Dark Nights: Death Metal: The Last Stories of the DC Universe #1 review

Death Metal, as an event, has been a mixed bag. Some of the tie-ins were quite bad, while others were pretty good. I think this isn’t the case with just the tie-ins, but the main story as well, which isn’t quite the homerun that I want it to be. True to form, The Last Stories of the DC Universe isn’t perfect, either. But does that mean that it’s also not worth picking up? Let’s have a look.

I am not a fan of the whole issue, but there are things that I appreciate. For the most part, I think most of the ideas are okay, but the execution isn’t always up to par. For example, the main theme in the book is Family, and while that is a theme that applies to most DC characters—from Batman and the Bat Family to Superman, Lois and Jon to all of the Teen Titans teams—I also think that there’s quite a bit of repetition here. The specifics of each story are different, but at the end of the day, nearly every story seems to make the same point: Family is important and the heroes must protect the ones they love. I’m not at all saying that that is a bad point to make, but making the same point a couple times in a row kind of diminishes it.

Another thing worth noting is that this book almost entirely relies on fan service. A lot of character and publication history is implied and/or referenced in this book, meaning that new readers might get overwhelmed and might end up feeling a little lost. For example, there are a lot of characters present in the Teen Titans segments, and the story assumes that the reader is already familiar with each of these characters and knows—at least to a certain extent—about their collective history. Furthermore, some of these stories don’t go anywhere, such as “We Fight For Love,” which only seems to exist to please fans of Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon, who share a kiss. But the writing for this particular story feels too loose, and the voices don’t quite match the characters, and the characterization feels stiff. And in “Dust of a Distant Storm,” a Green Arrow/Black Canary story, I find that the dialogue comes off as fabricated rather than organic, as if the writer’s trying too hard to find the titular characters’ voices (I was quite surprised to find out that Gail Simone wrote this story as I tend to enjoy her writing).

Where the dialogue in the previous stories sounds fabricated and stiff, the dialogue in “The Question,” a Wonder Woman story, feels overwritten to an extent that it’s like the writer—and the characters, by extension—are trying very hard to sound poetic, instead of just talking like human beings, particularly during the scene where an alternate universe Donna Troy visits Diana to give her a pep talk of sorts.

The only truly good stories in this collection, in my opinion, are “Last Knights,” “Whalefall,” and “Man of Tomorrow.” The first of these offers a good exploration of both Hal and Sinestro’s loneliness, and the similarities between the two characters. This story, like most others, also boils down to fan service in the end when Sinestro acquires a Green Lantern ring, but this is an example of how fan service can enhance a story. I think there’s a strong emotional drive behind Sinestro putting on a green ring and getting accepted by Hal Jordan, although I wonder if this will affect the core story at all. “Whalefall” had me wondering where the story was going until I reached the end. While it seems like an overly poetic, somewhat rambly piece at first, it turns into a heartfelt letter to Aquaman’s child. And “Man of Tomorrow” is a strong Superman story in which our hero tries to make the world a better place by building a so-called Chronal Device that allows him to travel back in time. Every time he does so, there’s essentially a Superman duplicate running around. The only slight criticism that I have here is that Superman could’ve saved this device for the final battle in the core story. But the story illustrates well who Superman is without relying too much on character history, and it’s the only story in the entire anthology that can entirely stand on its own as well.

The art ranges from mediocre to excellent, but I think almost every story has its flaws. “Together” is drawn by Travis Moore. I like his lifelike characters, their outfits, the way that they hold themselves, and the way that they interact with each other. Particularly Donna looks great with realistic facial expressions and body language. But as all the focus goes into the characters, almost none of it goes to the backgrounds, and as a result, the backgrounds are boring to look at. There are also splash pages where we see so many characters that, to me, it’s just too much. Particularly toward the end we get a sea of stiff character poses that doesn’t help to make the story visually more interesting.

Other good artists in this issue are Rafael Albuquerque in “Last Knights,” who gives us a triumphant Sinestro as he wears the green ring. There is also Francis Manapul, who draws a beautiful Superman story in “Man of Tomorrow,” whose colors are delightfully psychedelic and whose layouts are crisp and easy-on-the-eye. Daniel Sampere draws a fantastic Wonder Woman in “The Question,” although most of the backgrounds and poses seem very familiar, as I’ve seen similar stuff in many a comic already. Perhaps the biggest shortcoming of “The Question” is that the alternate universe version of Donna Troy looks too much like Diana herself: their faces are so similar that if it wasn’t for Donna’s braids and their different outfits, it would’ve been easy to confuse them. But Sampere’s use of close-ups and focus on faces gives this an intimate and personal touch that helps to elevate the story. While rough, I also enjoy Mooneyham’s pencils in “Whalefall,” as they give me a kind of piratey vibe that suits the deep sea environment that Aquaman finds himself in. I just wish that Mooneyham got to play with the backgrounds and the sea life more, as we get plenty of panels where we just see Arthur swimming around while nothing really happens.

I dislike Hetrick’s art in “Dust of a Distant Storm,” though. Perhaps it’s because of Louise’s colors, but all of it looks kind of plastic. There just isn’t any life to it. I also think that the faces, the poses and the backgrounds look rushed, and the characters’ eyes in particular look strangely glassy and lifeless. I’m also not a fan of Andolfo’s pencils on “We Fight For Love,” because I don’t think this sort of cutesy style is a good fit for Batman stories. It’s quirky and a little offbeat, and everyone looks so lean and tall and similar, particularly the guys.

Recommended if…

  • You don’t mind if stories are all about fan service—this can be fun every once in a while!
  • DickBabs is your OTP.
  • You are a fan of the Teen Titans, as a lot of (ex-)members make an appearance!

Overall: This is all about fan service and relies on readers already being familiar with the characters. That isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but it does mean that this book just isn’t going to be for everyone. Both the writing and the art is very hit or miss throughout. I can’t really recommend this book to anyone that isn’t already invested in Death Metal, but even then I think this will only be appealing to those who want to spend some time hanging out with these characters, forsaking a coherent plot for a while. Oh, and Heroes in Crisis is referenced by having Wally meeting the Titans—I hope you can handle that.

Score: 6.5/10

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