As you probably guessed, this article contains massive Dark Nights: Metal spoilers.
We can describe Dark Nights: Metal, DC’s first post-Rebirth crossover event as Greg Capullo muttering “Memento Metal” in Scott Snyder’s ear as they walk into a DC writers’ retreat…or maybe Snyder and Capullo’s Prometheus. But unlike Prometheus, Metal wasn’t written by randomly drawing from a Cards Against Humanity deck (“The main villain will be penises and nihilism, and the day will be saved by giving everyone abortions. Sounds like we’ve got a hit!” – Sir Ridley Scott). Instead, Metal is the capstone to four years of Snyder/Capullo Batman tales – like what Multiversity was to Grant Morrison’s Superman story.
Also, it restarted DC’s full multiverse. That’s a big deal.
So let’s get to it…
DC’s Dark Nights: Metal Required Reading
Structurally, Metal was tough. Too much happened in the tie-ins, but there were also tie-ins that were unimportant to the main story. Here’s what you need to read to get everything out of the story:
Dark Days: The Forge and Dark Days: The Casting – these two are prologues that bridge the gap between Snyder and Capullo’s Batman through All-Star Batman to the main series. The prologues, along with some other stuff, are collected here.
Dark Knights: Metal – the main story. Obviously necessary. That’s collected here.
Batman Lost – Read this between Metal #3 and #4. Available here.
Dark Knights Rising: Wild Hunt – Read this between Metal #5 and #6. Available here.
You can feel free to ignore the crossover issues of ongoing series, though some of them were very good (I’m looking at you, Flash). The same goes for the various Dark Batman one-offs: some were excellent, and the Batman Who Laughs issue was dark as hell, but they’re not essential. Nor is Hawkman Found (although that helps make sense of Hawkman’s insane continuity and sets up his upcoming solo series).
What Happened in Dark Nights: Metal?
Some CRAZY STUFF, that’s what.
The short version: the multiverse got a whole new origin story and was greatly expanded, while some of the wildest plot points of Grant Morrison’s tenure in the main DCU – and his Batman run in particular – were integrated into that foundational mythos. The big bang now created the positive matter universe and the anti-matter universe (or Dark Multiverse), but it also created a forge of worlds manned by a forgemaster creating universes out of untamed possibility and feeding nonviable worlds to the dragon Barbatos, who ate them and pooped…stories. Barbatos eventually killed the forgemaster and took his place, using the forge of worlds to create dark reflections of the multiverse and get a bunch of cavemen at what would become Gotham to worship him as their Bat-God.
Hawkman figured this out but failed at chasing it down. Batman almost figured it out, but was tricked into following Hawkman into the dark multiverse and captured, used as bait to lure Superman in so his body could be used to fuel the merging of both multiverses. Batman escapes, saves Superman, gets rescued by Sandman, and then the two are returned to the forge of worlds. There, they meet up with Wonder Woman, who frees Hawkman with her lasso, and the trinity relights the forge, defeats the gaggle of dark Batman/Justice Leaguer hybrids that Barbatos unleashed on the world, and harnesses the power of the various metals used as macguffins through this story and all of Snyder’s run (Electrum from “The Court of Owls,” Dionesium from “Endgame,” Promethium from “Superheavy,” nth metal from The Casting, and Batmanium from the second issue of the series) to finally defeat Barbatos.
Because of changes to the multiverse from this battle and the relighting of the forge, the new status quo for the DCU is set up: many of the dark Batmen are still out there, Sandman’s library is missing a book and its master, the Darkstars are back, the Flashes are at war, Atlantis is rising, Batman is building a Hall of Justice, and there’s a tear in the Source Wall.
No, Seriously…What Happened?
It is a little confusing. But at the same time, it’s a celebration of how insane and ridiculous the DCU is. I mean, here’s a partial list of things that happen in this story:
– Hawkgirl ominously flips over a map of the multiverse to reveal…THE BACK OF THE MAP. But it feels like a big deal all the same.
– There’s a Justice League Voltron mech made by Toyman that actually pays off in the last issue.
– The entire Bat-family leads the Justice League on a high-speed chase through the Amazon, with Damian driving an oversized tank.
– Batman’s initial plan is to shoot himself with baby Darkseid’s omega sanction so he can go back in time with Hawkman’s mace to kill Barbatos.
– Kendra Saunders addresses the immortals of the DCU in the Legion of Doom HQ that rises out of an Antarctic volcano.
– Batman wears a glove that has five different color Kryptonites in it and threatens three parallel universe Supermen with it.
– Batman punches a Joker dragon in the face and rides it to the final fight.
This comic is bonkers, both because of the crazy stuff that happened in it and because of the devil-may-care referencing of Morrison’s DC oeuvre that peppers the whole story. We’ve got Batman using Element X (the glowy metal from Metron’s chair used to power the miracle machine at the end of Final Crisis) to armor the Justice League. Mr. Stubbs, Nix Uotan’s chimp partner in Multiversity, is actually an alternate version of Detective Chimp, and the two of them team up with Flash, Raven, and Cyborg to recruit Batmen from across the multiverse to battle the dark Batmen. And the entire mythology of the DCU is now basically the mythology Morrison set up for Bruce in The Return of Bruce Wayne. It’s only fitting that Metal is one of the few comics to successfully follow up on a Morrison superhero tale.
Each arc of Morrison’s Batman peeled off a layer of the character. Batman and Son stripped away the swinging playboy Batman by giving him a kid. The Black Glove attacked the adventurer aspect by looking at what the adventurer life would do to various people who weren’t Bruce. Batman RIP stripped away his supporting cast and Gotham itself. Final Crisis even pulled off his core principles: no killing, no guns, and Batman always finds a way.
By contrast, Batman and Robin and The Return of Bruce Wayne were about putting Batman back together, piece by piece. B&R inverted the typical Batman formula, making Batman into Robin and Robin into Batman and showing Damian slowly appreciate the world of Batman for what it is.
Each issue of The Return of Bruce Wayne was about putting a different piece of the Batman mythos back on – the paleolithic issue was about his inventiveness; the puritan issue was about the cowardly and superstitious criminals; the pirate issue was about the swashbuckling adventurer; the western was Batman the Hardass (and conspicuously about the no guns/no killing rule); and the noir issue was about the dark detective. The final issue summed the whole run to that point up by putting Batman in an absurd, ridiculous sci-fi premise: shaking off a divine supervirus in a bubble at the end of time because of his affection for Robins and a hug from his friends. The point was that Batman exists because of his friends – because Alfred and Robin and Superman and Wonder Woman and whatever we have to call Tim Drake now are all there to keep him a hero and not a brooding asshole.
Metal takes a little bit of a different approach but with the same goal. It’s obviously a capstone to Snyder and Capullo’s run, but it integrates Morrison so well by signaling its connection with Final Crisis and Multiversity call-outs, and it folds perfectly into the metanarrative that Morrison laid out in his story. The first two issues of Metal are spent with Batman isolating himself from the rest of the story to try and fix the problem of Barbatos. The difference here is the day isn’t saved by friendship and love. It’s saved by insane DC continuity.
This story is much looser than Snyder’s writing typically is. He’s a horror guy who does mystery really well, and the reason he’s effective in both is because he’s meticulous about information release: he gives the reader precisely the information necessary to move to the next portion of the story and sets up the twist or punch line at the end so that you don’t see it coming. He takes you from A to D without skipping any points in between, but he also doesn’t waste time between points.
Metal is different: it goes from A to D to R back to M to N, then jumps to the invention of writing, then back to Q. So at first glance, it gives off a “lol nothing matters” vibe that too much of comics (and, let’s be honest, too much of the real world too) exudes these days. The difference is, Metal says “some stuff matters, but let’s not sweat so much of the in-between parts,” while shooting itself full of deep cut DC lore to prove that while Batman needs all the things Morrison put back on in The Return of Bruce Wayne, he also needs to exist firmly within the broader DC continuity to be the Dark Knight. Otherwise, you’ve just got The Dark Knight Rises.
And while Metal is a celebration of how ridiculous the DCU is, it also reads like a triumphant scream in the face of some of the stress Snyder has faced writing Batman so far. He’s been fairly candid about the anxiety he fought during “Zero Year.” And on Twitter, he’s discussed why Damian played so little a role in his Batman tales – because of how much Damian reminded him of his own son. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Metal starts with Batman facing down his greatest fears and ends with Batman being pulled out of the darkness by his best friends before he goes on to save the day by fixing his story. That it is looser and so much fun to read just makes it that much more successful.