by Spencer Irwin and Mark Mitchell
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Spencer: Now that the series has come to an end, I can safely say that I have very mixed feelings about Dark Nights: Metal as a whole. So much of this event has been about embracing gonzo, bonkers, throwback action, but much of that fun is buried under attempts to overexplain every aspect of the (often impossible to follow) plot. The stakes of the event never fully sank in for me, as aside from artist Greg Capullo’s hellish landscapes, most of the nightmarish aspects of the Dark Multiverse were buried away in tie-in issues, while the main series focused on fun, but straightforward action beats. That said, there were a few areas where this series shined, and Dark Nights: Metal 6 exemplifies them all. It’s a strong metaphor for embracing hope and community over nihilism and isolation, a powerful reminder of stories’ ability to inspire, and an ode to the past (and future) of the DC Universe.
The exact mechanics of how the Justice League takes down Barbatos — involving new types of magical metals — are long and complicated. They basically win via metaphor, so let’s focus on that instead, because that’s where writer Scott Snyder manages to pack some real meaning into the issue. First, let’s talk about Barbatos himself. More than nightmares or despair or even nothingness, Barbatos represents hopelessness. He’s essentially nihilism personified.
Due to his work as the cosmic dragon who retires failed worlds, Barbatos came to believe that failure is inevitable, the only possible outcome no matter what you’re trying. If failure is the only option, why even try? Trying at all is fighting against the very nature of reality, making it fundamentally wrong, right? Barbatos still isn’t necessarily a nuanced or deep character, but I appreciate this bit of characterization nonetheless, because it changes him from a generic Lovecraftian force of darkness to a being with a point of view that’s not only specific, but relatable.
I’m betting most of us have felt like this at one time or another, right? Be it applying to that job, or asking somebody out, or beginning a new creative venture, fear of failure often freezes so many of us in our tracks, stops us from ever trying at all. That’s the darkness Barbatos hopes to drop the world into — a paralyzing fear of ever taking a risk.
And Barbatos succeeds in covering the Earth in darkness, but what he wasn’t expecting was for heroes to fight back.
So much of that fear of failure comes from isolation, being trapped in our own anxious minds, or from others berating and abusing us. What the League provides is a beacon. They bring people together and show them a way out of the darkness, a way not to be afraid. We need hope to escape the darkness, but also other people, friends and mentors who can guide and reassure us and show us a better way.
The Justice League have been that beacon for people both in-universe and out, inspiring their readers for decades now. Probably the most powerful aspect of Dark Nights: Metal 6 is the way Snyder relates these two concepts we just discussed to the very idea of stories. Barbatos is that fear of failure every creator feels (with which Snyder must no doubt be familiar), the temptation to close up and not put your heart into your stories, the desire to just write what people “want” to read instead of taking real risks with stories. In Hawkman’s narration, Snyder explicitly refers to the League’s actions above as a new story, a story that inspires others, and I think Snyder’s not only referring to the stories that have inspired and pushed him throughout his life and career, but hoping that his stories are doing the same.
In that sense, it’s clear that Snyder wants to push forward and try new things, both in Metal and with his upcoming projects. That’s a bit funny, because one of the most fun aspects of Metal has been digging into the past and the giant cast of the DC Universe. I don’t think I’d realized how isolated DC’s heroes had felt since the New 52 began until Metal‘s debut, and I’ve loved being reminded of how much I love DC’s rich interconnected history. In fact, my favorite moments of this issue come in the epilogue, when the League simply enjoys a meal together, and later parties with their friends and families. It’s such a joy
Snyder clearly sees DC’s history as a boon, but also doesn’t want to use it as a crutch. That’s why the Justice League’s victory blow cracks the Source Wall, releasing all sort of new energies, new heroes, and new threats into the DC Universe. Snyder knows that, to remain fearless and to keep growing, he’s got to keep reaching higher.
In this case, reaching higher and trying new things doesn’t just mean whatever new enemies the Justice League will face when Snyder takes over the title, but also the entirely new line of heroes and books DC’s publishing, such as The Terrifics, The Immortal Men, or Sideways. I have no idea how these projects will ultimately play out, but it is nice to see DC making an active push to try new things, especially when “Rebirth” has so often been criticized as being the very kind of stagnation this issue rallies against.
Mark, what say you? Did you appreciate this issue’s message? How about the execution of said message? Did you have any thoughts about any plot points I missed, such as Batman and Joker’s team-up against the Batman Who Laughs or the strong focus on Wonder Woman at the outset? What are your thoughts about Capullo’s art on this one? How do you think Jon, Damian, and Alfred’s band sounds?
Mark: Snyder and Capullo are old pros at creating fun Batman fights at this point, so I did like seeing Batman and Joker team up for their climactic showdown with the Batman Who Laughs, even if the awesomeness of the moment is undercut by the amount of stuff in the issue — both in terms of narrative and visuals.
A suffocating volume of accessories is a problem that’s burdened the entire Metal event from the start, where a nearly impenetrable amount of plot hides a core of interesting ideas, and the aesthetics of the Dark Multiverse leaves issues simultaneously over-designed and filled with blandly grey apocalyptic hellscapes.
Capullo is a master comic book artist, and he wrangles the chaos of the issue well, but it’s a thankless job. When given the space to breathe, like in the issue’s few full page illustrations, Capullo crafts characteristically iconic moments, but too often the pages are as claustrophobic as the Batman Who Laugh’s cave, and the world devoid color or interesting design. I’m not sure any artist could make the Batman Who Laugh’s Rhythm Nation jacket look anything but silly on him.
Evil Batman is no Janet.
But despite all of the baggage of Metal (where even the name is trying too hard), I admire the heart-on-its-sleeve sincerity of Dark Nights: Metal 6‘s climax. If you’re going to go all Hands Across America at the conclusion of your Ozzy Osbourne album cover of a comic book event, you can’t half-ass it, and Snyder really commits to the issue’s hopeful message of bringing people together. It’s corny, yes, but it’s brilliant in its corniness; how better to end an overheatedly dark book like Dark Nights: Metal than with beauty pageant-level effervescence? It’s the perfect counterweight.
I think we’re all tired of talking about The Last Jedi at this point, but one of things I really admired about Rian Johnson’s midquel is how it sets up Episode IX with the opportunity to be something new while still operating within the larger framework of the Star Wars universe. Snyder pulls a similar move here, honoring DC’s characters and legacy while also cracking open the world to allow for new stories. Like you said, Spencer, who knows if the attempt will ultimately be successful, but it’s admirable to try at all, especially as DC’s other big event comic, Doomsday Clock, works to hasten the snake eating its tail.
As to whether those ends justify the means, I’m less convinced. Dark Nights: Metal 6 is perhaps the best possible conclusion to Dark Nights: Metal, but Dark Nights: Metal was ill-conceived from the start. That elements of it worked at all is a testament to the talent of Snyder and Capullo. Dark Nights: Metal is over, now let us never speak of it again.
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