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Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman on the cover of Dark Nights: Death Metal #1, DC Comics (2020. Image: Greg Capullo/DC Comics

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Dark Nights: Death Metal #1 review: How much is too much?

Rev your Chainsaws of Truth

Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

This week, Dark Nights: Death Metal, the new event series from DC Comics and the sequel to sequel to 2017’s Dark Nights: Metal, kicked off with an extra-large #1 issue. The new series promises higher highs, wilder character mashups, even more Nightmare Batmans, and what’s likely to be another cosmic reordering of the DC Universe.

But can DC recapture the magic? Or is this all going to end in one big screech of microphone feedback?

Who’s making Dark Nights: Death Metal?

As with Dark Nights: Metal, the core series of the event — that is, the Dark Nights: Death Metal miniseries — is written by Scott Snyder (Batman, Justice League, Wytches) and drawn by his long-time Batman collaborator Greg Capullo (Batman: Last Knight on Earth, Spawn). Eventually there will be some tie-in issues written and drawn by other folks, but the main event is all Snyder and Capullo’s creation.

What is Dark Nights: Death Metal about?

Death Metal picks up from the cliffhanger ending of Snyder’s run on Justice League, in which the League had been battling the dark goddess Perpetua, creator of the multiverse, for over a year.

It was a fight that had setbacks, and last we saw the members of the League, they were close to a final defeat. But there’s always hope in the DC Universe, and some of the most powerful cosmic forces in the multiverse offered the League a path to it. On the final page of the comic, they dashed through a glowing door, and that’s all we know.

Death Metal picks up with Wonder Woman in a DC Universe that Perpetua shrank to a single Earth dominated by her most powerful lieutenant, the Batman Who Laughs. How we got from that door, to a reality where Wonder Woman is working for the BWL, is a mystery that will be explored in the series.

Wonder Woman receives her first communication from Batman over psychic link since the Justice League crossed the portal, in Dark Nights: Death Metal #1, DC Comics (2020). Image: Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo/DC Comics

Why is Dark Nights: Death Metal happening now?

It’s DC Comics’ 2020 summer crossover event — albeit delayed a few months due to the coronavirus-related hit the direct market comics industry took this spring. It’s also serving as a grand finale for Snyder’s Justice League, which wrapped up in January.

Is there any required reading?

You could go back and read Dark Nights: Death Metal if you wanted, and follow it with Snyder’s Justice League, but I’m not sure you’d really get that much out of it other than an intimate understanding of whether or not you’ll enjoy Dark Nights: Metal. Snyder and Capullo’s two Metal series have a narrative, with causality and things that happen, but they are more just about the vibe.

And the vibe is a speed-metal music video made of iconic looks from the DC Universe where the good guys eventually beat the bad guys so hard they fly into the sun. In fact, you might just want to read Batman: Last Knight on Earth, a completely standalone, non-canonical series that has very little to do plot-wise with either Metal series. It’s a good way of getting a quick look at just how far Snyder and Capullo go when they get let off the chain.

Is Dark Nights: Death Metal good?

Without saying anything about the story of Death Metal, here is an incomplete list of concepts introduced in this first issue:

  • Wonder Woman is the warden of Hell, and she’s ditched her sword and shield for a chainsaw. The chainsaw’s starter cord is the Lasso of Truth
  • Batman has a sick leather duster and is using a Black Lantern ring to command a zombie army of American revolutionary soldiers
  • One of the zombies is Jonah Hex, also?
  • Sergeant Rock is here, also?
  • There’s a Batman who was forced to upload his consciousness into the robot tyrannosaur in the Batcave
  • Harley Quinn has a buzzcut and a ten-foot tall hyena on a leash

The question I have constantly asked myself while reading Dark Nights: Metal, and Snyder’s Justice League, and now Death Metal #1, is “How much is too much?” It’s not a question of whether there is enough energy in Snyder and Capullo’s work, but if I can find it in myself to match that energy.

That answer can vary from page to page. Sometimes it’s like listening to the Black Mages cover “Those Who Fight Further”; I feel like I could attack and dethrone god. Sometimes it’s like watching a fireworks show that’s just an hour-long finale, and I’m really probably too close and I’m tired of covering my ears.

What keeps me coming back to Snyder and Capullo’s collaborations is their relentless hopefulness. The out-loud themes of their Metal series, and also Snyder’s Justice League — voiced boldly, if sometimes tritely — are that selfishness, exclusionist philosophies, and shortsightedness are the hallmarks of evil. Unprejudiced compassion, inclusion, and working for a better future, on the other hand, are the building blocks of goodness.

I can’t tell you whether Death Metal’s energy too much for you. Sometimes it was too much for me. But I will state for the record that when Wonder Woman’s enemies forced her to melt down the Invisible Jet, so she dipped her chainsaw into it to make an invisible “Chainsaw of Truth?”

That moment, at least, was exactly the right amount for me.

One panel that popped

B. Rex, a Batman who uploaded his conciousness to a robotic T. rex, roars at Wonder Woman to do as she is told. In the dark depths of his mouth, there are two white triangle Batman eyes, in Dark Nights: Death Metal #1, DC Comics (2020). Image: Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo/DC Comics

The Batman eyes are inside his mouth.