Dark Nights: Death Metal #4 review

Before you pick up this issue, you should be aware that it helps to read Trinity Crisis #1, as it explains where our heroes are in this issue. Frankly, I think that Trinity Crisis should really have been a core issue of Death Metal rather than a tie-in, as it is an important chapter. However, I don’t recommend that issue, and it has diminished my enjoyment of the Death Metal series as a whole. So the question is, does Death Metal #4 manage to get the series back on track? Let’s have a look.

To elaborate on what I said in my intro, this comic relies on its readers having kept up with some of the tie-ins, particularly Trinity Crisis #1; Speed Metal #1; and Multiverse’s End #1. If readers are familiar with these tie-ins, the events in this issue are easier to follow in the sense that readers will know how our heroes got to the locations where we find them in this issue. However, I expect that readers who aren’t familiar with the aforementioned tie-ins will at least be somewhat confused because, yes, they will have missed essential chapters that aid in setting up Death Metal #4. Furthermore, the exposition that we get at the start of this comic merely gives some hints as to what’s happened before, and I get the feeling that the creative team is rushing through this. It’s a shaky way to start off the issue, and the fact that the exposition’s delivered through Sergeant Rock isn’t helping much, either. So far, it’s still rather unclear to me exactly what Rock’s role is in this, other than simply delivering some commentary on the events so far, as the Rock passages don’t seem to be going anywhere.

In all honesty, Death Metal is a rather simple and straight-forward story. In many cases, simple and straight-forward stories are very successful because they can more easily reach their full potential. In this case, however, the story feels a lot more convoluted than it actually is and should be. The story jumps from location to location and scene to scene without a clear focus, and there is so much bombastic action, and so many multiversal predicaments, thrown at the audience that, as a result, a lot of the story feels like it’s being kept at arm’s length. It’s not that I don’t understand what’s happening; it’s just that I find it hard to engage with the material. To me, it’s unjustifiable convoluted and, therefore, hard to relate. To put it more succinctly, when I read this book I get the sense that the creative team is trying to do too much with a story that could have been a lot more streamlined, and now the whole thing’s just crumbling under its own weight.

To me it seems there’s so much emphasis on the big cosmic cluster£#$% that some of the details are overlooked in the process. Take the Robin King, for example. This character could be a terrifying threat to our heroes—there’s something inherently creepy about the concept of a child-psychopath. However, the character, so far, is underdeveloped. He is all bark and no bite and therefore fails to be a threatening presence in this story. Granted, he takes out Jonah Hex, but that alone isn’t enough. This character could continue to deliver intimidation speeches, but that wouldn’t be enough, either. I need to see this character actively do something that will convince me that he is indeed a horrible force to be reckoned with. Until that happens, the character remains an annoying kid that doesn’t quite hinder our heroes with horror, but with rambling, drawn-out speeches. I’m bringing this up because, for this book to succeed, one of the things that it needs is a compelling antagonist. So far, this book doesn’t have that. Besides Robin King, BWL (the Darkest Knight) has been reduced to a one-dimensional monster that also doesn’t feel like a properly scary foe anymore. For all the problems, trials and battles that our heroes have to get through, I’m still waiting for this story to make me care about what’s going on. I need an emotional angle, or a crazy plot twist, or a truly scary moment, or a challenge for our heroes that actually feels like a challenge rather than a mere plot point that they need to pass.

For example, we see that Batman is actually disintegrating, Superman is captured by Darkseid with no means of escaping, and Wonder Woman is trapped by Superboy Prime. The situation, as it’s set up, has the potential to feel like a real threat or challenge. However, the speed and sheer ease with which Wonder Woman solves the problem just undermines what the creative team is trying to establish. After a brief fight, Wonder Woman says some things to Superboy Prime, and just like that he has joined forces with Wonder Woman. We flip the page and, just like that, we see that both Batman and Superman are reunited with Wonder Woman, and Prime is now on their team as well. There is no tension building up to this moment and, as such, what should be a victory not only feels unearned, but it also makes the struggle that leads up to this victory seem kind of pointless. It’s all too easy. Too fast. These heroes aren’t struggling—at best, there’s merely the illusion that they’re struggling. At this rate, I’m starting to wonder why Prime doesn’t just punch BWL and Perpetua out of existence.

But there is hope! Toward the end of this issue, our heroes fail to accomplish something that’s vital to their plan. This is one of the few times in this Death Metal run where I see actual consequences to the actions of our heroes that, potentially, can develop into a real challenge. It’s a great way to end this issue and set up the next. I just hope that this development in the story can inject some new energy and excitement into the book, rather than it getting resolved way too easily and way too fast once again. In short, I’d like to see more negative consequences to our heroes’ actions and more challenges along the way that actually require them to work really hard to resolve. If you ask me, it’s precisely that kind of dramatic tension that this book desperately needs.

The artwork continues to be terrific, as always. We are treated to various locations in the DCU, from war zones to Darkseid’s fiery domain and the cosmic antenna controlled by Superboy Prime. FCO’s coloring makes these places come to life with his extensive palette, applying layers of colors to Capullo and Glapion’s pencils and inks. I’m particularly a fan of the rendition of Darkseid, who sits on a hard-light throne created by a subdued Green Lantern, resting his arms on the raised hands of the superheroes on either side of him. It’s a powerful image that instantly shows how Darkseid has taken over the world and rules supreme.

We also get to see the range of these artists in my favorite two panels in this comic. During a brief flashback, we see a nostalgic, happy world inhabited by smiling heroes. Batman, in particular, looks great in his Golden Age outfit, and I wish that this art team would create a comic entirely in that style, as it’s a nice tonal shift from their usual horror aesthetic.

Lastly, I think it’s impressive how this art team is able to handle so much of this cosmic insanity so well. This book is filled with action scenes, and when you stop to think about the time and effort that goes into designing these scenes, the high level of execution becomes even more impressive. Every character that appears in this book, even the multiversal variations of familiar heroes, looks unique, and the designs for all these characters are great. Sure, some of them—like Robin King—are so over-the-top that they are on the verge of looking ridiculous, but they are drawn so well and fit the overall style of Death Metal that the art team gets away it.

Recommended if…

  • You’ve read Trinity Crisis #1. Reading Multiverse’s End #1 and Speed Metal #1 will also help.
  • You are a fan of Crisis on Infinite Earths, Infinite Crisis and/or Final Crisis.
  • It’s fine when the writing isn’t amazing—you are here for the wonderful artwork.

Overall: My main complaint here is that this book has the potential to be incredible, but the creative team seems to be taking the easy way out every time. That is to say, every time our heroes are faced with a challenge or obstacle or enemy, they overcome this so easily that their victory feels unearned and the battles feel hollow. This book’s cliffhanger could be this book’s course correction, but it remains to be seen whether or not the creative team follows up on it. This is by no means a bad book, but it could be so much better.

Score: 6/10

Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.