Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have built the Dark Nights saga on spectacle. On those moments of pure 'Woah. Cool.' The Batman Who Laughs' endless occupation of the DC Universe has often been little more than a delivery system for Greg Capullo to shovel these moments directly into our eager eyes. Far from a condemnation, there's a welcome place in comic books for this kind of bombastically silly blockbuster.
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Greg Capullo, Jonathon Glapion, and FCO Plascencia
Lettering by John Napolitano
Published by DC
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
Away from the action, all this stuff about multiverses and magic metal have been vaguely promising, hinting at an underlying meta-story that seemed to begin to say something about the very nature of the DC Universe as it relates to us, the readers. In Dark Nights: Death Metal #5, the plan is plainly stated - Snyder's new mantra is the classic 'Everything matters.' DC has always had a messy and complicated relationship with its own continuity, so this approach writ large across the whole line is a promising outlook going forward – especially as the company itself seems to tilt away from floppies and towards the book market. It's a lot of words for a beautifully simple idea.
For a series that relishes in throwing fun new mashups of classic characters into a post-apocalyptic melting pot, Death Metal #5 seems preoccupied with the explanation. The 'woah' moments that have served Capullo and Snyder so well up until now are absent. After much hype, Castle Bat simply blips out of existence under Harley Quinn's boot and the story refocuses around Lex Luthor's masterplan to ‘unknot' this Crisisiest Crisis and move on. As far as pace is concerned, we're spinning in place – cowering as The One Who Laughs' Dark Earths bob threateningly in front of us. It's exactly where we were at Death Metal #4's climax.
Worlds are ending, two Gods clash above – this is heavy stuff. But ultimately, as we reach the final stages, Death Metal has become a story of such epic proportions that nothing really lands with any impact. There's an old adage that likens superhero stories to an overexcited child knocking together their action figures. It came to this reviewer's mind a lot. At the issue's half-way point, Batman calmly states that he is dead. He doesn't seem to mind too much though, and so neither do we. In lieu of spectacle, events have no gravity. Plot points just hang there, floating.
Visually, Capullo's design-work is as excellent as ever. He draws a great '80s stand-up interpretation of the Joker here; Seinfeld in Gotham. On layouts, he orders Snyder's packed script as best as anyone could hope. He plays around with the omniversal themes by capturing important moments in compact globes, banishing Snyder's explanatory text to black space. This isn't his most detailed work, and you can almost see the burden of an approaching deadline in busier pages, but he hits the emotional beats of Snyder's script with emotive character work. These guys care about each other, and Capullo illustrates that sense of family brilliantly. FCO Plascencia busts out the purple to remind us that we all play by Perpetua's rules, running through hues of red and yellow as the rebellion mounts.
Dark Nights: Death Metal #5 is connective tissue. Its own sense of grandiosity pales in comparison to set pieces of issues past, but its sentiment is exciting if it genuinely foretells the creative future of DC's direction. But for the first time in the series, Death Metal #5 is a slog to get through. The fun factor is spread a little thinner than in past issues and each new shocking revelation carries less weight than the last. Perhaps seven issues are simply too many for the story that Snyder has plotted, or perhaps you truly can have too much of a good thing.
Read our conversation with Dark Nights: Death Metal Scott Snyder where he explains this event as meta-commentary on superhero storytelling.