Dark Nights: Death Metal #4
Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman have been thrown into versions of crises past where they failed to win the day! The Flashes are in a desperate race against the Darkest Knight, but running out of speed! And Harley Quinn, Swamp Thing, and Jarro are cornered by the Robin King!
Things look bad for our heroes... but they couldn't possibly get any worse... right?
All right, negative out of the way first: that is one highly symbolic, but lazy beyond belief, cover by Greg Capullo. The all-black redesign of the Batman Who Laughs’ metamorphosis into the Darkest Knight was already mind-numbingly unoriginal (he‘s all black now, making him the darkest, GET IT?), but to use that design (or lack thereof) to take up roughly two-thirds of the cover? I know corner-cutting when I see it.
Secondly, to turn the smiley button from Watchmen into a frowny face seems like a deliberate taunt to readers crying foul against Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal work being used in mainstream DC continuity. The rightness or wrongness of that particular opinion isn’t for me to decide, because it’s their opinion, but DC sure seems to be taking a stand. “Don’t like it? Oh well!” the cover seems to be saying. Then again, I might be reading completely too much into it. (For the sake of transparency, I happen to fall into the camp that is just fine with using Moore and Gibbons’ sacred cows in regular continuity, provided they’re used with utmost care. What’s the point of having the toys if they just stay in the toybox?) In reality, reader response to the imagery used in the cover of Death Metal #4 will almost certainly be tied to their general opinions toward Dr. Manhattan’s inclusion in the narrative.
But beyond the cover, we get another fine installment of the Death Metal grand opera. However, unlike the series’ first three issues, this month’s issue does feel stuck in neutral a bit. The plot predominantly focuses on the fallout of two-thirds of September’s one-shots, as the trinity battle against their respective Dark Crises and the Flashes keep running against the Darkest Night. There’s no real update on the Green Lantern Corps’ mission (though the end of their Multiverse’s End one-shot did say that plot thread would pick up in the upcoming Rise of the New God, so perhaps that’s to be expected). The problem is that even with the Moebius Chair, the Flashes are still running away from the Darkest Knight, rendering the end of Speed Metal not only moot but something of a fake climax; secondly, with the members of the trinity split up, precious page space is taken detailing their struggles in Dark Crisis worlds that, ultimately, aren’t all that interesting. When the plot point was developed in issue three that they would have to revisit past crises, I was nervous that Death Metal would veer into nostalgia romp territory as a sidetracking of its true storyarc. It turns out I was right to be nervous, but thankfully, no one sequence took up too much page space – but put them all together, and you have the majority of an issue that feels like it’s not particularly going anywhere. Add to it the fact that Swamp Thing and Harley are still running away from the Robin King, and you have an issue that simply doesn’t feel like it’s moving the story very far forward. But… it’s still an entertaining issue, taken on its own terms. I feel like that’s an important distinction to make; it’s a weaker installment in the overall plot, but still a decent comic in its own right.
Interestingly, though, there is some intriguing character growth with Superboy Prime, a character who’s been forever stuck in one-note villain mode since his introduction in 2006. As a character re-imagined by Geoff Johns as a meta-commentary about entitled fandom forever complaining about things they don’t like, Superboy Prime quickly wore out his welcome through overuse, and pretty much no writer except Johns had any use for him. (Side note: he was shoehorned into the recent Shazam! run, again by Johns, as a mouthpiece for/of fans angry about the cosmetic changes he made to Billy Batson and company. We get it, guy.) Leave it to Scott Snyder to finally take a character we’d all frankly grown bored with ten years ago and move the needle on giving him some actual character development. I won’t spoil the details, but it’s got me intrigued by where the character might possibly go from here.
The rest of the issue has many more fun, but familiar character beats. The ever-increasingly decayed corpse of Sergeant Rock shows back up to give some rah-rah speechifying that’s undercut by the fact that he’s, well, an immobile corpse; the Robin King acts like the same menacing brat we’ve seen so far to nil effect; Darkseid glowers; Wonder Woman gives a Wonder Woman speech. It all adds up to Snyder ending what could effectively be seen as Death Metal‘s second act before the grand finale, and probably not a moment too soon. To stress: Death Metal #4 isn’t necessarily a bad comic, per se, but it definitely felt like it was standing still when it should have continued previous installments’ trend of galloping forward.
Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, and FCO Plascencia turn in the same stellar job they’ve done in the previous three issues, but ultimately, they don’t have anything new to show us – which says more about the script they had to work from than the quality of the art, so no knock against them. With three more issues to go (plus no less than four more tie-in one-shots), we’re roughly at the halfway point of the Death Metal world tour. Issue four’s inertia is either a sign of things to come – which could lead to the dreaded Event Fatigue – or a momentary lapse in narrative prowess from Scott Snyder. Here’s hoping for the latter, because so far, Death Metal has been an absolute blast.
But seriously, everyone involved: Please put more effort into future covers.
Dark Nights: Death Metal #4 finds itself spinning its wheels a bit narratively when it should be charging ahead full-speed. It isn't a bad issue per se, but it does feel a bit like the story is stuck in neutral.
Dark Nights: Death Metal #4: Resurrection Through Carnage
Writing - 8/108/10
Storyline - 7/107/10
Art - 9/109/10
Color - 8/108/10
Cover Art - 5/105/10
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