Earlier this week, DC Comics revealed a major, incredibly unexpected return of a character that many fans thought they’d never see again, thanks to the final page of Dark Nights: Metal #1. It was definitely a shocking moment in a comics event that’s been promising to be a bonkers exploration of the DC mythos for a while now. But I’m here to tell you: This comic is so much crazier than you’re imagining.
Written by Scott Snyder and with art from Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, and FCO Plascencia—the creative team that concluded a triumphant run on Batman last year—Metal’s first issue has a wonderful insanity to it, but it’s also kind of a mess. This is especially true if you’ve not mentally prepared yourself by reading the previously-released prologue issues The Forge and The Casting (if you haven’t read then, here’s the deal: basically, Batman detects a weird energy signature occurring everywhere and he thinks it means something bad is about to happen—and he’s right!)
From its first page, Metal prioritizes its craziness over everything else. It opens with the Justice League in the middle of a bloody battle against giant robotic monsters in a far-flung alien arena, which somehow includes them briefly getting a Voltron-esque mecha, and is quite wonderful. This is when Alfred calls Batman to let him know a giant mountain and suddenly and inexplicably erupted in the center of Gotham City.
While the League investigates Gotham’s new landmark, the Blackhawks appear. They’re an old school group of pilots from DC’s Silver Age best known for fighting Nazis from their island base during World War II. When the New 52 started, they had their own their own title and were reimagined as sort of an elite government task force (like you do), but this version is much, much closer to its original Silver Age version—with the sole exception of the leader of the Blackhawks, who unmasks herself as Hawkgirl.
Let me make this clear: Despite the fact the hero and the team both have “hawk” in their names, Hawkgirl and Hawkman have never had any connection to the squadron. In fact, this Hawkgirl—a character with one of the most completely bonkers histories in the DC universe—is Kendra Saunders, a version of Hawkgirl that hasn’t existed in the New 52 DC universe previously, outside of an Earth-2 version of the character.
This, really, is where Metal begins going off the deep end of its premise, as Kendra takes the League to Blackhawk Island to reveal just what is behind those strange energy signatures Batman found: Nth Metal, the alien substance that has traditionally only been found on Thanagar, the home planet of Hawkgirl and Hawkman (when they’ve presented as aliens), and the substance that powers their metallic wings.
Kendra reveals two bombshells to the Justice League. First, that Blackhawk Island has also been home to Carter Hall—a.k.a. the original Hawkman, who’s also had an extremely convoluted history in the comics, and like Kendra also been absent from the New 52 since its beginning in 2011 (save for a miniseries that brought back the alien incarnation of Hawkman, Katar Hol, and promptly killed him off again, which god, how many times at this point). She also reveals that this new Hawkman is yet another new take on the character, one that ties Carter Hall’s history with both the Blackhawks and another early DC comic book team—the cosmic explorers called the Challengers of the Unknown.
Even the Red Tornado—a wind-manipulating android member of both the Justice League and Justice Society, who’s also been absent from the comics since the New 52 began—gets a nod as one of Carter’s allies in his search for the Nth Metal’s origins. In just a few pages, Metal revives four different classic characters that have been missing since DC rebooted its universe in 2011.
Metal recasts Carter not just as a new take on the reincarnated Egyptian pharaoh version of the original Hawkman, but also as an explorer who, alongside the Blackhawks, Red Tornado, and the Challengers, has dedicated his life to exploring the origins of the Nth Metal that powered his and Kendra’s abilities—and now he’s disappeared, along with his partners.
And that’s where Kendra’s second bombshell comes in: Nth Metal is actually not part of the DC universe (in current DC continuity, of course). In fact, it’s not from any part of the DC multiverse. It’s from a dark universe, part of a dark multiverse, which Kendra explains to the League by—I shit you not—pulling out a poster of Grant Morrison and Rian Hughes’ famous Multiversity multiverse map and flipping it over to reveal the other side is completely black.
Based on Carter and the Challengers findings, Kendra believes that the Nth Metal will be responsible for bringing forth an imminent deadly invasion of the multiverse from this “dark” reality, heralded by the bizarre energy readings being emitted by the tiny amount of Nth Metal Kendra still has left after destroying her wings (which were made from it).
If that wasn’t enough, Carter Hall also discovered a strange prophecy before he disappeared, one that shakes the gathered Justice League to their core: Ancient scrolls claim that a son of the House of Wayne would open the door to the Dark Multiverse’s invasion, dooming not just Earth, but all of existence.
How does Batman react to this stunning revelation that he might somehow help destroy not just his reality, but 51 other realities too? By immediately stealing Kendra’s remaining Nth Metal fragment to investigate it, running away, and escaping Blackhawk Island on a dinosaur.
Batman returns to Gotham City, but before he can examine the Nth Metal, he discovers a Bat-logo-shaped hole in the ground has suddenly appeared in his home, and it contains Carter Hall’s journals. Somehow, the journal confirms for the Dark Knight that the ancient prophecy is true.
We finally turn to the last trick Metal #1 has up its sleeves: the already-revealed return of Dream, Sandman’s reality-bending lord of stories, showing up on the final page to let Batman know that, funnily enough, he’s not dreaming all the bonkers stuff that just happened. All we know so far is that Dream is going to play a big role in Metal, presumably helping Batman work through all of this insanity he’s uncovered. But if a nigh-omnipotent godlike creature like one of the Endless is going to be involved, we can only imagine just how weird and reality-breaking this new multiverse is going to get.
Phew. Dark Nights: Metal is throwing a lot—a lot—of ideas out at the wall in its first issue, and we’re not quite sure which, if any of them, are going to stick by the end of the series. But there’s promise here: Metal is zipping across years of some of the wildest, weirdest, and most-prodded at lore in DC’s history, rescuing characters from its old continuity in some very intriguing ways, and, most of all, while having the most “Did that just happen?!” moments of any single issue in 2017. It’s batshit insane in a surprisingly bold—and fascinating—way, and if it pulls off what it’s trying to do, we’re in for a wild trip.