We get our first spotlight on Metal’s Dark Batmen with Batman: Black Racer Red Death #1. Oh, sorry… Was that telling?
Batman: Red Death is ok. It’s not great, but it’s not terrible either. One of the things I think we’re going to come across with these evil Batmen, are comparisons. Clearly just looking at Red Death you can see similarities with the Black Racer, or any other evil speedster that the Flash has encountered. But it’s more than just that. There’s one major comparison that mirrors the entire concept of the Dark Multiverse, and that’s Earth 3 and the Crime Syndicate (Forever Evil). The entire point of Earth 3 was basically to ask, “What if there is this other earth, and on this other earth, everyone is evil?” The concept of metal is basically, “What if there’s a mirrored universe to the multiverse, but it’s created from darkness so everything is evil?” See where I’m going? The concepts are the same, it’s just with Metal, Snyder is able to take that concept, broaden it, and ultimately do more with it.
Which makes me wonder… Does this mean that everyone on Earth 3 in the Dark Multiverse are happy, good people since Earth 3 in the non-evil multiverse is evil?
Anyway, Red Death takes us to Earth -52. There are three parts to the story, and the first part is both the longest and the least interesting. I don’t know why, but I expected each of these dark Batmen to be evil through and through. I guess I assumed something within that universe tainted people or made them evil to begin with. And if it not the universe itself, then perhaps the source of their power – in this case, the speed force – would be tainted or evil. So, you can imagine my surprise when nearly half of this issue features Batman – who’s apparently been a hero up to this point – chasing down the Flash because he needs the speed force.
That’s right, this Batman is a perfectly normal Bruce Wayne in the grand scheme of things. In fact, he appears to be the exact same as the Batman from Earth 0, except that this Batman has literally lost everyone and is a little more extreme. It’s never fully explained, but I assume Bruce wants the speed force so he can save those that he’s lost. He’s not a completely homicidal madman, nor does he come across as an evil entity from another dimension, so I found the entire thing confusing.
Batman: Red Death feels more like a “what if” story featuring our current Batman than a story about a Batman from an evil universe. I started to wonder if we were going to run through the entire issue, and then on the last page have Red Death appear or become created. Thankfully, that’s not the case.
The back half of the book features Red Death in what comprises the last two parts of the story. One part is a glimpse at Red Death as he takes on his rogues in Gotham. This establishes how evil he is as a character, and gives some insight into his abilities, but it’s all way too fast.
The last part of the story suffers from the same issue concerning pacing as Red Death travels to Earth 0. I wish I could say that there are some great moments to be found here, but there aren’t. Everything is glossed over so quickly that nothing is explained in full. Williamson’s focus is all over the place and he never manages to completely land any of his ideas. I’d say I’m surprised, but I’m not. In fact, I predicted this exact thing.
So is Red Death bad? No. It’s just completely underwhelming. If you’re determined to read everything related to Metal, then, by all means, pick up this one-shot. If you’re not one of those people, then skip this issue. I can’t imagine it will add any value to Metal when all is said and done.
The Art: There were times that I loved Di Giandomenico’s art, and then times that I hated it. Much like the narrative, I thought the art suffered in the scenes between Batman and Flash. The style felt off, and everything looked messy. Even the splash pages failed to pique my interest. However, once Red Death was introduced, the art transitioned to more of a horror vibe, and I absolutely loved that!
Giandomenico’s pencils aren’t the cleanest, which is why I didn’t like the earlier pages. Using that technique to present darker, more sadistic panels played into his strengths much better. Perhaps DC should put him on Hellblazer.
Breakdowns for this issue can be found in the spoiler tag.
“Rogue Arsenal Batman.” I love the idea of Batman having all of the Rogue’s weapons! Batman could probably do some crazy things with them, and I feel like Williamson missed some cool opportunities by not fully exploring this. Just seeing Batman decked out with the various gear and weapons was pretty badass in and of itself. (And no, I don’t buy Flash’s argument that the Rogues have never stopped him with those weapons, so what makes Batman think differently… Uh, probably cause he’s Batman!)
Drift. I thought the drift trail of bats was a nice touch as well. If this kind of thought and detail had gone into the story itself, then I’d probably enjoy Batman: Red Death a lot more.
Dr. Fate. Yeah, he’s here for roughly two or three panels, but it was enough to get me excited for future issues!
Recruitment. I liked seeing Red Death getting recruited, and can’t help but feel that this is what the entire issue should have been. I didn’t enjoy the Batman vs Flash aspect at all, and kept finding myself thinking, “Is there going to be a point to all of this?” I would have rather just been introduced to Red Death as an already developed character, ripping his way through Gotham. That was terrifying. If the first fifteen pages have been a battle of fear between Red Death and Scarecrow, I would’ve been much happier!
Lack of Clarity. There was a lot that Williams failed to explain fully. For one, we never get an explanation as to why Bruce needs the speed force from Flash. It’s simply there to create an element of conflict. Beyond that, we see Batman and Flash disintegrate going into the speed force, but we don’t ever get an explanation as to how they survived or changed. If you’re going to give what is essentially an “origin” of a character, then you should probably deliver on that.
Motive. What exactly does Red Death want with Earth 0? His motivations are all over the place. I’ve already brought up the fact that there’s not a solid explanation for why Batman wants the speed force. We later see him using his new abilities to kill a number of his rogues, but he didn’t necessarily need the speed force to do that. He does make claims that he wants to save Gotham, but then he’s actively destroying the world, so… I’m not sure if he’s fully aware of what he’s doing. And by “he,” I mean Williamson.
Powers. Red Death can apparently make people age or suck the life force from them. Once again, I’m not certain because it’s not explained well. This appears to be a theme here.
- You’re enjoying Metal.
- You’re freaked out by the evil Batmen.
- Why not read another story about another evil speedster?
Overall: Williamson struggles with landing any of his plot points here, and unfortunately focuses most of his time and attention on the most uninteresting aspect of the entire issue. The narrative takes way too long to introduce Red Death, and when we do see him, we barely get any time to understand how terrifying he actually is. If the point of these one-shots is meant to establish these characters and instill fear, then this issue fails to do so. If anything, I walked away from this chapter extremely cautious of what’s left for us.