HEAT VISION

Comics Watch: How 'Death Metal' Sets the Future of DC Universe

While the publisher's previous re-defining events saught to contract the DCU, this one seeks to expand it.
Greg Capullo/DC
While the publisher's previous re-defining events saught to contract the DCU, this one seeks to expand it.

Welcome back to The Hollywood Reporter's Comics Watch, a dive into how the latest books from Marvel, DC and beyond could provide fodder for the big (and small) screen. Much of the comic industry has been shut down amid the coronavirus pandemic, and so too has this column, which is back for the first time since March. This week, let's dig into DC's Dark Nights: Death Metal.

The next big DC Comics event is here! And by big, I mean massive, a story that spans the multiverse we know, the multiverse we once knew, the multiverse ahead, and the dark multiverse too. Tuesday saw the release of the first issue of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Dark Nights: Death Metal. The seven- issue event series is the culmination of a story Snyder and Capullo have been building since 2011 when they first began their run on Batman as part of The New 52. Following the events of Dark Knights: Metal (2017), and Snyder’s run on Justice League (2018), Death Metal finds the DCU drastically altered following the Justice League’s encounter with the cosmic force of doom known as Perpetua in Justice League No. 39. But it’s not just Snyder’s DC bibliography that provides the foundation for Death Metal, it’s the entire publication history of DC Comics from Action Comics No. 1 (1938), Our Army at War No. 83 (1959), and Watchmen #12 (1987). As the title of this first issue dictates, “It All Matters.”

If Death Metal sounds weighty in its use of continuity, that’s because it is. Death Metal is heavy. But it’s not a turnoff, it’s a highlight, and an effective tribute to comics as a story-telling medium. Snyder, much like Grant Morrison, has a meta-textual approach to comics in which there’s an in-narrative awareness of the medium and a complete lack of reluctance to utilize the entirety of the DCU from pulp, camp, and horror. Where Morrison’s approach feels punk-rock, Snyder’s, aided by Capullo’s grandiose visuals, feels like heavy metal, the AC/DC to Morrison’s X-Ray Spex. Death Metal is sub-titled the “Anti-Crisis,” a term that Snyder has used in interviews leading up to the event. But what that term meant wasn’t entirely clear until this issue. But true to his word, Death Metal is an Anti-Crisis.”

Unlike DC’s previous universe re-defining events, Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985), Infinite Crisis (2005), Final Crisis (2008), Flashpoint (2011) and Rebirth (2016), which all sought to condense the DCU, make it smaller and more refined in some ways, Death Metal is all about expanding it. In fact, the very concept of a Crisis is described here as a force of greed, selfishness, and ego, built around the idea that, “Only one moment [is] important. There is only now. There is only us. There is only me.” Snyder disposes of the idea that only the rebooted continuity matters, that the past is dead, and instead looks at the full potential of the aspect that has always defined DC Comics: Legacy. But it’s not just the legacy of these characters, of one Robin becoming another, of the JSA begetting the JLA, of Daniel succeeding Morpheus as the Lord of Dreams. It’s the legacy of DC’s publication history, of its storytellers, of every panel and gutter in between. Snyder and Capullo have crafted a love letter to DC Comics and its most well-known creators, Grant Morrison, Frank Miller, Geoff Johns, George Perez, Denny O’Neil, Jack Kirby, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore (even if he doesn’t accept that love), and the equally important ones who don’t get mentioned enough: Paul Cooper, Robert Kanigher, Peter Milligan, Roger Slifer and Keith Giffen. The list of references, of characters and concepts pulled from the past and writers and artists evoked goes on and on.

There’s no better character to pen a love letter with than Wonder Woman. While Metal was largely centered on Batman, and Justice League put Martian Manhunter right in the middle of Earth’s fate, Death Metal finds its lead in Wonder Woman. Equipped with the “Chainsaw of Truth,” Diana’s role in the newly uncharted DCU isn’t just to survive and preserve the good that hasn’t yet been wiped out, and protect the eight remaining Earths of the previous 52, as Batman wishes to do, but to restore all of it. Through Wonder Woman, Snyder and Capullo’s mission is to heal the DCU, and they’re setting up a hell of a fight to get there.

What the DCU will look like after the events of Death Metal remain to be seen. Rumors of a new line of books for DC Comics, 5G, centered around five generations of DC history, have made the rounds since last year. Those plans may be in flux since the departure of Dan DiDio as DC’s co-publisher. But with the entire comic book industry getting back in the groove of things after several months of delays brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s certainly a lot to look forward to. Ultimately, the promise of Death Metal is the promise of both new stories and rediscovery of the old, unhampered by the idea that only the present matters. In true Snyder fashion, that’s very much a pressing real-world concern that serves to enrich the comic book experience.

  • Richard Newby
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