So, I’m starting to suspect that people think I don’t like Dark Nights: Death Metal.
Honestly, I’m not sure what gave it away. Do you think it was the consistent 5/10’s I gave to books others have considered to be the best parts of the series (Speed Metal, The Secret Origin)? Could it have been the scathing 3/10 I gave The Robin King? Could it have been the fact that I opened my Doom Metal review with “I do not like Dark Nights: Death Metal”? Who’s to say, really. Some mysteries are never to be solved.
“You’re a joyless cynic!” cries the strawman I just made up in my head, to whom I gasp in utter shock and offense. Oh, I am, am I? Is that what you think? Because if that is what you think, I have something to tell you. Something that may shock and discredit you. And that thing is as follows…
I love Dark Nights: Metal.
No, really. I actually adore Dark Nights: Metal. Before I worked for Batman News, I, like most everyone else here, was a huge fan of comic books, specifically everything going on at DC. During the days when I didn’t get review copies of comics, I’d go out and buy physical releases as much as I could: and the thing I bought most was anything Batman-related from Scott Snyder. At the time, there wasn’t a writer I enjoyed much more, and reading Dark Nights: Metal felt like the culmination of every little hint he’d been sprinkling throughout his stories for the past several years. There was an excitement coursing through my veins as I read this event! That low-quality picture Lionel Hutz is holding up there? That’s every physical issue of the event, collected in pristine first edition printings, by me. Here’s a closer look.
I’m not going to go into every reason as to why I genuinely enjoy that event, as opposed to Death Metal – but needless to say, this was at the height of my excitement over DC comics and their ongoing storyline. So when I heard about the event being recreated in a Dark Multiverse story, I had admittedly mixed feelings! I like the Dark Multiverse series as a whole, but there’s always the question of how it stacks up with the original story – and with my concern over Death Metal at an all-time high, I was definitely going into it with an element of worry. So, how does a Dark Multiverse take on the first Metal stack up?
…Apparently, pretty damn well! This is a great cap to the Dark Multiverse series as it stands, and a fun (if weird) interpretation of how the original multiversal epic could go horribly wrong.
With story contributions by Scott Snyder, Tales from the Dark Multiverse: Dark Nights Metal is written by Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly, with pencils from Karl Mostert. It tells the story of a world where the Justice League fail during the climax of Metal, and Barbatos – the villain of that story – is able to essentially eat the story structure of the DC Universe itself, fulfilling the dark prophecies that began in the pages of Final Crisis. The remnants of the Justice League are a shell of what they once were, consisting of Dick Grayson, Detective Chimp, Hawkgirl, what remains of Flash, Hawkman and Red Tornado… and Duke Thomas, who has become the Last Monitor of the DC Universe. The decision to make Duke a Monitor is a weird one, and I’m not sure if I understand the logic behind it… but on the other hand, I certainly don’t dislike where it takes the story. This, like the Metal prequel Dark Days, is a story about Duke – and it creates a compelling case as to why Duke should stick around for a long time as a valued member of the DC Universe. Duke is awesome here, and his presence is what makes the book work.
As for the rest of the League, I find their individual inclusions equal parts baffling and perfectly logical: while an atypical collection of people, these characters served important roles in the story. Dick Grayson was the lead in the Gotham Resistance tie-in, Red Tornado and Flash had certain significance to the plot, Detective Chimp is the star of The Wild Hunt, and the plight of the Hawks is one of the central through lines for the entire event. They have fun little concluding arcs throughout the story, but the book is much more focused on Duke. To the writers, Duke is the beacon – the Signal, if you will – of hope, and it’s his job to inspire the rest of the team to take up action against Barbatos and his minions, one last time amidst a collapsing reality. There’s a great sense of futility and finality to the story, because no matter what, the characters have lost everything and then some – so the tension becomes around what these heroes can reclaim at the end of all things. While their quest to achieve that includes the same gratuitous violence and death you’ve come to expect from Dark Multiverse stories – and it feels especially tiring now, after seeing it ad nauseum – it’s mitigated by the possibility of a victory from the jaws of defeat.
One part of Dark Nights: Metal that I appreciated over Death Metal was that despite similar elements of ridiculousness and outlandish spectacle, stories in Metal took the time to linger on the decisions, justifying them and giving them explanations. In Metal, each Dark Knight had a specific role, and a fleshed-out backstory; here, we’re explained the mechanics of Duke’s relationship with the monitor outfit he stole, and why he’s managed to survive for so long. In Metal, we’re told details of how the Dark Multiverse works, and given examples of its effects on Earth 0; here, we’re given insight into the Joker Dragon, along with what happened to the Justice League after the world collapsed around them. Some of it’s dumb, as is to be expected – I’m not sure how much the story needed the Justice League as monstrous perversions of themselves – but it serves a clear purpose, and helps the reader believe this is what the DCU would look like if Barbatos won.
Karl Mostert’s pencilwork is something of a mixed bag, for me – there are moments where I feel strange about his work as I progress through the book, though I ultimately find the art to work to the story’s benefit more often than not. His facial expressions are a great example of what I’m talking about. There are moments where the characters look, frankly, a little derpy – smiles a little too wide, eyes a little too far apart (and going in opposite directions to an unintentionally comedic effect in one panel). Yet in equal measure, his expressions save the story: the emotions on each character’s face are clear and wonderfully dramatic, selling the reader on the mental journey each person goes through as they come to face their final battle.
Meanwhile, the designs of Barbatos and his minions are… well, if I’m being honest, I don’t like them. I think Aquaman’s form in particular looks stupid, but all of them don’t wow me with their appearances, with the possible exception of Barbatos himself. They certainly live up to everything you’ve come to expect from a Metal story, but as you know from this website’s reviews, we don’t always consider that a good thing. You know what I do consider good? Dick Grayson using an axe guitar to fight off a Superman monster. That, I consider fucking primo, and Mostert delivers these bombastic pages with enough energy to floor me in the comic’s better moments.
What really grabs my attention about this story, though, is how it handles things I don’t like. I cannot understate how exhausted I am with The Batman Who Laughs, who used to be a character I actually loved to see on the page. Here, though, his appearance is short and sweet… and culminates in something incredibly satisfying to read, the contents of which I will not spoil here. Meanwhile, this is the first Dark Multiverse book to actually justify the presence of Tempus Fuginaut, who is not only illustrated with actual emotion here, but is given a minor role in the story itself – an excellent way to conclude the Dark Multiverse series, at least for now. I don’t want to spoil the details of the ending, but after a series of losses and bleak futures, it’s nice to end this saga on something of a triumph.
- You want something Metal-related that you don’t need to read 50 tie-ins for!
- Duke Thomas is a character you believe does well in comic books made by the right creators for the job – such as this one.
- You’re interested in a Dark Multiverse book that gives you something of a reward for sitting through each issue, listening to Fuginaut repeating himself again and again.
Tales from the Dark Multiverse is a series with a lot of potential, held back by its own premise: you can only do so many “What If?” stories if they’re destined to end in tragedy, and I’m not sure the series ever got better than its opening issue. However, if you’re going to make a story that seeks to break that cycle, it’s a good thing it’s this one: because it’s delivered with all of the impact and emotion it needs to be a worthy ending to the series. Great read, all-around – it’s nice to finish a story that gets me excited about the world of comic books again.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.
Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch