Communication Skills for Multiversal Salvation, or, Dark Nights: Metal

darknightsmetal

(C) The Devil

Dark Nights: Metal is at once a Batman story and a Justice League story, a mystery and an adventure, a fragile, intimate drama and a sprawling, cosmic epic, and the mission of writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo’s latest collaboration (with Jonathan Glapion on inks and FCO Plascencia on colors) seems to be bridging those very sorts of fictional polarities. Metal is a story that posits that perhaps detectives and swashbucklers are one and the same, that perhaps the barrier distinguishing cosmic infinity from the sprawling expanses of any single individual’s imagination is far thinner than we might think.

Metal concerns the invasion of the DC Universe by the Dark Multiverse, a realm of raw imagination, comprised of the dreams and nightmares that on the rarest of occasions are forged into existence within the living, breathing DCU proper. Essentially, the world of Batman and the Justice League is an ark of existence, of reality, adrift on an unimaginably vast sea of could-have-been and should-never-be. Someone or something has breached the hull of that ark, which is now taking on sick water in the form of nightmare Batmen conjured from Bruce Wayne’s worst fears and insecurities. What follows is a desperate attempt to plug the leak in the DCU before the entire existing multiverse sinks into the Dark Multiverse.

It’s a mystery and an adventure, at once terrifying and exciting, a sentiment captured in the narrative’s dual focus on Batman the Detective and Carter Hall, the missing adventurer Hawkman.

Questions and clues abound: why is a covert ops team surveilling Batman? Why are strange metal artifacts around the globe reacting strangely to some unknown force? What secretes lie within the secret journal of Carter Hall?

Spectacle and bombast abound: the Justice League battles interlocking mechs in an alien gladiatorial arena. A demonic Bat-God clings to the apex of a dizzying spire that punctures a stormy sky, flanked by dual Joker-dragons.

And yet, whether it’s an army of villainous Justice League doppelgangers or a furrow in Wonder Woman’s brow as she prepares for battle, Capullo, Glapion and Plascencia never miss a beat, the attention afforded both to the smallest detail and the loudest spectacle alike indicative of Metal’s continued interplay between the intimate and the immense, the mysterious and the adventurous.

But the disparity between those two seeming opposites never feels jarring or disorienting, as Metal is, at its heart, largely concerned with that which unites them: communication.

Sound is a fascinating and prominent motif throughout DN:M, be it battle cries, devilish bellows, power chords, or good old-fashioned banging two pieces of metal together. Again and again importance is placed on sound, the difference between the life and death of all existence hanging on one character’s willingness or ability to create it and another’s ability to hear and comprehend it. It’s telling then that just before it hits the fan in the story’s opening issues, Batman refuses to communicate with his peers. His failure to communicate, his decision to withhold information, reaps dire consequences and the rest of this epic is largely concerned with not only discovery in the face of the unknown malevolence brought forth, but the communication of those discoveries with others.

Across the galaxy, in the depths of the sea and deep within the distorted bowels of the Dark Multiverse itself, the Justice League find themselves investigating any thread that might lead them to a plug for that leak in the ol’ aforementioned reality ark that is their entire known multiverse, but separated as they are those answers mean nothing without the willingness and ability to communicate that information, to share it, to come to a common understanding through detection and adventure.

For all its mystery and all its spectacle, Dark Nights: Metal ultimately revolves around communication, that which links the dreams and nightmares of our minds with the vastness of the universe. It’s a story about coming together, about living and experiencing and sharing those experiences to the betterment of all involved.

It is one hell of a comic book.

Advertisements

DC’s Convergence Concludes, or, I Think Something Happened Maybe

There’s no greater treasure trove than a kid’s toy box. Mine was full of Star Wars action figures, Jurassic Park dinosaurs and just about any shark I could get my hands on. And you can bet that Han Solo went up against some velociraptors on more than one occasion. Why not? I had access to raptors, I had access to Han Solo, and I was going to utilize them both to the fullest extent of my imagination.

With DC Comics’ latest big event, the recently concluded Convergence, the publisher presented a toy box of literally the entire pantheon of characters throughout all of the DC Multiverse but somehow managed to tell a story less compelling than the time I had Boba Fett ambush a stegosaurus with a lightsaber from inside a dead shark. Due in large part to the confusing decision to leave most of the toys in the box.

Convergence's villain, Telos, shows you all the cool characters you won't get to see in Convergence. Classic Telos!

Convergence’s villain, Telos, shows you all the cool characters you won’t get to spend any time with in Convergence. Classic Telos!

It’s no secret that Marvel is winning the comic book movie arms race, but recently they’ve been a leap ahead of DC on the page as well. DC doesn’t have books that can compete with Marvel’s more unique titles like Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye, G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel or Chip Zdarsky’s Howard the Duck and it seems that after some introspection DC has concluded the reason for this disparity is that their characters are bogged down by continuity, disabling their writers from telling fresh, new stories. Convergence was designed to within an inch of its life to fix this problem, and while it technically does, I guess, it never quite manages to justify its existence.

Comic book newcomer Jeff King might take some heat for writing Convergence, but there isn’t a writer alive who could have saved this corporate initiative from itself.

Convergence sees a multiversal Braniac collect cities from throughout all of DC’s history and bring them all on to one planet to battle for supremacy. It brings the likes of Red Son Superman and Knightfall Batman and Flashpoint Wonder Woman together with Parallax Hal Jordan, hook-hand Aquaman and Ted Kord Blue Beetle. Like I said, it’s a hell of a toy box.

Problem is, Convergence sees fit to leave a vast majority of those toys alone and play with the cast of DC’s recently concluded Earth 2 book. Sure Red Son Superman is around, but his story is relegated to appearances across forty shockingly formulaic two-issue spin off series churned out to cash in on fans’ nostalgia for old costumes. Convergence itself remains squarely focused on about six characters from the same book. A focal point in a story as massive as Convergence is important, but the camera never zooms out to show us the imaginative potential of the situation these characters find themselves in.

Woah, that guy looks neat, huh? Don't get used to him doing anything at all!

Woah, that guy looks neat, huh? Don’t get used to him doing anything at all!

Buried somewhere within its nine issues Convergence hides a compelling story arc for the heroes of Earth 2. In fact, aside from perhaps the final two issues Convergence could have just been called Earth 2, which isn’t inherently bad if you’re an Earth 2 reader, but the corporate mandated status quo shifts the book has to present keep the Earth 2 narrative from achieving any sort of poignancy and the tight focus on Earth 2’s cast stifle the potential of a multiverse-wide event.

And what of DC’s grand plan to free itself of the shackles of continuity? Much like the emotional payoff of the stories focal point, Earth 2’s Dick Grayson, the battle that apparently redefines the entire DC Multiverse literally takes place off the page. It’s decisions like this that make Convergence feel less like a story unaware of its own potential and more like a corporate initiative actively avoiding it.

DC set out to revolutionize its continuity with Convergence, and it certainly did something to it, but I’d be hard pressed to believe that it’ll have any effect whatsoever on DC’s regularly scheduled titles.

If DC wanted to play it more fast and loose with their own continuity in order to tell more interesting, off the beaten path stories, they should have just done it.

Convergence left me wishing they’d explained their new status quo in a press release.

 

Let ‘Em Win One, or, Forever Evil Forever!

Comic book events tend to be less than great.

PHILOSOPHY ATTACK

PHILOSOPHY ATTACK

For DC Comics it means a Crisis, for Marvel it means throwing some X-Men together with some Avengers and across the board it usually entails some sort of alternate earth or timeline and a half-hearted shake up of the status quo that ends up meaning nothing to solo monthly titles.

Remind me again how the massive ramifications of Infinity impacted Hawkeye? Or how Trinity War shook the foundations of Wonder Woman?

Comic book events have undoubtedly offered their fair share of intriguing concepts and shocking moments, but they all seem to wind up bloated and eerily similar to one another, eventually collapsing under their own weight.

Traditionally, my favorite part of a big comic book crossover event is the inevitable return to my regularly scheduled programming, but hot damn, DC Comics’ Forever Evil was badass!

Considering its humble beginnings, it was set-up by the largely uneventful event Trinity War and debuted amongst the less than substantive novelty of DC’s Villains Month, Forever Evil certainly had the deck stacked against it. Add to that a reliance on the all-too familiar comic book trope of an alternate earth and you’ve got a recipe for yet another run of the mill comic book event.

But rather than putting characters we can read about any month in a solo series into scenarios far less interesting than what’s going on in their own books, Forever Evil focused on stars lest frequently in the spotlight – the villains.

House Party 3

House Party 3

There are no Justice Leagues in Forever Evil, just a rag tag group of ruthless badasses, and while we’ve seen the cast of Forever Evil square off against various heroes before, this time is different due to one glaring change to the fundamentals of the comic book villain: in Forever Evil, Lex Luthor and his fellow bad guys are allowed to win.

Villains are awesome. They possess an inherent danger that Superman and even Batman will never truly possess. But in the back of our minds, even when the Joker is at his deadliest, we know he isn’t going to win.

But when Batman and Superman are replaced by the evil Owlman and Ultraman of Earth 3 those kiddie gloves we are always aware our favorite villains are unknowingly wearing come off.

Forever Evil sees Lex Luthor’s fierce intellect unshackled from the unspoken handicap of comic book villainy, and what a triumphant unshackling it is. Writer Geoff Johns unites Luthor with the perfect line-up of badasses, all prominent enough to garner excitement, but not so famous as to be tired and predictable. The cast of Forever Evil isn’t a bunch of Batman movie villains, but they’re definitely heavy-hitters, as are their competition, the Crime Syndicate.

Auxiliary books that tie-in to big events tend to get pretty extraneous and often leave a reader feeling like they’re on a distant planet looking at the main event like a far off star. Geoff Johns’ Justice League, however, provides some pretty awesome insight into the Crime Syndicate, an alternate, evil Justice League that provides surprisingly clever twists on DC’s A-list.

Lex Luthor is definitely the Ross of this group of frienemies, AMIRIGHT? Batman is the Rachel.

Lex Luthor is definitely the Ross of this group of frienemies, AMIRIGHT? Batman is the Rachel.

Over the last nine months Forever Evil consistently held my attention with each new installment, putting two of the most fascinating teams assembled since the dawn of the New 52 against one another in an excellent exploration of the spectrum of villainy.

Now, how many Justice League movies does Warner Bros. need to make before they get around to Forever Evil?

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

1. Am I wrong? Are event comics always awesome?

2. I’ve heard of “diamonds are forever,” but Forever Evil?

3. Who do you think Lex Luthor’s best friend is? And don’t say Andrew Garfield because I already made that joke just now.

 

For more DC Comics check out my posts on Trinity War and Villains Month, as well as the weekly Pony Tricks Comic Cast.