DC’s big summer event for 2017 has been announced as “Dark Nights – Metal”, which sees “Batman” superstars Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo re-team to tell a big story involving all the heroes of the DC Pantheon. Dark Days – The Forge #1 is the prequel that kicks off the event to come, and though there’s plenty here to intrigue, drawing from crumbs dropped throughout Snyder’s long tenure as Bat-writer, the issue is also pretty darn dense. So far, the issue winds up on the right side of intriguing, avoiding being simply baffling, but only by a hair. Here’s hoping Snyder’s big concept comes together into a cohesive story, because as an appetizer, Dark Days – The Forge #1 doesn’t entirely hit the spot.
One of the problems DC has with its events is how much they rely upon bits of long standing continuity to give complexity. So often, they wind up being backward-looking, and this book is no exception. To be sure, Snyder is to be commended for having dropped the crumbs throughout his tenure on the Bat-books that form the basis of this issue. A lot seems to revolve around the mysterious elements/metals he introduced over his run, each with their own supernatural or special properties. He’s tied this into the long-standing magic metal of the DCU, Nth Metal, which was responsible for Hawkman’s flying abilities, among other things. That’s a cool and clever conceit, to be sure, and in that way Dark Days – The Forge #1 does its job of sowing the seeds for the upcoming “Metal”.
Snyder and co-writer James Tynion IV (along with a team of pencilers made up of stars Jim Lee, Andy Kubert, and John Romita Jr, all of whom I’ll get to in a minute) also do a great job of expanding the story beyond the Bat-family, drawing in a number of characters from throughout the DCU, some of whom we’ve haven’t seen for a long time indeed. The deftness at capturing everyone’s voice and character proves that Snyder will have little difficulty in working with the wider cast of characters, and it’s another aspect to look forward to. I am eager to see the event get going if only to see Snyder and Capullo tell a story across this big a canvass.
But I couldn’t help but wish that Snyder and Tynion had decided to layer in less, to hold back some of the mysteries they present here, because it all felt much too dense. I’m a guy who writes about comics as a pretty much full time occupation, and who has been reading DC for decades, and even I had trouble following some of what happens here. I couldn’t, for instance, recall exactly in what state we’d left Hawkman prior to all this. And Snyder’s banking an awful lot of readers remembering what Dionesium does. Have we seen this version of the Outsiders before? And there’s a reference to “Final Crisis” (or even “Crisis on Infinite Earths”, possibly) that the story wants to have some kind of significance but requires readers to recall that story, and “Final Crisis” was ten years ago. I get that an issue like this is supposed to be mostly set up for the event to come, to whet our appetites and establish the mysteries. But the shape of the issue, which builds and leads to a reveal that is intended to be dramatic, works better if you actually know what the heck is going on and are invested in things. If the reader is just baffled, then I’m not sure that’s the wisest course.
Then we come to the art. Kubert, Lee and Romita are clearly superstars, so it’s not like any of their art is bad, and there’s some merit to splitting up the art chores to showcase their strengths and act as a draw for fans. But there appears to be little rhyme or reason to the distribution of labor, which makes the whole thing feel patchwork and piecemeal. Don’t get me wrong, each of them contribute some great stuff, but the penciler switches literally in the middle of scenes, and the effect is very jarring.
I still have high hopes for the event to come, and there are a few really great moments that land very well in Dark Days – The Forge #1, the best being the reveal of a hero who’s been away for far too long. I think Snyder and Capullo are long overdue for taking a shot at a big event with a cast of thousands, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with. But after this issue I still have very little idea what the main conflict or story will be beyond a few plot points, and there’s enough cryptic dialogue to fill a David Lynch film. As part of a larger whole, Dark Days – The Forge #1 may wind up being a perfect fit, but as a stand alone introduction to a story yet to be revealed, it’s perhaps too dense and vague for its own good. 6.5/10