This book contains five short comic strips and some additional content to flesh out the world of Death Metal. I’ll briefly discuss each story individually before ending this review with my thoughts on the additional content.
“The Fall of Earth”
The first strip showcases good art and incorporates interesting ideas, but at the same time the execution of said ideas is just not up to par. Essentially this comic strip is an extensive exposition dump, and because of that many moments that could have stood out—such as Batmage attacking Themyscira—feel like brief, throwaway moments. This is the creative team’s attempt to explain some of the gaps in the core story, but we’re rushing through each of these events so fast that they all fail to make any impact.
Furthermore, this strip has its fair share of questionable moments, which cause some inconsistencies with the core story. For example, all the evil Batmen here are presented as all-powerful warriors that are literally unstoppable, no matter what the heroes throw at them. Darkfather, especially, comes off as a monstrous powerhouse given that this Batman actually killed Darkseid and has become the new Lord of Anti-Life. The idea that only the Teen Titans and Titans are sent after him is pretty silly as it is, but then there is also the fact that Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman literally wiped the floor with this guy in Death Metal #3. So, the way I see it, these evil Batmen are unstoppable until the plot requires them to be taken out, and when they get taken out it’s way too easy. It doesn’t make sense.
Another example of inconsistent writing is when the Justice League returns from their fight with Perpetua to a wrecked Earth. Their immediate thought is to spread out, and the writers of this strip even state that this is part of BWL’s plan, but that’s crazy! The Justice League has fought so many battles together, they should know that spreading out is the dumbest thing that they could do—it’s the oldest trick in the book: divide and conquer! Additionally, splitting up is a choice that the Justice League made, so how is that part of BWL’s plan? You could say he probably has a contingency plan in case the League doesn’t decide to split up, but that’s all so convenient. Look, your villains can be as scary and powerful and over-the-top as you want them to be, but there comes a moment that you just have to step back and recognize that things are blown way out of proportions and that it’s getting harder and harder to take any of it seriously anymore. I am not buying that the Justice League would split up when the entire world is falling apart, and because I don’t believe that, everything else is really hard to believe as well. By the time Batman figures out that “their only hope would be to fight it together” I’m just rolling my eyes.
It’s like the writers either didn’t think this through, or are overthinking it, or perhaps it’s a case of lazy writing. Either way, what this strip boils down to is a lot of talking about big, epic fights without actually showing any of the fights, and even though most of the information we get is relevant and useful for Death Metal readers, learning it through this strip is not an enjoyable experience. On the contrary, I found it to be quite boring and a chore to get through. This isn’t even a full story; at best it’s just a synopsis.
“Metal Queen of the Desert”
This strip offers a brief explanation of how Harley found her hyena. The art is quite good and presents vibrant colors, dynamic fight scenes and fun character designs, even though the backgrounds can be bland and empty. The writing is okay—it’s not bad by any means, but it also isn’t very memorable, and most of the jokes just don’t work for me, in some cases because it isn’t my type of humor and in other cases because I don’t understand a reference. I also can’t help but wonder what’s the point of this story. Instead of focusing on the actual bonding experience between Harley and the hyena, the emphasis is on a fight sequence during which, inexplicably, a mutated, hostile Captain Boomerang appears while the hyena transforms into the giant creature that we’ve seen in the core Death Metal issues. There really isn’t that much to this strip, but at least it’s entertaining while it lasts and isn’t filled with boring exposition.
Without a doubt, this strip has the best art in the entire issue. The layouts are clean and easy to follow. The character designs, poses and expressions are great. The Lovecraftian influences are delightful. And the colors mesh beautifully with the pencils and inks. Truly, this is some fantastic artwork! The writing, for the most part, is also pretty good: I like the rhythm of the lyrical narration, which feels like a kind of ebb and flow, and I like how defiant Aquaman is in this comic and how we see him plotting against Bathomet.
What I dislike is how this strip starts of so strong but then kind of peters out for a lack of page count. I want to see more of this story, and I want to see Aquaman kick Bathomet’s ass, but these things are left out, hopefully because the Death Metal team wants to show those events elsewhere. In any case, not including it here means that this story comes off as a setup for something else rather than a full reading experience. Seeing as the writing and the art are really good, cutting this story short is a bit of a shame, even if that’s by design. It results in the strip feeling kind of pointless, since it’s not really going anywhere right now.
“Seeds of Hope”
I think this is the best strip in the anthology because, even though it’s short, the creative team manages to tell a full story. It’s about Ivy who attempts to escape her cell in Hell, but then runs into Wonder Woman, who is still the warden of the prison. This comic strip shows Ivy’s reaction to seeing the destroyed and barren world above Hell, and how she returns to her cell, and how Wonder Woman finally tells her that she has to hold on to hope, that they will take back their world. What I like about this strip is that Ivy ends up in a different place than where she started, meaning that she goes through a brief arc. It’s small and personal and effective: the creative team shows us everything we need to see to understand this mini arc. It’s also uplifting, which is a great change of pace in an issue where we see most of our heroes fail. What the story could have expanded on is Ivy’s reaction to seeing the barren landscape once she gets out of Hell. Her reaction, as well as her emotional state, could mirror the landscape and vice versa in more depth, and thereby enhance the emotional impact of the story.
The art is good. The layouts are simple and effective. The chase sequence looks like it comes from a horror story, and especially the shadows are well rendered. The expressions of the characters, the sequence of panels, and the character designs are also solid. Overall, this comic strip doesn’t overstay its welcome and manages to say everything it wants to say.
I’m a fan of Eduardo Risso’s work. I like the muted colors that he uses here because it gives the story a bleak, noirish vibe that fits the world of Gotham and the horror genre. I like the use of silhouettes and the jet-black inks and shadows. I like the action too: the flow of panels is excellent and the idea of a dragon chasing after Batman and Jonah Hex as they run across Gotham’s rooftops is illustrated well. But I don’t like the story itself.
Even though Batman and Jonah Hex say some interesting things that will likely make readers stop to wonder what the Death Metal team has planned for Batman, I just don’t find this to be very enjoyable. I’m all for an extended conversation between Batman and Jonah, but the dialogue seems slightly overwritten and unfocused. On reaching the final panel I get a strong feeling of, “Oh, that’s it?” I just don’t think this strip will really hold up in the long term, and it feels kind of tacked on at the end. But at least the art is good.
The guidebook comes with a map of the Metalverse by Jared Blando. First of all, I’m not an expert on maps and don’t really feel qualified to review one, so I’ll just write down some general impressions, and the score is based on my feelings, not on a technical understanding of how to draw a map.
While this map would not at all work in a realistic setting because different climates and landscapes are kind of scattered about, with a little suspension of disbelief and comic book magic the map is actually really cool. The least original element is that it has the shape of Batman’s symbol, but the artist pulls it off by making each part a separate landmass. It makes sense that Gotham is the head of the Bat symbol, because this is where BWL resides. The map also offers plenty of different landscapes for some much-appreciated variety, and thereby creates a strong sense of the fantastical and adventure, and it makes me want to explore the Metalverse through the comics. So, even though the locations of landmarks, places and cities don’t always make sense, I appreciate that DC commissioned an artist to draw a map, and I love the aesthetic.
The guidebook itself consists of single-page entries from the first strip’s narrator’s notebook. I like that there are pencils by Greg Capullo here, as if they’re drawn by said narrator, and that we get some information on various locations, characters and situations. But all the information is also incredibly brief. Some of these entries consist of no more than a single sentence. It honestly feels like a minimum amount of effort was put into creating this portion of the guidebook, and that most of the creative energy went into the actual comic strips. I wish that this was longer and more insightful, rather than a collection of what essentially are just bullet points. As it stands I just don’t see why anyone should have to pick up a guidebook that does a bit of a lazy job at laying out the Metalverse.
- You live for exposition!
- You want to collect all things Death Metal, no matter what.
- You love anthology books and short comic strips.
Overall: I don’t recommend this book. The first story isn’t very enjoyable, and while the others are definitely a lot more fun than the first one, most of them also don’t really go anywhere. The guidebook material is rather lackluster and not really worth it. But this book does feature some good art, including a beautiful map of the Metalverse. That said, I recommend that you spend your time and hard-earned money on something else, as I don’t think this enhances the reading experience of Death Metal at all.
Total Score: 6/10
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.