Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Dark Nights: Metal #6, or OMG WTF?

Dark Nights:  Metal #6:  [Sigh.]  OK, let's do this thing.

I initially wrote a rage-induced review of this issue, but I slept on it, wondering if I'd feel the same way the next day.  Upon re-reading parts of the issue, I can say I revised some areas where I had a more positive reaction the second time.  That said, my initial assessment of this issue, and the event itself, stands:  I can't remember a cross-over event that started with more promise that ended as spectacularly disappointingly as this one.

I'm going to try to address the events as clearly and neutrally as possible, but I'm going to admit upfront I fail at that several times.

Barbatos makes the disastrous (some would say "convenient") decision to gather Aquaman, Deathstroke, Green Lantern, and Mister Terrific on Challengers Mountain, where Kendra and Wonder Woman are fighting his Armies of Darkness.  (Martian Manhunter is nowhere to be seen, even though he was with Green Lantern and Mister Terrific on Thanagar Prime when they were defeated.)  At Kendra's suggestion, Diana clanks Hawkman's Ninth Metal mace against her Eighth Metal bracelets, allowing her to communicate with the guys.  The four men rally at Diana's urging to fight the Armies of Darkness, and Cyborg and Flash helpfully arrive with various Batmen to join the battle.  (Somehow, these Batmen are connected to the chimps from the 53rd Universe from "Dark Nights:  The Wild Hunt" #1, but I'm not sure how.)

As the guys take over fighting the Armies of Darkness, Kendra lowers Diana via her lasso into the portal through which the Armies of Darkness came, to find Bruce and Clark.  Instead, Diana encounters the monstrous Hawkman, and a surprised Kendra calls to him, waking him (somewhat) from his stupor and allowing him to land some blows on Barbatos.  Diana then returns with Bruce and Clark, though her discovery of them happens entirely off-panel.  They're all wearing Tenth Metal (a.k.a. Element X) armor.  Batman initially says he only has a drop of Tenth Metal left (presumably after forging their armor), but he's able to use that "drop" to build armor for Aquaman and Green Lantern.  (Bruce and Clark discovering the Tenth Metal also happens off-panel.  All we're told is Tenth Metal is the metal of the Forge and thus the metal of "possibilities."  One of those possibilities was apparently the ability for Bruce to craft armor at will.)

Hawkman continues to take on Barbatos, who orders the Batman Who Laughs to enact the final plan:  he'll combine the captive Over-Monitor (positive energy), the Anti-Monitor's "astral brain" (negative energy), and himself (dark energy) to destroy all universes.  (Is there not "light energy?"  I assume we've learn more in the sequel, "Light Mornings.")  But, Bruce and the Joker arrive in his Batcave under Challenger Mountain to kick his ass, because apparently the only thing the man who plans for everything wasn't expected was them teaming up.

Bruce rescues the Over-Monitor (leaving the Joker fighting the Batman Who Laughs in the cave as it collapses), and the Over-Monitor informs the League it doesn't need the Tuning Fork Barbatos destroyed to save Earth -- they just need to believe.  Everyone holds hands (I'm not kidding) and uses the Tenth Metal in all living things to create a frequency (I think?) that lifts Earth from the Dark Dimension.  Earth is not only saved, but it breaks through the Source Wall, which apparently was saving us from even worse stuff happening.  (Apparently, the known Multiverse was like a fishbowl that's now been poured into the ocean.)  But, Bruce is going to build the Hall of Justice, so it's all OK.

The Less Terrible
If I'm being charitable (hence the good night's sleep), I'd say Snyder was just too ambitious for the space he had.  He introduced too many concepts late in the game, from the chimps of the 53rd Universe in "Dark Knights:  The Wild Hunt" #1 to Barbatos and the Batman Who Laughs' "final plan" to destroy all reality.  As such, he's forced to drop promising threads from previous issues, like the Court of Owls' role as the Judas Tribe, Dream's intervention to help Batman and Superman save the day, or the Batman Who Laughs' secret agenda.  Moreover, he's forced to shift the series' focus on characters abruptly at the end.  The League so easily defeats the Dark Batmen -- even before they got their Tenth Metal armor -- that I don't think any of them even got in a line in the issue.  A great character like Bryce Wayne is essentially just cannon fodder.  Even the Batman Who Laughs -- who seemed to be the only really running the show as Barbatos merely screamed his scream -- is suddenly demoted to lackey.  Meanwhile, the Joker appears from nowhere, lands a few punches on the Batman Who Laughs, and, as far as I can tell, dies in the Batman Who Laugh's Batcave.  (I'm assuming he's not dead, but it goes to the point that Snyder just drops characters and plots right and left here.)

The Ugly
If I'm being less charitable, I'd say there's a point where an author is expected to go home with the person he took to the dance.  Snyder doesn't do that here.  Despite the chaotic battle sequences throughout the book and WTF moments like the chimps from the 53rd Universe (yes, I know, I'm still having problems getting past that), he had plenty of pages to try to impose a coherent narrative, even if retroactively at the end.  For example, he could've used Carter Hall to explain the sequence of events that resulted in Thanagar Prime's canon, Hawkman's mace, and King Arion's crucible becoming capable of dragging Earth into the Dark Dimension when used together.  After all, Snyder never really explains the dynamic of this arrangement; he also doesn't explain how Barbatos became aware of this possibility and used it to his advantage.  He also could've used Batman's final confrontation with the Batman Who Laughs to draw a line under Batman as the common theme of this series, doing a better job than he did in issue #2 of explaining why Barbatos chose Bruce as his doorway or why he chose Bruce's Dark Dimension analogues for his general and foot soldiers.  I could also see him using the Over-Monitor for some additional exposition, like how the events of this issue resulted in the Forge getting rekindled (which Snyder doesn't explain) or what it means.  (Does the Dark Dimension still exist as the proving ground of the Orrery now?)  But, he doesn't do any of that.  He pivots immediately to this idea of the Source Wall and what its destruction means for the Justice League.  In other words, it was all an elaborate sales pitch for "Justice League."  It was like when I went to a friend's birthday party expecting day drinking and shenanigans but discovered he had turned it into a political fundraiser with canapés and speeches.

The Conclusion
Scott Snyder used to be a thoughtful writer.  His "Black Mirror" story in "Detective Comics" is just about the most perfect character-based story I've ever read.  He had a clear vision for where he wanted Dick Grayson to go and he articulated his journey to that point brilliantly.  I honestly can't say what story he wanted to tell here.  I thought he was telling a story about how Bruce played a certain role in the Multiverse.  After all, the first few issues (including "Dark Days") were all about Bruce trying to solve a great cosmic mystery, only to discover he was the smoking gun.  But, we didn't really get that story in the end.  The best shot I can give at a summary is Barbatos' failed attempt at destroying reality inadvertently resulted in the breaching of the Source Wall.  Maybe he just wanted to tell a story where Batman rode a Jokerized dragon.  That's totally cool!  But, that's not the event we were sold.

There's a certain type of comic reader who loves this sort of event for being an event, and a certain sub-type of that reader who'd troll me by saying I just don't understand how brilliant Snyder (or Morrison or Hickman) is.  Fine.  I'm glad they enjoy it.  But, I am mostly a proponent of Chekhov's gun:  if an author makes a big deal about something, I expect it to be addressed at some point.  For example, if I'm supposed to be awed by how formidable the Dark Batmen are as they chase the Justice League through the Multiverse in issues #3-#5, then I don't expect them to be wordlessly dispatched in issue #6.  Snyder basically collects a suitcase full of Chekhovian guns throughout this series and, pressing his audience's patience by running long, just hurls the suitcase at us in the last scene.  I'm sore now, and I'm just glad it's over.

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