DARK NIGHTS: DEATH METAL RISE OF THE NEW GOD #1/ Script by JAMES TYNION IV/ Pencils by JESUS MERINO/ Inks by VICENTE CIFUENTES/ Colors by ULISES ARREOLA/ Letters by TOM NAPOLITANO/ Published by DC COMICS
Writing metatextual stories – that is to say stories about stories – is a tricky thing. Do it well and you get classics like The Sandman or Watchmen. Do it badly and you get incomprehensible or just plain dull pseudointellectual slop. Dark Nights: Death Metal Rise Of The New God #1 is stuck somewhere in the middle, with a brilliant idea stuck in the middle of a malaise of mediocrity.
For those who haven’t been keeping up on the sprawling epic of Dark Nights: Death Metal, here’s the short version. There is a dark Multiverse underneath the regular DC Comics multiverse made up of all worlds where the heroes failed. The Batman of one of these worlds (where Batman was infected with the madness of The Joker and became known as The Batman Who Laughs) built an army of evil Batmen and corrupted heroes and set about pulling a Number Six on reality, a whompin’ and a whoopin’ anyone who got in their way. The endgame of this was The Batman Who Laughs becoming a god (aka The Darkest Knight) capable of fighting and destroying Perpetua – the goddess from Scott Snyder’s Justice League, who first created the Multiverse.
That is the background of this comic, literally, as the battle between the Darkest Knight and Perpetua takes place entirely in the background of this issue. The actual story of this comic involves a being called The Chronicler, who comes to the DC Multiverse from an Omniverse outside of all multiverses, so that he can record the stories of all the beings who dwelled there before the multiverse is destroyed, so they are not forgotten. We follow this Chronicler around as he interviews several figures with unique insights into the DC Multiverse (including Psycho Pirate and the New God of Knowledge, Metron) eventually coming to the conclusion that this reality born of hope and dreams must be saved, though it is outside the parameters of his mission to decide such things or act as a savior.
The short short version? A cosmic librarian learns about how the DC Universe used to be and decides it sounds way more awesome than what it is now.
Glib though it may be for me to summarize it that way, it’s impossible to take away any other interpretation of James Tynion IV’s script, particularly when paired with the magnificent splash page above assembled by Jesus Merino, Vicente Cifuentes and Ulises Arreola. Here we see many of the stories that have been cast into the winds of Hypertime by editorial fiat in recent years; the original Justice Society of America, the Justice League with Martian Manhunter, the classic Superman and modern age Wonder Woman… even more recent legends such as Kyle Rayner, The Last Green Lantern and Starman Jack Knight. There’s also, tellingly, the Belfry team from Tynion’s all too brief run on Detective Comics in the Rebirth era.
Tynion’s intent is clear. He does not slight the modern era of DC Comics itself. Rather, he mocks the idea that cosmic events are the alpha and omega of comic books. Despite what various powers believe, the vast majority of comic readers turn to stories such as these to read about people. People in costumes with superpowers, but people nonetheless. And to borrow a phrase from Mark Waid, everything falls apart “the minute you made the super more important than the man.”
It’s a point I agree with, but there’s some irony that it comes in the middle of DC Comics’ latest event book, which has already lost most of its punch in the wake of the announcement of DC Comics’ next big event book, on the same week that Three Jokers threatens to redefine the Clown Prince of Crime forever. Until the next big event.
It’s a vicious circle that’s bound to lead to revolution sooner or later.
As a tie-in to the greater story of Dark Nights: Death Metal, Rise of the New God is a failure. It does nothing to advance the story and makes the whole idea of gods doing battle incredibly mundane and dull. And yet, that is the point. In deconstructing the idea of event comics, Tynion has accomplished that which few authors have and told a tale that truly made me think. And his ideas are brought to life beautifully by the art team.
I’m grateful for that. And I appreciate the craft of it. But truthfully? I feel like I’d much rather reread the stories of Kyle Rayner struggling to meet a deadline while saving his neighborhood than any more of Dark Nights Death Metal. I’d much rather read about Tim Drake and Stephane Brown deciding if they want to hold off on college for another year so they can help save Gotham City a little longer than watch another battle between cosmic titans. I want to see Dinah Lance and Barbara Gordon eating Chinese takeout and having their girls night in interrupted by some C-List villain.
In short, I want the old DC Comics back.
This isn’t it. But it isn’t bad.