Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo move away from a heavy metal-inspired nightmare and towards a meta-commentary on the evolving tone of DC comic books with Dark Nights Death Metal #4, an explosive second act finale that frames the entire event as a battle between classic heroism and edgy darkness.
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Greg Capullo, Jonathon Glapion, and FCO Plascencia
Lettering by John Napolitano
Published by DC
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
As usual, Sgt. Rock kicks the issue off, helpfully recapping last month's trio of one-shots and immediately throwing us into war. Split between three dark crises, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman wrestle with worlds in which they've already lost. With no hope and nowhere to turn, Wonder Woman takes center stage to find a way out of the darkness. Although very much a Bat-themed series, Diana really feels like the main protagonist of Death Metal at this point. She killed the Batman Who Laughs at the climax of #1, she hatched the plan to capture Crisis Energy in #3, and here she is once again tasked with the heavy lifting – to deal with Superboy Prime.
It's Superboy Prime who serves as the beating heart of Death Metal #4 as a symbolic representation of hope and happiness. Capullo illustrates Prime's perfect world with two pages of silver age do-gooders, in a series of scenes that are a world away from Capullo's natural style. Snyder lays it all out in these middle pages, using Diana to argue that just because the modern DC universe is a harsher place than it was decades ago, their heroes still represent the greater good: "The challenges we face may be darker, but we're still hopeful."
Taken at face value, the plot here is standard epic event fare, but it's impossible to ignore the subtext at the forefront of Death Metal #4. Death Metal is about tone. It's about that constant battle between those who want comic books to be clean-cut, those who prefer grit, and those who strive for a happy medium between those two extremes. There's a clarity to this book's message that's been missing from Death Metal until now, and that statement of intent gives the whole saga a reason to exist in the pantheon of DC's big events.
Away from the meta stuff, there's a sense that this is meant to be the big story. However, Diana manages to persuade Superboy Prime to join the cause without much trouble – ultimately making his entire threat seem toothless. It all comes together a little too easily and conveniently, leading us recursively back to the true threat of the Batman Who Laughs. Make no mistake- this is all preparation for the big finale, even if last issue's Lex and Lobo cliff-hanger has for now been left entirely undisturbed.
Away from the story itself, Capullo deftly illustrates Snyder's busy script with an expert eye honed from a long career in capes. Jonathon Glapion inks carefully over Capullo's precise pencils, picking out the fine details and highlighting the various cracks, craters, and shards that decorate Death Metal's ruined worlds. Colorist FCO Plascencia bases the issue's palette on dueling tones of red and blue that reflect the core of Snyder's script. To finish, letterer Tom Napolitano gives life to Snyder's dialogue with a variety of character-personal fonts that liven up the page and hammer home the issue's important moments.
Dark Nights Death Metal #4 marks the moment in which Snyder and Capullo attempt to make a crater-sized mark in the DC Universe. This is the stuff of crisis, an abject change from the tongue-in-cheek rock opera that Death Metal has been masquerading as up until now. Capullo, Glapion, Plascencia, and Napolitano work together to create a kinetic and exciting visual read, while Snyder's script coalesces the Death Metal event into a firm statement on the tone of the modern DC Universe. With two main issues left, it remains to be seen if the final act will keep the bright light on or leave us to wallow in the darkness.