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Warning! There be spoilers ahead!
This review continues my painful read through Snyder and Capullo’s latest DC Event, Dark Nights Death Metal. Check out my review of issue #1 here. I’ll get this conclusion out and clear from the very beginning. Dark Nights Death Metal #2 is a convoluted mess of a comic that seems to have little interest in even trying to get the reader to take it seriously or build interest in it.
Dark Nights Death Metal #2 was released today 7/14/2020. It’s sold out at TFAW except the Mahnke variant, but you can pick it up on eBay, Midtown Comics, any number of online retailers, and of course your LCS.
A Jumble of Flavors
When I was a kid, I received a giant Jelly Belly jar full of jelly beans one year for Christmas. Over the course of weeks, I picked out the excellent flavors, then the good ones, then the acceptable ones, until finally all that was left at the bottom were flavors like coffee, licorice, and cinnamon. One day, I decided that if I just put all of those flavors in my mouth at once and chewed, it would just taste like sugar and would be a fine proxy for a decent flavored jelly bean. I was wrong. It just tasted bad. It tasted like all of those bad flavors all at once with no real upside. Lesson learned.
Dark Nights Death Metal #2 is like all the jelly bean flavors at the bottom. It doesn’t matter how many characters you jam pack into the panel, if the individual elements themselves don’t hold up under scrutiny. If that metaphor seemed convoluted and hard to follow, then just you wait for Dark Nights Death Metal #2. You haven’t even seen convoluted and hard to follow yet.
Let’s get something out of the way up front. Yes, the cover has “Highway to Hell” plastered on the it. No, that has nothing to do with anything inside the book. Like the cringe-worthy AC/DC reference in issue #1, this merely raises a list of confusing questions. Do the creators of this book have a reason for referencing an AC/DC song? Are they still not aware that AC/DC are not Metal, let alone Death Metal? If they are aware, do they care? Are they really that out of touch that they’ll just needlessly plaster cliche lyrics from their favorite band on the front of their creation?
This issue begins with an Atom Batman, or Batom. There is some narration about how wars are won hill by hill, blah blah blah. If I had to guess, this is Sgt. Rock again, just like his silly “turd-burger” monologue from issue #1.
No sooner than we see Batom, or Atom Batman, do our protagonists (Wonder Woman, Wally West, and Swamp Thing) turn him into Splatman under the wheels of their Batmobile. The problem right out of the gate here is that this is a complete waste of a page. Later on in this issue, Swamp Thing goes on a monologue about his favorite extinct fern. How it reached higher than all others and was choked out by the underbrush. However, what that fern did was expedite the process of building a livable atmosphere on Earth. When we get to the end of the issue, you realize the first page narration ditches the conventional wisdom of generals fighting hill by hill and in another cringe-worthy attempt at being “metal” state that in “a war of the soul…the only way to win is to go right down the #$%^ middle.” The question is, why not just frame the issue in Swamp Thing’s words that paint this plot to take down Perpetua as a doomed errand, but worth it to the world that will survive our protagonists? Why muddy the waters with two sets of advice, like some post-modern choose-your-own-adventure community college philosophy class?
Once we’ve recovered from the fact that the entire first page was pointless, we have to endure the “BATMOBEAST” engaging in some exposition about the fact that it’s from the world of genius machines, and how it was dominant there. Then Swamp Thing tells a dad joke about elbows and humerus, then impales Batmobeast with a protrusion from his elbow. Great, two pages down and we’re still wasting time and doing nothing to move the story forward. It’s fine that Batmobeast is in the opening sequence and it’s fine that there’s humor from Swamp Thing. The delivery is just all way too forced and falls flat. Instead of a boring diatribe from Batmobeast and a terrible Swamp Thing joke, why not actually show us how Wonder Woman, Wally West, and Swamp Thing stole the Batmobeast and escaped the underworld? Moving on… Of course, in the graveyard we now find ourselves in, there’s a secret underground passageway where we find golden age Justice Society of America and Batman recruiting dead heroes from among a super hero catacomb with Jonah Hex. Because the maddening dichotomy of Death Metal is that things are either explained in exposition ad nauseum or plopped into our collective lap without any explanation. There has to be a middle ground somewhere.
Now, you see, Bruce needs a plan. He’s not going to take on Batman Who Laughs, Perpetua, and the Dark Multiverse all gun-ho without a plan. Ignore the fact that this is exactly what he was doing before Wonder Woman showed up anyway. Wonder Woman has a plan that she hopes is satisfactory to Bruce. Check out the center panel above, they’re going to hide Wally West, “rescue [thei]r friends from New Apokolips, travel into the dark multiverse to the original crises, steal the energy being funneled to Perpetua, and use it to power up Wally so he can destroy her and…restart the Universe.” Phew! Thank God she thought of that. It’s so simple once you say it that way.
This is less of a plan than it is a wish list, or a goal, or hell maybe even the loose outline for the story of an event called Dark Nights Death Metal. It’s just vague enough to get Batman on board, though!
It Is Because I Said So
And finally comes the gravest of this book’s sins. Dr. Manhattan at his core is a character that explores human experiences. In Watchmen, he becomes omnipotent, a quantum being capable of flashing through space and time. Yet, he has lost the one thing making existence worth living, the fleeting mortality of humanity and his ability to connect with his fellow person, including his ex. The empty skull in the Dr. Manhattan sequence that Batman Who Laugh’s brain is placed into couldn’t be a more apt image of what this book has done to that well-constructed character. In Dark Nights Death Metal #2, Dr. Manhattan becomes a mere hollow plot prop used for his near infinite power. As if there were any question, Batman Who Laughs quickly transforms into a form that is unrecognizable as Dr. Manhattan in order to take on Perpetua.
This leads to another issue. We are repeatedly told that the stakes are extremely high. All multiverses are at stake, Perpetua has massive power and is near unstoppable, Batman Who Laughs now has infinite power and is near unstoppable. So far, we’ve been shown nothing to make these stakes believable or anything more than a distant suggestion. When the stakes are constantly high, the stakes cease to matter to the reader.
And there lies the main structural problem with this series so far throughout these first two issues: we are expected to take everything at face value, just as stated, without any of the expected audience reaction having been earned. Further, the explanations for the events in the book are shallow enough that Batom could wade through them (at least before Batmobeast happened). Of course, Batman Who Laugh’s brain is accepted and absorbed into the Dr. Manhattan body, Dr. Manhattan is an energy construct. No further explanation needed. We are expected to take the explanation at face value.
There are so many other issues I could bring up. There’s the fact that Capullo feels compelled to show as many members of the cumbersome cast of characters in as many panels as possible, regardless of if they are actually doing anything of interest.
There’s the strange framing in the panel off to the right of Jonah Hex and Barry having a mouthless discussion. There is the one splash page dedicated to Perpetua destroying another Earth when this seems like a much more important element to bring up early on in the story to make people care about the stakes. There’s the meaningless appointment of the “Robin King” which amounts to the same result as everything else in this book- nothing. No, not everything needs to be explained and resolved in a single issue in an event series. At the same time, we can’t have so many disparate threads loose that the reader just gives up on the whole junk drawer of nonsense before getting a chance to learn those explanations.
Buy It, I Dare You
In the end, there’s another final page reveal that is as ridiculous as the one found in issue #1. I get the distinct feeling that Snyder is daring us not to buy the next issue with each absurd inclusion in this book.
Just to be clear, no that giant Justice League Gundam is not coming out of the same catacombs as before. These appear to be different unexplained secret underground caves that Wonder Woman has taken us to now. It appears that Toymaster made this Trinity drag queen (for the record, nothing wrong with drag queens) mash up for our heroes. No explanation as to why, but who cares. There is no good reason this apparently space-faring rocket had to look like every member of Trinity all at once. There’s no reason it even had to look like one of them. It just does, because Snyder wants to see if you’ll jump to the bait. Like a dog who chases a ball his owner pantomimed throwing, we’re going to find out there’s nothing to gain by chasing after this story.
If you think you can wade through it, Dark Nights Death Metal #2 is on sale now. Official solicit:
(W) Scott Snyder (A) Jonathan Glapion (A/CA) Greg Capullo
Get ready to scream! Wonder Woman roars across the horrifying Dark Multiverse landscape in the world’s most demented monster truck, with Swamp Thing riding shotgun! The two arrive at the ghoulish cemetery base of Batman and his army of zombies, but can the former friends stand each other long enough to form a plan and take back the planet? Plus, what’s Lobo doing in space? Don’t miss the second chapter of the wildest ride in the DC Universe, from the epic team of writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo!