Reviewed by Nick Katsiadas
What a victory for DC with its first release of the Dark Nights: Metal event. Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, and Jonathan Galapion have crafted a story with the potential to expand the entire DC mythos and its character histories—and they create the opportunity to do so by incorporating characters from DC’s early comics history including the likes of The Challengers of the Unknown, Dr. Will Magnus, the Blackhawks, and (among others) Red Tornado. The final reveal in this issue also constructs the ways that the events will affect the DCU on not just a physical cosmological scale but, also, on a metaphysical scale. When the existence of the Dark Multiverse is revealed to The Justice League (The League), The Flash acknowledges this fact: “If this is true, it could change everything we know about everything.” Indeed, the existence of the Dark Multiverse could reverberate throughout the entirety of DC Comics history—everything we know about most, maybe every, character ever created and/or connected to the DCU, including characters from the Vertigo moniker.
In the beginning of Dark Nights: Metal #1, Snyder and Capullo use Carter Hall’s journal to take us back 50,000 years, and they are consistent in the ways that they use Hall’s journal for what’s called “metafictional” commentary—or moments where writers speak on two narrative levels. The journal reads, “Lost to history is a story. A story about how, in these lands, during the Age of Stone, there were three great tribes of man. Tribe of the Wolf, of the Bear, and of the Bird. All were nomadic, and shared a great dream—a dream of discovery. But soon, a fourth tribe rose. A dark tribe, unlike the others…one of twisted dreams—dreams turned inside out. And with this terrible rise, so began The Age of…Metal.” On one level, Snyder is of course providing background information on the history of these tribes for the story’s context. But on another level, Snyder and Capullo are creating a story that relies on supposed lost history of the DC Multiverse. This story is an inception of DC history and brings new meaning to many characters—chiefly, Batman, Hawkman, and Hawkgirl
The commentary from Carter Hall leads into The League’s gladiatorial arena battle on Mongul’s new War Moon (echoing Warworld). Though not as significant as the hero’s revelations of the Dark Multiverse, the gladiatorial games are a fun, action-filled entry-point into the story, because Mongul is able to suppress the heroes’ abilities, so they “are forced to fight for real.”
With the help of Hiro Okamura—a character some know as an honorary League member named Toyman—the League is able to dispatch Mongul with a giant Super Robot and head back to Earth. Only what they find is a nearly levelled Gotham City. Alfred informs Batman that “some kind of…energy storm in the city center…Dark lightning everywhere…They evacuated the area and then…then the city, it seemed to make room, to create space and this…this mountain appeared.” Superman scans the mountain from afar, discovers a bunker, and instructs Flash to search for a doorway. He comes upon a door with the symbol of The Challengers of the Unknown:
Once in the bunker, they discover a seemingly deactivated Red Tornado and a “C-Pod” with five people in it, and that is when the Blackhawks enter the scene. “And who the hell are you?” Hal Jordan says. Batman answers, “She’s Lady Blackhawk. She runs The Blackhawks, some kind of damn covert anti-apocalyptic team. They’ve been watching me, I’ve been watching them. Learning their secrets.” She responds, “Believe me. There’s plenty you still don’t know.” Batman asks, “And why should I listen to you?” “Because I’m not just Lady Blackhawk, Batman…My name is Kendra Saunders. And you don’t know me, but I know all of you. So I need you to come with me now.” She convinces them to go to Blackhawk Island by informing The League that this is the “first shot fired…of a full scale invasion. One that’s been planned for centuries.”
Once there, Saunders—formerly Hawkgirl—reveals aspects of Carter Hall’s journey to discover the true origins of Nth Metal: “Carter never stopped searching for answers about the material that started the whole cycle [of reincarnation]…Carter came to believe that Nth Metal was from somewhere beyond our cosmology. He searched for clues about its origins in history, folklore…What he found were warnings, claims that the metal came from evil and lead to evil, but Carter wouldn’t accept it. Over the years, he recruited the best people he could find to help his search…Pilots. Heroes. Inventors. Adventurers who would Challenge the Unknown with him.”
From here, Superman tells her to “stop being cryptic,” and placing a map of The Multiverse on a table—the map as seen in Grant Morrison’s Multiversity—she reveals knowledge about the Dark Multiverse: “This is a map of what we believe to be our Multiverse. Not just our universe, but all the universes made of matter and antimatter in existence. We know of fifty-two. We believe it is a set number. But the energy coming though the Nth Metal—Carter couldn’t trace it to any known universe on this map.” Flash responds, “I’ve studied the Multiverse for years. And that’s all there is. There’s nowhere else for it to come from. Is there?” She answers, “No,” and flipping over the maps, she continues, “Unless…it came from here. A Dark Multiverse.”
What becomes key, here, is the way that invoking the map gives Snyder and Capullo creative liberty to incorporate any character—any history—that exists in the DC Multiverse. Saunders suggests that the Dark Multiverse is a realm “much older and much vaster than ours. An oceanic, subconscious realm our tiny Multiverse floats on.” She goes on to explain the last she heard from Carter Hall: “The last transmissions we got from them were screams. Screams about whole worlds of nightmare, of evil. Pleas to shut the door, and never open it again. And a warning from Red Tornado just before we lost contact. A warning about a…thing down there. He called it a ‘Great Dragon.’ A beast that prowled the dark. And a name.” That name is Barbatos, and it recollects the events of Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis and (among others) Batman’s journey through the timestream in Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne.
Appropriately, in Metal #1, Saunders reveals that there is also another name that “came up over and over with mentions of Barbatos. A traveling vessel. References to the wagon that would carry the beast here. Wagon. The root name of…‘Wayne.’” The events of Dark Days: The Casting—in which Batman stared into the abyss, and it stared back—come full circle. Bruce Wayne—the Son of the House of Wayne, “Turned from Tribe Bat, to Tribe Bird”—is this vessel. Attempting to prevent an apocalyptic event, Saunders and her Blackhawk team attempt to capture Batman, but he escapes as Red Tornado is activated. Hal Jordan humorously comments, “Let me get this straight…You brought us here, did all this, so you could trap Batman? That was your plan?!”
After Batman escapes, he heads back to Wayne Manor, and the true scale of this event is revealed. On Blackhawk Island, Saunders reveals that Barbatos comes “through a human doorway, someone treated with five divine metals by its followers. Metals off the Periodic Table. A hero whose nightmares it collects as its army.” If her comments can be taken as fact, it means that Batman’s nightmares literally populate the Dark Multiverse and build Barbatos’s army. More importantly, Snyder and Capullo’s focus on dreams, nightmares, and the Multiverse map throughout this issue create an opportunity to represent how the metaphysical planes of the DCU are involved and affected. Finding Carter Hall’s journal within his study, Batman says, “My god, so it’s all true,” and he’s interrupted: “Yes, Batman…yes, it is. I am Dream of the Endless, and I have come to tell you that this nightmare has only begun.”
The significance of this reveal cannot be overstated, and if readers revisit the issue from the beginning, they will find a trail that ultimately leads to Dream. The tribes of the Wolf, the Bear, and the Bird were developed by a “grand dream—a dream of discovery.” In DC’s Vertigo moniker, Dream of the Endless is the protagonist in Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman series. Dream is a mythic deity, greater than gods, who is responsible for humanity’s dreams. He and his family of The Endless are personifications of what are constructed as essential human experiences: Dream, Death, Destiny, Desire, Despair, Delirium, and Destruction. The logic of The Sandman follows a vein that positions Dream as ensuring humankind’s futurity by gifting dreams to humanity. In Metal #1, the ideas of a fourth tribe’s “dark,” “twisted” dreams opens doors to possibilities that there may be either dream entities causing trouble on a cosmic scale or that The Endless may have counterparts in the Dark Multiverse. Carter Hall entered the Dark Multiverse in pursuit of an idealistic “dream of discovery” energized by Dream, so we are surely in for a surprise with how The Endless factor into this story. All aboard!
Editor’s Note: If you enjoyed this review just as much as I did, then feel free to follow Nick Katsiadas on Twitter to read more of his reviews right here.