is in black and white. No color. But really, I was just interested in getting the story and understanding the characters, so this wasn’t a huge turn off for me. The biggest thumbs up was that this book only had a price tag of 7 dollars! That’s crazy! And definitely worth it. When you consider that these stories are 60 years old, and your getting 21 of them/544 pages, it’s a real steal.
The other thing I picked up was Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Gaiman’s run is collected in 10 trades. And for the most part, you can get each trade for 10 dollars or less. I had read Sandman 30 years ago when I was but a child. So, I remembered it, but I wasn’t old enough at the time to truly appreciate it. Reading it again, I can honestly say, it’s a must read. In fact, and I don’t want to step on Snyder’s toes here by recommending something else in a review that’s supposed to be for his current tale, but if you’re on a limited budget I’d actually recommend spending your money on Sandman instead of Metal. And really, I don’t think Snyder would take offense to that. I mean, how many books can you actually hold above Sandman.
Now, back to my questions. Reading all that material and understanding the references didn’t change the way I saw Metal #1 or Metal #2. In fact, the Challengers of the Unknown aren’t even in this issue and Dream is little more than a cameo. Maybe all that reading will pay off for future installments of Metal, but even if it doesn’t, I don’t think it was a waste to read them as both were very enjoyable in and of themselves. So, should you read them? If you want (and a most definite yes to Sandman). But as to whether or not they are necessary, at this time, the answer would be no. You can read Metal without having ingested the antecedent material. I’ll continue to acquire and read more of the referenced material, as that’s simply the kind of person I am, and I’ll keep you posted if it becomes significant or vital to your Metal going experience.
I’d even go so far as to say it’s not even necessary for you to have read all Snyder’s previous Batman work in order to enjoy Metal, because everything of import is clearly spelled out for you.
Now that I’ve accepted the fact that I don’t need to understand and scrutinize every minute detail, I’m left to appreciate the story for itself and not merely what it’s referencing. But the thing is, I’m starting to feel like the sum of the references is what’s making it good. Strip all that away and it’s actually really basic.
For instance, the first 13 pages boil down to not much more than a chase scene. After stealing the Dark Metal from last issue, the League is in a scramble to find Batman. Partially because he is their friend and teammate, but more importantly because he is running around with one of the most dangerous substances known to man and they aren’t entirely sure what he plans to do with it. Don’t get me wrong. It’s entertaining enough. But without all the references to spice it up, it is just a chase. Take for instance the trap Batman lays for The League. It’s quite clever, but it’s contingent upon a reference to something else in order for you to fully appreciate it.
The opening is also thematically redundant since it serves the same function as the intro to Metal #1. In the first issue, the space arena scene with Mongul was largely meant to highlight how even though Batman is just a normal person without superpowers, he is typically more valuable than most of his teammates. In turn, this opening shows how Batman is able to evade capture despite his lack of powers. Once again, firmly placing him in a position of superiority to those you would expect to outclass him.
On top of that, the openings to both Metal #1 and Metal #2 are hardly the most integral parts of the story. One could even argue that they aren’t entirely essential. Or at least not so essential that they should have been given the excessive number of pages they both received. Looking at the material presented in these two book, I could see how they could easily be melded together into one issue if they were to trim them down. And even if you didn’t want to meld them into one issue, I think there are more pertinent ways the pages could have been utilized, but I’ll get back to that later.
Once the into/chase scene is out of the way, things start to really pick up. While the second act is super short (consisting of no more than 2 pages), I personally thought it was the coolest moment in the entire book. Seeing the Hall of Doom from Challenge of the Super Friends rising out of the lava was, simply put, epic. That alone was cool, but then it’s revealed that it’s being used as a meeting hall for the Earth’s immortals. Double wow. In press junkets for this event, Scott and Greg kept saying stuff about how this story was going to be so epic it would melt your face off. Well, consider my face melted. I don’t know if there are any future plans for this, but it definitely needs to keep being a thing.
This particular section left me with only one little question:
Maybe I’m missing something, but how can they have readings on his body and not know where he is. Wouldn’t they need to be with him to get those readings???
While The Hall of Doom was my favorite moment, seeing Batman whip a baby Darkseid out of his backpack comes in at a close second. Yep. You heard me right. Batman kidnapped Darkseid! And in the exact same way that the Omega Beams sent Batman “Quantum Leaping ” through time after the events of Final Crisis (and hoping that each leap would be the leap home), his plan is to do it again. Only this time, he is going back with a mission…destroy Barbatos!
It actually gets a little emotional for a moment when Batman admits that he believes that this is a one way trip, but he knows it’s something he has to do. Seriously, just typing that sentence got me a little choked up. But it becomes even more touching when Batman’s final thought is of Damian. Considering how many times Snyder put Damian on the back-burner, it’s nice to give him such a significant acknowledgement in what could have been Batman’s final words in this world.
That all sounds genuinely awesome. And to be honest, I would have been happy to see it played out. But guess what?
This whole time we thought Batman was maneuvering himself to take out the bad-guys, but really, it turns out they were maneuvering him to be exactly where they needed him to be. The master strategist just got out-stra…te…gized. Is that even a word? I don’t know…whatever. The point is, these guys got the drop on Batman! Oh man, oh man. I did not see that coming. And from here on out, the surprises just keep on coming till the very last page.
I know a lot of this article has already been pretty spoiler-ific, but I don’t typically like to ruin the very end so openly in my reviews, so check the spoiler tag for my breakdown on the last 6 pages.
It was the frigin Court of Owls!!!!!!!!! And then they bring in the Batmanium element from Superheavy! I always wondered about that. It just seemed to me like something that should have been more important, so it’s interesting to see it come back around and have a very significant role.
When the doorway is opened, we get this great moment of instant karma as the Owls are devoured by the weird little Robin demons. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen servants bringing forth a powerful master and, expecting to rule alongside him, be destroyed once the master has been give power. But it’s just such a satisfying moment that I have to look the other way at the use of such a cliche.
Then everyone else steps through the doorway:
So, there is a lot to take in here. And, I’d like to address it all. So, here goes:
- My favorite thing on this page is the baby Darkseid. He is pointing at them the way any baby points at the stuff they like. But it’s awesome because he is a bad baby, so he entertained by monstrously evil things. Is it wrong that I think it’s cute?
- Of all the designs, I think the Aquaman/Aquawoman-Batman is my least favorite. She just stands out so much from the rest of them. And not because she is a woman. But because she is basically just dressed up like an evil pirate. At the end of the day, it’s just too far removed from all the other designs.
- The Superman-Batman is basically just Doomsday. Don’t get me wrong. I like the way he looks, but he doesn’t seem all that different from the way he normally looks.
- Cyborg-Batman. I’m not really getting a good enough impression of him from this illustration to say whether or not I actually like it. Guess I’ll have to wait for his one-shot.
- Much like the Superman-Batman, isn’t the Wonder Woman-Batman just Ares with Bat themed armor?
- Flash-Batman. Love the design. Black and red really work well together. But it seems to me more like an evil Flash than an evil Flash-Bat. Maybe that opinion will change as I see more of the character, but at the moment I’m just seeing a lot more Flash elements than Batman elements.
- Green Lantern-Batman. Reminds me of Psycho Mantis from Metal Gear Solid. In case that wasn’t clear, that’s a thumbs up from me.
- Barbatos. Totally awesome! Is it just me or does his hood resemble that of The Specter’s? Which leads me to my next question. Is Barbatos the Spectre of the Dark Matter Universe?
- The Joker-Batman. I’ve often felt that Snyder likes to pay tribute to 70s and 80s horror. The whole thing with The Joker removing his face and reapplying it reminds me of Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The way Joker wore mechanic coveralls is a nod to Michael Meyers from Halloween. The way Joker wanted everyone to believe that he was present for all kinds of major catastrophes throughout Gotham’s history is similar to the way that a major catastrophe befell The town of Derry every thirty years in Stephen King’s “IT”. With this new design, I think it’s pretty clear that Snyder is acknowledging Hellraiser and the Cenobites. The black leather. The chains. The straps and buckles. The overexposed teeth. It all screams Cenobite to me. There’s even a scene in this issue where Batman gets stuck with a whole bunch of needle like skewers. Definitely the kind of thing you’d expect to see in a Hellraiser movie.
Odds and ends:
- Remember how earlier in the article I mentioned that they could have used pages differently to highlight other story elements as opposed to having an extended chase scene. Well, I was talking about the Darkseid stuff. I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve seen Batman make the Justice League look inferior by comparison dozens of times before. You know what I’ve never seen? Batman stealing a god-baby away from his mama. Granted, the Darkseid reveal was a genuine surprise, and seeing how Batman perpetrated the child abduction would have ruined that surprise. But I’d still have loved to see how it all went down.
- You like a story that delivers plenty of unexpected twists and shocking turns.
- Seeing Batman outshine his Justice League teammates make you happy.
- You like when a story has so many references that it’s practically bursting at the seems.
- …HALL OF DOOM…
I actually found Metal #2 to be a lot more fun than the premiere issue. Although, it’s probably more apt to say that I found it more enjoyable, because the subject matter is hardly “fun”. It’s got plenty of dark undertones running all throughout it, and as the story wraps up, we are faced with some truly bleak circumstances. Given that, it seems rather strange that I would close the book in a better mood than when I opened it. But, I guess that’s the power of Scott’s narrative. It’s all being played as a cool comic adventure, so even though we are being presented with some very depressing things, we are never really forced to ingest it in that way.
SCORE: 8.5 / 10