Dark Nights: Death Metal – The Last Stories of the DC Universe #1 review

Should that not be ‘…of the DC Multiverse’?

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.

If there’s a George Perez/Phil Jimenez award for Services to Titans, Travis Moore has just won it

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.

6 thoughts on “Dark Nights: Death Metal – The Last Stories of the DC Universe #1 review

  1. Very much looking forward to picking this up. The concept reminds me of DC Universe: the Last Will & Testament, which had a similar concept of heroes having one last night on Earth before Final Crisis.
    Strangely, I’ve always been more interested in the more character driven, soapy aspects of comics rather than the actual fights, so this is going to be right up my street.
    I’d love it if we had the chance to catch up on some of the more obscure characters in the DCU, but I suppose I’ll have to wait for Death Metal: Multiverse’s End for that.


  2. I picked this one up, too, after not following Death Metal at all. Pretty good stuff. I liked the same stories as you did, pretty much — the GA/BC and Superman stories were great, the GL and Titans stories were good (with some great art), and I liked the Batfam story pretty well, too. But the Aquaman and Wonder Woman stories were a big miss for me. Maybe…there should be a little conflict? Rather than superhero ruminations carrying us through? Is that too much to ask?

    And yes, I loved Donna. But when she makes the speech about how the JLA couldn’t hack it as Titans, she misses the main thing: Yes, while the Titans have faced threats as big as the JLA has… they also do it with the JLA hovering over their shoulders, judging and evaluating them. THAT’s what I’m surprised Donna didn’t say the JLA couldn’t hack — that parental scrutiny!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This was a fine anthology. They’ve been doing right by Donna lately – a far cry from the alcoholic of a few years ago, under house arrest at JL headquarters because a future version of her – called Troia, I think – was mentally unhinged. And then she was made one of the six “Infected” during Year of the Villain.

    There’s a lovely wordless panel in Waid’s story of Superman hugging Supergirl. It suggests Waid would handle her well if he takes over any of the Super books. But Supergirl has been almost entirely MIA in the Death Metal event – appearing silently in a few scenes, in the background, with the crowd of Apoklips prisoners, and appearing silently as an armrest supporting Darkseid in some Dark Multiverse Crisis World.

    I would say there are two stories I feel negative about – the writing, not the art, which is universally quite good. The one by Mariko Tamaki – her work on the Wonder Woman monthly has been terrible, and her writing here is bad. I guess Wonder Woman is stronger by feeling compassion and pain? I don’t know. DC seems to be putting a lot of faith in her, and now they are giving her Detective. We’ll see if it works out.

    The other one is Cecil Castelluci’s story. Sigh. I hated her run on Batgirl, though this outing was actually better. (I’m going to ignore the Jason Bard problem, since it’s surely Editorial Edict that wanted these moments between Dick and Babs.) I’m just going to gripe about her writing style. She always has two threads going – an ongoing narration, which you basically have to read straight through from beginning to end pages later, since each box is just a fragment of a sentence in a long chain of thoughts. An incomplete thought that is difficult to read at the same time as the regular action and dialog.

    I suppose the point of that was to show that this is what Batman feels, even though he can’t and doesn’t say it out loud. But Castellucci overuses the technique and I find it exhausting. It destroys the flow.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yeah, I loved that Supergirl panel but left it out because I figured Anj would do that moment justice.

    DC seem to have a habit of removing Peter J Tomasi from books to make room for the Next Big or Fashionable Thing. I can’t see Tamaki staying long, so he’ll likely be back. It’s a shame Tomasi is taken so much for granted by DC.

    I hadn’t noticed that Castellucci was quite so wed to the double narrative approach, but you’re right. When someone like Alan Moore uses it you can enjoy each frame, follow events and one thread comments on the other. Here, not so much.

    Liked by 1 person

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