In the month between issues two and three of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Dark Nights: Metal event comic, a lot’s happened to the DC universe. Through tie-in issues we’ve learned the backstories of several of the Dark Multiverse Batmans, followed the Teen Titans and the Suicide Squad as they battled through a radically altered Gotham City in a fruitless effort to find Bruce, and watched as Doctor Fate rescued as many heroes as he could from imminent death, taking them…somewhere.
In issue three we learn where Fate’s been bringing everyone, as the world’s surviving heroes take stock of their predicament and debate their next moves. This is a bit of a schizophrenic issue, ostensibly a calming beat between the insanity of Barbatos’s arrival and the insanity of whatever comes next that still manages to be a very busy issue. While I’m excited to see what Snyder and his artistic collaborators have in store through the rest of the series, and Snyder’s ability as a storyteller is beyond question, I’ll admit that this issue has left me wondering if his ambition for this particular story might be too big to contain within the space he has to tell it.
Trinity Minus One
When last we saw Diana and Clark at the end of issue two, they had been turned into desiccated husks by Barbatos’s dark magic. We catch up with them at the beginning of the issue, but their circumstances have radically changed. No longer husks, they were apparently attached to a giant, Matrix-style human power generator in Metropolis, where they hallucinated fighting and being defeated by Barbatos over and over. After we experience one of Clark’s many nightmares, he’s freed by Diana and then rushes off to Gotham to fight Barbatos head-on.
This whole opening is where the issue runs into its first minor problem for me. Snyder has so much plot to get through in these main issues that it forced him to leave a lot of the context for what’s happening in these first seven pages off-screen. Why aren’t Diana and Clark husks anymore? Unexplained. How did Diana escape from being a human battery? Unexplained. We got a hint of the human battery operation in the Gotham Resistance tie-ins, but the scale of that operation is significantly vaster than that story let on, and took me a little by surprise here.
Thankfully, we’re given enough information that an attentive reader can fill in whatever gaps there might be (except for how Diana got free, though that’s not a terribly pressing question, and I can roll with having it go unanswered for the sake of expedience). This just demonstrates the challenge Snyder has set for himself with this massive story and its many moving parts; some of the less important narrative scaffolding is inevitably gonna be painted in broad strokes.
Where Every Hero Knows Your Name
After Superman get his ass beat by the Dark Knights and is rescued by Flash and Doctor Fate, we discover where the Earth’s remaining heroes have been gathered: The Oblivion Bar, magical speak-easy and extra-dimensional HQ of the Shadowpact. Here, both our heroes and us readers get a chance to take a breath and process everything that’s happened so far, and boy do we all need it.
But even in this relative calm surrounded by Crisis-level chaos, there’s still a lot of exposition that Snyder has to burn through. Nightwing recaps the events of the Dark Knights tie-ins and Gotham Resistance, the Plastic Man egg starts vibrating coordinates to sources of exotic metal, and Clark reveals that he thinks he received a message from Bruce out of the Dark Multiverse, using a secret Trinity code that we’ve never heard of before. Snyder’s playing with a lot of different ideas, introducing multiple concepts new to the DC universe all at once, and making sure it’s all explained clearly is—I know this is the third time I’ve used the phrase in one paragraph, but…it’s just a lot to take in in a relatively condensed amount of time.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s great character conflict in this scene, too. Watching Superman and Nightwing—arguably the two characters closest to Bruce (sorry, Damien)—butt heads over whether they should risk trying to penetrate the Dark Multiverse to save Batman was compelling stuff. And getting to see Greg Capullo draw everyone from Steel to Detective Chimp was an absolute delight. The creative team on this book are doing so many things right; I just can’t help but worry at this point that the sheer volume of exposition that Snyder needs to convey (issues one and two, as well as the Dark Days issues, were heavily expository, too) is ultimately gonna bog down the character and emotional work.
No Reward Without Risk
Let me be clear; despite the reservations I’ve raised, I think Dark Nights: Metal is an amazing, insane, and above all fun book. Snyder spoke in numerous interviews leading up to Metal about how he wasn’t interested in playing things safe with this story, that he wanted to take a big swing for the fences. That’s exactly what he’s doing, and I respect the hell out of him for doing it. Metal is an undeniably ambitious story, and when we see it threatening to burst at the seams, it’s because of the massive scale of that ambition.
Said ambition has some more big swings teed up for the next issue. Aquaman and Deathstroke are on their way to Atlantis, where it appears Snyder is getting ready to unspool some epic new Atlantean mythos; Wonder Woman, Doctor Fate, and Kendra Saunders are going to the Rock of Eternity, where we might get to see what’s up with the Anti-Monitor’s astral brain; and Mister Terrific and Hal Jordan are heading into deep space, where hopefully we’ll finally find out why Plastic Man is an egg. Most significantly, Superman has joined Batman as a captive in the Dark Multiverse, his super-charged cells the key to Barabtos’s cosmic battery, with neither character seeming to have any hope of escape.
Once again, that’s a lot to take in, and it could easily descend into chaos. Snyder is on the trapeze without a net, and that’s a huge risk, because he could very well end up meeting the same fate as the Flying Graysons. But flying in the face of death is where the most exciting art comes from. There are safer, simpler stories that Snyder could be telling, but where would the fun be in that? I’d much rather have a story like Metal, even if it sometimes feels like the whole thing could collapse under it’s own narrative weight. Because—with this story of Dark Knights that are either Bruce’s greatest fears or his deepest desires—Snyder is clearly trying to say something essential about his interpretation of Batman, and if he sticks the landing, it’s gonna be one hell of a sight to see.