Dark Nights: Death Metal #1
“Death Metal – An Anti-Crisis, Part 1: It All Matters”
Writer: Scott Snyder
Pencils: Greg Capullo
Inks: Jonathan Glapion
Colors: FCO Plascencia
Letters: Tom Napolitano
Cover artists: Capullo & Glapion (regular)/David Finch, Francesco Mattina, Stanley “Artgerm” Lau, Doug Mahnke and Capullo & Glapion
Editor: Marie Javins
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $4.99 US
Given the success of a key villain introduced during the Dark Nights: Metal event, it wasn’t surprising when DC announced this sequel. There were elements from the first limited series I thoroughly enjoyed, but the execution was scattered, and the cosmic aspects of the plot weren’t clearly delineated. While the story looked and seemed cool, it was a cluttered, confusing capsule of chaos. It should come as no surprise that this followup project falls into the same pattern, and honestly, I can’t fault DC or the creators for it. The first was a resounding success; why would they shift gears with the sequel? Like the first Metal event book, Snyder and Capullo populate this title with novel concepts and new takes on familiar characters, and on that level, it’s a bit of fun. But it fails to establish any real suspense. Dark Nights: Metal really changed nothing about the DC Universe, save to inject a new, popular villain into the mix. The various spinoff titles fell flat. The main purpose here seems to be to offer a multitude of variant covers re-imagining icons of the super-hero genre as members of a metal band.
The world has been transformed into a scarred, grotesque reality in which the Batman Who Laughs reigns supreme, enslaving and bending heroes and villains to his will. His heroic counterpart remains on the loose, though, guiding a resistance movement designed to derail the grinning ghoul’s machinations, but Wonder Woman discovers a long shot that promises to restore the planet to its proper state.
This is the sort of story for which Capullo’s extreme and exaggerated style is well suited. Familiar characters are distorted to a state that makes them almost unrecognizable, and Capullo is allowed free rein to redesign them in that manner. Despite the dark leanings of the plot, the frenetic and incessant bombardment of new versions of old characters actually makes for a colorful feel – like a surreal fireworks show.
One of my favorite aspects of the previous Metal event was the development of standalone side stories for tragic visions of Batmen from dark realities. There’s a reason one-shots such as Batman: The Red Death and Batman: The Dawnbreaker, among others, proved to be so popular and so collectible at the moment. These Bummer Elseworlds books told their own distinct stories. And Snyder hints at other such twisted Batmen here. My favorite – and the other is told in a single panel – is the notion of a Batman who downloads his consciousness into the robot dinosaur in his Batcave. It’s such a weird but fun concept, and not only is there a surprising yet logical idea at play, but Snyder plays it up for comedic potential. And one has to give the writer credit for the laughs to be had in this book, from that moment to Jonah Hex’s aside later in the issue.
Unfortunately, the strength and entertainment of those quick concepts and others (like Wonder Woman chopping up her invisible jet to forge new creations) make for a stark contrast with the larger plot, which seems far too convoluted and uninspired. Of course, I get why we’re getting a big event book with spinoffs instead of a one-shot featuring T-Rex Batman’s efforts to learn how to throw batarangs with his tiny arms — it’s all about money, not myth. But the crass commercialism of this title and others like it is so blatant, it makes it a lot harder to see it as a story to be savored rather than a stunt to be sold.
It’s an odd choice to feature the dire vision of a scarred Superman on some of the covers of this first issue since the character doesn’t appear inside its pages. Why spoil your own reveal, as it’s clear Snyder aims to build up to Superman’s appearance later in the story?
There are a couple of elements here that I find frustrating. The first is the reliance on a number of disparate tidbits of continuity as foundational to the plot. Knowledge of these elements is really key to getting the story to resonate with the audience, and without that knowledge, the reader is left out of the loop. I’ve been reading DC titles for decades, and even I felt like an outsider here. For example, I haven’t been reading what DC has been doing with Wally West and his unique place the cosmic scheme of things, so his role here and the significance of the Dr. Manhattan symbol on his head leave me with questions rather than a sense of awe. Furthermore, according to a double-page spread that spells things out in a most clumsy manner, the point of this story appears to be to connect all DC history, all the crises that have unfolded, into one cohesive thread. But these are puzzle pieces from different boxes; they’ll never fit together or form a single image. It’s a shame the plan wasn’t to just tell a fun, new story instead of dressing it up in a patchwork cloak of unrelated epics. 5/10