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Dark Nights: Metal – A Superhero Rock Opera (2019)

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BY April 28, 2020
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Last year, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo rocked the DC Universe with their event Dark Nights: Metal. And “rocked” is definitely a pun. Dark Nights: Metal is a mess—but at the same time, it’s a glorious mess. It’s like the comic book event of a Megadeath song. In his introduction to the deluxe hardcover, Snyder says that, at their core, events are a “joyous thing.” It’s easy to scoff at this idea, but we do keep buying them, so he’s onto something. And at its core, Dark Nights: Metal is a joyous thing too. Like letting your kids cut the brownies you just made together with a manchette.

Metal is an event that will echo in DC for years to come, like Flashpoint and Crisis (all of them) before it. Now, put on your favorite Iron Maiden songs and let’s take a look.

Dark Nights: Metal – How the Nights Got So Dark

Dark Days We’ll get to that. (DC Comics, Dark Days: The Forge)

It feels like Dark Nights: Metal came out of nowhere, but Snyder had a lot of groundwork to work with. The first significant element goes back to Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis and Batman falling through time. In Morrison’s Batman run, we’re reintroduced to a part of Batman mythos long-since forgotten: Barbatos. The history of this creature is very confusing, involving Barbatos creating Batman and Batman creating Barbatos. We’ll take a look at him eventually in a character profile, but for now, think of him as a cosmic dragon-bat demon that is supposed to eat failed universes that comes out of the Forge in the center of all things. That’s easier, right?

Snyder brings Barbatos to the world of Hawkman and the nth metal, or ninth metal. This metal has a lot of power and magic to it—including healing people, which is where we get to Snyder’s Batman run. In Batman: Endgame, it looks like Joker and Batman finally kill each other. But this is comics, so they came back…thanks to the nth metal that Joker got. And suddenly, Batman has a mystery—what is this metal?

Being Batman, he obsesses over it, searching the world for traces of the metal and gathering it. In Dark Days: The Forge and The Casting, we follow Batman, learning some pretty heinous truths along the way, like that he has a secret Batcave in his secret Batcave, which itself has a secret room…that holds the Joker. Once the Joker escapes (because of The Signal and Green Lantern), he tries to destroy a machine Batman once used to restore his memories.

Something has the Joker scared—that should be worrisome enough going into the main event.

Only a Bat-god Can Manipulate the Batman

The first thing Dark Nights: Metal does right is showing the consequences of Bruce Wayne’s obsessions. He’s been manipulated his entire life to expose himself to these metals and become a doorway for Barbatos to invade Earth from the Dark Multiverse. The Dark Multiverse sounds silly, but it makes sense. It’s made up of anti-matter and the failed universes that came out of the Forge of the Worlds. The World Forger would create universes based on hopes and fears. The best would go into the orrery…the broken ones were supposed to be consumed by the World Forger’s pet dragon. Yeah, that would be Barbatos. He eventually grew tired of this role and killed the World Forger—and stopped consuming the broken universes, where all our fears are real.

Dark Nights Metal 1 Batman Done Screwed Up. (DC Comics, Dark Nights: Metal #2)

Barbatos recruits the seven most twisted versions of Batman to invade and destroy Earth 0. And thanks to Batman’s obsession with secrets and mysteries, they pour into the DC proper and wreak havoc. Each of these “Dark Knights” is a Batman (and one Batwoman) combined with a member of the Justice League…except for one. The Batman Who Laughs—the leader of the Dark Knights. He’s a Batman/Joker hybrid. So, all of Batman’s skills and all of Joker’s madness.

Nightmare batmen Worst. Family Reunion. Ever. (DC Comics, Dark Nights: Metal #2)

The Justice League Doesn’t Fair Much Better

Dark Nights: Metal gets weird after that. Yeah, that wasn’t the weird part. The Earth starts falling. Literally. Barbatos is using nth metal and a cosmic tuning fork to sink the Earth—and all universes—into the Dark Multiverse. Once that happens, everything’s destroyed. The rest of the Justice League go to find more nth metal to stop this from happening while Superman enters the Dark Multiverse to find Batman. Remember how Barbatos was pulling Batman’s strings for eons? Well, the Justice League also falls for the trap. Superman becomes a conductor for dark energy, and the rest of the team basically delivers the nth metal to the Batman Who Laughs.

Superconductor Way to Go, Superman (DC Comics, Dark Nights: Metal #3)

Simply put, the biggest A-list superheroes of the DCU are beaten. Every time they try and do something right, a Dark Knight is there to ruin their day. And even when they think they’ve won, they just lose harder.

The Dark Knights: Metal B-Listers are Badass

One great thing about Dark Nights: Metal is the tie-ins—which is also a problem. The event is confusing, but the Dark Knights Rising one-shots, detailing each origin of the nightmare Batmen, gives a lot of context for the main event. The storyline Bats Out of Hell shows the real action of the Justice League and the Dark Knights. But the best crossover was Gotham Resistance. Green Arrow, Nightwing, Damian, Harley Quinn, and Killer Croc go on a mission to save Batman.

The rest of the Teen Titans and Suicide Squad are trying to desperately help people outside of the Dark Knights’ walled-in Gotham. Here, we see just what the nth metal can do. The Riddler creates a seemingly unwinnable maze. Mr. Freeze has a frozen landscape filled with ice creatures. All of Poison Ivy’s dreams come true. And Bane makes a place where people do nothing but fight. But the nth metal is what gave them the powers to do these things.

Resistance I would definitely buy a monthly comic with this team. (DC Comics, Suicide Squad #26)

The ragtag crew of leftovers has to fight through it all, only to be saved at the last minute when they realize they can’t win. They do figure out that the nth metal can harm the nightmare batmen, however, giving the first bit of hope in the story. But it comes with a heavy cost. All of the Suicide Squad and the rest of the Teen Titans are captured and brought to the cosmic tuning fork to be batteries.

One moment in this tie-in that deserves to stand out is Killer Croc. He throws himself to the crazed Robins so that the rest can escape because he loves Gotham. Croc is a softy. Not only does he care about his city and his team, but let’s not forget that he’s also Arsenal’s Alcoholic Anonymous sponsor.

Croc Tears I have…crocodile tears. Get it?! (DC Comics, Suicide Squad #26)

Re-forging the DC Universe…and Breaking It

Who would have thought this sentence would ever be said: The fate of the universe depends on Hawkman. The immortal warrior has been lost in the Dark Multiverse for years, but he’s the only one with the answers. With the help of Sandman—yes, that Sandman!—Batman and Superman escape the Dark Knights and Dark Supermen. Dream then sends them to where they can find Hawkman.

That doesn’t go well, either. He’s been possessed by Barbatos and turned into a giant bird demon. Just as Batman and Superman are about to die, sinking into the anti-matter of the Forge, Wonder Woman—who fights through hordes of nightmare versions of every DC character dives in to save them. They return wearing armor made of…tenth metal! Batman rides a Joker-Dragon! Seriously, this is like killer drum solo towards the end of a rock song. The newly decked out Justice League band together and use their will to reform the universe after it falls to darkness.

Justice League Shiny new suits! (DC Comics, Dark Nights: Metal #6)

But they might have gone too far. The Justice League may have saved the multiverse and imprisoned Barbatos beneath the World Forge (because that’s going to end well), but they also caused even more problems. Atlantis has risen out of the sea. Oh, and they sort of break the “source wall”—that thing at the end of the universe holding back Ganthet -knows-what.

Broke the wall Not the wall we need to come down. (DC Comics, Dark Nights: Metal #6)

The Batman Who Laughs Is Still Laughing

Despite destroying the dark versions of Batman and the rest of the DCU, one of them escapes—The Batman Who Laughs. During the final battle, he has the Over-Monitor held hostage and Batman goes to face him. This is the most epic part of Dark Nights: Metal. Not the crazy battles or bat-god, or Challenger mountain popping up in Gotham city. It’s this fistfight. It’s not just Batman vs. the Batman Who Laughs. Batman teams up with the only person who could ever help him defeat this lunatic. The Joker.

Team Up This actually happened. (DC Comics, Dark Nights: Metal #6)

The Joker and Batman team up to fight a nightmare version of themselves. Joker ends up tackling the Batman Who Laughs, allowing Batman to get the Over-Monitor to safety. It’s the last we see of Joker or Batman Who Laughs (he needs a new name). But now this Joker-Batman is back, and he’s already causing hell. Who saved this horrifying character? Lex Luthor.

Dark Knights: Metal is Quite…Heavy

Dark Nights: Metal is about facing fears. In Batman’s case, seven of them. But it’s also about what helps us through those nightmares. It’s no coincidence that Sandman shows up. We need dreams and hopes to fight those fears. When Superman asks for help defeating Barbatos, Sandman says he can’t join their fight, but “I can give you the most powerful weapon in all of creation…I can give you a story.” Snyder’s remark that events are joyous things is echoed in these words. Stories bring us joy and wonder—something Batman thought he had lost. Dark Nights: Metal is about facing fear with a sense of wonder.

And Batman riding a Joker-dragon.

Joker Dragon Ride that Joker Dragon, Batman. Ride! (DC Comics, Dark Nights: Metal #6)

And here is a great reading order guide for Dark Nights: Metal

(Featured Image: DC Comics, Dark Nights: Metal #4)

COMICSDC ComicsBatmanbatman who laughsDark Nights: MetalHawkmanScott SnydersupermanWonder Woman

Roman Colombo finished his MFA in 2010 and now teaches writing and graphic novel literature at various Philadelphia colleges. His first novel, Trading Saints for Sinners, was published in 2014. He's currently working on his next novel and hoping to find an agent soon.

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