Dark Nights Death Metal: The Last 52 – War of the Multiverses #1 review

Ye gods, even the title of this 80-page giant is exhausting. I earned a migraine just from trying to decide where to add the colon and the dash.

As for reading this latest spin-off from the seemingly neverending story that is Death Metal, well, it took me three sittings. It’s not that there aren’t some good shorts in here, there are. But there’s also a heck of a lot of sound and fury signifying an attack on readers’ pockets. I’ve never felt the need to follow this big crossover, what with hating the Batman Who Laughs, and Perpetua, and terrible hairstyles.

So why did I buy this? Well, last week’s Secret Origin was great, as was the earlier The Last Stories of the DC Universe and it sounded as if this might be worth a look.

So I looked and I found a bookend story with a giant yellow Wonder Woman fighting the One Who Laughs (formerly known as The Batman Who Laughs), while lots of Earth 0 heroes and villains fight versions of themselves from the Dark Multiverse. Oh, and there’s a flashback to Wonder Tot Diana learning some lesson about bravery in the face of death. The story by Joshua Williamson and Scott Snyder splits into two parts, with ‘Begin interlude’ and ‘End interlude’ marking the change in artist from Dexter Soy to Scott Koblish, but someone – at least in my ComiXology version – forgot to insert the issue’s other stories in between.

To be fair, I doubt it makes much difference to the experience of reading this issue, which is a pretty mixed bag.

The Super Family fight bad Supermen in ‘First & Last Men’, with Superman betting he can turn the tide of battle by bringing the worst of them around to their side. The “remember what the ‘S’ on your chest means” bit is pretty hoary; it’s also perfect for Superman. Writer Magdalene Visaggio does a good job of giving everyone a moment, while the art by Paul Pelletier, Norm Rapmund and Adriano Lucas is crisp and lovely.

With the One Who Laughs being the transformed Batman Who Laughs, you would reasonably expect the latter, with his deeply annoying red-on-black fonts, was gone for good. But no, he prepared a spare version of himself, and that’s who Batman – apparently dead several months and a Black Lantern – fights for several pages in ‘The Batmen Who Laugh’. It’s generally tedious but looks great courtesy of Alex Maleev, and James Tynion IV takes the piss out of the Bat-God cliche with glee.

The Writer Who Laughs! Well, I think he’s kidding…

There are no laughs to be had in ‘Unstable Atoms’, as the Ryan Choi Atom pushes his limits in the face of apparently inevitable defeat. It’s a decent play of the Hope card again from Kyle Higgins and Scott Kolins.

You want heroes’ heads on spikes, a hulked-out Lois Lane and a tone of unrelenting brutality and anger? Then ‘No More Superheroes’ is for you. Me, I’d like to see writer Regine Sawyer and penciller Alitha Martinez and inker Mark Morales assigned something a little cheerier. I dunno, Lord of the Flies, 1984…

It’s Teen Titans vs Nasty Teen Titans in ‘Falling Through the Cracks’ as Raven resists the call to go the full Trigon, presumably because she only does that in alternate weeks. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, from Che Grayson and Pop Mhan.

Gross from start to finish, that’s ‘Apicius’ by Marguerite Bennett and Inaki Miranda. Sharp teeth bite everything in sight, viscera flies everywhere… it’s pretty horrible, but the presentation of the Penguin is fascinating. It’s not clear how ‘our’ Oswald Cobblepot does what he does in the face of a pack of even more grotesque Penguins than himself, but his narrative voice is excellent.

There’s blessed light relief in ‘Armageddon Blues’ by writer Matthew Rosenberg, illustrator Rob Guillery and colourist Marissa Louise, as John Constantine and an even worse John Constantine go for a drink in a Themysciran tavern. The outcome is predictable but the chat along the way is lots of fun, there’s a bit of depth to our ‘heroes’ and the visuals nicely point up the stupidity of the Death Metal event. Extra points for the reference to a British supermarket.

And finally, a Swamp Thing encounter with a bigger, badder Swamp Thing. The story looks amazing, courtesy of artist Mike Henderson and colourist Adriano Lucas, while Justin Jordan’s story is strong on mood, and I love the idea that what makes a monster is context. I don’t quite get why the ‘Swamp King’ (clever, that) sits in an electric tree, but like the image.

And that’s where the book ends, unless you want to go back to the second half of the Wonder Woman story, which closes with yet another big daft splash page promising the ultimate battle. Again. I didn’t bother.

The cover by Dan Mora is pretty marvellous, even if it all that green at the top and the general air of a good time makes it look more like Christmas With the Super-Heroes than the grimdeath grab bag it is.

So, some good stuff in here, but enough I didn’t like that I wish it had been half the length, and price. And I’m so tired of seeing dozens of little figures bashing each other across ‘The Hellscape. Formerly Themyscira’… the Metal business has gone on for far too long. It supposedly stops any week now, in Dark Nights: Death Metal #7… like the heroes, I’m holding on to that hope.

17 thoughts on “Dark Nights Death Metal: The Last 52 – War of the Multiverses #1 review

  1. I just wish they’d drop the 52 Earths thing already. It was a cute nod to the series it was revived in but there are way more Earths than that now…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, Martin, thanks for taking a hit for the team on this one. I tried the first issue of Death Metal, but like you, I have a severe allergy to the thing that laughs and have found it best to just avoid.
    I don’t know what to make of this collection, other than to say the only thing I found of interest in your description (which is wonderful) was “Paul Pelletier”. Here’s hoping DC does right by him following Future State.

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    1. It’s weird to me that Paul Pelletier isn’t a comics superstar – he’s not a noted stylist, but he’s a whole lot better than much better-known names.

      And many thanks for the kind words.

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  3. They were smart to save this for nearly last – people who’ve stuck around this long will still be buying #7 next week. Otherwise, this was so bad, and so expensive, that I wonder if a lot of readers would have bailed on the series completely after slogging through it.

    I’ve had several theories about why some of the tie-ins have been central to the story, and some have been completely disposable. Now I have a more cynical notion – did they make one of the earliest tie-ins, Trinity Crisis (which came between #3 and #4), pretty central to the main story, to raise the doubt in readers’ minds: do they need to buy them all? “Are they all important? Better buy them all just in case they prove critical!”

    It was nice to see Supergirl rally the troops in the Superman story, and finally get some dialog. But I don’t really understand much of what she says:

    “Hear that, store brand? Superman never gives up.”

    Hmmm. I know what a “store brand” is but I haven’t heard it used as a taunt.

    I think I see: a search of urbandictionary.com lists “walmart brand” to refer to an object of cheap, poor quality.

    That is what I thought Visaggio might have meant. Of course she couldn’t use the word “Walmart” for legal reasons, so she resorted to “store brand,” but it doesn’t work. A store brand in general is not of worse quality. You don’t need brand-name Advil or Tylenol, for instance – every pharmacy chain has it’s own store brand of things like ibuprofen and acetaminophen (paracetamol), and every consumer guide recommends them to save money.

    Then she says “We are all Superman.”

    Well that stinks too. She is not a super man. Visaggio is again reaching for something but it doesn’t land for me.

    Same problem with the title: “First and Last Men.” Supergirl is leading the charge of those “last men.” Oh well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aha, thanks, I’d been assuming ‘Store brand’ was just some US expression I didn’t know… hey, maybe it’s a play on Marvel’s Star Brand. Nah.

      That Supergirl moment at the end, I see what they were going for,but it did diminish Kara as her own super-person. She could have just emphasised that they all stand for Hope.

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  4. The mess-up in the order of pages in the digital version annoyed the hell out of me. In the Wonder Woman story, the last page’s credits even refers to the correct numbering! How hard can this be to get right if you simply give a damn?

    For what this info is worth, the Batman Who Laugh’s lettering is what finally put me off trying to read comics in physical format for good. My eyes are too old for this crap.

    Also, I’ve been reading all the one-off tie-ins to Death Metal (mainly because I ended up getting them when I subscribed to the main series on Comixology — that’ll teach me, right?), and I don’t have a clue when/how Batman got a Black Lantern ring and started resurrecting people. (Though I’m happy to see Roy Harper back, and hope he sticks around… but not as a zombie.)

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    1. I couldn’t even manage some of the dark Batmen type on digital… remember that Flash type with the doubled type? Ye gods.

      Surely Roy will be back properly after the ‘break’ – he’s too popular to be gone for good.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I gave this one a pass, and am glad I did.

    One of these specials that I can *partially* recommend is Dark Multiverse: Crisis on Infinite Earths. First, a warning: It’s surrounded in grand guignol of heroes dying at the hands of Surtur. (It’s set at the time of the Crisis-era Last Days of the Justice Society special, with the JSA trapped in an endless loop fighting the Asgardian fire demon. Only in this reality, the JLA goes in instead, gets defeated, and the All-Star Squadron fights him on Earth.

    And there’s TONS of death. TONS of it. It’s basically the first scene of Saving Private Ryan, but with superheroes.

    But then? We get a central section that’s just top-notch. The remaining heroes rally, and plan, and struggle with their legacies, and those left behind. There’s no question that they’re ready to go down fighting. There’s some simply great Earth-2 JSA character work here.

    The battle that follows is invigorating and inspiring — until it suddenly isn’t. The “Dark Universe” framework reasserts itself, and the story, frankly, has a really ugly end. I expected a trick or a fake-out, but no. Maybe this plot gets resolved in Death Metal itself. More likely, we never hear about it again, and just end this story on a sour note.

    All in all, it’s an incredibly frustrating book — in many ways a love letter to the JSA, but in a context that betrays the whole spirit of the team.

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  6. Oh Rob, what are you doing to me, I’m going to have to buy this now. Please don’t let it be an 80pp giant!

    I think we get the last issue tomorrow, given the amount of spoiling at Bleeding Cool!

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  7. Sorry, man! It’s not 80 pages… probably around 48, given the $5.99 price tag. And for the most part, even the early carnage pages are well done (and certainly make the stakes frighteningly clear, providing necessary context for the middle section). But oh, man, that ending. Ugggh.

    (Also, there’s one continuity detail — you’ll probably recognize it — in the characterization pages that kind of bugged me, too, but that’s simply a reversion to the Roy Thomas version of events, not a change made arbitrarily.)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh heck, that ending? Not in a million years. So yes, the middle was great, much of the battle scenes were good, but overall… seriously? The story should have stopped at the big table splash, but with the team defiant rather than looking defeated.

    And the art was really dodgy at times – Hawkwoman’s man-legs, Starman’s changing headpiece, the first look at Lyta at Wonder Woman (I thought that was elderly Diana, back from the dead). How was that allowed to make it into print?

    Now, what was the continuity but? Todd being gay, earlier? Lois with brown hair?

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  9. The continuity issue that stood out to me was on Sandman’s page, with Dian Belmont being dead before Sandy arrived. In the Sandman Mystery Theater timeline, she lived to a ripe old age, meeting Jack Knight in the 90s (and being one of his favorite authors). And that’s how I prefer to remember her. But Orlando is specifically referencing Roy Thomas Earth-2 continuity, so Alan Scott is presumed straight, and Dian died in a (gangland-engineered?) car crash shortly before Sandy entered the picture and Wes changed his costume. It’s the right choice for the story — but it still made me do a double-take.

    But there were so many great moments in that middle section. “Lois, you always catch me.” At that point, I totally felt like I was in good hands. That page with Ted and Jay, plotting how to defeat Surtur — I don’t know what it was about it, but it worked for me better than the thousand other times I’ve seen heroes make a clever plan. Just because of the shared experience of the characters as heroes…and I don’t think I’ve ever seen them work together as SCIENTISTS before.

    As for the art, the thing that really bugged me was that image of Power Girl after she’d been defeated. I’ve looked at that again and again, and even having seen her reappearance and knowing what was happening, I’m still unclear what the artist was trying to convey.

    And yeah, having Alan Scott beacon his way to dooming universe after universe? The WOOOORST. It not only ruined the story for me, I think it ruined the Silver Surfer for me for a while. It takes a LOT of stink for a comic to poison my perception of a character at a whole other publisher!

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    1. Ah, right, thanks. The Dian bit got past me as I’ve never read the series. But before Christmas I filled the hole in my trades collection via some individual issues, so it’s time for a binge! I always heard great things.

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      1. As it was Vertigo (and I never took a shine to it) I thought Sandman Mystery Theatre was non-canon and Roy Thomas’s unnecessary explanation for the new suit what we go by…

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