Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Death Metal

Posted by Don MacPherson on June 17th, 2017

Dark Days: The Forge #1
Writers: Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV
Pencils: Jim Lee, Andy Kubert & John Romita Jr.
Inks: Scott Williams, Klaus Janson & Danny Miki
Colors: Alex Sinclair & Jeremiah Skipper
Letters: Steve Wands
Cover artists: Jim Lee & Scott Williams (regular)/Andy Kubert and John Romita Jr. & Danny Miki
Editor: Mark Doyle
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $4.99 US

This is not a good comic book. I thoroughly enjoyed it, mind you, but it’s awkwardly crafted.

It makes sense that Scott Snyder would helm an event-driven book for DC. He’s been the publisher’s most bankable writer for some time now thanks to his work with Batman. Here, he and James Tynion IV work to build on some of those Batman stories to develop a cosmic level event, but they also mine the 1980s for the raw material here as well. They tap a couple of rich veins of nostalgia, and that’s one of the reasons I was so entertained. It would seem these writers read and loved the same comics I did when they were kids. Batman and the Outsiders. Crisis on Infinite Earths. It’s a delight. But the problem with the carts full of nostalgic ore is that they don’t have a proper mechanism in place to refine that yield (OK, that metal metaphor has been soundly beaten to death). This script is inaccessible, and as the title suggests, it’s unfortunately dark. Given the recent success of the Wonder Woman movie, I suspect we’ll see DC pivot to a lighter, more traditional tone in its storytelling in the months ahead.

Batman has been conducting secret experiments, tests and operations for years upon discovering an insidious energy leaking into reality from some outside dimension. Some of his closest allies — Aquaman and Green Lantern Hal Jordan, among them — are beginning to learn their ally has been up to things of which they likely wouldn’t approve, but since it’s Batman, you know it falls in line with his single-minded fight against all forms of evil. Meanwhile, we discover the history of the universe and its heroic legacies seem inextricably tied to the long history of Hawkman and the unique substance with which he’s usually armed in his fight against darkness: Nth Metal.

As has been the case with recent event-related one-shots from DC Comics, it’s illustrated by a group of its top-tier talent — in this case, Jim Lee, Andy Kubert & John Romita Jr. Kubert opens the book impressively, with a striking depiction of a special Bat-suit in a supremely cool, over-the-top moment one can only find in a bombastic super-hero yarn. But after that, the visuals aren’t terribly eye-catching. Kubert’s and Lee’s linework are fairly consistent with one another, so the shift from one to the other works pretty well. But Romita’s style doesn’t mesh well at all in this patchwork effort. His much looser, sketchy approach has a jarring effect in this context. I was especially disappointed with his portrayal of a vision of Batman’s past secret allies, probably because it didn’t jibe with my affection for those 1980s characters.

Since Crisis on Infinite Earths, Hawkman has proven to be a troublesome property for DC to handle. Efforts have been made to combine the disparate interpretations of the concept into one character. One could argue DC has had some limited success, but it never really translated into a hit for the publisher. With Hawkman’s Nth Metal at the heart of this new event, these creators are taking another shot at redefining and, presumably, relaunching Hawkman. I’ll be honest, Snyder and Tynion have piqued my interest by tying Nth Metal to so many other characters’ histories here. It has a shot of resonating with readers, especially with the rising mainstream popularity of shared universes, thanks to movies featuring DC and Marvel characters.

The problem is that this script is almost completely impenetrable to anyone, save for diehard, longtime readers (such as yours truly). I was tickled by the Outsiders reference, for example, but if you didn’t read that Mike W. Barr and Jim Aparo series in the early 1980s, the moment doesn’t offer much for you. Mr. Terrific’s universe-hopping activity will fall flat for those unfamiliar with alternate earths. The script also flubs more recent points of continuity, notably the fact that Batman and the Superman he visits toward the end of the comic haven’t known each other for years. Snyder and Tynion’s effort to craft multiverse-spanning event makes the fatal error of leaving far too many fans out of the loop.

Given DC’s success with its Rebirth line and a number of more traditional, lighter super-hero titles, I’m surprised this first line-spanning event book has been branded with the “dark” label. And the story is undeniably dark. Batman uses allies as pawns here, and those he’s not using, he’s deceiving. We’ve seen this before, and it’s been well received. Understandable, since it’s rather cool. But it’s so over the top here, it feels too harsh and not at all heroic. Batman comes off as something of a mad scientist in this story. Again, cool, but ultimately, it’s not consistent with the core of his character. He’s delving into potential threats in “the dark multiverse,” and it’s difficult to reconcile this long-hidden mission with his crusade on the streets of Gotham. And if he were going to turn his attention to other-worldly threats, why isn’t, say, Darkseid at the top of his list? The writers are trying to craft a continuity-building story, but at the same time, the premise seems to require them to ignore other key elements of the characters’ history. 5/10

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