Thursday, August 17, 2017

Metallurgy: Metal #1 - Crazy Train

Finally, after months of teases and confusing branding (Dark Days into Dark Nights … or is it Dark Knights?) Metal is here! Like an all-star band, writer Scott Snyder and artists Greg Capullo (pencils), Jonathan Glapion (inks) FCO Plascencia (colors) and Steve Wands (letters), come together, thrash about, and begin the capstone for Snyder and Capullo’s run with Batman.

Metal marks what should be considered the first proper ‘E’vent in the DC Rebirth era. While there have been ‘e’vent miniseries (Justice League vs Suicide Squad) with a couple of tie-ins, Metal boasts the excess – if not total – of tie-ins and specials that define ‘E’ comic events in post-Civil War (2006) Big Two publishing. Scott Snyder and family even released their own version of a reading list! This isn’t something we’ve seen from DC since, maybe, Convergence (2015) but more fittingly Forever Evil (2013).

Unlike previous Events this isn’t one I’m dreading; my hope is to cover everything in these ‘Metallurgy’ posts. Compared to Secret Empire, this seems so small. The overall event is comprised of: the main 6 issue Metal series, 2 separate 4 issue crossovers “Gotham Resistance” and “Justice League vs The Dark Knights”, 7 Dark Knight(evil Batmen) one-shots, and 2 other one shots Batman: Lost and Hawkman: Found. For 23 total issues of comics.

This sense of relief seems to be from how limited the tie-ins are, the majority of the “Gotham Resistance” and “League vs Dark Knights” titles ship twice monthly and in both cases, play out over the months of October and November respectively. Overall impact to DC’s publishing line is minimal. That feeling is also derived from the overall reader attitude towards DC’s current meta narrative with Rebirth. While Metal doesn’t have anything to do with the ongoing Rebirth meta-narrative, the environment it has created doesn’t seem like a weight on the line as a whole. Making me, someone who normally eschews mainstream cape books because of the ongoing crisis meta narratives for smaller of the beaten path stuff, more amenable to going on this comic book blockbuster.

None of these feelings, however, would last very long if the main Metal series wasn’t good. So far it is, issue 1 is a good start to things for people who didn’t read Dark Days: The Forge or Casting. While the issue doesn’t really complete a first act, it sets things up for Batman to make the fateful decision in issue 2. A good portion of this quality is derived from the vibe the book is given, so eloquently summed up by its name “Metal.” I now understand why Scott Snyder fought to have this book called Metal. While it is a nice reference to the series macguffin, Nth metal, it also acts as a statement of purpose in a way something like Crisis of the Dark Multiverse wouldn’t. Even if the latter has far more built in name recognition. Calling something like Crisis of ‘X’ builds in all these expectations and importance, while Metal is important – it’s launching the ‘Dark Matter’ imprint of comics– this book isn’t self-important. It is, however, self-aware.

Metal uses this awareness to show a sincere appreciation for the spectacle of Event Comics and DC mythology. If this team of creatives had a band equivalent it would be Elite Tauren Chieftan, the Blizzard-World of Warcraft group. They gleefully make metal music out of the lore and culture of World of Warcraft, an absurd concept that has actually made for some good songs.

In any other book, the Justice League fighting Mongul on a rebuilt Warworld (or I guess WarMoon technically), and coming together to form their own Voltron/Megazord would be the main event of a series. Here it’s the pre-title sequence. A title sequence that proudly proclaims Metal to be a ‘DC COMICS EVENT’ with credits featuring the creatives given very METAL nick names. The books reflexivity takes many forms, from the editor’s notes telling readers to “see the 90s” for a reference about Aquaman’s totally metal harpoon hand too Snydery punning Final Crisis in some of Hawkman’s journal. This knowing acknowledgement allows for an embrace of not just the absurd nature of their environment (even by cape comic standards) but their histories, and instead focus on the characters aka the things that make stories work. With a lead, up like The Casting and The Forge, you kind of have to embrace everything after they pulled together disparate aspects of the DCU like the Blackhawks, Metal Men, Challengers of the Unknown, and the eternal continuity kerfuffle that is the Hawks, and more in to a cohesive “Wold Newton Family” of sorts.

On the way back from dealing with Mongul, the League learn that a mysterious mountain suddenly appeared in the middle of Gotham City leaving massive devastation in its wake, as these stories are often wont to do. Greg Capullo situates the reveal in a beautiful spread that gives the reader a sense of scale. Superman recognizes and gives voice to the thousands of victims, but in typical blockbuster fashion they are an anonymous off panel presences; these types of stories can’t let the reader comprehend the scale of destruction in a realistic fashion lest the mollifying spectacle lose its potency. Before they can investigate what is revealed to be the disappeared Blackhawk Mountain, Kendra Saunders and the Black Hawks appear and whisk the League away on a warning of an even greater threat.

The threat: an invasion from the Dark Multiverse! In another example of a cheeky self awarness, Capullo literally uses the map of the multiverse from Grant Morrison’s Multiversity to explain the dark multiverse concept. The dark multiverse, inspired according to Snyder by recent discoveries around dark matter, is the other side of the map. A plane of existence that we cannot comprehend or locate but undergirds everything we do know. The news gets worse from there as Batman appears fated to unleash the dark multiverse and their dark god Barbatos (aka the Hyper-Adapter from Grant Morrison’s run and the demon from Peter Milligan’s “Dark Knight, Dark City.”) Scott Snyder is showing a surprising depth of DC lore and ideas and twisting them to tell a different story.

But what is the dark multiverse exactly? In an interview with CBR, Snyder described the realm thusly
The way the Dark Multiverse works is that your fears and your fantasies exist there. There are 52 known universes in the Multiverse as we know it, right? But the ocean of the Dark Multiverse is roiling, fluid place, where anything you fear or think becomes material and then bubbles back back. But, if something down there decided they pluck the things from your nightmares and bring them here, to our universe, they could.
You know, if that thing, whatever it might be, could actually get here.

Snyder has Kendra Saunders begin to say something similar while talking with the League.

This is the concept that has me so curious about the series, an entire realm where the Freudian unconscious gets to come out and play adds so much potential for more writing about this series beyond its reflexive qualities. Stylistically how Snyder will treat this realm was hinted at in  The Forge and Casting the prequel two-shot that operated in the style of cosmic horror. Cosmic horror generally features an unknowable entity or outside force slowly driving the cast to madness as they fail to comprehend or more freightingly begin to. These concepts sound like fertile ground for a story about Batman, the detective, and a mystery he slowly doesn’t want to solve but also can’t help himself from solving.

Metal has traded in a smorgasbord of DC mythology, the kind of references and tape together quality that make reading cape comics fun. The thing that sends this first issue truly over the top is an appearance by Dream of the Endless aka Sandman with a warning for Batman that “this nightmare … has only just begun.” The rare appearance by one of Neil Gaiman’s most well-known character is the ultimate cherry on top and warning that stuff is about to get real.

This is a proper Event form DC and with how infrequent these are compared to their competition and how easy it is to skip this, I’m more than willing to see where this crazy ride goes. 

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