Dark Nights: Death Metal is the sequel to 2017-2018’s Dark Nights Metal, one of my three favorite comic book events of all time, bringing back the creative superteam of Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, and collaborators, amplifying everything that made the original a success to 11. Death Metal’s ambitions are impossibly grand, seeking to unify the history of DC’s Crisis events and the particularly discordant recent years into one epic saga.
Today I’ll answer:
- How does Death Metal fit into the legacy of DC Crisis events?
- What makes this an Anti-Crisis?
- What are the Watchmen Connections to Death Metal?
In interviews leading up to the event, Snyder and Capullo, a team known for their work on all things Batman since 2011, have promised Death Metal is their Wonder Woman event, and that’s how the series begins. Wonder Woman uses her chainsaw of truth (the lasso just wasn’t metal enough) to help melt down the magical elements of her invisible jet (or so we’ll later learn).
There are a few notable details from this opening sequence, firstly that Wonder Woman is straight up in Hell, ruling as the Queen of the Underworld, on the ground that used to be her home, Themyscira. Death Metal #1 throws readers directly into a warped DC Universe, where Wonder Woman is the ruler of Hell, where villains of the realm are kept prisoner. I’ll also note DC released a stealth prelude story on Instagram, and I’ll include the link in the show notes for those who want that little bit of backstory (https://www.instagram.com/stories/highlights/17854207547076220/).
Likewise, the location caption clarifies that this right here is indeed “The Real DCU,” which is important for 2 reasons: 1) It confirms that this isn’t meant to be an elseworlds story and 2) Death Metal will be playing across the multiverse, and identifying Earth-0 as homebase is going to be pretty important.
As we can see, though, the DCU has become home to a Dark Multiverse infiltration, and readers of the original Metal will instantly recognize the presence of Robin Crows (or Groblins) and Joker Dragons roaming freely under a newfound red son. Put simply, Death Metal is the aftermath of Metal when the heroes lost.
The premise of Metal is basically what if Grant Morrison’s The Multiversity map – a map of 2015’s incredible event that precisely defined the 52 Earths of the DC Multiverse – had an inverse map on the either side of the paper, where the Dark Multiverse lived? In this Dark Multiverse, there are inverted “heroes gone wrong” stories of every possible combination, most famously including The Batman Who Laughs, a Bruce Wayne infected by a Joker toxin upon the Joker’s death.
So to the age old question: Is this a good starting place? I’d say a pretty hard no to that. Death Metal is tied up in New 52 Batman, Metal, Batman Who Laughs, Justice League, Flash Forward and oh by the way, every DC Crisis ever continuity! Anytime DC goes looking to play with straightening continuity in their shared universe, it’s kind of inevitably a deep dig into their entire history (and usually with a broken Superboy and the Legion here, or a Hawkman’s whole deal there)!
Don’t get me wrong, Snyder and Capullo are great storytellers, and you can read Death Metal just on a visceral “Oh, cool, Wonder Woman’s the warden of Joker in a hell-prison” level. But there’s a lot of background reading and reference that can augment this experience, and hopefully I can help clarify some of that.
For instance, the landscape of Death Metal follows the Scott Snyder written final issue of Justice League (I believe it was #39), in which the league effectively loses the war against cosmic entity of destruction Perpetua. The Justice League is sent to some mysterious place, which has not really been touched anywhere else in DC Comics until this issue of Death Metal. There’s a reference later to this moment leading to a throwdown with Perpetua that expends so much energy the sun explodes, but to my knowledge we haven’t actually seen that take place yet.
Amid a gathering of The Batman Who Laughs’ reluctant lieutenants, including Diana and her right hand shrub, Swamp Thing (it would seem The Batman Who Laughs and his dark Batmen have captured Diana’s Themysciran sisters and are holding them hostage to maintain Wonder Woman’s compliance), the “real” Bruce shows up wielding a Black Lantern ring (of Blackest Night event fame) and his own zombie army.
Bruce’s skirmish highlights an important difference between his view of this DCU, with Batman seeking to salvage what they can of the remaining 8 Earths Perpetua hasn’t destroyed, and Diana more optimistically seeking to fully return the world to the way it was. Diana’s position is a pretty classic comic book trope of alternate realities (arguably this isn’t an alt reality, but it sure feels that way!), in yet another way Death Metal strongly brings to mind Marvel’s 2015 Secret Wars.
There’s also a weird element in play here where DC is still publishing “regular” in-universe books, meaning somehow after Snyder’s Justice League, Batman is fending off The Designer and prepping for Joker War in the James Tynion IV written Batman. Normally I’m pretty open to just ignoring the “Wait, how is Batman in 7 stories and different teams in a day” elements of Big 2 comic book publishing, but given the desire to make “it all count” in Death Metal, I’m actually pretty curious about the explanation for continuing stories while all this is happening. They could all just be post-death Metal, but that’s kind of a spoiler about the outcome (even if it’s a pretty inevitable one!).
The biggest early reveal in Death Metal #1 is the appearance of the Doctor Manhattan-ified Wally West as Diana’s newest prisoner. Hell shouldn’t feel too new to Wally since DC’s kept him there for over a decade, but most recently the Flash Forward miniseries ended with Wally West’s multiversal travel and throwdowns with the Dark Multiverse resulting in him taking possession of Doctor Manhattan’s powers and the Mobius Chair of New Gods fame. If that sounds confounding, well, yeah! It is!
Doctor ManWally expositions to Diana about the history and causes of DC’s well-worn “Crises,” starting with Crisis on Infinite Earths
and extending on through to the likes of Infinite Crisis, Zero Hour, Final Crisis and the Metal events. As Wallhattan puts it, “To understand the path forward, you must understand the past.” While Metal found Scott Snyder defining the various mystical metals of the DC Universe, revolving around Nth Metal, Death Metal revolves around “Crisis Energy.”
This is very much an extension of Snyder’s Justice League which very literally centered around Justice vs. Doom, or the battle between empathy and Randian self-centeredness. Not by accident, and in a move I continue to view as motivated by American politics, Doom won. The League continues to fight to find a way to see hope restored.
The exposition doubles down on Justice League’s Perpetua as the cosmic other of the DC Multiverse, creating a multiverse that “would live forever in a self-renewing loop of its own importance,” which is some very good comics criticism of DC from Snyder, calling out these cycles of neverending Crisis and Relaunches that define various eras of the publisher.
Intriguingly, Snyder looks to weave the Geoff Johns’ written “DC Rebirth” and Doomsday Clock into this narrative, stating that Dr. Manhattan tried to fix the broken pieces of the DC Multiverse, but essentially his actions in Doomsday Clock were undone, and only left behind “Connective Energy” for the Justice League to use in their battle against Perpetua and her “Crisis Energy.” It’s a lot of exposition to take in, and will require a whole lot more story to really put it all together, but if nothing else, I’m glad I can starting using “Big Crisis Energy” to describe the next time my son refuses to take a bath.
All of this detail still leaves plenty of room for interpretation around the following question: So what actually is an Anti-Crisis?
Before trying to answer, I’ll point out that the reason it feels so necessary in DC right now is because of a confused lack of coherence between the storytellers given the largest platforms in the DC Universe since approximately 2018. The shared superhero universe of DC Comics is very fragmented right now, currently aligned in creator-owned fiefdoms that rarely intersect. In effect, you had the Scott Snyder universe of Justice League & Metal, the Tom King universe of Batman and Heroes in Crisis, the Geoff Johns universe of DC Rebirth and Doomsday Clock, and the Brian Michael Bendis universe of Superman and Event Leviathan. These pieces don’t connect on their own. You can make them connect, but there’s no use pretending they’re anything other than an incongruous disconnect at the heart of the publisher, ultimately resulting in the forced departure of Editor-In-Chief Dan Didio.
Enter Snyder, Death Metal, and the mantra “It All Counts.”
Geoff Johns already took steps in this direction in Doomsday Clock, the badly conceived Watchmen imitation (even more starkly ineffectual in the shadow of the concurrent release of HBO’s brilliant Watchmen TV series). Johns and Gary Frank develop the concept of DC’s “metaverse,” essentially an in-universe justification for the sliding timelines and shifting continuity of DC’s 80+ years of history. It’s a way to have your cake and eat it too, saying all of DC Comics history technically counts, even if it certainly doesn’t add up in a direct chronological line from 1939 to present day.
Oh, and if you think for one single solitary second that Scott Snyder isn’t going to take “metaverse” and turn it into a “Metalverse” concept of DC reality, I guarantee you’re on the wrong track!
The shape of Death Metal becomes clear when Wonder Woman takes Wally’s synopsis and pitches the idea to “re-enter” Dark Multiverse crises to undo the negative power surge of a Crisis, hence an Anti-Crisis. This definitely requires some elaboration. Let’s say, as we can expect, Wonder Woman and co. succeed and are able to use the Crisis energies to reshape the universe titled towards Justice. Isn’t this what the heroes of the DC Universe always do? There’s a strange semantic implication that an “Anti-Crisis” would prevent the need for any further Crises – you take the anti-crisis energy out of the equation, and presumably entities like the Anti-Monitor or Mandrakk are no longer held under their sway – but the cynic in me isn’t really buying. DC’s going to give up Crises? I don’t think so.
For my money, the absolute best part of Death Metal is Snyder and Capullo’s meta awareness that The Batman Who Laughs may well have outlived his usefulness. Batman Who Laughs is simultaneously very popular among DC readers, and critically found exhausting. As TBWL says himself, “Oh I know, I know. You again? We’re so sick of you.” What better move then but to have Wonder Woman kill him with her invisible chainsaw of truth!
The apparent end of The Batman Who Laughs is quickly cast into doubt when the dark Batmen and Robin Crows initiate his true plan. Definite props here to Capullo and team because the upside down Watchmen smiley face is the best use of playful Johnsian literalism in the entire issue.
Apparently the Batman Who Laugh’s ultimate contingency plan comes from watching HBO Watchmen, as “the final Bruce Wayne” is some version of Batman’s consciousness uploaded to a version of Doctor Manhattan. Presumably this will lead to a Dark Multiverse version of Watchmen, which is actually kind of funny to consider given the all-time great isn’t exactly known for its light-hearted nature.
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