Review by Frank Plowright
Dark Nights: Metal was DC’s big event series of 2017, and Dark Night Rising collects one-shots by creators other than Scott Snyder toying with the concepts. Their contributions are set on worlds throughout DC’s Multiverse as the darkness emerges, and Batman plays a central part in all of them. In the core series variations on Batman feature, most based on his Justice League colleagues, and here we learn how they came about, and in some cases witness their first manifestation on Earth 0, home to the superheroes DC publish monthly.
As he is on DC’s main Earth, Batman throughout the multiverse is single-minded and driven, and to begin with at least on most worlds he’s also someone whose heart is in the right place, but on every world he devolves, some more rapidly than others. The stories have him succumb to his inner paranoia, seeing everything as a possible threat and reacting accordingly. Bestowed with the power of Green Lantern immediately following the death of his parents, Sam Humphries and Ethan Van Sciver have Bruce Wayne lacking any compunctions about killing villains.
Some might find Dark Night Rising distasteful. We may be viewing the Bruce Wayne of other worlds, but he’s portrayed again and again crossing a line that the familiar Batman would never step over, and while repeated Batmen as murderous villains is a viable story, it’s hardly heroic fiction. The writers overlay the pages with self-justifying captions as in every case Batman considers he’s become a monster through necessity, with Peter J. Tomasi in particular laying on the bleakness with a trowel. He must have dropped into a very dark place. The most engaging of the contributions are those that occasionally move away from the nihilistic first person narrative to show other people. It actually heightens the tension and threat as well as providing a needed break. James Tynion IV and Riley Rossmo’s ‘The Man Who Laughs’ doesn’t exactly do so, but with a clever playing card motif at start and finish, and more actual connection with Batman’s mythology it works well.
Character sketches of the assorted alternate Batmen are presented in the back of the book, but it’s not clear whether the individual artists designed the Metal characters or if they worked from designs supplied by Greg Capullo on the main series. Either way they’re an eye-catching bunch, with the standout being the imposing medieval knight/Judge Death combination drawn here by Riccardo Federici. On the whole, the illustration works better than the one note writing, as while equally dark, the power of imagery is instant.
Scott Snyder being the guiding hand behind Metal provides some justification for his high cover billing, but to list Grant Morrison second on the basis of being one of four writers contributing to the final chapter is deceitfully overselling his contribution. Metal was enthusiastically received, which means a ready made audience for these prequels, but a repetitive tone to them reduces their effectiveness in a collection.