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Dark Nights: Metal #1: Ambiguous foes, but solid JL action

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Ever since the launch of the New 52 continuity several years ago, DC has been working in a scaled down universe. Once boasting seemingly hundreds of heroes, their overall roster now covers the core Justice League, and a few tangential but still related teams.

With the advent of Rebirth, though, that’s beginning to change. This new Metal event in particular brings Kendra Saunders and Carter Hall (better known as the Hawk-people) to the fore. In addition, we get references to Red Tornado and the Challengers of the Unknown. It’s an interesting method of reintroducing the long and varied history of DC’s continuity. The significance, of course, is yet to be determined since much of the story is still a mystery.

Written by Scott Snyder, with pencils from Greg Capullo, inks by Jonathan Glapion, and color from FCO Plascencia, Metal is more perfunctory than revelatory. It’s still a fun read for longtime DC fans though, so let’s get into the details.

Writing

Scott Snyder does great work on the various Batman titles he writes, so it’s no surprise Batman takes a key role in this series. Its pacing is brisk, as we move quickly from an opening fight between the League and Mongul, to a geologic crisis in Gotham.

Snyder crafts the setup well, but when it comes to individual character moments the main cast seems barely three dimensional. In the opening fight, for instance, as the team fights in a gladiator ring, they each enumerate the reasons they can’t fight at full strength.

All we really need to indicate that fact is already broadcast from Mongul himself. As a result, each League member explaining why they can’t use their usual superpowers is tired and sounds like Saturday morning cartoon exposition. These are big name heroes who know each other well and see a lot of action – so why do their interactions seem so robotic?

As the plot thickens the flimsy character work is only partially rectified. Kendra appears to inform the League of a great threat to their universe, a threat uncovered by her missing partner Hawkman. Evidently an entire Dark Multiverse exists parallel to their own. Are there 52 universes within this Dark dimension as well? Who rules this nefarious realm?

These are the mysteries we’ll face as Metal unfolds. At its core is the Justice League’s, if not the world’s greatest detective; Batman. He’s the anchor which draws evil forces to our dimension, even if we’re unsure what or who those forces are.

It’s a fun mystery if one that’s having trouble finding real stakes. With lots of tie-ins and one-shot special issues to carry the series forward, it’s looking like more confusion will appear before answers.

Art

Metal, to my reckoning, assembles the “original” Justice League for the first time since Rebirth began. And by that I mean Hal Jordan is back in the fold, which is great to see. The opening fight in particular provides a visceral and jagged texture while the team fights killer robots.

That sort of kinetic line-work is good for action, but in smaller panels it just comes off as sloppy. Inks and coloring do their job, and define the heroes as they stand apart from their surroundings. But it still feels too self-contained, too boxed in by the lines to be compelling art.

In the big exposition moment on Blackhawk Island where Kendra sets the stakes, flashback and reaction shot panels do little to help the story. In fact, the smaller the detail, the choppier the line-work gets and once stern figures like Superman take on cartoonish looks.

Even as a fight erupts between the League and Red Tornado, Green Lantern’s constructs and overall character design fall flat. There are still good moments and well crafted pages, but they’re all on the big scale, not smaller panel shots:

https://img.purch.com/o/aHR0cDovL3d3dy5uZXdzYXJhbWEuY29tL2ltYWdlcy9pLzAwMC8yMDIvNDY2L29yaWdpbmFsL01ldGFsXzAwMV82LTcuanBn
Image: DC Comics

Capullo thrives in action and splash pages like this, so it’s entirely possible as the story revs up, his talents will be put to better use.

In the meantime, to stay abreast of the events surrounding Metal, be sure to stop by Downtown Comics for tie-in issues. This first issue has a handy checklist in back, so you can even read them in proper order! There’s plenty more fun and mystery to be had, so I’ll be checking this one out as it moves forward.

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Nick Hedge

A longtime comics fan, Nick grew up reading the much derided comics of the 90's (Clone Saga! Liefeld! Pouches & Guns!) and has never looked back. Now an adult with literary prowess of his own, he uses his powers for good; reviewing comics for Pure Fandom and holding the beloved art form to a higher standard for all. Excelsior!

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