Dark Nights: Metal #4 review

Scott Snyder (Script)
Greg Capullo (Pencils)
Jonathan Glapion (Inks)
FCO Plascencia (Colors)

In this month’s Metal the heroes have split up in smaller teams, all with a mission of their own. While the multiple story arcs are fun to read in their own right, the pacing is so relentlessly fast that it can be hard to keep track of things, as a lot goes down at the same time. Not only that, but the issue is also incredibly exposition-heavy. Nevertheless, Dream’s appearance works well and the cliffhanger at the end is as exciting as it is terrifying.

For those interested, before jumping into the review proper: I wrote about the covers as well, because I believe they’re as much part of the product as the interiors. It’s in the spoiler tag.

Cover A (by Capullo, Glapion & Plascencia) is, in my opinion, the best cover of the Metal series so far. It’s wonderfully cosmic, with Dream’s face in the center staring the reader right in the soul. The Dark Multiverse worlds float about in the background and DC’s trinity stands at the bottom-center. The colors vary from blue to yellow to red, and blend well together in a psychedelic whole. The cover promises a cosmic adventure, and a prominent role for Dream—which this issue delivers.

Since there are three more covers, I’ll keep this somewhat short. Cover B (by Jim Lee) shows Batman surrounded by evil Supermen. The red background conjures up feelings of aggression, and the characters depicted look convincingly menacing. Cover C (by Andy Kubert) shows Wonder Woman and Ra’s Al Ghul locked in a sword fight. Their poses are dynamic and especially Ra’s looks mean and aggressive. Compared to Cover A, I find B and C a bit bland, especially because the A cover’s composition is so beautifully rendered whereas B and C have empty backgrounds and typical hero vs villain fights. Cover D (by Tony Daniel), however, rivals A. It shows Dream in the center, hugging books to his chest as he looks very tense. Batman and Superman are at his flanks. They are in a library, which is burning in purple flame. Barbatos looms over them, claws out, eyes red and evil. Of these variants, I’d say Cover D is the most interesting, because it seems to tell more of a story than Cover B and C do.

The issue opens with a recap page of sorts. While it’s fairly expositiony, it is very helpful in that it outlines the structure for the reader, and it’s done in a style akin to a storybook or fable—an interesting choice, seeing as Dream, who’s all about stories, plays a major role. The text explains each team’s mission, and Capullo’s storybook panels help visualize the explanations. The order in which things are explained corresponds, to an extent, with the order in which we will follow the heroes: 1) Wonder Woman/Fate/Kendra; 2) Aquaman/Deathstroke; 3) Green Lantern/Mr. Terrific. The only characters missing from this issue are Flash and Cyborg, and that’s probably for the best. This issue’s cast is large enough, and if Snyder & co also had to cover Flash and Cyborg’s adventures, this issue would have crumbled under its own weight.

When the actual story begins, we see three Dark Supermen waking Bruce from his nightmares (which are depicted in Batman: Lost #1). Bruce is able to conjure from his imagination a special gauntlet, called the “Five Finger Death Punch”, that uses all forms of Kryptonite, to keep the Dark Supermen at bay. Then he manages to escape with Superman through a mystical portal. The gauntlet’s name, of course, is a reference to the metal band with the same name. Whereas all of this, so far, seems straight-up fun, I do wonder if the way the scene unfolds is too convenient, as a threat is established and escaped from in a single page, and therefore very deus ex machina. But then this can be seen as a precursor to the rest of the issue’s fast pacing, akin to a powerful intro riff of a speed-metal song.

Now, the issue’s fast pace comes from nearly all dialogue being exposition-heavy, but at least I’d say it’s effective. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good or couldn’t have been done better, I’m just saying that, within the context of this jam-packed issue, it’s at least workable. You see, if Snyder had to stick to a show-don’t-tell approach the whole way through, either this issue would’ve grown into the size of a trade or the entire mini-series needed to be expanded from 6 to, say, 12 issues. So, while Snyder is doing a serviceable job of covering so much ground in such a short amount of time, it does beg the question: is the idea behind Metal so big it’s breaking its rusty cage? Or in other terms: why write a lightning-fueled power metal song like a three-chord punk rock track? Does that really do the story justice?

To put it more concretely, the dialogue is at least effective in that the reader gets all the information that they need (albeit it an overload of information because so much happens at once). The exposition is not simply dumped in captions at the top of panels, or in some hero’s inner monologue, but it mostly occurs when a character is explaining something about a situation to another character. Perhaps a fairly standard approach to exposition, but if we take Aquaman’s scene, for example, we see him communicating with Wonder Woman over a long distance. From the bottom of the sea in fact. To me it makes sense that he’s telling Wonder Woman exactly what he sees, because, given the situation, it’s necessary to be to the point and as clear as you can be. These are heroes attempting to save the world, after all, and so there’s no time or need for fancy show-don’t-tell talk. In spite of this, the conversation could have been better still. For example, there are tiny fish swimming about, and Aquaman starts talking to them. Before he asks them the on-point, important question, however, he first explains to the fish what their job is. I think Snyder could just as well have skipped past that explanation, and jumped right to the question, because the fish’s answer in itself shows the readers what their job is. This is a missed opportunity. As writers, we should never underestimate our readership. Additionally, while we’re still discussing this particular scene, how is Deathstroke’s outfit able to withstand the pressures at the bottom of the ocean? Over in Green Arrow #35, Ollie is diving just as deep but he needs to wear a special suit so that his body is protected. But Deathstroke’s just hopping about like he’s taking a stroll through the park. I ain’t buying that.

Then there is another instance where the expositiony dialogue is quite jarring, but to keep you all shielded from spoilers I’ve wrapped it up in the tags:

It’s a confusing conversation between Green Lantern, Mr. Terrific, Onimar Synn and Starro. Apparently Starro and Terrific already had an encounter, and Terrific thought he’d killed Starro. Not only are Starro’s lines written as if he’s a teenage bully in high school, there are also two confusing editorial notes. One is from the editor, who’s outright asking Scott and Greg when the killing of Starro happened. The other note is from Scott and Greg, and it’s just a metal hand, like that explains anything. This is probably meant as some kind of a joke, but I find myself too confused to see what’s funny about it. This issue could’ve done without this nonsense.

A final point with regards to the dialogue, during a scene with Green Lantern and Mr. Terrific on Thanagar, I can’t help but feel like the conversation reads too much like something Morrison would’ve written. This seems to be a thing throughout the series, as if Snyder is trying to emulate Morrison’s style instead of embracing his own unique voice. Snyder is a good writer, and I wish he’d just be himself. He’s more than capable of telling a compelling tale. With Metal, he’s just going overboard at times, throwing in awkward phrases that don’t sound quite right, like in the image below:

Phased presence” / “zombie star-gas” / “multiple coordinates”: that’s clearly Morrison talking.

As for Batman himself, Snyder writes him as a driven and focused character throughout the story, except for one moment near the end where he begins to doubt if he has the strength to see his mission through. However, the thought of Damian and the rest of Bruce’s family gives him hope and actually puts a smile on his face, and in turn it puts one on mine. This is exactly what I’ve wanted all along, and it’s a good sign. Bruce has gone through so many dark story arcs lately, from city-wide destruction to attempted suicide, and from Bane’s antics to getting trapped in a horrific nightmare realm that kept feeding him images of torment and anguish. And tell you what? While Dark Nights is in the title, it’s still meant to read like a heavy metal anthem—not some kind of angsty emo dirge. When my friends and I listen to metal it gives us energy—it’s empowering. It has nothing to do with fear and darkness; it’s all about rising above that darkness by poking fun at it and partying. In other terms, turning something negative into something positive. If we apply this analogy to the comics, I’d very much love for the stories to shift away from a moping Bruce to one who learns to accept himself for who he is, embraces his family and Selina, and finally, after all those years, starts to feel good about being a hero for the people, giving them hope. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind if Bruce started smiling more often. I wouldn’t mind if we saw him working together with Robin every once in a while, focusing on their improving relationship. I’d be thrilled to read Bruce be mentally victorious for once, and not ending up heartbroken every time because he can’t get what he wants. Does anyone remember the Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams era? Batman was this confident do-gooder, trusting completely on his own skills, his intellect, and his ability to make the right choice always. He smiled, he used his Bruce Wayne persona more often, and did lots of detecting and martial arts. That is the Batman that I want to see return to the comics. And this panel in Metal #4 gives me hope that this might actually become a reality one day, especially in combination with his marriage to Selina. Bruce seems to get genuinely happier, and what I believe readers need is an example that you can overcome your inner demons—not a confirmation that you have to remain their slave! \m/

I’ll also talk briefly about Dream, because his role is integral to the story. However, I will have to put this in spoiler tags because it may not only spoil things for readers of Metal, it definitely contains spoilers for people who still want to read Sandman.

So this Dream is Daniel Hall. I haven’t read much Sandman myself (it’s still on my reading list), but after reading the name Daniel and not Morpheus, I was confused. So I did a little digging on the DC wiki and discovered that Daniel is actually the second Dream, Morpheus’s successor. Not only that, but Daniel Hall is Hector and Lyta Hall’s son. And Hector’s parents are none other than Carter and Shiera Hall: the Golden Age Hawkman and Hawkgirl. When I found this out, everything about Dream’s role in the story clicked for me, and now I’m actually quite excited to see where this is going to go.

The art

Honestly, what could I say about Capullo, Glapion and Plascencia that so many reviewers haven’t said already? Capullo is a master story-teller, exceptional when it comes to sequential art, and the two double-page spreads in the issue are sprawling and gorgeous. However, as much as I love Capullo’s work (he’s one of my favorite artists in comics at the moment), I want to draw some attention to Plascencia’s colors.

Plascencia’s palette is extensively varied and I think that it’s especially him that steals the show in this issue, as his color-work consists of layers on layers. Some pop, in your face, and others are more subtle, embedded in the details, and you have to look more carefully to see them. Because of this, it is easy to be immersed in the story. Where Glapion’s inks enhance Capullo’s pencils in creating a sense of depth and shadow, Plascencia’s colors blend in perfectly, resulting in possibly one of the prettiest books on stands this month. The following image is testament to this fact (though be warned, it’ll spoil an important plot point!):


Behold the Forge of Worlds. Flames that were once so hot they roared from the dark depths of a crater, licking at the sky, have been reduced to smoldering yellow. What bright tinges remain are in great contrast to the outside blackness of the Dark Multiverse, and it’s like they actually light up bits of the issue’s page. The smoke in the distance is amber-colored, rising off the panel, far away from us as viewers, like there’s real depth to this 2d image. The remote explosions on the blue rock flicker in the dark. It’s mainly thanks to Plascencia’s coloring that this image is luminescent, and truly hammers home, visually, that the Forge is fading. In the hands of another colorist, the image might have looked flat and boring. In the hands of Plascencia, the image is in motion and psychedelic—exactly what this cosmic epic needs.

Recommend if:

  • You are into cosmic adventures with a bit of psychedelica sprinkled throughout

  • You love getting immersed in beautiful coloring

  • You want to support Bruce’s character development from sad and angsty to more optimistic and hopeful (even if it’s but a single glimmer of hope)

  • You can put up with a script that consists entirely of exposition

Overall: While this issue is very heavy on exposition and gets rather convoluted at times, it’s still a fun read with some nice references to heavy metal music and bands. However, at this point in the series, I can’t help but wonder if 6 issues is really enough (tie-ins notwithstanding), as it seems Snyder’s cramming an enormous cosmic epic into a mini-series. As a result, you have to pay close attention as to what’s going on, because a lot is going on at the same time. The art makes up for it, though, as it’s bright and gorgeous and cinematic—you will not be disappointed in Capullo & co. That said, Snyder still manages to find a way to tell his story effectively with the limited page count at his disposal.

Score: 7.5/10