Review: Tales From the DC Dark Multiverse II hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

A few strong stories anchor Tales of the DC Dark Multiverse II. As with the original volume, there’s at least one special I’d read as an ongoing, and in all this second go-around seems to improve on the original; stories, subjectively, that seem longer and have a bit more depth. Trending up is obviously what this oddball series of DC specials wants; now that many of the top-tier and second-tier DC events have seen specials, I’d be all the more interested in a third round with dark takes on some real DC deep dives.

[Review contains spoilers]

As with the first Tales of the DC Dark Multiverse, this volume lags in its first story but picks up with its second, “Tales From the Dark Multiverse: Flashpoint,” written and drawn by Bryan Hitch. Hitch is certainly up there as the biggest-name writer or artist working on this book, and having him do both on one issue is special — it’s frankly more than this book deserves, and speaks among other things to the important place Flashpoint has in DC history.

I much prefer the Dark Multiverse stories that set themselves right in the midst of previous events and examine the effects of one significant change than the ones that takes their titular events as inspiration but revise things from the ground up. Hitch’s “Flashpoint” tale is the former, positing a different outcome at the end of Flashpoint’s second issue (even though the actual Flashpoint issue collected at the end here is #1). From there, Hitch tells a tale that does a lot of things well — believably examines all the ways a reality-bending speedster’s powers could be weaponized, follows the arc of Flashpoint while making logical changes, and depicting Batman Thomas Wayne, Reverse Flash, and Cyborg all with unexpected nuance. Hitch has a sequel here worthy of the original.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Another good one (though it violates some of what I said I favored above) is Steve Orlando and Mike Perkins' take on Crisis on Infinite Earths. At first I was dubious — Orlando’s story involves not so much Crisis as the special Last Days of the Justice Society (a Crisis spin-off), and Perkins' art is chaotic in the first pages. But what unfolds is a story where many Golden Age heroes are brutally killed off and a hybrid Justice Society/Infinity, Inc. team rises to take their place. Orlando writes the All-Star Squadron characters well against an exceptionally gritty background, and the seemingly hopeless situation is made all the more poignant when indeed the heroes don’t win. I would totally read more about the hard-luck “Justice Society of Earth” and Orlando would have my vote for a new Justice Society writer.

Lesser, but still enjoyable, were Vita Ayala and Ariel Olivetti’s take on Wonder Woman: War of the Gods and Scott Snyder, Jackson Lanzing, and Collin Kelly on Dark Nights: Death Metal. Ayala’s issue often feels dialogue- and narration-heavy, though that’s not wholly different than War of the Gods the original; in general, I love that this oft-overlooked DC crossover gets a spotlight here, and also it’s fantastic to see the trappings of DC at this time recreated — a wistful Captain Marvel, Lobo, Wonder Woman’s friendship with Hawkwoman and Dr. Fate Inza Nelson, and so on. Ayala’s story is surprisingly violent, as are many in this volume, underscoring well the “dark” in the title.

Snyder, Lanzing, and Kelly’s Dark Nights: Metal story struggles in the beginning under the weight of just how incomprehensible Metal could be; it took a while to orient myself to when this story was taking place and what the shift was supposed to be from Metal proper. In the end the story feels akin to Metal’s “Gotham Resistance” storyline or Dark Nights: Death Metal’s “Doom Metal” from Justice League (due in no small part to the presence of Nightwing-turned-rock-god), and the Detective Chimp/Red Tornado mash-up is inspired. I enjoyed artist Karl Mostert on DCeased: Unkillables (calling him “the second coming of Frank Quitely”) and he’s equally good here, and I’d be happy to see him get a gig on a regular DC series.

The only story here that didn’t quite land for me was Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Dexter Soy’s take on Batman: Hush (at a time when I’m really wanting to enjoy Johnson ahead of his taking over the Superman titles). Soy does admirable impressions of Jim Lee and Tim Sale (or Lee’s impression of Sale, as it was at the time), but Kennedy’s story deviates from “Hush” way back (like, the murder of the Waynes back) and is for all intents and purposes an Elseworlds Batman story that happens to involve Tommy Elliott. I give Johnson points for blending “Hush” with elements of Snyder’s “Court of Owls,” but ultimately this isn’t what I’m looking for from the Dark Multiverse specials.

My overall impression is that Tales of the DC Dark Multiverse II and its predecessor book were not meant to be taken seriously. That is, we haven’t seen stories or plotlines from here carry over to the DC Universe proper, and that essentially these are Elseworld-type stories under a specific banner. Similarly, that DC keeps trotting out Tempus Fuginaut for these, a character who seems to have no influence in the mainstream aside from introducing these stories. But, the Dark Nights: Metal story here is also interesting because it seems a super-powered Signal Duke Thomas kills the Fuginaut and I wasn’t sure if that was something that would continue into another book or not.



It’d be weird if we next saw the Fuginaut whole and hearty with no reference to this, but at the same time, I hope that wasn’t supposed to indicate this is the last round of “Dark Multiverse” tales. If “War of the Gods” can get a nod, how about “Tales of the Dark Multiverse: Invasion!” or “Millennium”? Can I get a “Tales of the Dark Multiverse: Bloodlines” or “Armageddon 2001” (its own insular loop of dark stories)? “Tales of the Dark Multiverse: Titans Hunt”? Surely we’ve only just begun.

[Includes original covers]


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