This isn’t just a review, it’s an admission. I’m afraid I have to tell you all that I’ve contracted an illness. And DC’s latest event title, Dark Nights – Metal #1, by Batman superstars Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, is the issue that made it clear to me that I am afflicted. I have CBEF Syndrome. If you’re unfamiliar with CBEF, it stands for Continuity-Based Event Fatigue. And with its incredibly dense narrative, tons of elements barely sketched out, and huge reliance on readers knowing a ton about everything happening in the Bat-universe and the DCU at large, Dark Nights – Metal #1 brought on a big case of CBEF for me. The result was a first issue that was more irritating than intriguing, though one that held the promise of a compelling concept at its core.
Dark Nights – Metal #1 started off really strongly, promising a solid debut for the event. The first few pages featured the Justice League in the midst of a battle against Mongul on a new War World, the odds against them, the outcome looking dark. Snyder and Capullo prove that they’d be great on a League book, mastering their disparate personalities well, writing effectively quippy banter, and understanding their group dynamic. They show how strong a team unit they are, and thread the needle between grounded modern sensibilities and the fun inventiveness of classic comic shenanigans.
But from there, things begin to get more and concerned with setting up a mysterious conspiracy and world-shattering threat that revolves around Nth Metal, Hawkman, prehistoric man, the Blackhawks, old silver-age characters trapped in a vault, the multiverse, and what exists outside the multiverse, and a….wagon, I guess? And alllllllll of this somehow ties into Batman and the entire history of Bruce Wayne and the Wayne family through the eons. None of any of these elements are fully explained, by the way. They’re all just presented in an obscured way to the reader as part of a mysterious secret conspiracy, full of portent for those of us who has read every little section of the recent (and not-so-recent) history of the DC Universe and the writing of Scott Snyder.
The art is brilliant, at least. Capullo delivers panel after panel of cool action and moody atmospherics. The best parts of the issue are its action sequences and its sense of momentum, especially important given the portentous exposition that gets thrown all over the place. The issue comes alive when the League is battling in Mongul’s arena, or when Batman escapes a trap by riding a dinosaur, or when the League stands in a devastated Gotham city. It’s a book that looks great, that’s for sure.
Dark Nights – Metal #1 felt a lot similar to what a viewer might experience if they started watching “Game of Thrones” in Season 4. They might be able to catch up, they might even sense that there’s something pretty compelling going on, but for the most part they’d be totally baffled and find it hard to engage. What makes Dark Nights – Metal #1 worse than the above scenario is imagine if HBO called “Games Thrones” Season 4 something else entirely and tried to pretend it was the beginning of a new series rather than a continuation. That’s what this issue felt like to me. And frankly, it irritated me. I wanted to like this issue. I love Snyder and Capullo, they are two of the most exciting creators around, and I can absolutely see that they’ve got a strong concept in mind that they are energized by and passionate about.
And that’s probably a bit of the problem. If they’ve been talking about this story at company retreats and planning it out for years, then that sometimes breeds an overly familiar and overcomplicated view of your story, assuming that all the elements that you have become so familiar with over the years will be evident to casual readers. Put simply, if your comic sends people running to Wikipedia on every alternate page, I’m not sure you’re creating the clearest and most accessible story.
Some of you may be screaming at your screens right now that I’m an idiot, and that if I’d been playing attention to all of Snyder’s writing and Grant Morrison’s plan of the DC Multiverse, etc, then I’d be loving this. And maybe you’re right. Like my wife when she walks through the living room during “Game of Thrones,” I can see that there’s a vision going on here, and given the talent on display there’s still plenty of time for that to become more apparent. But my case of CBEF, after years of DC events with their gaze and focus planted squarely on their navel, is just too severe to make me excited about another trip down a character or universe’s back story that threatens to change everything I thought I knew.
Snyder and Capullo may have an ace up their sleeves, and if anyone could it’d be them. But as a first issue, Dark Nights – Metal #1 all felt too vague and far too dense and arcane for me to muster up much excitement. I wanted to end the issue knowing, and excited about, what was coming my way. Instead I found myself baffled by all the disparate, barely examined elements thrown at me, and not too interested in finding out what it all meant. 6/10