What do you do on the day before doomsday? If you’re the heroes of the DC Multiverse, you gather on the remains of a razed Earth, and find comfort in your friends. You declare love. You plan for war. You make your peace. You celebrate family. You find a way to do everything you wish you could do.
I’ve not followed enough of the Death Metal event to know how the heroes know they have one more night before the winner of the Perpetua/Darkest Knight battle being fought on some cosmic plane will come to destroy them all. But that’s the consensus, and the conceit of the issue, so let’s go with it.
I love that not one of the heroes we meet has given up. In fact, it’s not just the heroes – the villains are on side too, ready to do whatever they can to improve the odds that maybe one Earth will survive of the six that remain from the original 52 realities.
The issue opens with a gathering of Titans in the area known as the Hellscape – formerly Themyscira. Beast Boy and Donna Troy are our guides to the teenage heroes of various eras.
Only two major Titans are missing. Roy Harper, originally Speedy, then Arsenal; and Wally West, the Kid Flash who became the third Flash – and recently killed his bow-bearing buddy when he lost control of his powers. And then Wally shows up…
Death Metal writers Josh Williamson, James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder share scripting honours on this one, and ‘honours’ is the right word… this is a treat for Titans fans, honouring the legacy that began when kid sidekicks Robin, Kid Flash and Aqualad first teamed up. From the opening confession of Donna Troy, it’s a fascinating overview of the Titans, Teen and otherwise. Illustrator Travis Moore does an amazing job capturing and choreographing the dozens of Titans – look at that spread above, how he establishes a white frame behind Donna, making it easy to follow her around the pages. And Tamra Bonvillain does a tremendous job establishing a mood of foreboding, avoiding the easy/sane option of dropping a single tone on all the background Titans.
Meanwhile, Hal Jordan has been contemplating mortally at his father Martin’s grave. Rather than spend his last night with his Green Lantern colleagues he wants to feel the joy of flying free and solo. But unexpected company presents him with a dilemma.
Jeff Lemire writes a terrific Hal – thoughtful, noble and very human. He seems to have forgotten his time as the Spectre – else why wonder about death? – but continuity rewrites are fundamental to the Death Metal story, so that’s forgivable. And presumably this reality is in some kind of time stasis that means Hal isn’t wasting his 24-hour ring charge flitting about in the air. Really, though, who cares – this is the best Green Lantern/Sinestro encounter in a long while, beautifully illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque and coloured by Plascencia.
We catch up with Wonder Woman in a story by her current series writer Mariko Tamaki, which features Diana trying to find her warrior mojo. The Riddler doesn’t help.
The story is called The Question, so the Riddler scene is apparently important, but I don’t recognise Diana in his riddle. Or understand why Edward Nigma would be trying to mess with Wonder Woman’s head when she’s going to be fighting for his life. I don’t know everything Diana has been through in Death Metal, but I don’t recognise this wet woman. My Wonder Woman is the never-say-die heroine of the Golden Age and the pre-Flashpoint years.
And then an alternate world Donna Troy shows up and suggests her sort-of-sister embraces the power of pain. Oh dear. I do like the art of Daniel Sampere, a regular – and terribly underrated – talent at DC. His strong, sleek characters never fail to please.
The Green Arrow/Black Canary story starts like this…
…and just gets better. It’s Ollie and Dinah talking about life and love, and by the time the end credits told me this was written by Gail Simone, I’d worked it out – her characters have such spirit. Also, they really like their food… Ollie and Dinah are having an impromptu dinner date at, er, the Amazon supermarket when a stranger finds them. One who is nevertheless familiar.
Funny, sad, true, this is a strong argument for a new Dinah and Ollie book written by Simone. Meghan Hetrick’s open, sincere art complements the script, there a lovely lightness to the two lead characters that anyone who’s ever been head over heels in love will recognise.
Aquaman, it seems, went rogue during the Death Metal shenanigans, in an attempt to save Atlantis. He doesn’t feel able to spend his last night with his Justice League colleagues, so goes for a swim. And thinks. And thinks. And thinks some more… for 10 pages he swims and he thinks. The point of Arthur’s deep thoughts is that sea dwellers see death as part of the big picture, they accept they’re part of a cycle. Which is interesting, and Christopher Sebela’s writing is deft and convincing, but ten pages of grim-faced Aquaman swimming and thinking is more than such a simple idea needs.
Artist Christopher Mooneyham captures the eerie beauty of undersea life, and notes the damage Man is doing to the environment. His grim-faced Mera is a tad off model, but overall he does a great job. The tones of Enrica Eren Angioli add to the atmosphere, while Dave Sharpe’s decision to have Arthur write his long note of narration in block print rather than cursive is much appreciated.
The Batman family, clannish as ever, find their own spot to gather, away from the other heroes and villains. Batman broods. Tim beats bad guys at cards. Jason bargains for better weapons. Barbara wants to plan… but Dick wants to talk. He’s all about love, she’s focused on the battlefield.
While a romantic figure, Dick is as much the leader as Babs – he wouldn’t be wanting to analyse their relationship at this moment, he knows how they feel about one another, complications and all. Writer Cecil Castellucci makes a big thing of some restaurant row which I can only assume happened while she was writing Batgirl, but it left me scratching my head.Thank goodness Batman comes along.
By the end of the story Babs and Dick consider themself married, which may surprise current Batgirl boyfriend Jason Bard. Or not – come the coming continuity reset, the sleazy detective and the weird Bat-marriage will most likely both be gone. On the art side, I like that Mirka Andolfo dresses Babs in her Burnside costume – not my favourite, but miles better than the silly look she’s spotted over the last couple of years. Her Dick is a little strange, constantly posing like a panto Prince Charming – then again, perhaps the old Boy Wonder levity is what’s needed at a time like this.
Time and again over the years, Superman has wished he could do more to help. This night, he realises that he can, by using a time travel watch he invents to go back one hour.
He may go back as many as a thousand times.
I had one note on this chapter from writer Mark Waid, artist Francis Manapul and letterer Josh Reed: ‘This Superman story is just wonderful.’ And it is, with Waid’s script emphasising the unlimited hope that comes with being the Man of Steel. Manapul, working in full colour, conjures a real sense of wonder as Superman zooms back and forth, fixing things, rescuing people, just sitting with someone and providing comfort. The Death Metal hair Superman is saddled with brings back horrible memories of the Nineties, but it’s a small price to pay for such a special story. Rumours have it that Mark Waid is taking over the Superman books after Brian Michael Bendis leaves. I would like that.
The book closes with a return to Titans territory, as we see how Donna’s reunion with Wally goes.
That’s more like it. The horrible Heroes in Crisis business with Wally killing Roy, then making some truly terrible decisions, was retconned away recently as the work of Dr Manhattan and influence of Professor Zoom. Maybe Donna heard. Whatever the case, this is the best Donna Troy in, blimey, decades probably – calm, centred, a true leader and friend. She makes a speech about the importance of the Titans and it’s one for the ages… a tiny bit meta in that it addresses the fact that every Crisis kills a batch of members, but they’re in a meta-universe. Her point is that the Titans always come back in one form or another. As if to make the point about resurrections, a deceased member returns, revived by Batman who, it seems, has Black Lantern powers. It’s a shame he couldn’t give the poor guy more skin and flesh, though…
The Titans are front and centre on the cover, which features a somber, wispy image by Tula Lotay. There’s a Gary Frank variant coloured by Brad Anderson – or perhaps three separate ones – that’s just splendid, showing the spread of the DC character sheet.
While I didn’t love every story in this issue, I can appreciate the craft and intent; overall this is a wonderful look at some of comics’ best characters. I hope they aren’t completely remade after whatever comes in the Death Metal finale.