Review: Dark Nights: Death Metal: The Deluxe Edition hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)


Though arguably the DC Comics heroes have committed greater sins previously, there’s an undercurrent in Dark Nights: Death Metal that it’s predicated on a series of errors. That in a pitched battle with the god Perpetua, Wonder Woman hesitated, cowed by the implications of what victory might unleash. That despite numerous in-story multiversal reboots, villains still battle against heroes (even if such conflict is inherent in the storytelling itself). That given the choice, over a tumultuous “Year of the Villain,” humanity sided with Lex Luthor’s “Doom” over the heroes. That, with obvious meta implications, the DC Universe has even gone so far at times as to fight against its own growth and development.

Such are the charges leveled by the “Hands,” Death Metal’s uber-creators of the DC Universe (greater than both the Monitors and the Monitors' own progenitors). And though anhiliation is avoided due to Wonder Woman taking the high road and heroes, villains, and everyday people working together, Superman later notes that all they’ve earned is “a fragile chance … to show we can do better.” In that way, Death Metal feels timely, and prescient — that a “crisis” occurred (a word in which Death Metal puts a lot of stock), that humanity came together to defeat it (I know — more or less), and that we’ve earned a chance, maybe a last chance, to do better next time.

Death Metal is a perfectly satisfactory collaboration between comics stalwarts Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, and one hopes it won’t be their last such for DC Comics. Snyder, particularly, shows a talent for writing Wonder Woman here without getting caught up in all the peccadillos of her history and origins. It is, if we’re comparing, lesser than both their Dark Nights: Metal and Batman: Last Knight on Earth, as if the two used up all their bombast on those projects and didn’t have anything left for this. Death Metal is assuredly a good story, Snyder offers a conception of the whole of the DC Universe to rival Grant Morrison’s metaphysics, and if it were not for Dark Nights: Metal, then Death Metal might be received with the original Metal’s fanfare. But it was, so it isn’t (or something).

[Review contains spoilers]

This is not to say, by any stretch, that Death Metal lacks for gusto, especially at its beginning. Wonder Woman yields an invisible chainsaw with aplomb; alt-Batmen come in such shapes as dinosaurs, living Batmobiles, and sentient cities; the Justice Society makes a heroic entrance; and zany fan favorites populate the corners, like Swamp Thing, Ambush Bug, a zombie Jonah Hex, Lobo, the Holly Granger Hawk, and on and on. Dr. Manhattan figures heavily into the plot, a notion that’s still pretty wild to think of. There’s the requisite giant robot in the form of a Composite Superman-Batman-Wonder Woman.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

And Snyder, as always, peppers the story with unexpected humor. I’m not sure my ideal Batman would respond to Wonder Woman’s complicated plan by asking if she’s having a stroke, but the bit gets a chuckle. So too does Lex Luthor, at random, pining over a mutated Superman’s flowing locks. Snyder’s Jarro is weird and wonderful, as is the unlikely, convincing friendship he builds between Swamp Thing, Harley Quinn, and a rapidly decaying Hex. (What Capullo does well on the more off the wall characters more than makes up for the button-nose sameness of many of the background players.)

None of that, however, necessarily equals Snyder bringing the Sandman Daniel back on the page in the original Metal, nor Metal’s rather more effective war sequence, nor Metal’s everyone-hold-hands-and-channel-the-power ending — Death Metal equally affirms that we’re all in this together, but Metal showed it better. Metal’s end, too, teased both events in the heroes' individual titles and also a new start for the Justice League; Death Metal’s “I remember it all” scope is ostensibly bigger, but we’re given absolutely no sense of what that means day-to-day beyond a nice phrase. I’m sure Snyder doesn’t want to step on Joshua Williamson’s Infinite Frontier toes, but there’s a lot of hubbub in Death Metal with no payoff.

Within, too, at times it seems Snyder has more going on than he can necessarily keep up with. Inasmuch as I enjoyed Jonah Hex’s role, he’s dispatched by a villain in the fourth chapter and never seen nor hardly mentioned again. To its credit Death Metal is not much reliant on its tie-ins except in between the third and fourth chapters (“Trinity Crisis” is the only tie-in I’d consider essential), but for those reading the tie-ins, there’s a lot of plot threads that never tie back to the main book — Robin King scheming against the Batman Who Laughs and the rebirth of the New God Metron, to name a few. Superboy-Prime is shown dealing a winning blow to the Batman Who Laughs in the “Secret Origin” tie-in, an event that’s ignored if not outright contradicted in the main book.

As mentioned, however, in Death Metal Snyder does succeed in offering a holistic vision of the DC Universe bar none, in which bad big-C “crisis” energies and good anti-crisis energies are at constant war. The crisis energies, as event Crises do, separate us from our past, start things over (that is, reboot), and generally favor the singular moment over the whole tapestry. It’s a metaphor that of course doesn’t account for all the exterior non-story reasons the DC Comics company may have instituted reboots1, but does in-story collect the major DC events into a nicely cohesive package. I’m impressed with Snyder’s vision for the history of the DCU, on par with Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison before him.

I was also quite taken by the ethical conflict at the book’s end and Wonder Woman’s unsnarling of it. She is faced with the Batman Who Laugh’s true statement that the Hands are coming to destroy the DCU and that his absorption of the crisis power is the only way to fight them; it is not wholly different than conflicts we’ve seen before, even to an extent within the “Metal” saga, in which enemies becomes teammates against a greater evil. But uniquely, I think, even though it means utter destruction, Diana refuses to side with evil because it’s evil. It’s a moral absolute, one that might not always be the best choice, but I applauded Snyder for the road less taken.



It’s a tricky thing for a writer to claim the DC Universe will never be the same; this “fragile chance” that Superman acknowledges at the end of Dark Nights: Death Metal must assuredly come to naught, as there’s no chance the supervillains won’t rise up again against the superheroes — it is anathema to the genre. Not to mention that Scott Snyder is departing the DC Universe; not to mention the lack of any evidence in this story of what “it all matters” really means. But that Infinite Frontier follows, and especially Justice League Incarnate, gives me hope (misguided as it may be) that things might actually be different this time, continuity-wise — that the “multiverses revealed” ending of Death Metal might actually make its way to the day-to-day more than the “multiverses revealed” ending of Final Crisis before it, for instance, did. To be continued, as always.

[Includes original and variant covers, sketches]

  1. Verily for all the thumbing one‘s nose at the New 52, it’s equally possible there wouldn't still be a DC Comics without it.  ↩

Comments ( 2 )

  1. I hated this event. Absolutely hated it. And I loved DN:Metal more than you did! I think the biggest thing for me (something I probably mentioned during Hell Arisen, but it's even more obvious here) is that most of the lead up was utterly pointless. All of the Perpetua stuff, all of the Luthor stuff, all the human/Martian stuff was basically irrelevant by the time the event got going. The 'final boss' was very Morrison-y (it's very possibly just an intentionally more optimistic version of Multiversity's Empty Hand), but without anywhere near the rich subtext with which to project or analyze.

    You say it much more politely (and perhaps I'm not giving them a better benefit of the doubt), but I found the ending vacuous - "we changed stuff but we're not explaining jack about it! Be excited!" One wonders how much of that is the change away from 5G - would we have had a more satisfying ending if it was setting up a line-wide time jump? Probably?

    The Batman Who Laughs (still a stupid name) being the last big bad (not the final boss, because this story had to have EVEN MORE LAYERS THAN LAST TIME) was tiresome but not surprising. Him deposing Perpetua, though, definitely made her seem much less threatening or even interesting in retrospect, though. For all the improved mythology in DN: Metal, I don't think it was worth it that meeting "mom" resulted in me thinking "boy, her kids really were much more impressive than she was."

    Oh, well

    1. At least it gave us an hysterical Oswald Cobblepot bit (i.e. "I have a very sharp rock!")

      Anyway, I didn't enjoy it as much as the original Metal either.

      I'd have to reread a year later it to see if that opinion hold since, to be fair, telling this kind of dark, bleak story in the middle of the pandemic didn't help matters.

      Actually, I really need to do a reread of Snyder's entire League myth arc -- from Dark Days through this -- to see how it holds up in its entirety.

      But just from what I can remember, I found Snyder's entire Perepetua Myth Arc to be much like his Batman run: Ambitious, interesting, but very uneven and repetitive.

      This was also pretty much my off-ramp for the DC Universe for a while. I took a break in the middle of the New 52 (as I was in grad school and didn't have time to read) and didn't come back until the DC Rebirth era.

      I'll come back when I need to sate my appetite again, but as of now, the only things I'm really paying attention to are Jeremey Adams' Flash (as it's Wally back in the crimson cowl) and Tom King's Batman/Catwoman (solely for his Batman finale).


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