The Nth metal. A cosmic tuner. An age-spanning timeline. Jim Lee on Batman pencils. Welcome to the prologue of METAL, Dark Days: The Forge #1, the next crisis-level saga from DC.
A previously incarnated Hawkman sets the tone from page one by talking about a mysterious appearance alerting them to something so incredibly big that he pre-empts the dangers it holds for the (DC) universe and Multiverse at large. It’s in essence just a prologue, a teaser, but it’s dripping with suspense and it is gorgeous to look at. Even the cover evokes some studying from keen-eyed readers to gather some clues as to what is actually going on.
The cinematic scope almost immediately shifts to a modern day emergency where Batman has to salvage information from a Wayne Enterprise-funded lab on a remote island. This sets Batman up within the event as a key figure who is holding onto something so incredibly secretive (and threatening) that it invokes an uneasy distrust within the other Justice League members. On Mogo, one of the Guardians, Ganthe, instructs Hal Jordan to go to a specific set of coordinates to investigate a disturbance in the universe. The coordinates conveniently belong to those of Wayne Manor and the Batcave.
Throughout the story, all clues and events somehow lead us back to, or connect, with Batman. He becomes the absolute figurehead and red herring, making us shake our heads in disbelief as we realise he knows more that he lets on, even to his confidants. He saves information from his damaged suit in the ocean, after rescuing a scientist, never opening up to Aquaman why he risked his life to go back and get it. He has Green Lantern breaking into the Batcave and teaming up with Bruce’s new protégé, Duke Thomas, to explore a secret cave within the Batcave. He hides a gargantuan artefact within the Fortress of Solitude, something unknown to Superman himself.
Dark Days: The Forge #1 feels massive, unashamedly huge in scale, aiming for the rafters by introducing traditionally B-listers such as Misters Terrific and Miracle. There is also a very welcome return of one of DC’s classic villains in a disturbing display of comradery with one of our heroes. Hawkman and Hawkgirl also occur and reoccur within the narrative to drive home the point that an ominous presence has been there since the beginning of time and it might be making its return. Hawkman issues warnings throughout that the reader should not embark on the perilous journey they have been on because they have seen horrors unimaginable.
Jim Lee’s artwork is masterful and it is so great to see him do his take on Batman and Green Lantern again. They just feel godlike. It is just quite jarring to see the aesthetic shift between panels with Romita and Kubert contributing with their very distinctive art styles. I’m hoping for a more consistent visual fluidity once the story gets going, for continuity’s sake.
What really adds to Dark Days: The Forge #1, and especially because this specific title is leaning towards something more sinister since the inception of Rebirth’s more optimistic tone, is that it doesn’t take prisoners. Wherever METAL is going to take us, it is going to be merciless, unflinching and incredibly compelling.