Sunday, April 15, 2018

What the Heck, Comics? Why Dark Nights Metal Was Just Too Much

Warning: I'm about to rant with spoilers and madness about a recent comic tie-in crossover event. If you haven't read it, don't care about it, or DO care about it and have read it and thought it was awesome, you have been warned!

I finally finished DC Comics' insane Metal super crossover event. For readers of most regular comics there were only a handful of mostly ignorable crossovers; most of the series was contained in a 6 issue mini-series and a bunch of special one shots, all priced at $4.99 and attached to metallic covers that were designed to scream "collectible!" as much as possible. And yes, I got all of it.

Here's the best summary I can get for those interested: Batman, in an old story arc from the trippy Grant Morrison days, was apparently killed but really went back in time. A demon bat named Barbatos got sort of obsessed with him and "created" a multi-thousand year long event in which dozens of seemingly unrelated events in history and story are all tied in to this thing by which Batman's nightmares manifest in a very real "dark universe," come to life, are united, and seek to subsume the light universe in to the dark universe using something called the Ninth Metal (that's really the Nth Metal) and a lot of stuff happens in the course of this process. If you thought the comic book physics of the DC Universe was already stretched thin by Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and the Crisis on Infinite Earths then you ain't seen nothing yet.

Preamble: I am a huge DC fan. They rarely ever disappoint, and usually its only on rare occasion I don't immensely enjoy DC comics in general. I regularly pick up a fair number of DC titles every month, and I love what they've been doing for the last few years. I was a New 52 fan and I liked their efforts to make it distinct, although I also feel like the Rebirth era has been even better.

Okay, that's out of the way. Now....for the odd exception.

Issue #6, the grand finale of the mini-series Dark Nights: Metal is out and having finished it I really have to say...I love comics (especially DC comics) for all their comic-ness, all their tropes, and -isms and so forth, but good grief.....this is the first time in a very long time that I felt I'd just read something that no one wrote to even attempt some form of coherent narrative. There is a narrative....sort of.....but exactly what that narrative is, why it should make any sense at all, or even why I should have cared to follow this entire run is, in the end, beyond me. Indeed, the series ends with an ominous warning that in saving the universe our heroes may have changed it, and that in doing so the universe may have been blown wide open....leading to greater, more inconceivable threats to come. Threats, presumably, more monumental than an entire negative-universe comprised of Batman's worst fears about himself come to life, which was the core guiding point of the series at first.

My understanding of this series is that Scott Snyder had been planning it a long time, and it was based on some fairly obscure derivations of old Batman comics  (the bat demon Barbatos, specifically) as well as the trippy and (some might argue) unpleasantly bizarre death of Batman sequence turning in to a trip through time that Grant Morrison wrote years ago. I feel like maybe yes, this is entirely true that Scott was given a blank check to do this......and thanks to DC being pretty lax about direction these days on its narrative arcs to its creators, maybe no one stopped to look too closely at the overall narrative arc on this tale, which at various time managed (in early issues) to serve as a fascinating concept but somehow just got too big, too wildly self-referential, supremely immersed in the sort of Dumb Ass Metaphysics only comics can conceive of, and in so doing added what started to feel like infinite layers of nonsense to the already heavy and weird canon of the DC metaverse, a metaverse that desperately needs someone to step in and tone it down a bit, not do the opposite.

Sometimes, the ideas just, WAT


Ninth metal is actually Nth metal, which of course is what Hawkman and Hawkwoman have long been associated with, but now plenty of other objects are as well (Wonder Woman's bracelets for example, and Plastic Man who spends most of this series inexplicably in an egg shape). Batman has Ninth Metal in him thanks to his "resurrection" tale some issues back during the whole close of the old New 52 pre-Rebirth reboot. And so does Joker, weee!

The Dark Universe is alternatively a nightmare universe, an anti-matter universe, a universe which can literally "flow up" or "slide down" and subsume the "normal" or "light universe." It is the place where Batman's nightmares specifically formed out of the 52 universes in situations where Batman went Very Very Bad in various ways. And apparently specifically Batman alone more or less thanks to Barbatos's time-long obsession with him. Or something like that. It's really not explained very well at any point in what passes for a narrative arc in this tale.

The House of the Bird and the House of the Bat are in eternal war because Sure Why Not, and maybe I didn't read the right Morrison collections from the past ,and then the entire Court of Owls was just one long part of this because "owlssssss" but isn't that a bird and not a bat??? and Oh My God this is what happens when you try too hard to make Everything Tie In To Everything Else.  Sometimes it is possible to know the esoteric lore and canon of a series too well, and in so doing damage it a bit by trying too hard to make it all tie in together.

I liked the Court of Owls when they were just a secret society of ancient families in Gotham who tried to control the city's direction behind the scenes with semi-immortal assassins.

Tenth Metal. Jesus Effin What the WHY

All those one-shots did set up fascinating "alternate reality" nightmare Batmans. But their end pay-off was obscured by what amounted to a bizarrely incoherent final few issues in which who the hell knows what was going on because it felt like plot twists and deus ex machina moments were being yanked out of the nightmarish corners of the writer's ass. See also: Tenth Metal. Only "Evil Batman-Flash" gets proper closure through a noted death. The rest just sort or go away in the endless panels of random shit that the last few issues throw at the page.

The final "It's super dark here so Tenth Metal doesn't work," metal ex machina moment. Honestly it felt to me like someone forgot to tell the artist for those panels about Shiny Batman Tenth Metal Suit and so the dialogue hamfistedly explained it away like this. Or even worse, they just wanted to make sure Batman didn't look too silly in his silver armor while he and the Joker beat up the Batman who Laughs, and they really, really, really wanted this scene in but couldn't justify it until the Tenth Metal sequence, so.....sigh....fine, whatever....

And the almost insanely nonsensical writing of the last few issues with a prosaic style that felt to me closer to the way Penny Arcade mocks this stuff than some sort of writing which was even attempting to explain an interesting story.

Dragon Joker Thing. Why. Just.....why. It was like there purely to be drawn, commented on, and than Whatever.

Oh and thanks to Reasons the entire Metal Event apparently caused new superhumans to manifest for purposes that felt a lot less like "this was a plot thing we totally conceived of" and a lot more like "and then someone in marketing said we should tie in the eight new titles DC wants to release in 2018 to the end of Metal so like yeah they really want this in here."

Hawkman and literally his entire "journey/arc" in this series. WTF

Did this series sell well?* Someone needs to think harder about this crap, and think about how they could actually have tried to construct a tighter and more focused tale out of this comic-spew-word-garbage insanity.

I love DC comics, but.....please, let's avoid something as awful and nonsensical as this again for a while. Please!!!!! Or....well....maybe try and think about what you're actually writing, and why you're doing it, and how there could be so many better, more interesting ways to actually try and tell a story than this.

*#1 sold like hotcakes.....sigh.....


  1. The whole series sold well. The only joy I took out of it was finally getting new characters.

    1. Actually, despite my rant, I am really enjoying the new characters and teams, and it's nice to formally have Mr. Terrific and Plastic Man back.