Death Metal revives a legendary DC title for a less-than-legendary anthology in Dark Nights: Death Metal - Legends of the Dark Knights #1. Largely centered around the lore at the core of the new antagonists of Death Metal, this one-shot brings readers on a walking tour of the Dark Multiverse, much like the Wild Hunt and The Forge one-shots of the previous series.
Written by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Joshua Williamson, Peter J. Tomasi, Marguerite Bennett, Frank Tieri, Daniel Warren Johnson, and Garth Ennis
Art by Tony S. Daniel, Marcelo Maiolo, Riley Rossmo, Ivan Plascencia, Jamal Igle, Chris Sotomayor, Francesco Francavilla, Daniel Warren Johnson, Mike Spicer, Joelle Jones, and Jordie Bellaire Lettering by Tom Napolitano, Rob Leigh, Dave Sharpe, Andworld Design, Rus Wooton, and Rob Steen
Published by DC
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
Unfortunately, none of these stories rise above the violent, highly theatrical premise of the event series and instead function as relentlessly grim tableaux. None of which adding any real texture or substance to the new roster of villains, despite the stocked bench of creatives contributing scripts and art. Dour, bloody, and occasionally darkly hilarious Dark Nights: Death Metal - Legends of the Dark Knights #1 doesn’t bring much to this already cluttered Dark Multiverse Dungeons & Dragons table.
Starting with the good, however, this one-shot at times looks very striking. Gathering up a murderer’s row of fan-favorite Bat artists, this issue every once and a while drops some truly impressive artwork on the reader. Francesco Francavilla’s 'This Man, This City' layouts, in particular, invoke the feel and moodiness of his now-legendary Detective Comics backups with Scott Snyder as well as providing the issue with a showy, highly gothic-inspired splash page allowing this particular story to stand out, at least visually.
And the rest of the art teams similarly impress as well. Teams like Riley Rossmo and Ivan Plascencia introduce us to the 'King of Pain' a.k.a. Robin King through sketchy, almost gleefully kinetic panels showing just how vicious the Robin King can be. Meanwhile, Jamal Igle makes his return to DC with a bang in 'Batmanasaurus Rex,' staging intimate Jurassic Park-like scares in the tightly enclosed space of Arkham Asylum. A lot of things will surely be said about Legends of the Dark Knights #1, but it will never be said that it looks bad.
But I can't say it reads particularly well, as none of the stories really stand out as must-read aspects of the Dark Nights sequel. Focused mainly on their origins or grim displays of their unique Bat-powers, the stories find a similar groove pretty early on and don’t deviate from it much.
Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, and Joshua Williamson kick off the book with 'I Am Here,' which details the Batman Who Laughs' storyline, as well as the 'Batmanhattan' version of the character, as well as their eventual synthesis as the Darkest Knight. Fans that have already read the second installment of Death Metal will remember this scene, though it is largely recalled here as well, even with the support of Tynion and Flash writer Williamson, we aren’t given any new information. Beyond a quick note about how Wally West, now imbued with the power of the Mobius Chair and Jon Ostermann, is on his hit list, audiences aren’t given much else new to work with in terms of the event’s larger status.
And from there, none of the other stories give us much else either. Peter J. Tomasi’ 'King of Pain' gets the closest, detailing the vile, almost gleefully petulant origins of the Robin King. But anyone with even just a passing knowledge of this series can guess where it ends up. A familiarity and predictability soon settle throughout the rest of the scripts, provided by the likes of Daniel Warren Johnson, Marguerite Bennett, and Garth Ennis. A new Evil Batman is introduced, we are given a few tidbits about their origins, and we watch them kill. Over and over again.
Oddly enough, Garth Ennis’ entry, 'I Shall Become,' breaks the mold a bit with a hilarious, obviously slapstick inspired origin of the 'Baby Batman' hinted at in Death Metal. Paired with Joelle Jones and Jordie Bellaire, both of whom lean hard into the absurdist short provided by Ennis, 'I Shall Become' gets the closest to being genuinely entertaining simply by being the first story to recognize how ridiculous the whole affair is and then write about it accordingly.
But even with the sudden jolt of absurdist wit at the end of the issue, Dark Nights: Death Metal - Legends of the Dark Knights #1 is largely skippable. Though it bears the name of the iconic anthology series, there is little within the pages of this one-shot to justify calling it essential reading for the ongoing Death Metal saga.