Review: Dark Nights: Death Metal: The Multiverse Who Laughs trade paperback (DC Comics)

November 14, 2021

As was perhaps inevitable, given the gigantic number of tie-in specials offered alongside Dark Nights: Death Metal, at some point something had to start to feel superfluous, and that time is Dark Nights: Death Metal: The Multiverse Who Laughs.

Granted, I'm not reading all of these separated by months in the way they were published, and in all — especially having gone from Death Metal #4 to three of the Multiverse Who Laughs specials, then to Justice League: Death Metal, then to Death Metal #5, and then back to Multiverse Who Laughs — I'm feeling a whole lot of whiplash. Also that Death Metal itself seems to be moving at a snail's pace given 10 specials and a five-part story and Death Metal is only just reaching its halfway point.

So part of the fault is mine, because I'm bingeing a story that was perhaps not meant to be binged, and part of the fault is also mine because it's all starting to feel like a lot and perhaps that frustration is coming out at Multiverse Who Laughs (whereas, back at the beginning, I liked the Darkest Knight series of tie-ins a whole lot more). But part of the fault is assuredly also that this event has over a dozen tie-ins that break up the story, and also that some of these miss their mark.

[Review contains spoilers]

Honestly, I don't think I'm wrong in saying something about the Multiverse Who Laughs stories miss the mark. Take, for instance, the first, which is an extended origin of the Robin King by Peter Tomasi and Riley Rossmo. That's auspicious, as Tomasi and Rossmo's Robin King story in Dark Nights: Death Metal: The Darkest Knight was a lovely bit of short form horror. But the "Robin King" special doesn't tell me a whole lot that the short story didn't, and while maybe the kid's conflict with the Batman Who Laughs will be significant later, overall this felt like Death Metal looking backward instead of moving forward.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

It's the same with "Rise of the New God." There's a lot of promise here, with James Tynion and Jesus Merino penning what seems to be a big showdown between Perpetua and the Batman Who Laughs. But then weirdly the action turns to a fire-headed guy with a book in his had called, indeed, "the Chronicler," who's jotting down the history of the DC Universe before it's destroyed.

Merino gets to draw some nice DC history splash pages, and significantly Tynion resurrects the New God Metron. There's a moral here of the power of inspirational heroes, how stories never die and other Grant Morrison greatest hits (even LEGION's Vril Dox makes an appearance), but all of that can't overcome the Chronicler's inherent silliness. Maybe the Chronicler will reappear before the end of Death Metal, maybe Chronicler will be the sensational character find of 2021, but my guess is that this will be his only appearance. That makes for a kind of unnecessary, navel-gazing type special by Tynion; under other circumstances it might be sweet, but not here and not now necessarily.

The next is "Infinite Hour Exxxtreme," a Lobo-focused story in three parts by Frank Tieri and Tyler Kirkham, Becky Cloonan and Rags Morales, and Sam Humphries and Denys Cowan. Tieri's bit is funny, with Lobo up against a Batman/Lobo hybrid called, wonderfully, the Batman Who Frags (in a bit of fourth-wall breaking, Lobo calls him the "Frazetta Batman"). But Cloonan's part strangely shoehorns in Hawkman, who apparently has a weapon of reality-changing power that he has not used against the Batman Who Laughs; and while I'm happy to see Cowan drawing Lobo, something about Cowan's gritty style and Brainiac in a dressing gown just doesn't land the joke. And also this is all about things Lobo did prior to when we encountered him in Death Metal; again, this is backward-looking, unnecessarily filling in but not advancing the overall plot.

Rounding up the book are the "Multiverse Who Laughs" story itself and "Secret Origin," focused on Superboy-Prime. "Multiverse" is yet another collection of scary stories (a la the earlier "Legends of the Dark Knights"). Ostensibly (it wasn't entirely clear) these are supposed to be stories of dark DC Universes that weren't (also not unlike the Tales from the DC Dark Multiverse), but some — like Saladin Ahmed and Scot Eaton's Green Arrow/Green Lantern face-off — seem more like inventory stories DC had laying around than anything Death Metal related. I'd be happy to read more of Brandon Thomas and Tom Mandrake teaming up Steel John Henry Irons and Azrael Jean Paul Valley, but still.

The book finishes with another one that sounds good, said Superboy-Prime spotlight by Scott Snyder and Geoff Johns together(!), and with art among others by Jerry Ordway and Francis Manapul. But despite great art (and Krypto is such a good dog) and Johns' signature voice for Superboy-Prime, I'm not sure this special told us anything we didn't already know, more than plenty of Johns-penned Superboy-Prime specials past. Of course I'm curious to see what Superboy's "continuity punch" does to the Batman Who Laughs, but I wasn't convinced that this story couldn't have been contained, in truncated form, in Death Metal itself.

2.25

Rating

I will say that among saving graces in Multiverse were two short stories at the end of the first two specials, a John Stewart piece by Bryan Hill and Nik Virella (really dynamite minimalist art) and a Signal Duke Thomas story by Tony Patrick, writer of the Batman and the Signal miniseries. Notably, Patrick gets to reconcile some of the stranger happenings with Signal's powers since Dark Nights: Metal, which seems fittingly full circle, and for my money one of the best functions event tie-in miniseries can serve is to reunite characters with their notable creators for a piece.

So, two Death Metal volumes so far that worked out, and then Dark Nights: Death Metal: The Multiverse Who Laughs that didn't work out as well. We're nearing the finale already; which books tell the real story of Death Metal? We'll find out soon.

[Includes original and variant covers, sketches and art process]

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