Review: Dark Nights: Death Metal: The Darkest Knight trade paperback (DC Comics)

November 7, 2021

 ·  1 comment

Dark Nights: Death Metal: The Darkest Knight is the first collection of Death Metal tie-in specials. I’ll be curious to see as this goes on just what Death Metal itself is about, when so much is packed into these tie-ins — is there really enough story for all? And how will Death Metal read on its own, when seemingly really important events are taking place in the specials?

But those questions aside, Darkest Knight is an auspicious start. It is often an entertaining anthology, and when it’s not that then it’s a fun spotlight on some of Death Metal’s secondary characters, and when it’s not that it’s a Justice League-character spotlight book, and when it’s not that it’s a beautiful who’s who of artist interpretations of the Metal-verse beyond Greg Capullo’s original, including Francis Manapul, Eduardo Risso, and Francesco Francavilla. Basically a lot to like, and it’d be great if it kept up like this throughout.

[Review contains spoilers]

In a book of good stories, in which I’m hard pressed to name one that didn’t deliver, Trinity Crisis is probably the best, drawn by Manapul and written by series architect Scott Snyder. Again, I’ll be curious to see just how much of this story Death Metal re-establishes, given that this seems fairly integral — Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman, and their allies go to infiltrate the Batman Who Laughs' Castle Bat, encounter Barbatos, and make their way to Laughs' faux Crisis worlds — will Death Metal just pick up with the heroes on the Crisis worlds as if they didn’t encounter troubles along the way?

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Manapul drawing great swaths of DC’s various Crises is itself worth the price of admission. But Snyder scores here not just in writing DC’s Big Three, but also their motley collection of assistants — Harley Quinn, Swamp Thing, a Jonah Hex zombie, and Jarro, the diminutive Starro (in a jar). This quintet is at times hilarious, at times unexpectedly sweet, a kind of Bizarro Big Three (plus Jarro), and I thoroughly enjoyed the special even as, again, I wondered how so much could be absent from the main series.

In terms of anthologies, there is Legends of the Dark Knights, a series of origin stories of Laughs' new Bat-henchmen. These range from the wonderfully horrifying — Robin King by Peter Tomasi and Riley Rossmo, Castle Bat by Frank Tieri and Francavilla — to the wonderfully ridiculous, like Marguerite Bennett and Jamal Igle’s B. Rex (the dinosaur) and Garth Ennis and Joelle Jones' baby Batman.

The other is the Death Metal: Guidebook, which is also enjoyable though unfortunately not actually a “guidebook” in the sense of Grant Morrison’s superlative Multiversity Guidebook. Perhaps meant as a counterpoint to Legends, these are various short stories of the heroes before the events of Death Metal — a spectral Lex Luthor, a Mad Max-style Harley Quinn, and so on. Vita Ayala and Dan Panosian’s Poison Ivy story should be of particular note to fans of Ivy’s heroic portrayals. Risso and Priest (who ought work together more often) offer a story with Batman, Jonah Hex, and Joker Dragons, which should be enough to sell anyone on it (called “Dragonlance,” no less).

Rounding out the book, the Justice League-character spotlight section, with Trinity Crisis, are Speed Metal by Flash writer Joshua Williamson and Eddy Barrows and the Green Lantern-focused Multiverse’s End by James Tynion. Yes, Speed Metal is great in its own way, a fun Flash tale especially when the extended family shows up. At the same time, inasmuch as post-Crisis audiences have never really seen Barry Allen and Wally West work together all that much, their petty quibbling felt off-character — did they bicker like that back in the Silver Age?

Williamson offers cogent in-story reasoning for why Wally has been in Barry’s shadow since their collective returns, but it’s hard to escape how this is all just explaining away bad character decisions on the part of DC as a whole. (At the least, Tom King’s Heroes in Crisis treated Wally’s problems more factually as the fault of his fellow heroes, rather than Williamson laying it at the feet of an absent villain.) Sure this is a nice coda to Williamson’s run, sure it positions Wally back in the driver’s seat, but the whole thing feels more editorially mandated on behalf of DC’s new plans for Wally than something always intended to cap Williamson’s run.

Once it gets going, Tynion and Juan Gedeon’s Multiverse’s End is also good, whether it’s John Stewart and Owlman reconciling the various versions of the Crime Syndicate over the decades or Guy Gardner teamed up with Captain Carrot. But though publication date puts Multiverse’s End between Death Metal issues #3 and #4, there’s quite a jump from the Green Lanterns heading out to take down the evil Perpetua’s cosmic antennae to where this story begins, with the Lanterns having recruited characters from Kingdom Come, the Superman Calvin Ellis of Earth 23, etc. This was jarring, and again, I wonder if we’ll see any of this play out in Death Metal — the existence of Multiversal heroes after Perpetua’s takeover was not guaranteed and the fact that they’re suddenly there, without the audience seeing the process of discovery and explanation, made the start of the story slightly confusing.

2.5

Rating

But overall, again, Dark Nights: Death Metal: The Darkest Knight is a lot of fun — good stories, great art, a lot that felt additive and essential for the Dark Nights: Death Metal story overall. There’s a lot more ground to cover for Death Metal and I’m aware comics often suffer from diminishing returns (more, very often, is just more), but this is a good start.

[Includes original and variant covers, sketches and text pages]

Comments ( 1 )

  1. I'm looking forward to seeing how you like the rest of these - from my memory of reading the floppies, I think this is probably the strongest of the tie-in trades. I'm very much looking forward to seeing how you like this at the end - these collections are definitely bizarre in terms of how much stuff happens here that feeds into the main Death Metal event

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