DC’s Dark Nights Metal takes established lore that’s been around for over 30 years and expands on it with true science fiction elements. But what separates this event from previous Crisis sequels like Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis is the theme of Metal.
Metal: The Material of Possibility
Metal by scientific definition is malleable: a term referring to the ability to be reshaped. And Scott Snyder and the other members of DC’s writing staff have produced a story that applies this malleability to almost every aspect of their multiverse.
Metal has a lot of different connotations in western culture. Almost every cover of the event seems to be trying to invite comparisons to the musical genre of heavy metal.
Heavy Metal as a musical style originated in a historical period where counterculture was in vogue. This is reflected in the styles of Heavy Metal’s first superstar artists like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple. These artists and their contemporaries were influenced by the drug culture of their time period. In fact, the “heavy” in heavy metal has a double meaning.
By itself, it evokes something that is serious and deep, as it was used in hippie speak in the 60s and is still often used to refer to content that is meant to evoke serious thoughts and feelings as opposed to more light-hearted fair. Interesting since light-hearted fair is what most people consider superhero media to be; when in reality, a lot of superhero storylines contain a significant amount of character drama.
The general aesthetic of Dark Nights used the image of the Dark Nights to communicate to even casual readers that this story is something dark and frightening.
The other meaning refers to the scientific classification of heavy metals as more dense and often toxic or otherwise dangerous to human beings.
Heavy metal music is closely related to acid rock, which was influenced by artists psychedelic experiences with hallucinogenic drugs. While LSD can produce dream-like hallucinations, those dreams can turn into horrifying nightmares. And it’s those types of bad dreams that give birth to the newest expansion of the DC Multiverse.
Metal music (and it’s various sub genres) is also influenced by gothic medieval imagery. Zeppelin made explicit reference to the works of JRR Tolkien, maybe the most famous modern iterations of medieval fantasy. Other bands like Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, have used album art and lyrics that use similar themes but using darker and (stereotypically) Satanic imagery. Dark Nights’s ultimate villain, the Bat-God Barbatos, is himself named after a duke of hell itself from classical demonology, and his visual design would be perfect cover art for any number of metal bands. But while there are Black Metal and Death Metal bands that explicitly use Satanic images and themes, a large amount of metal bands aren’t Satanic and the comparisons are usually inferred by listeners and critics. Ozzy Osborne has flat-out denied that he’s a Satanist, though he proudly uses the moniker, “The Prince of Darkness.” And Alice Cooper, who helped pioneer the use of dark imagery in rock, is famously a devout Christian.
This is similar to how Batman uses gothic imagery to symbolize his specific approach to crusading for justice but is almost always depicted as the hero. But a very common theme of Batman’s story is how close he gets to the darkness. And in Dark Nights, it’s the literal darkness of the universe that provides a multiversal threat that is directly tied to him.
Finally, Metal is intrinsically tied into the concept of armor.
Since Batman doesn’t have superhuman powers, writers and artists often depict him as augmenting his batsuits with metallic armored components to combat superpowered threats. This has led to some interesting design variations for Batman’s wardrobe over the years and in Dark Nights; and in this event, Metal represents nearly endless possibilities for both good and evil.
The Dark Multiverse: The Shadow of Creation
The Dark Multiverse is a parallel to the DC multiverse that’s been a part of comic books lore since Gardner Fox invokes multiverse theory to resolve the continuity issues that arose from having two characters called the Flash. But the concept of alternate versions of superheroes was so compelling it proved popular enough to open up the door for characters like the Crime Syndicate, an evil version of the Justice League not totally unlike the Dark Knights and eventually Crisis on Infinite Earths, which establishes the basis for the Dark Multiverse.
The Dark Multiverse is conceptually a dark mirror of the established DC Multiverse. Kendra Sanders introduces it to the Justice League by flipping the map of the DC multiverse upside down, just like Eleven uses the same action to explain the Mind Flayer’s home dimension in Stranger Things. It is the upside-down of the DC multiverse, taking the concepts of matter, anti matter, and dark matter and applying it to multiverse theory.
DC used a similar concept in Green Lantern writer Geoff Johns’s event Blackest Night.
That event’s villain, Nekron, bears some similarities to Barbatos.
Both claim their origin to be the related to beginning of the greater DC Multiverse (Nekron existed before life in the universe, Barbatos was created to be the Dragon of the World Forge that spawned all universes), both used an established DC character as a method of entering the Prime DC Universe physically (Nekron: Black Hand, Barbatos: Batman).
The Dark Multiverse is made up of universes that are created by Batman’s greatest fears and insecurities and those universes are represented by negative integers. Same absolute value as the positive matter universe, but literally diametrically opposed. Barbatos’s Dark Knights are all alternate versions of Batman where these nightmares have come true, such as Batman becoming just like the Joker and becoming the Bane of all he once loved.So it’s no wonder that Batman nearly loses his resolve after entering the Dark Multiverse if not for the presence of Superman, who symbolizes Hope in the face of apparent cosmic cataclysm and eventually Wonder Woman, who symbolizes Truth and helps give Batman and Superman the will to persevere in the face of greatest despair.
Speaking of the climax, the final battle with Barbatos bookend the start of the miniseries, which had an armored Justice League working together to defeat Mongul. But where Mongol used armor to weaken the League, the X-Metal
or Tenth Metal gives the Leaguers the power to fight back.
This allows the League to defy Barbatos’s claim that all worlds return to him and literally pull the multiverse out of the darkness he represents. Barbatos’s prophecy requires Batman to be exposed to the Five Divine Metals, including Nth Metal, the material that gives the Hawks their flight, immortality, and their signature weapons. But just like the how the Nth Metal is used to turn Carter Hall into Barbatos’s dragon, it’s used here to transform Bruce Wayne into the portal for the Dark Nights to enter the multiverse.
Bruce even defeats the Batman Who Laughs, the Joker-esque leader of the Dark Nights, by teaming up with the Joker from his universe, something that otherwise would seem like an impossible scenario.
Dark Matter: Filling in the Gaps
Scott Snyder has been writing for Batman since the beginning of DC’s New 52 initiative and concluded his work with the character by exploring and expanding Batman’s role in the cosmic elements of the DC multiverse. While Batman didn’t have a huge role in most of the previous Crisis events, Batman’s previous writer, Grant Morrison, gave Batman one of the most important moments in Final Crisis. Rather than letting Morrison’s contributions be swept aside, Snyder uses Morrison’s work to springboard into a whole new multiverse to explore with Batman at the center. In a way, this is symbolic of the Rebirth initiative’s attempt to reconcile the pre- and post-Flashpoint timelines. Dark Nights makes more sparing references to the previous Crisis events, but arguably makes a better tribute to the original Crisis by taking elements from it and taking them to a logical conclusion.
Dream of the Endless explains to the heroes that wonder is the key to defeating Barbatos, and the X Metal is stated to represent endless possibilities. While comics have almost always been considered to be “pulp-entertainment”, highly respected authors like Ray Bradbury have used scientific concepts to help explore universal themes in a new way.
Snyder, perhaps unintentionally, uses Batman the Dark Multiverse, based on the scientific concept of dark matter, to explain the Nietszhean concept of the Abyss staring back, with characters that are known worldwide.