Thirty-two years ago DC attempted to bring order to their continuity through the process of subtraction. Thus was born Crisis On Infinite Earths. Ever since then, however, DC has constantly attempted to bring back the Multiverse. Be it limited or limitless. Infinite Crisis featured the return of the multiverse but without any clear statement of its permanent resurrection. That is until the climax of the weekly series 52. Final Crisis featured the multiverse once more and yet again placed it under threat from various abstract higher dimensional forces.
Then, of course, there was Flashpoint which led into the New 52. Conceptually this was a curious conceit which bred its fair share of experiment and revision. However, the re-branding repelled many as it went about revising and essentially replacing decades of continuity. There were world threatening micro crises or multi-title events, but even multiverse defining titles such as Convergence or Multiversity seemed to only dazzle us for a while and then simply seem to be forgotten. In essence, there was a lack of cohesion. Teams sharing characters did not appear to communicate with one another. Contradiction and inconsistency was the order of the day.
Rebirth was DC’s next major attempt at tidying its continuity. DCYou as a jumping on point attempted to reinvigorate the brand and increase diversity but didn’t really do much with continuity on a multiversal level. Rebirth is another jumping on point for new readers. However, it is also a returning point for the readers who had abandoned them post Flashpoint. The allusion was that the current continuity had stronger ties to everything that had gone before, particularly that which had seemed to have been jettisoned. These ties have been steadily explored in various titles and arcs since then. With the imminent arrival of Doomsday Clock; an event that plans to answer all these questions, it seems DC has been working overtime on hinting towards and elaborating on a cohesive continuity.
Enter then Dark Nights Metal. Before it’s release categorically downplayed as a crisis event by its creators. However, based upon the first two issues and the Dark Days prequel material alone, one realises this series could have crisis-level ties to established -and possibly ongoing- continuity and definitely occurs on a multiversal level. The interesting thing is it does all this in a very unpretentious way. By downplaying it’s implications the series is set up to surprise rather than disappoint. The weaving in of prior continuity and a multiversal level threat is done without baffling us with too much heady metaphysics. That being said what is proposed is breathtaking in it’s simplicity.
I have a bit of a thing for Snyder and Capullo’s Batman. My earliest contributions to online journalism were studies of their New 52 Batman run and it has crept into my contributions to Sequart as well. The essence of Snyder and Capullo’s Batman is -to my mind at least- the harmonious balance of a very simple formula. Batman is at heart a noirish figure rooted in the gritty streets of Gotham and this would perhaps form our yin. However Batman also inhabits a expansive now confirmed multiverse that is given to chaos and madness. An almost violent brilliance of color. This of course would be our yang.
Dark Nights Metal is no exception to this surprisingly harmonious zen-like blending. There is some pretty far out stuff going on. The first issue begins with it an off-world 90′s feel JLA jape that even goes on to brazenly state it’s influence. A few pages later we are immersed in matters of a cosmic nature. Despite the vastness of what is occurring we actually find ourselves in very noirish binds. Claustrophobia, madness and mistrust. Kirby’s New Gods tales have a similar marriage of opposing tones. Cosmic opera and visceral earthy pulp walk hand in hand.
These cosmic matters directly call back or hint at past continuity and come in such quick succession that again one feels like one is reading a crisis event. Yet everything is so enclosed by and interwoven to Batman canon. Final Crisis may be a narrative point in Morrison’s Batman run, but it isn’t entirely about Batman. Dark Nights Metal, even with its Multiversal scope and canonical allusion still remains strictly a Bat book. A DC event sure, but without Batman, it would not exist.
Speaking of Final Crisis, this and Morrison’s Return of Bruce Wayne are some of the most frequently alluded to elements in Dark Nights Metal‘s apocalyptic prophecy. There are other elements but established readers will undoubtedly equivocate the repetitive mention of Barbatos with Bruce’s fate post-Final Crisis. Something that indeed did chase Batman through time. This being the Hyper-Adapter, a weapon of Apokolips that chased Bruce through time. On the night he attempted to summon Barbatos, a man named Thomas Wayne encountered the Hyper-Adapter. This particular Thomas Wayne became Dr Simon Hurt. A major antagonist in Grant Morrison’s Batman run. Not heard from since then. Someone that has indeed taken epithets similar to the hole in reality. Someone who conspicuously disappeared just as soon as he re-appeared in Nightwing recently.
To me at least this can’t be simple coincidence. I feel that a lot of upcoming event level story arcs are going to tie into one another in a way we may not have seen before. Sure Dark Nights Metal is spilling out into other titles like any good event. However, I feel that Dark Nights Metal is itself part of something greater. DC isn’t attempting to refresh its narrative by simple addition or multiplication. Things really feel like some form of cohesion is occurring. An expansion upon and balancing of the equation. A multi-title crossover but one not explicitly stated or over-hyped as such. Many dark threats are looming. The once mysterious Mr. Oz who has been cropping up in a variety of titles. The new run of Mr. Miracle has a narrative continuously interspersed with panels proclaiming Darkseid Is. Darkseid himself appearing in Dark Nights Metal‘s second issue. There is the reappearance of Simon Hurt, and then of course there is the supposed architect behind nearly all the bad things that ever happened, ever.
Spurred by this I recently decided to catch up with The Button arc, for example, a Batman and Flash crossover which carried with it some crisis level gravitas. Not least by invoking Flashpoint, but of course by tying heavily into the ongoing splicing of Watchmen into main DC continuity. Something which I am still uneasy and undecided over, but which still distracts me. Regardless of this, there is a delight found in catching up with titles such as Tim Seeley and Tom King’s breathtaking Grayson. A title that picks up and runs with story beats from Morrison’s Batman run but weaves a wholly original espionage title. Tim Seeley being responsible for the aforementioned tease return of Simon Hurt in Nightwing. Tom King, now helming Batman, contributing heavily to The Button arc whilst also writing the aforementioned Mister Miracle series.
Even in its second issue Dark Nights Metal loses none of the elements spoken of in this article. 90′s JLA style japes. The nods to Final Crisis and The Return of Bruce Wayne are heavier. The scope remains cosmic but the atmosphere is still suffocating and claustrophobic. Yet for all this gravitas there are moments of referential humour. I spoke of Darkseid’s appearance in the second issue. However, this is Darkseid as he was left at the end of Geoff John’s Darkseid War. As the multiverse’s most evil but adorable infant. Darkseid War was another event that invokes some crisis level players and events but ultimately seemed to go nowhere. Until Dark Nights Metal that is.
So is this it? Is DC about to finally get back on track having lost its self a little post Flashpoint? Is it going to do this without recklessly abandoning some of it’s more choice pieces of canon? Are all these events really going to tie into some kind of meta-event? Who knows? I guess we will just have to wait, read and see. Beyond that, I can only speak for myself and say Dark Nights Metal was an enjoyable part of the ride.