By Nick Katsiadas
“A Dark Crisis is coming, and here you are, two bright lights calling it forward!” says The Joker. In Dark Days: The Casting, this quote speaks to the project’s creative ambition on multiple levels: Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Jim Lee, Andy Kubert, and (among others) John Romita, Jr. are bringing to the fore a darkness that exists in the recesses of the DC Universe. Their ambition cannot be overstated, nor should it be underestimated. In Dark Days: The Casting, the all-star team of artists establish a goal to shake many foundations on which much of the current DCU is built.
In his journal entries scattered throughout the issue, Carter Hall sums up the creative objective in a metafictional way: “The human story is a mystery told by a billion unreliable narrators, and for the duration of our species I have been nothing more than a detective.” On one level, history as it exists in the DCU, of course, can be assumed to have been written and rewritten by a “billion” people throughout the centuries. On another level, the history of the DCU has been written and rewritten by hundreds of people throughout its relatively short existence. These “unreliable narrators” of the DCU, in other words, were wholly ignorant to a supposed greater DCU history that this team is bringing forth. In short, it is a noteworthy time to be a DC fan.
What is noteworthy about this issue is the aesthetics that the artists foreground in order to expand on the DCU. If you are not a reader of traditional literature but want to have a greater understanding of these aesthetics, read anything from H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. In short, Lovecraft was a cosmic horror fiction writer at the beginning of the twentieth century, and he was dubbed Edgar Allan Poe’s successor to the tradition of Weird Tales. In many of his stories, Lovecraft plays with ideas of humankind’s perpetual state of unknowing, that there is an unintelligible darkness wherein entities exist that we have only glimpsed in our worst nightmares. These stories entail strange cults, hiding in the recesses of the world, that worship entities called The Great Old Ones—a pantheon of extradimensional beings. One glimpse of such a fearful monstrosity is enough to induce insanity: Being in the presence of such a being, the logic follows, is enough to completely unbalance an individual’s orientation to reality—their sense of self, their self-worth, human history, and their significance in the world. The artists of Dark Days: The Casting establish the story’s connections to such Lovecraftian ideas by establishing occult, archaic origins of the heroes we have come to know and love, largely Hawkman and Batman. In this issue, they find creative spaces in which to focus Carter Hall’s history that extends beyond Ancient Egypt, beyond Paleolithic cave paintings, and they construct DC’s 13 Immortals as the cult with knowledge of the events and entities we can expect our heroes to confront in Dark Nights: Metal.
Throughout this issue, Batman continues his journey towards a truth yet unknown—what we can assume to be the truth of the Dark Matter Universe. He arrives in Methana, Greece, in pursuit of the Greek gods only to meet Wonder Woman, who informs him that they have abandoned earth and “barred the gates of Olympus behind them.” She tells Bruce, “They believe a war is coming. A war that will not only shape the earth, but the cosmos themselves. A crisis that will shape the very firmament and douse the light of creation. I can see in your eyes that you see it coming, too…How can you know the thinking of the gods?” Just as we saw in Dark Days: The Forge with his encounter with Superman, Batman convinces Diana that he is not hiding a truth but pursuing one: “I know fear, Diana. Use your lasso if you think I’m hiding anything from you. I’m not. The further I follow this mystery, the more frightened I become. Every question leads to more questions. I hoped Hephaestus would be able to shine a light into the darkness.” To clarify, yes, the gods of Olympus are frightened by the Dark Crisis to come. This is the scale of this crisis: Gods are scared. Diana responds to Bruce, “He may still,” and she gives him the Sunblade, a weapon Hephaestus “created for Apollo at the dawn of human civilization. One of twelve weapons created for each of their pantheon…forged with the most powerful metal Hephaestus ever worked with.” She goes on to warn him: “He called it the eighth metal. It is not the pure form you seek. But if you follow its light, it will guide you where you need to go…Mark my words, Bruce. The gods have given you the sun to light your way. Do not throw it away for the darkness.”
Equipped with the Sunblade, Bruce later encounters Talia Al Ghul, and as expected, he gives up “the sun” for the darkness. This is Batman: His characterization and connection to darkness, to the figure of the bat—a nocturnal creature—almost necessitates such an exchange. “Talia…what if I could offer you a trade,” he says, “the eighth form of the metal for the ninth.” She speculates his motives but ultimately agrees. He goes on to say, “The world is at a moment of imbalance…I help the mother of my son, the daughter of my enemy, so that should the moment come where I need to call upon her for a greater favor…perhaps she’ll answer.” The significance of Batman aligning himself with Talia intends to magnify the gravity of Batman’s pursuit. All rivalries and resentments aside, what could be important enough to do so?
Meanwhile, in the Batcave, Hal Jordan, Duke Thomas, and The Joker exchange words and blows, and it is important to note that aspects of Duke’s identity are finally revealed, namely that he is in fact a metahuman who has the strange metal over which Batman has been obsessing coursing through his veins. Coincidentally, as insane as The Joker is—or hyper-sane, call it what you will—he is the only person who knows how important Batman is in the grand scheme of the DCU, in the architecture of the Dark Matter Universe. He hits Jordan with a crowbar and vehemently says, “Don’t you understand?! This is what your alien bosses sent you here to stop. If he uses the machine, that’ll be the end of everything!” Joker is, ironically, trying to be a hero, trying to prevent this Dark Crisis. One of the many, many important aspects of this issue is how we might have confirmation about The Joker’s identity (at least one of them). He says, “It’s happening again! No matter what I do, it just keeps on coming! Everything is going backwards, and neither of you understand! You don’t even realize that this time I was being the good guy!” What is key, here, is the notion that it is “happening again,” that this event “keeps on coming.” Matched with the characterization of Carter Hall and Shiera Sanders, this issue may have revealed The Joker as one of the 13 Immortals.
The last pages of this issue reveal the forthcoming threat: “The Dark Knights are coming. And with them, the True Father of Batman.” Lovecraftian in its narrative structures, here is where the creative team capitalizes on the unknown and unknowable meanings behind the symbol of The Bat. Think about some of the ideas associated with Batman’s visual appearance: He takes on the visage of a nocturnal predator, intending to induce fear in criminals, and he often appears as a demonic creature. The irony is that he takes on this demonic appearance to do good. However, in this story, the bat symbol and everything for which it stands has an origin predating human civilization—an origin that may be celestial or cosmic or both. Bruce Wayne, Batman, is but one avatar of The Bat in this cosmos. His identity fits within a supposed network of avatars whose incarnations predate a hitherto unknowable history. In the final pages, 3,000 miles below Gotham City, what appears to be an ancient cult has waited for Batman to stare into the abyss. Appropriately, the abyss stared back, and it is ready.
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