THIS WEEK: The summer event comic Dark Nights: Death Metal #1 leads a set of new releases from DC that sees the publisher return essentially to full strength after the COVID-19 distribution disruption. Plus, Strange Adventures #2 explores new territory, a double-punch of Black Label returns, and the surprising book that has evolved into a great zany read.
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Greg Capullo
Inker: Jonathan Glapion
Colorist: FCO Plascencia
Letterer: Tom Napolitano
By the time I actually sat down to read Dark Nights: Death Metal #1, I’d probably heard everything writer Scott Snyder had to say about the book, or at least what he had to say for public consumption. I mean, I’d even had my own conversation with him about DC Comics’ 2020 summer event, which Snyder had masterminded along with his long time collaborators artist Greg Capullo, inker Jonathan Glapion, colorist FCO Plascencia, and letterer Tom Napolitano. I’d heard him talk about it on a podcast, and I’d read what he had to say about it in multiple other outlets.
I knew that the book was first conceived as a sequel to the 2017 event story, Dark Nights: Metal, with the idea being that if enough people loved the first one, the team would come back again to do the sequel. Like an encore. I knew that as the project was developed behind the scenes, it started as its own standalone event, perhaps a bit separate from the future of DC’s monthly superhero line…but that has perhaps changed with the departure of DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio. Snyder all but came out and said that a while back he wasn’t very involved with plans for the future, but due to recent changes, this story was now essentially spring-boarding it. And I knew that a main goal for the story was — in Snyder’s words — to “sort out DC continuity.”
So, before even reaching the first panel, I knew more about this comic and the process of creation than I typically do of any other title, even those I’ve already read. What I did not know, of course, was whether or not this story — as ambitious as the loquacious and earnestly-excitable writer had made it sound — would work for me. To borrow the musical theme of the title: I did not know whether Dark Nights: Death Metal #1 would rock.
I still don’t know if the entire event will work (the music connection is maybe a little ahem played out at this point), but what I do know is that the first issue has me on board to see what the team has planned, on board — and cautiously optimistic even — hoping that the team will pull off the massive scope of the thing. To be more direct, I enjoyed Dark Nights: Death Metal #1 quite a bit.
There are three main story qualities being woven together to create the foundation of this book. First, and most evident, is the usual grandiose and overblown superhero event story, which sees all manner of DC superhero coming together in one series to combat a threat much larger than they typically handle in their solo titles. We all (I presume) read and love the hammy escapist nature of superhero comics, and as such, we’ve all gone down this outsized road before. Some of us, in fact, go willingly down this road every summer.
The usual big superhero event DNA is here: there’s Sgt. Rock on page one! Hey, Wonder Woman and Swamp Thing are being paired together! Oh look, a Mister Miracle in-continuity appearance…and he’s wrapped in chains! The story is going to every corner of the DC Universe, and deploying the people, places, and histories it finds there in big ways to form its unified narrative. Standard stuff. And this issue also goes above and beyond to deliver that standard stuff in novel ways. There’s Wonder Woman with an Nth Metal chainsaw, there’s a T-Rex inhabited by the consciousness of an alternate world Batman, and any number of fun repurposing of our familiar DC characters. It’s an easy enough comic to sit back and enjoy for its large-scale bombast.
Second, this is a book (this first issue, especially) that is undertaking a massive feat of world-building: it’s setting out to deliver us a new DC Universe shaped by failure, maladies, catastrophe, corruption, and triumphant of those with dark and selfish intentions. It is, in effect, wanting to give us a DC Universe that feels as twisted and broken as the past ahem three years or so of headlines. Snyder, perhaps more than any other superhero writer, builds his stories from the concerns and fears he culls from his life and the real world. I’ve heard him talk about where the impetus for first his Justice League run (a direct precursor to this story, one that ends in defeat) and now Dark Nights: Death Metal #1 has come from. In short, it has to do with wondering about the implications of a country embracing doom and selfishness as the best way forward, not because they’re inherently evil, but because they think it’s a better and more efficient way to shape the world. In this first issue, we get but a glimpse of what this stands to look like on a much larger scale, with a series of additive one-shots planned to build it out further.
TL; DR: Dark Nights: Death Metal is doing a lot of interesting world-building, where our familiar favorite heroes are now inhabiting a broken universe and fighting from places of little to no power.
The third major piece of our story is one that is only briefly hinted at in this first issue (but discussed a bit more in detail by Snyder in his quasi-spoilery interviews), and it has to do with continuity. Specifically, in this issue readers will find a two-page spread that speaks to all of DC Comics history, that notes there is an energy behind them that is “in essence connective.” But that opposite this positive force is something called “Crisis energy” that disrupts everything and turns it to chaos.
This line s perhaps the crux of the thing: “Crisis energy looks to shatter connection and make only one moment important. There is only now, there is only us, there is only me.”
In that sense, this story might be hinting that its actual villain is the need to rip the DC Universe to pieces over and over again to try to rebuild it, thereby disrespecting (intentionally or not) the stories that have come in the past and make your own vision for it the vision that matters. Or I could be way off, and it could fall into that same trap. Whatever the case, this story has a metafictional underpinning that seems likely to be the main point of interest for long-time DC Comics readers who know the heroes will team up, the villain will get toppled, and a whole bunch of new books will be launched from that aftermath starting later this year and into early next.
Phew. So, yes, there’s a lot going on here, and it’s certainly not all perfect. The Wally West weilding Doctor Manhattan powers is a thing that just doesn’t work for reasons I can’t quite articulate. And this story is a sequel, meaning you have to sort of take it as a companion piece with the last one. On top of that, it’s also the extension of a long-form story that has played out over several titles during the past months. I’ve enjoyed that story, but I wonder if others who checked out on it will come into this at a bit of a disadvantage. I don’t think so; I think this story stands fairly well on its own, but I know there are completist out there who may feel a bit ill-equipped.
Overall, as I said earlier I enjoyed this comic quite a bit. I think it’s a strong start for an ambitious drive to tell a madcap story that puts the DC Universe on healthier ground than where it found it, executed by some of the most talented writers and artists in the current DC stable. As comics themselves work to persevere in the face of an unprecedented global crisis that’s driving change, this seems to be a fitting story to lead the way for DC Comics.
- I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — I just love Brian Michael Bendis’ run on Superman run, and I had that thought often while reading this week’s Superman #22, which has art by Kevin Maguire and colorist Alex Sinclair (with letters by Dave Sharpe). This is a bit of a slugfest issue, although like the best Superman slugfest issues the slugfest is not the point. Instead, this comic juxtaposes Superman putting in difficult selfless work to save the world as Lois Lane (!!) hashes out the governmental reaction to the footage of Superman volunteering to represent the Earth to the new United Planets. In that way, it fits into the bigger ongoing narrative of the run, making this an issue that is not about a fight…but also happens to have one hell of a good-looking fight.
- This was a very strong week for DC Black Label, one that demonstrates the potential of the line as a concept. The most noteworthy title was Strange Adventures #2, the latest out-of-continuity, prestige maxi-series penned by writer Tom King, with the superstar artist combo of Mitch Gerads and Doc Shaner. It’s very very early to write about this series at this point (the team is playing a long game here, clearly), but the book has worked hard to distinguish itself from any of the creators’ past works, which I find intriguing. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman: Dead Earth #3 and The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage #3 are both powerful books by big name creators, and they are books that demonstrate what can be done when you set creators with idiosyncratic visions loose with classic DC characters. As DC continues to invest resources in the book market, aiming to attract non-direct market readers, comics like this trio seem to be vital to achieving those goals.
- Dan DiDio and artist Shane Davis are clearly having a blast on Metal Men, and it’s coming through in the work. This is a zany and unrestrained book, reveling in the past of its characters and never missing a chance to go for gags unique to the comics medium. I did not expect to be enjoying this book so much that I’m eagerly looking forward to the next issues, but the team has really won me over. This issue is the series best installment yet.
- How great is artist Fernando Pasarin? If you don’t have an answer to that question just yet (I formed my opinion most recently during his work on Deathstroke), check out this week’s Hawkman #24. His work in the book is just stellar.
- Batman and the Outsiders is consistently a good-looking, action-heavy comic series, but its story just kind of rolls off me, easily (if not entirely) forgotten as soon as I finish reading. I don’t really know why this book feels so flimsy. Anyway, this issue also makes a perplexing choice of setting up a very cool fight that it decides to have take place off camera. It’s all kind of frustrating.
- Finally, a number of titles throughout the DC Comics superhero line seem to be contemplating the nature of continuity, and issues like Young Justice #15 speak to that. For better or worse, the publisher is contemplating its continuity again. As I noted above, this is a big element of Dark Nights: Death Metal #1, which has perhaps taken the lead. Anyway, one can’t help but wonder how much the departure of DiDio has changed the nature of this contemplation. I’m enjoying it (I’m a DC continuity tinkering addict), but I can’t help but wonder if it’s been scuttled beyond recognition. Part of Death Metal’s tagline is “It All Matters.” And time will tell on that.
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