By Jarrod Jones. It has been more than a year since DC Comics kicked off its highly successful Rebirth initiative — and with it, an era of optimism and structure.
Rebirth has been universally lauded for its restraint with all-encompassing events. The kind of thing that blights shelves with gimmicky covers and a vast array of tie-ins. The kind of thing that’s killing fan enthusiasm for certain publishers. The few major Rebirth events — stories such as “The Button” and “The Lazarus Contract” — have been mercifully brief affairs.
Now comes Metal. And while DC is keeping mum on the particulars it’s safe to assume that this deep dive into the secrets of its Multiverse won’t go without consequence. With Dark Days: The Forge, Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV are finally beginning to make good on the myriad plot points, hints, feints, and dodges that have been peppered throughout the Bat-books since the early days of the New 52.
It’s time to face DC’s Dark Days. Needless to say, major spoilers ahead.
Dark Days: The Forge #1
Written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV.
Pencils by Jim Lee, Andy Kubert, and John Romita, Jr.
Inks by Scott Williams, Klaus Janson, and Danny Miki.
Colors by Alex Sinclair with Jeremiah Skipper.
Letters by Steve Wands.
Seizing precedent. As wild as Metal is turning out to be, don’t expect Dark Days to radically alter your favorite DC books straight away. Though it should be said that when reading The Forge, it’s perfectly natural to experience feelings of disorientation — at least with continuity.
Just like Scott Snyder’s storied Batman run, Snyder and Tynion’s The Forge seems to have carved out its own corner within the post-Rebirth megastructure. There are hints that reveal its place in the current DC timeline, and when you line up the clues it’s easy to place The Forge at slightly beyond it.
For instance, Batman’s lunar Batcave is presently occupied by the Cyborg Superman and his Revenge Squad over in Action Comics, yet the Dark Knight pays a visit with next to zero fuss. (He did seem surprised to find Mister Terrific there, as was I.) Another giveaway is the issue’s look for Aquaman; here Arthur is sporting a beard and the same luscious blonde locks from his Peter David days. (Which puts this book somewhere around Stjepan Sejic’s upcoming run on Aquaman.)
As for the forward momentum of DC’s upcoming Doomsday Clock from Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, Snyder assures us that Metal won’t disrupt any of it. “Geoff has big plans for ‘Doomsday Clock’ that will explain Rebirth and what Doctor Manhattan has done,” he said to CBR this week. “All of the mysteries that were brought up in ‘DC Universe: Rebirth’ are going to be answered there.”
The function of Metal is to expand the DC Universe. Which is perfectly fine by me.
Plas. Don’t pretend you weren’t surprised by this too. Neither hide nor oily hair has been seen of Plastic Man since Convergence #8 nearly two years ago. Where has Eel O’Brien been keeping himself? Stashed away in stasis on Batman’s Moon-cave, from the look of things. “We all agreed he was too unstable… that there was no end to what he could do if we weren’t careful. But I’m going to need him for what comes next,” Batman says to Mister Terrific. What’s coming next, and why would he need Plastic Man for it?
Perhaps more importantly: was Plas’ containment a decision made with him… or for him?
Hey, there’s Hawkman. The surest way to send comic readers running for the hills is to throw Hawkman into the proceedings. Just when we thought the winged Justice Leaguer was dead for good (in the Death of Hawkman mini-series), he pops back in like nothing’s happened.
Of course, reincarnation is not a fresh concept for the character. It’s kind of his thing. But what makes the inclusion of Hawkman interesting is how The Forge re-establishes the character with his pre-Flashpoint roots. (Said roots were planted by Geoff Johns, David Goyer and Rags Morales in the Return of Hawkman arc from JSA #22-25.) Here Carter regales us with the story of his earliest incarnation, Prince Khufu, and the day he saw a Thangarian ship crash land in the sands of Egypt, instead of, say, whatever the hell this was. Hawkman’s New 52 origins have gone the way of the dodo. That’s the good news. Is there bad news? That remains to be seen.
The return of Hawkman is pretty zealous on Snyder and Tynion’s part. Nth metal plays a crucial role in what’s to come, but since that isn’t exactly exclusive to Hawkman — Thanagarian origins notwithstanding — dragging in Carter Hall and all his baggage seems superfluous somehow. (The Legion of Super-Heroes, for example, made their flight rings out of an alloy derivative of Nth metal.) The writers may have a plan. But this is one character that’s almost certainly more trouble than he’s worth.
Crisis? Well, lookit here. Batman has stashed the Monitor’s giant friggin’ tuning fork underneath Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. Y’know. No big deal.
When did this happen, and how did this take place without anybody noticing? That’s not exactly an item people would miss. More importantly, that tower was destroyed in Infinite Crisis during the battle between Conner Kent and Superboy-Prime. Does Rebirth negate the events of Infinite Crisis? If so, why?
What we do know is Batman is using the tuning fork to scan what will come to be known as the Dark Multiverse. And if there’s one thing that gigantic doohickey is good for, it’s unleashing all sorts of multiversal mayhem.
Only don’t go fretting about another major shift in the paradigm. Says Snyder: “[…] I’ve avoided the word ‘Crisis’ because I didn’t want people to think that we are about to reshuffle continuity again in any way.” So there you have it. The Rebirth continuity, as it stands today, will keep.
Outliers. There are so many Easter eggs and surprises contained within The Forge that it’s almost overwhelming. For newcomers to the DCU, the best advice is to just go with the flow. For hardened DC Junkies, context is key. And in context, it sometimes feels as though Snyder and Tynion are stacking all of it a bit too high.
One example of excess in The Forge is the revelation that Batman has secretly led a team consisting of Metamorpho, Black Lightning, Katana, Halo and Geo-Force without the Justice League’s awareness. If Batman’s been working away at the secrets behind metals like Electrum and (*SIGH*) Dionysium, having a heavy lifter like Geo-Force and a literal element man like Metamorpho around would definitely come in handy. Though, between Batman’s current affiliation with the Justice League, the Justice League of America, and the Bat-crew over at Detective Comics, how ridiculous is it that Batman could even have time for another team? Comics!
Where we are. Dark Days: The Forge is about as professional-grade as these Big Two events get. It’s clear in its ambitions, purposefully vague with its mysteries, and leaves the reader salivating for more. (The Casting is coming July 12.) Most crucially, it holds to the Rebirth standard. The Forge doesn’t want to disrupt what’s best about the DCU, even if it does fudge with some of its particulars. Instead, it looks to expand it in new and utterly thrilling ways.
Look at the book’s roster. It’s an embarrassment of riches. From Snyder and Tynion (who collude magnificently here) to the art team of Romita, Lee, and Kubert (each paired with the inkers who make them look so good), The Forge is strictly A-list. With a pedigree like that, it still somehow refuses to showboat. That’s perhaps the biggest relief of this enterprise so far — for all its ambitions, it has quite a bit of chill.
Soon comes The Casting, and then, Metal. What this means for the future — and the tone — of the DCU remains to be seen. Hopefully Dark Days’ contrast to Rebirth remains in name only.
8.5 out of 10
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