Metal #5 continues to juggle the different plot threads that we saw in the preceding episode, with the exception of The Flash, who we have not seen since Metal #4. This issue, right from the opening page, screams METAL in your face, as the metal spirit is infused with every single panel. Compared to the preceding episode, it is also much less convoluted. Where Metal #4 had, in my opinion, too many plot points going on in too few pages, Metal #5 is more focused and therefore an easier read. Before diving into the review proper, I’ll just say this right now: I think this is the best issue of Metal so far for its consistency, high octane action, and entertainment values.
On the opening page we are presented with gorgeous artwork. Barbatos sitting on a tower, Joker dragons flying through the sky and breathing green flames, purple lightning crackling through the realm, the Batman Who Laughs speaking to his master—all of it is heavy metal in every way and could easily grace a heavy metal album cover. Even the words that the Batman Who Laughs is saying as he speaks of “anti-music to bring the hordes of the dark here” and that Barbatos’s voice is “the dark chord that will shake the strings of the multiverse.” It’s epic, it’s wild, it’s out of proportions. Then Barbatos opens his mouth, and wails. This is the intro riff to a majestic power metal song! Reading this opening page, I’m pumped and ready to go!
Flip the page and we pick up right where last issue left off, with Bruce and Clark standing before a dark version of Carter Hall. As before, the heroes are confronted with traumatic images of their pasts, but these are only here to underscore the fact that Bruce has newfound hope, that he has overcome the darkness in his heart and is not going to give up—not even while leaping from rock to rock over smoldering lava and flames. The final panel on the page is a close up on Bruce’s face. His eyes are wide and focused, determination glinting in them, and he’s gritting his teeth. This is a Batman who will push on till the bitter end and beyond, even when victory seems impossible. This panel alone, as simple as it is effective, sums up the entire character of Bruce Wayne. What’s more, if we pay close attention as to how the sequence is structured, coming in after the powerful opening riff, this reads like the first part of the first verse. And, being a guitar player in a heavy rock band myself, I recognize some neat little tricks throughout the issue that I really enjoy. In song-writing, to make the first part of a verse flow into the next, you need to have a note or a riff or a drum fill to connect the parts. And just as the close up on Bruce’s face is simple but effective, so too is the line that Snyder writes. “We need to get there,” Bruce says in the last panel of page 3. “We need to get down to the bottom,” he finishes on the first panel of page 4 in a caption, while we see Aquaman and Deathstroke coming through a portal into a cave system in the center of the Earth.
Structurally, I read this as the the second part of the first verse. During this sequence, Aquaman and Deathstroke discover a giant machine. Aquaman is able to tell immediately that it is Atlantean technology, which protects him and Deathstroke from the heat of the magma contained within the machine. However, at this point I do have several questions. Via exposition Aquaman is able to relay to both Deathstroke and us readers that the technology they see before them is not only Atlantean but a hybrid of sorts. This raises the question for me as to how exactly Aquaman is able to tell this at a glance. Yes, he is the king of Atlantis, but does that mean that he automatically knows everything about technology there is to know? Furthermore, if I look at the technology displayed here, I don’t see anything that sets it apart as distinctly Atlantean (even if it is a hybrid). Moreover, when Deathstroke asks Aquaman if he can operate the machine, Aquaman answers that, because the foundation is Atlantean, yes he can operate it. Again, the slight issue that I have with this is that it seems a little bit too convenient that Aquaman can tell this at a glance. He doesn’t even need to examine the controls, or take a closer look, or think about what he sees. He just straight up knows it. Of course, the flow of the story is maintained better without Aquaman taking the time to do a short examination, but I do feel that it is at the expense of believability as it seems somewhat too easy to me. However, what I enjoy here is that, once again, Snyder builds toward the next sequence with a single line. “Well, all right then,” Deathstroke says on the final panel of the page. “Where’s the damn on switch,” he concludes in a caption on the next page, where we see Green Lantern trying to get his ring to work.
This next sequence feels to me very much like a pre-chorus riff to set up the actual chorus of the piece. It builds, thematically, toward a confrontation, with Hal getting ready to kick Starro’s ass. Yet I’m not entirely sure about the way that Hal is being written here. I’ll buy that Starro’s able to derail Hal’s thoughts and thus prevent him from conjuring up a lock pick so he can break out of the cell. Starro, after all, is a powerful telepath, and him being able to override Hal’s willpower just adds to the threat level of Starro. In addition, it also validates Martian Manhunter’s appearance, as he is going to be a match for Starro’s telepathic abilities. This promises a fantastic battle of the minds that I hope the creative team can deliver in the next episode. However, what I take slight issue with here is when Mr. Terrific brings up Plastic Man. Hal is quick to interject, “Plastic Man? We came here for the Nth metal, Mr. Terrific. What’s so damn special about this guy anyway?” These lines sound rather angry, and while I think it’s logical that Hal’s being frustrated because he can’t get his ring to work, at the same time I don’t see him abandoning anyone. Not even Plastic Man. To me, this line sounds like Hal doesn’t care about Plastic Man and would even be prepared to leave him behind in their search for the Nth metal. I am not sure if this was Snyder’s intention, but whereas Hal can be a hot head, certainly, I don’t buy that he would ever leave anyone behind. Another thing that strikes me in this sequence is the little back story that Mr. Terrific provides about Plastic Man. He explains that the nightmares of every living thing run through Plastic Man’s head. This in itself would make for an insane issue, and I wish we’d get to see some of this, but unfortunately we are only being told about it. In any case, it’s pretty epic how Plastic Man is able to resist these nightmares and still help the good guys. This idea alone could fill an entire issue, or maybe even a miniseries! I think it’s a shame this isn’t further expanded on. Lastly, toward the end of this sequence, the heroes are getting ready to rumble, and this leads into what I consider to be the actual chorus.
The chorus is all about Wonder Woman. It starts with her going toe to toe with none other than Black Adam. While the visuals are stunning, the combatants look absolutely badass, and Kendra lurks in the background in frightening attire, I do have some problems with the sequence. As I’ve stated in the past, and as I will continue to do whenever I see it, there cannot be this much conversation in a fight. Especially not if both combatants are these epic powerhouses. Wonder Woman is punching Black Adam across the room; Black Adam is shooting lightning bolts everywhere. They are fighting tooth and nails, nearly tearing each other apart. And yet they have time to utter dialogue in lengthy speech bubbles. To me it seems some of these speech bubbles are even too big for the panel they are in. What I mean is that what is depicted in the panel should happen in a second, more or less, and yet they are saying more than they possibly could in that one panel. Not to mention that talking distracts the fighter from the actual fight. It is hard to stay focused, and it is impossible to regulate your breathing. What’s more is that the lengthy speech bubbles aren’t even giving us necessary information—it almost reads like they are just chucked in there so we’d have something to read. Lastly, I feel like the speech bubbles distract from the amazing battle visuals. Had they not been there, we could have studied the choreography, which, on its own, is powerful enough to carry the entire sequence. The point I’m trying to make here is that, sometimes, it seems that scripters are putting their dialogue in places where it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to have dialogue. Not every page needs to have dialogue, not every scene needs to have it. If there is combat, let the combat be the physical dialogue between the opponents. In that sense, the duel becomes like a martial debate, and the blows count as arguments. With the right artist—and really, is there anyone better suited for this than Greg Capullo?—a non-dialogue fight sequence can become the highlight of the issue. I wish scripters would pay more attention to this.
After the chorus we flow into the second verse. We are immediately greeted by the image of a dark Hawkman slamming down his hammer, screaming “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” Bruce and Clark can only just leap out of the way. By the looks of things, Bruce—in his elderly body—is having a hard time keeping up now. Clark is trying to get them to retreat because of the overwhelming odds, but Bruce is fiercely determined not to. Once more, this is a powerful Batman moment that highlights the resilience of the character. No matter how dark things get, Batman will always be there to battle the darkness. And therein lies the true meaning of the character, the core of who he is. Batman won’t back down from a challenge. Batman won’t turn away. Even in the face of Armageddon, he attempts to get through to Hawkman, quoting passages from Hawkman’s journal as he tries to reason with him.
After this starts the second chorus, which is the continuation of the fight between Wonder Woman and Black Adam. She manages to claim the Nth metal mace, and then comes to face off against the Batman Who Laughs, who begins to tell her about her dark counterparts across the Dark Multiverse. Wonder Woman, though wounded, is having none of it, firmly believing that Superman and Batman and the others will find a way to win. The Batman Who Laughs then talks about endings, and how they are the loudest, and at this point a roaring guitar solo shreds through the issue.
This is the point where the heroes are truly challenged. This “solo” section shows us Aquaman and Deathstroke; Hal Jordan, Mr. Terrific and Martian Manhunter; and finally Clark and Bruce. These heroes each face Dark Multiverse Batmen, and Clark and Bruce decide that they need to jump into the forge itself. This “solo” section ties together all previous elements/sections of the issue into one new sequence, and it is very well executed in that it keeps adding to the tension, building toward a climax. First we see Aquaman and Deathstroke being overwhelmed by enemies. Next we see Green Lantern, Mr. Terrific and Martian Manhunter wreaking havoc and winning, only to run into some Dark Batmen who pose a true challenge to them. Then the enormous Phoenix Cannon is fired to darken the core of the earth so it can be sucked into the dark once and for all.
Finally, we’re back in the chorus, and as the last chorus of a heavy metal song is supposed to be, it dials it up a notch and the issue almost begins to vibrate in your hands as the sheer energy can hardly be contained. Unfortunately, although the visuals are once again beautifully rendered, I do see another too convenient plot element: The Batman Who Laughs vanishes in a purple lightning bolt. First of all, I wonder why he did not kill Diana right then. I suppose the only reason he left her alive is so she can feel the despair and hopelessness. But knowing Diana, she will overcome this and find a way toward victory. Of course, the Batman Who Laughs could not have killed Diana for both continuity and marketing reasons outside of the actual story. But if we look at the story alone, I see no real reason for the Batman Who Laughs—who is Bruce Wayne and therefore a strategic genius—to not simply end Wonder Woman’s life and nullify that threat. After all, he’s already bragged about killing countless worlds. This seems much too convenient for me, and I consider it a plot hole. Another problem that arises here is that Wonder Woman and Kendra are charging at each other to do battle. First of all, Wonder Woman has a pretty severe wound and yet she is able to get up and fight like a total badass. I think this is especially questionable because she was shot by bullets made out of Eight metal. The Batman Who Laughs explained this, and it made me think there was some serious consequence to Diana getting wounded, but apparently it’s nothing and she just walks it off. It makes me wonder why she got shot in the first place? Secondly, Diana punches Kendra square in the kisser with the Golden Perfect wrapped around her fist. While I think it’s totally metal that the truth is hammering Kendra in the face and thereby breaking the hold that the dark side has over Kendra, I think this went over a little too quickly and conveniently. Kendra hardly did anything when she was under the influence of the dark side, and once again I wonder why all of it was necessary if there aren’t any real consequences to it and the problem can be solved so easily.
That said, Kendra and Diana step through a portal and find themselves standing in front of an army of villains. Kendra says that these are too many, but Wonder Woman simply tells her to stop complaining, and the two leap into the fray unleashing a war cry. The visual reference in the final panel is obvious as it pays homage to the cover of The Dark Knight Returns. Wonder Woman and Kendra leap through the air, purple lightning flares up behind them, and a battle is about to ensue. And when we get to the end of the final chorus, the visuals and the tension and the action makes the issue explode in a burst of purple thunder! And thereby the issue comes full circle. It opens with a wail, and ends with a roar.
As for the artwork, what can I say? Greg Capullo is bringing his A game. Bodily proportions of characters are super consistent—I literally am not seeing a single mistake. The choreography in fight scenes is well thought-out, and the panels follow up on each other in logical order. For instance, during the fight between Wonder Woman and Black Adam: First Black Adam grips Wonder Woman’s wrist, while Wonder Woman is reaching for the Nth metal mace behind her. Then she slams the mace straight through the wall and smacks Black Adam across the face. In the next panel we see Black Adam lying on the ground, knocked out. This is sequential art at its finest, as continuity between panels is never broken and the characters aren’t suddenly placed in slightly different positions as the point of view changes across panels.
Jonathan Glapion, of course, provides inking that complements Capullo’s pencils perfectly. These two have been working together forever, and it shows. The inking turns the pencils into structured and clear artwork. Never are the inks too much. They set apart the characters from the backgrounds and add onto the pencils by filling in details. For instance, the wrinkles on old Bruce’s face, which are accentuated by the inking without exaggerating it. It looks like the inking and the pencils are part of a whole, matching each other seamlessly.
The coloring by Plascencia is, once more, gorgeous. His palette is incredibly varied. On every page the color schemes match very well, and there are always some colors at least to off-set the balance. Take for example the dark environment of the forge, where there are a lot of blacks, yellows, oranges, and any shades in between. But we also see Superman, whose blue and red outfit stands out among the dark environment as brighter colors, and, if you will, a beacon of hope. As such, the color work is layered and makes for some delicious eye candy.
You love heavy metal music!
You want to add gorgeous artwork to your collection
You want to see a great example of how a comic can build toward a climax, while keeping on giving all the way through
You are into wild, cosmic epics and don’t mind it when Batman is taken out of his element
Overall: Metal #5 is epic. I think that, in previous episodes, Scott Snyder is trying to cover too much story within the limited page count that he has, and as such the issues felt like they were crumbling under their own weight. This issue, however, is much more focused and I was able to perceive a clear structure that I interpreted as a song structure, which, for me as a musician, was very entertaining to read. Despite still having some issues with characterization (in particular Hal Jordan) and some plot holes that are much too convenient for me, I think that this issue overall is well worth your time. Seriously, if this creative team was a heavy metal band, they would blow your roof off. Get this comic. It has so much energy inside of it that the action just leaps off the pages!