by Spencer Irwin and Mark Mitchell
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, read on at your own risk!
Spencer: By some sort of weird cosmic coincidence, I’ve been re-reading Grant Morrison and Howard Porter’s late 90s JLA run this week. While that series is rightly remembered for its grand, heady ideas and breakneck-paced tales, what impressed me the most this time around was Morrison’s regard for the DC universe — every story was sprinkled with guest stars and allusions to past stories, well-known and deep cuts alike. Despite Rebirth’s best efforts, that sense of history is something I’ve been missing from DC the past few years, so I was pleasantly surprised when I opened Dark Days: The Forge — the prelude to Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV’s big summer event — and discovered that it’s practically an ode to DC’s past. Snyder and Tynion are clearly having a blast digging into DC’s sandbox, and it’s hard for that sense of enthusiasm and wonder not to rub off on the reader.
The exception to that, sadly, may be the Hawkman plot, which is largely just a retelling of Hawkman’s history with a focus on mystifying the origins Nth Metal, the source of Hawkman’s powers. That said, this story still fits into the issue’s theme of exploring the DC universe’s vast history, this time through the lens of Carter and Shiera Hall and their many reincarnations. If the Halls and their Nth Metal connect us to DC’s pre-superhero history, then the rest of this issue aggressively embraces the ins-and-outs of DC’s dense mythology. The primary way it does so is through “metal” — not just Nth, but Electrum (the metal used by the Court of Owls to reanimate their Talons) and Dionesium (the ore that restored Batman and the Joker) as well. Revisiting these elements is not only a “greatest hits” tour of Snyder’s Batman run, but takes us all the way back to the earliest days of the New 52 initiative.
The other way Dark Days: The Forge embraces DC’s history is through its cast. While plenty of big name and currently-prominent players show up (Batman, Superman, Hal Jordan, Duke Thomas), Snyder and Tynion seem just as interested in bringing back bit players and some long-unseen characters (Mr. Terrific, Mr. Miracle, The Outsiders, Plastic Man). There’s a sense that anyone could show up at any moment throughout this issue, and that’s a feeling I hope the creative team can carry over into the event proper once it begins.
The biggest reveal — and furthest reaching reference — is also the issue’s most obtuse.
For any not in the know, this tower that Batman’s locked away beneath the Fortress of Solitude once belonged to the Anti-Monitor, and was a key part of not only Crisis on Infinite Earths, but Infinite Crisis as well (where its destruction resulted in Connor Kent’s death). It’s a truly deep cut that ties this tale into some of DC’s most iconic and influential stories (seemingly promising the same level of excitement), and while that excited me as a longtime DC fan, I worry about how both this reveal and the Plastic Man one rely solely on audience recognition; any readers unfamiliar with those characters or stories are going to get nothing out of those pages. I suppose the same could be said about the cliffhanger, but 1. everybody knows who the Joker is, and 2. the creative team takes their time dropping hints and leading up to that reveal. It’s a twist that should work for a casual Batman fan as well as it would for a Snyder mega-fan.
Thankfully, Snyder and Tynion’s reverence for history isn’t just evident in plot-points and Easter Eggs, but in how the cast interacts as well. Every time two characters meet, it’s immediately obvious what kind of history and relationship they have from their dialogue alone (no flashbacks or excessive exposition needed). Batman and Mr. Terrific’s partnership is mostly a working one, though based off mutual respect, while the creative team immediately establish a more intimate rapport between Batman and Superman.
Green Lantern, meanwhile, never even meets Batman in this issue, yet their (adversarial) relationship is made readily clear through Hal’s reaction to the Batcave and his interactions with Duke. I wouldn’t necessarily call this issue character driven, but it’s heartening that personality and relationships are such a prominent part of it nonetheless.
History is also honored by the choice of artists working on this issue. Jim Lee, John Romita Jr. and Andy Kubert are all some of DC’s biggest names, and the pages they’re assigned each reflect their history with the company. Kubert tackles the Hawkman segment, which is appropriate since his father, Joe Kubert, is perhaps best known for his work with the character in the 60s. The majority of Lee’s pages depict Hal Jordan in the Batcave, harkening back to his yearlong run on Justice League with Geoff Johns (which was dominated by the Batman/GL pairing), and Romita’s Batman-centric work feels like a direct follow-up to his recent arc on All-Star Batman.
The plot itself never quite gets going, focusing mostly on establishing the mystery of the dark force behind these metals, but I suppose that’s to be expected from a prologue. The mystery isn’t what’s got me excited about Dark Nights: Metal anyway; it’s the clear affection Snyder, Tynion, and their collaborators have for DC’s characters and history that’s got me hyped to see more. I can see there being a mixed reaction to this issue, though, especially from those not as invested in the inner workings of the DC universe. Mark, how did this one work for you? Did it strike your inner DC fanboy the way it did mine, or were you looking for something more substantial?
Mark: The timing couldn’t be better for something like Dark Days: The Forge 1 to be released. At a time when we’re flocking to movie theaters to take in our weekly dose of blockbusters and popcorn flicks, this prelude to DC’s big half-year event offers the best kind of summer entertainment: big and silly, without demanding you turn off your brain.
DC has spent the past few summers’ crossovers trying new ways to correct and re-imagine its universe. First we had Convergence, an event that led into the well-intentioned but ill-fated and quickly discarded DC YOU, followed by last year’s Rebirth initiative. With so much energy surrounding these relaunches and realignments being put into Getting Things Right, precious little thought was spared for making things fun.
And despite the depressing narration and constant discussion of a world-ending threat, fun is what this issue really delivers. The return of Batman’s pressure suit! Hal Jordan in the Batcave! The rarely utilized Mister Miracle! I mean, Batman making a house call to the Fortress of Solitude — and John Romita Jr. drawing it like Superman and Batman hooked up the night before and Batman’s casually swinging by to pick up his sunglasses — is exactly what I want from this sort of enterprise.
Spencer included this same panel previously, but I’m posting it again so we can all drink in Superman’s lovingly rendered bedroom eyes. After all, no summer blockbuster featuring latex-bound swole dudes is complete without some (unintentional?) homo-eroticism.
And for that matter, what would a modern blockbuster be if it didn’t include a bloated sub-plot that throws off the pacing, but is left in anyways because the creators are so enamored with the characters? You could easily excise three-fourths of the panels involving Hal and Duke Scooby Doo-ing their way through Batman’s secret hallway — Hal complaining about his ring burning and wanting to retreat, while Duke’s unhelpfully determined to press forward because the plot demands it — without losing anything. But all of the feet dragging is worth it (in a “sitting through the credits to see a brief commercial for the next movie” sort of way) because of course Joker is waiting for them at the end of the hall. I’m not even mad the reveal is as painfully obvious as it is dragged out, I’m just excited to see that crazy bastard back.
Issues like Dark Days: The Forge 1 are why we read team comics in the first place; it’s fun to see our favorite heroes bouncing off of each other, engaging in witty repartee, and working together to resolve a greater mystery or threat. No doubt that as fall approaches we should prepare ourselves for the comic crossover event equivalent of Oscar season and all the dowdy self-importance that comes with it, but for now let us bask in the sunshine of summer cheese. It’s been missed.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?