The biggest surprise behind the six-issue Dark Nights: Metal project is its creative team—literary upstart Scott Snyder and grizzled art veteran Greg Capullo. The pair is heralded for a run on Batman that dove into the pathos of a millionaire who copes with childhood trauma by beating the shit out of escaped mental patients. But Snyder also laced pulpy, reality-bending twists of science into his 54 issues (counting annuals), including underground fountains of eternal youth and immortality metals hidden inside the Joker’s DNA. The speculative fiction served as metaphor. Even as far back as Snyder’s run on Detective Comics, Snyder’s scripts deconstructed the proteins behind Antisocial Personality Disorder to illustrate the corrosion of evil.
This debut embraces that legacy whole-heartedly, describing the titular “Nth Metal” as “the only material capable of giving vastly different powers to those who possess it. Eternal life. Flight. Mystical vision… If defies all rules of science and magic.”
But isn’t that comic books as they were appreciated for years? Grand and ridiculous extrapolations of atoms, chemicals and radiation, inspired by the headlines of Cold War hysteria?
The introduction doubles as the issue’s climax, with a powerless Justice League marooned on warlord Mongul’s instellar arena, forced to battle giant mechs. Capullo zooms in and out of the action (and inside the giant robots) at a furious, and sometimes confusing, pace. The rest of the issue presents spontaneously erected mountains, multi-dimensional detectives and velociraptor rides. A last-minute cameo from Neil Gaiman’s legendary Sandman (the Daniel incarnation for those familiar) confirms this as a batshit buffet of everything publisher DC has to offer.
This is smart people tossing all of their action figures into the bathtub. This is myth going for broke in Golden Age splendor, casually mixing in footnotes ranging from comic icon Jack Kirby’s ‘50s science explorers, The Challengers of the Unknown, to Grant Morrison’s evil caveman god, Barbatos. This isn’t to say it’s alienating, although it may be overwhelming; the script provides all manner of context to connect the dots, even if the cameos fly fast and furious. It’s a dense sampler of the wonder that emerges inside a fiction incubator over decades, even if the aftertastes clash.
It’s far from perfect; the exposition of the latter two thirds is unyielding, and the character “truths” have yet to flesh. But these are common complaints of debut issues, and whether we should consider this an entity within itself or a un-sovereign part of a whole is another question. The six-issue miniseries promises to introduce a slew of evil multiverse Batmen, each representing a fear of Bruce Wayne’s, which should offer a more streamlined, less idiosyncratic direction—as well as another chance for Snyder to dive into Bruce Wayne’s psyche.
Dark Nights: Metal may present itself as a hard, simple thrash bender—a concussive parade of serrated power chords and double-bass pedal overkill. It’s not. This is a 15-minute Rush solo, Geddy Lee walking down fusion-jazz rock scales built on countless hours of study and rehearsal. And though it’s a lot to digest, nobody can argue that’s it’s not filling.