How Dark Nights: Death Metal Reboots the DC Universe

DC’s big multiverse reset closes out a decade of Scott Snyder stories in the DC Universe. But how does it set the table for DC’s future?

Death Metal and the newest DC Reboot

The end of Dark Nights: Death Metal #7 is the last stop of more than a decade of Scott Snyder driving the DC metaverse’s bus. The conclusion to the Dark Nights saga, which started in 2017 with Dark Nights: Metal and ran through an entire Justice League series before concluding here, closes off storylines Snyder and his creative partner Greg Capullo seeded as far back as their first issue of Batman when the New 52 launched.

And with Infinite Frontier and Future State, DC’s next publishing initiatives, on deck, it’s worth taking a look at what Death Metal did so we can try and understand how the pieces fit together. Because if there’s one thing to take away from Death Metal, it’s that everything fits together. Even if you really gotta stomp on the pieces to get them to stick. 

THE ANTI-CRISIS IS HERE!

The final couple of issues of Death Metal throw a little bit of a curveball at readers. The entire series has felt like it was heading for a confrontation between Wonder Woman and The Batman Who Laughs, the Jokerized Bruce from the Dark Multiverse who (everybody take a DEEEP breath now) led an army of dark Batmen on behalf of Barbatos, the evil Bat god, in Metal; escaped captivity with Lex Luthor’s help in Justice League; betrayed Lex and usurped his role as evil overgoddess Perpetua’s right hand in Hell Arisen; and had his brain dropped in the body of a Bruce Wayne who had been turned into Dr. Manhattan after being killed by Diana earlier in Death Metal (with a chainsaw made from her invisible jet…just roll with it), giving him the nearly limitless power he needed to betray Perpetua earlier in this series. And from this point forward, we’re referring to him exclusively as BWL. Now let’s all go get a glass of water.

Ok, back? Cool.

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So the rematch in the last couple of issues of Death Metal is what the rest of the series has felt like it was building towards. And we definitely get a BRAWL: Diana, charged up with Anti-Crisis energy (we’ll get there), is a giant embodiment of her golden lasso, and several times in the issue, she punches BWL so hard he traverses the history of the DC Universe. 

But it turns out BWL isn’t just fighting to dominate the entire multiverse. The Hands are returning. 

The Hands and the Green Lantern Connection

You know how DC time travelers can’t go back and watch the beginning of creation? Whenever they try, they just see a giant hand. This is pretty well established, going back to John Broome and Gil Kane’s old Green Lantern story about Krona, the Guardian scientist who first attempted to see the dawn of time. 

Turns out, the giant hand is part of a race of them: enormously powerful cosmic entities that bear a passing thematic resemblance to Marvel’s Beyonders, only sized up in power a few times. That hand we see when Krona tries to violate the laws of the multiverse, it belongs to Perpetua, and she’s one of them. Now they are coming to judge this local multiverse, and Perpetua and BWL both think it’s going to go poorly. So poorly, in fact, that BWL is asking Diana to join her Anti-crisis energy with his, as it’s their only hope of preventing The Hands from sweeping everything away and starting over.

Crisis Energy and Anti-Crisis Energy

Oh that. 

Perpetua and BWL power themselves up first (in Justice League and Hell Arisen) by harnessing the unseen dark forces of the multiverse – the invisible spectrum that manifests as John Stewart’s Ultraviolet Lantern powers, or the Speed Force’s opposite number, the Still Force, for example. They eventually graduate to eating universes to expand their power. These are examples of what Death Metal categorizes as Crisis Energy. 

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Diana is charged with its opposite: Anti-Crisis Energy. This energy is produced by the connective tissue of the history of the DCU, by the totality of the DC Universe’s history. That’s why “everything counts” in Death Metal #6 was a big deal: it was a massive power up for Diana. It’s also an interesting meta critique of DC’s history of reboots.

Crisis Energy is described *by Diana* as being selfish and short sighted, focused on short term gain at the expense of respecting the sweep of history. Anti-Crisis energy is constructive, drawing strength from the depth and breadth of 80 years of DC continuity. 

We have to be careful assigning authorial intent where none may exist. But it is certainly a valid read of Death Metal to see criticism of DC’s accelerating continuity reboot cycle built in. It doesn’t take an enormous leap of logic to transpose Crisis Energy and all of Diana’s critiques over to Crisis Events and some of the fan criticism – short term sales boosts at the expense of the richness of an 80 year publishing history. 

Who Was Right? Wonder Woman or the Batman Who Laughs?

Diana, of course. She refuses to give into BWL’s cajoling, punches him through continuity a few times, and eventually meets The Hands, who come to her wearing the form of…her.

More specifically, they show up as Golden Age Wonder Woman

The Hand she speaks with explains to her that they were going to sweep away Diana’s multiverse because of its propensity for gross selfishness, but Diana’s personal heart and generosity touched them, so they’re giving the DCU another shot. Only this time, they’re putting everything back in place: the full history of the DCU, along with a blossoming multiverse. And it’s heavily implied that the barriers between worlds in this multiverse are going to be…less walls, and more suggestions. The price the Hand extracts for this boon is Diana’s existence: she ascends, no longer living as a physical being on Earth Prime. Instead, she joins the Hands protecting the new multiverse from a hinted at but as yet unstated threat.

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It’s worth noting here that this evolution of the DC multiverse somewhat mirrors Snyder’s evolution as a writer at DC. His early Batman work, on the “Black Mirror” arc of Detective Comics, and early in his New 52 Batman run is very carefully plotted and paced. They’re written more like traditional detective/horror stories. Similarly, the DC multiverse has been slowly returning to continuity since Infinite Crisis and 52, only very slowly, with rigid rules and boundaries about what constitutes the new multiverse. Remember the Orrery of Worlds? 

The difference, in both Snyder’s style and the cosmogony of DC’s multiverse, are the rules don’t matter anymore. Death Metal, both in how the story is told and where it leaves the DC multiverse, has a certain “FUCK IT, EVERYBODY HAVE FUN AND WE’LL CLEAN UP LATER” vibe to it and if we’re being entirely honest, that’s kind of exciting. 

What Does this Mean for the Future of the DC Universe?

I’ll admit, it hits a little differently landing after a year of wild rumors about the future of DC’s publishing line. The journey of Death Metal saw a bunch of new bosses coming in and rumors and threats that they were going to rip the DC Universe down to the studs, and whatever came next wasn’t anyone’s business. 

The end of Death Metal is a jubilant explosion of everything bright and beautiful about the DC Universe – our heroes have made it, and not only did they survive, but they did so specifically because everything in their publishing history saved them. Everything counts now, everything happened, everything mattered, and it’s that counting/happening/mattering that saved the day. And then Black Canary, Superman, Wally West, and Batman play a big metal concert for all the celebrating heroes. With Jarro on cowbell. 

Future State is the next step, in-universe and out of it. Death Metal closes with a group of heroes and villains – Martian Manhunter, Mr. Terrific, Hawkgirl, Lex, Talia, Vandal Savage, and maybe Wally West (it’s not explicitly clear that he’s part of the group and not just visiting) – gathering together to talk about the cosmogony of the new omniverse. Hypertime is healing, the multiverse is growing so infinite that it’s now the omniverse, pasts and futures are opening into what Wally calls an Infinite Frontier (NEXT PUBLISHING PHASE MIC CHECK!). But Earth Prime is no longer the center of the multiverse the way it once was, as you can see from your handy dandy Multiversity map. Its replacement is actually two worlds: one yet unstated, and one the group of DCU bigwigs is calling…the Elseworld. 

After reading the first batch of Future State books, one could be forgiven for assuming many of those stories take place there. Each book has a blurb about the saved multiverse, and the wealth of new possibilities growing out of the ashes of Death Metal. These books are dripping with multiversal references. But I think that’s beside the point – some of the Future State stories will end up being Elseworlds tales; some, possible futures; and some will slowly integrate to regular continuity. I think the variety is the actual point here; variety of settings, variety of stakes, and a variety of stories and storytellers. 

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One would think that emphasizing variety might also lead to variances in quality, but the hit rate for the Future State books is remarkably high. These books are genuinely exciting to read. Several of them look nothing like what DC has been doing before, almost to the point where we can hold a funeral for DC House Art Style. 

The characters are certainly vastly different from what came before, and a couple of them are going to be absolutely huge – watch Yara Flor, the new Wonder Woman. If Joelle Jones’ first issue of Future State: Wonder Woman is any indicator, she’s going to be extremely popular. 

It has been a long, and sometimes very odd journey to get here, but between the power chords of hope from the end of Death Metal and the completely new jams being played in Future State, it’s hard not to be cautiously optimistic about the future of the DC Universe.