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Today’s release of Dark Nights: Death Metal No. 1 isn’t just the beginning of DC’s big summer comic book storyline; it’s also the launch of the first major comic book publishing event since the industry returned from its COVID-19-related hiatus.
The first issue of Death Metal is far from the start of the story; indeed, Death Metal is, in fact, the culmination of a larger narrative that has run across a number of different DC comic books over the last few years, including Justice League, the Year of the Villain titles and The Batman Who Laughs. So, how can those looking to jump into Death Metal to support comic stores know what came before as they pick up the first issue? Glad you asked.
The Hollywood Reporter has a guide to the primary points of the story so far, as it relates to Death Metal and the wider DC comic book universe — and some speculation as to what lies in store for Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman et al in the future, as well.
The two primary antagonists of the story as it led into Death Metal were both relatively new characters: Perpetua, who first appeared in 2018’s Justice League No. 8, and the Batman Who Laughs, an alternate reality version of Bruce Wayne who first showed up in 2017’s Dark Days: The Casting No. 1.
In terms of sheer power, Perpetua is by far the bigger threat; she’s the mother of three cosmic beings who created entire universes, and has significant control over the building blocks of reality herself. The Batman Who Laughs, however, may just be the more significant threat in the grand scheme of things, purely because he’s so sneaky — he’s literally a Batman whose morality has been destroyed by exposure to the Joker’s mind-altering “venom.” To make matters worse, the two are apparently working together… kind of.
Secret Origins (1)
The Batman Who Laughs arrived as part of 2017’s Dark Nights: Metal series, where the regular DC Universe was invaded by the “Dark Multiverse” — an ever-changing collection of universes literally created from the nightmares and fears of those living in the regular multiverse. He was one of a number of nightmare reinventions of Batman, and the only one who stuck around after the end of that series, showing up in Justice League and Batman/Superman, as well as his own eponymous miniseries.
Working behind the scenes, he “infected” a number of superheroes to corrupt them into working for him, resulting in a war between his forces and Perpetua… but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Secret Origins (2)
By the conclusion of Dark Nights: Metal, the heroes of the DC Universe had vanquished the forces of the Dark Multiverse, but in the process, damaged something called the Source Wall — a physical manifestation that marked the very edge of the multiverse. It was clear to everyone that this was a big deal, but what was less clear was that the wall existed in the first place as a prison to keep Perpetua from returning to the DC Universe.
Before she was properly released, the damage to the Source Wall allowed Perpetua to manipulate events in the DC Universe, prompting Lex Luthor to become a near-fanatical believer in her power. This would prove to be his undoing, even as it worked out very well for her.
We Are All The Legion of Doom
As the leader of the Legion of Doom — named for the villainous team in the 1970s Super Friends animated series; Justice League and Death Metal writer Scott Snyder is nothing if not aware of how ridiculous this material can be — Lex Luthor managed to free Perpetua, although at a high price: the Legion was transformed, literally, into furniture and Lex himself died, only to be reborn as a superpowered human/martian hybrid referred to as “Apex Lex.”
As the final step in his plan to allow Perpetua to achieve total power, Apex Lex worked to convince humanity en masse to abandon selflessness and give into its greed and self-interest, ushering in a so-called “Year of the Villain.” He is, somewhat surprisingly, successful, and the Justice League, defeated, end up disappearing into a portal after being told there’s just one final way to defeat Perpetua. To all intents and purposes, they leave the story entirely until Death Metal at this point, leaving the bad guys to sort things out… kind of.
The End of The Beginning
Fully empowered, Perpetua sets to work, destroying entire universes in her effort to remake the multiverse as she wants. In the regular DC Universe, however, there was still the Batman Who Laughs, and his “infected” heroes, to contend with. After tensions between Apex Lex and the Batman Who Laughs come to a head — including a battle between “Infected” heroes and Lex’s team of supervillains — Apex Lex captures the Batman Who Laughs and presents him to Perpetua… which is where things continue to go wrong.
It’s revealed that the Batman Who Laughs had engineered events to bring about the meeting between himself and Perpetua, including setting Lex Luthor on his quest to free Perpetua in the first place; the alternate Bruce Wayne realized that he could offer Perpetua something that no-one else could — access to the Dark Multiverse, which was outside of her reach otherwise. Accepting his offer, Perpetua reverts Apex Lex into old school Lex Luthor, and casts him out as she sets out on her larger mission… whatever that may be.
What Lies Ahead…
Advance solicitations for upcoming chapters in the larger Death Metal storyline reveal that the Justice League heroes have been altered in some fashion as a result of events, and also that Perpetua is seemingly successful in her plan to remake the multiverse, with only one world remaining by September.
Outside of the story itself, writer Scott Snyder described the series as a “love letter” to DC’s superhero mythology while talking to THR earlier this year, and suggested it would tie together years’ worth of series from Crisis on Infinite Earths to DC Universe: Rebirth and beyond; it’s also rumored to be the starting point for the new timeline and chronology DC unveiled at last year’s New York Comic Con.
If Death Metal is to herald a new start for DC’s superhero line — at a time when DC’s publishing line in general is undergoing a rebirth of its own to some degree — it only makes sense that there’s a lot of backstory to resolve. If 2017’s Dark Nights: Metal serves as a guide, however, there’ll be as much (if not more) new material to the upcoming series as resolutions to cliffhangers and unanswered questions.
Dark Nights: Death Metal No. 1 is available now.
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