For many years I’ve made mine Marvel. Now, let’s try Watching the Detectives.
Last year I started reading Tom King’s Mister Miracle, and I was absolutely floored by it. I picked up that book because I love Jack Kirby. Because of my love for Kirby, I’ve read some Fourth World stories, and they’re really the only major chunks of DC comics I know. Outside of the Fourth World, I’ve also read: 52, Batman RIP, Final Crisis and maybe a handful of other comics. My DC universe has basically been Kirby, Morrison and cartoons.
I’m reading Dark Nights Metal, and I picked it up as it was released in single issues. From what I glean from the internet, it’s a continuity-heavy, big-ideas laden cosmic romp – the kind of thing I’d love if it was a Marvel book. I’m going to try to pick it apart, and understand what it’s doing with DC characters and worlds. Join me, won’t you?
This article is not intended to be a synopsis of the story, which is best enjoyed in its original form alongside its amazing art.
Watching the Detectives: When Three or Possibly Four Tribes Go to War
Intro. 50,000 years ago. Is that Anthro the First Boy times? I loved when in Final Crisis Metron appeared and gave fire to Anthro. I digress. There are three tribes, the Bear, the Wolf and the Bird. I…man, I don’t know if these represent DC comics characters. Is there a Bearman? Grizzlo the Super-Bear? Bear McNair Bear Detective? There’s Birdman, but he’s a Hannah Barbera guy. The fourth tribe is the Bat, which reminds me of Batman RIP, when Batman goes back in time and fights Macho Man Vandal Savage in caveman days. Perhaps we’re going back to that well. The well of…Metal!
Watching the Detectives: Loved By Good, Feared By Evil
The Justice League, and Cyborg, are wearing armour and have got their D&D weapons on! I guess they’ve lost their powers in some way? They have! This is one of those things that feels like such a DC trope to me, a Marvel Intellectual. It always strikes me as playing directly into two ideas that I find super boring:
1) Superman is boring because he’s too powerful! (Cheer up loser, Superman done lost his powers again and has to fight with his D&D weapons!)
2) Batman is the best because he doesn’t have any powers man~! He’s just a regular guy~! (Unlike that Superman, Batman’s not at a disadvantage when it’s D&D weapons time! He’s prepared for anything! Just like me, a boring comics guy!)
These shenanigans are the doing of Mongul, one of what seems like a million DC Comics villains who are space-baddies that look a bit like Jack Kirby designed them, but I don’t think he did and his deal is that he is a baddy from space. Mongul was in an episode of the Justice League cartoon in which Superman and Wonder Woman had to fight with D&D weapons so I think this is his fave thing.
Batman: Chunk of exposition because Batman is the smart one!
Superman: Don’t think too much about it Batman, because I’m the feelings one!
Wonderwoman: Let’s have a fight because I’m goal oriented!
I kid because I love. It was a nice panel putting us in DC Comics mode through the lens of three characters who, unlike space baddy and Cyborg, we actually care about and know. Time to dig into Batman’s chunk of exposition:
- Mongul: Space Baddy. Turns out he is really, really powerful, though there seems to be little real in-continuity reason for this. Len Wein and Jim Starlin created him, the latter of which being why he looks so Kirby. He makes “War Moons” and “Death Designs”, so in Marvel Maths he’s kind of like if Mojo was Thanos.
- Braalian: A person from the planet Braal, where everyone is Magneto. The Legion of Super Heroes’ Cosmic Boy is a Braalian, and also Magneto.
- General Zod: Terrence Stamp. Also a Space Baddy, but also also a Bad Superman.
Mongul has used specific gimmicks to counter each of our heroes’ powers, or at least appears to have, because we only find out specifically what he’s done to Superman, Flash and Wonder Woman. He has a little kid, the Toyman apparently, as his prisoner and the kid (who is Japanese) has made a group of robots with a latin name for the heroes to fight. Let’s ask the DC wikia about him:
“Hiro Okamura is a teenage mechanical genius from Japan. He targets Metallo, claiming the cyborg’s body was based on a material stolen from his grandfather. Hiro later becomes an ally to Superman and Batman in destroying a kryptonite meteor that threatens the Earth by building a giant Composite Batman-Superman robot.”
So that starts off pretty dull and rapidly becomes great, and is also the most DC-ass thing I’ve read so far in a post that contains a planet where everyone is Magneto. For what it’s worth, I’ll also award points for including characters that are to do with Metal! but not drawing direct attention to it, which is of course, all literary, and because the “material stolen from his grandfather” might be a reference to Mazinga Z.
Anyway, as the fight progresses, we learn that the robots also have a countermeasure for each of our heroes and Cyborg. Comic Book Resources kindly explains them all here, but because no-one cares about Cyborg, why he can’t hack their systems is never mentioned.
Anyway, Batman uses his superpower (of always knowing what’s going on) to work out that Toyman the Second has placed a super sentai henshin panel inside each robot, so the Justice League can crawl inside them and form Justice Voltron. Once you’ve Wikipedia’d Toyman and his SuperBatRobo that makes a lot more sense, and also makes Batman’s logical leap a fun callback that he would feasibly make. Learning is fun!
Also there’s a weird but ultimately amusing cutaway where you think Batman’s going to do a mild curse but instead of saying ass we cut to Metal!
It’s a DC Comics Event and everyone has a special Metal! name like in a Simpsons Halloween special.
Superman is pretty sure that the Magnetoes wouldn’t have let Mongul get away with all that tomfoolery, and wants to know if this is anything to do with the events of Detective Comics Comics Metal: Dark Days: The Forge & The Casting.
I’ve read it, and we’ll talk about it later but it’s essentially about thirty pages of Batman saying, “Something big is happening but I can’t tell you about it, you have to trust me,” to everyone who shows up in that comic. Also the Joker got covered in magic Metal! which made him not dead.
Watching the Detectives: You’ll never see it coming
Back on Earth, a mountain has appeared in Gotham. “The city … seemed to make room,” as it appeared from a storm of dark lightning. I’m not sure whether this is a callback to the late Nineties/Early 2000s Batman event No Man’s Land, where Gotham was destroyed by an earthquake… It’s possible, since No Man’s Land is one of those Batman stories that perpetually echoes around in other Batmedia, but also,Gotham’s get-destroyed dance card is pretty crowded, so this may just be a thing that happens. Wonder Woman tells Batman he couldn’t have possibly seen this coming, which is weird since (as you’ll recall) Detective Comics Comics Metal: Dark Days: The Forge & The Casting is essentially about thirty pages of Batman saying, “Something big is happening but I can’t tell you about it, you have to trust me,” to everyone who shows up in that comic, including, very prominently, Wonder Woman. It’s bothersome and a little lazy to reflexively have Wonder Woman do the emotional labour of reassuring Batman he didn’t drop the ball when he was obviously talking to her about this in an earlier comic, and as such, maybe did drop the ball just a little. I mean, both Flash and Cyborg didn’t know about it at all, why not have them say that line?
Flash asks someone called Vic to scan a clock emblem that he finds on the pop-up mountain – leading me to assume he is talking to Vic Sage, the first Question. He isn’t, and that in turn leads me to have to face up to my responsibilities and Wikipedia Cyborg. Cyborg, it turns out, is named Vic.
Something about DC Comics continuity: it seems to be in a constant cycle of re-boots and…de-boots? Essentially, everything gets to Marvel levels of “just ignore that this weird stuff happened”, there’s a Crisis with a capital C, and it all gets ironed out. Then, people don’t like the ironing, and something happens to shift everything back a little bit. This gives the core DC continuity something of a Cinematic Universe feel – this constant revising and refining of each character so they feel a little more modern, cherry picking the bits that work and discarding those that don’t. Cyborg for instance, begins as a slightly wonky Black Panther-style civil-rights hero, and gets his cyber-bits from his Dad who patches him up when Russians attack, because black people and white people can work together to fight Russians. Later, he gets all techno-organic and Vision-like when he gets repaired by a…computer planet that had sex with Swamp Thing? Several re-boots later, we get New 52 Cyborg, who has the alien technology hook baked into his “rebuilt after enemies attack the lab” concept. He’s now got New Gods technology – the Russians having been replaced by Darkseid. It works, and it makes a bit more sense that this guy is hanging with Superman and the other characters we know.
Another aside about Cyborg – so he’s this silvery shape-changing human robot, and in many versions of the character, his best pal is Beast-Boy, who is green. There’s also Braniac, who is a silver sentient space robot, and in Legion of Super Heroes, there’s Braniac 5 – he’s a human looking space robot, who’s green. Coincidence? Don’t worry, I’ll look into it.
Watching the Detectives: Blackhawks Down
Inside the space pod, we hit a vein of DC second-and-lower stringers – first of all, speaking of the Vision, we find Red Tornado. New 52 Red Tornado, I guess? Hahaha, no, nothing so simple. New 52 Red Tornado was from Earth 2 (after the de-boot cycle brought back all the other Earths to the previously “simplified” New 52) but that Red Tornado was a Lady Red Tornado and also Lois Lane. This Red Tornado is the boy design Tornado, and he’s from Earth Zero, where that version of Mr Tom Morrow built him out of leftover bits of the Lady Red Tornado. But he’s in regular continuity now. -wipes brow- Was the space pod from Earth Zero then?
Next: The Blackhawks – something I really enjoy about long shared universe continuities is when pop-culture concepts for whom the moment has passed get to live on, often in forms that provide a weird contrast with whatever is going on in this particular cultural moment. The Blackhawks are, to my DC neophyte knowledge, a group of ace pilots from an old war comic. What are these guys doing here, in the space pod, in Detective Comics Comics Dark Knights Metal? WELL. Now they are (to quote some spectacularly wonky Batman dialogue) “some kind of damn covert anti-apocalyptic team”. OK. Their leader is Kendra Saunders, who I know as Hawk Girl, but it seems like these guys don’t?
Watching the Detectives: Bird-Land
Let’s start from the beginning:
There are two Golden Age Hawkmen.
One of them is Carter Hall, a human archaeologist. He’s the reincarnation of an Egyptian prince. He discovers Ninth Metal, which defies gravity, and makes some wings to help himself fly. His girlfriend, Shiera Sanders, is the reincarnation of an Egyptian princess, and she gets wings also and they fight crime. They’re both in Flash Comics throughout the early Fifties. His design was apparently based on the hawkmen in Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, which would later be made into the scientifically indisputable best movie of all time.
Later, after Flash Comics ends, Gardner Fox et al bring back Hawkman and Hawkgirl – looking the same, but with a new origin. These two are hawk-people like Brian Blessed, from the Planet Thanagar, and they are space-cops like Green Lantern would later become. (It’s still rad-collar-magic Green Lantern Alan Scott at this point.) Katar Hol and Shayera Hol hang out in Earth disguise in a museum, so there’s a definite continuity through-line. Hawkman is the leader of the Justice Society of America.
When we get to the Silver Age, the concept of parallel Earths is introduced, and this explains our two sets of Hawk-People. Carter and Shiera are from Earth 2, and Katar and Shayera are from Earth 1. They hang out.
Crisis on Infinite Earths happens, continuity is rebooted, and that clears up all this mess and everything is totally understandable! Or not.
Post-Crisis, as I understand it, the DC Universe is rebooted as one linear timeline, and this puts heroes from the Golden and Silver Ages in the past of the current DC Universe. So the JSA members, like the Hawk-People, were heroes in the 1940s, and the current Hawks are from the modern day. I’ve not read any DC comics from that time, but the box of the Hawkman action figure I had back then (both CoIE and the Kenner Superpowers toy line came out in 1985) describes him as a space cop from Thanagar, and says that his real name is “Carter Hall, Katar Hol”. So…this is post-Crisis Hawkman, he’s Thanagarian, and he goes by the name Carter Hall in tribute to the original Carter Hall who was in the Justice Society 40 years prior. Right.
So then Hawkman is re-booted individually, not as part of a big continuity re-shuffle. Katar Hol, space-Hawkman, comes to Earth for the first time, so now it was Carter Hall, archeologist Hawkman, who was Hawkman before. Except that 80s Hawkman was explicitly a space Hawkman, so they introduce another Hawk Person, Fel Andar, who is an evil spy who just went along with all that Justice Society ish to not blow his cover.
In amongst all this there’s also a HawkGod, who is a composite of prior Hawk-People but is more of an animal hero, related to Animal Man. Then, someone who claims to be Carter Hall’s son (but turns out to be Fel Andar’s son) tries to be the new Hawkman, but is defeated by the current one. And Grant Morrision tries to give a character who I think is an angel (like from the bible) called Zauriel the name Hawkman, because of course he does.
Then the New 52 happens. There’s a new Earth 2, and on it we Find Kendra Saunders. (Remember her?) She’s Hawkgirl, and she got her powers in Egypt, alongside Dr Fate. She fought Darkseid when he attacked Earth 2 as a warm-up for his later attack on the Real Earth that kicks off the New 52 continuity. Hawkman does seem to show up, but, as far as I can tell, we don’t know much about him until…right…now.
So it seems that Carter Hall Hawkman, got his powers a long time ago in ancient Egypt, from the Nth metal, which came from space. He, and Kendra too it seems, formed the Blackhawks. Let’s meet them, in a chunk of exposition!
The Blackhawks are a group of:
- Pilots: the war-comics Blackhawks
- Heroes: after a little googling, that’s Starman – it seems like there is a New 52 Starman, but I can’t work out how he’s related to either birds or Metal!
- Inventors: that’s the Metal Men, the previously mentioned Red Tornado, and I assume Dr. Magnus and T.O.Morrow, their respective creators.
- Adventurers: the Challengers of the Unknown, who are a sort of proto-Fantastic Four with no super powers, created by Kirby before he was at Marvel.
I assume this is all happening on New 52 Earth 2?
Watching the Detectives: Our Cartoon Staff Been Getting Laughs Since 1933
Ok, here we go. This map (which I love) was created by Grant Morrison for the limited series Multiversity – which I think officially codified the 52 universes of the New 52 for the first time. Which would be simple, if it weren’t for the fact(s) that:
- Multiversity was planned before the New 52, and continues threads from several pre-New 52 Grant Morisson comics, notably Final Crisis. You may remember that in Final Crisis Darkseid finally destroys reality, Batman breaks his solemn vow to never use a gun in order to shoot him with the same time-bullet Darkseid used to kill Orion, and then Superman sings reality back together by wishing that we could all be our best selves. It is awesome.
- When the New 52 happened, several comics by high profile writers didn’t actually reset their continuity: both Green Lantern and Morrison’s Batman (which through Batman RIP was tied very strongly into Final Crisis) continued into the New 52, and as far as I know, this has never been resolved ….
Kendra turns over the map of the multiverse. It’s black on the other side, not because it was printed on that magnet paper so she could stick it on the fridge, but because it shows the Dark Multiverse.
The Dark Multiverse is composed of “whole worlds of nightmare evil” – it’s not the Anti-Matter universe, that’s where the Anti-Monitor, who kicked off this whole cycle in Crisis on Infinite Earths was from. The Dark Multiverse is made of Dark Matter so it’s sort of in-between everything, perhaps in both universes, or both multiverses? Maybe we’ll find out later. Because now we need to talk about Barbatos.
Watching the Detectives: A Walking Study in Demonology
So, in Batman RIP, a bunch of evil plotting leads to Batman seemingly dying. He ends up being sent back in time by Darkseid, a fate from which he’s supposed to never escape, trapped perpetually in a very punchy Groundhog Day. Of course, being Batman, he does escape.
Aforementioned evil plotting was by a guy called Dr. Hurt: a classic Morrison bit-part revival, and psychologist who had access to Batman’s full case history in a decades old forgotten story. He’s also one, both or all of the following:
- Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s dad
- Thomas Wayne, a devil worshipping Wayne from the olden days, who once tried to summon Barbatos, a demon from the Bible
- An actor who is an exact double of Thomas Wayne, Bruce Wayne’s dad
- Darkseid, the god of evil
- Barbatos, a demon from the Bible
- The Hyper-Adaptor, a robot Darkseid sent through time to hassle Batman during perpetual punchy Groundhog Day
Carter Hall’s journal tells of a beast: a horned god of nightmares and cursed stories, worshipped by the Dark Tribe through the weird metals that transmit to the Dark Multiverse. The enemy of the Bird Tribe. Barbatos.
Amusingly, Kendra tells us that the name Barbatos comes from the combination of the latin words for “foriegn” i.e. “barbarus”, and “metal” i.e. “aes”. Take that Wikipedia, which thinks Barbatos is named after the latin word for “bearded”, hence Dungeons & Dragons’ Bearded Devils which are called Barbazu.
Pulling together the very beginning of this comic, the Bird Tribe are thus the ancestors of the Hawk-People and the Blackhawks – and that makes the Dark Tribe, the Fourth Tribe, the Bat Tribe. That makes them the same cave-people who allied with Batman when he was in the past ->
->put there by Darkseid
->as a result of Batman RIP, a plot by Dr. Hurt
->who may or may not be one or both of Darkseid or Barbatos
The final part of Kendra linking all of this together is telling us that someone will provide a human doorway to let Barbatos into our multiverse after being treated with 5 divine metals. Treat yo self:
METAL LIST (WORK IN PROGRESS NOT FINAL):
- Hawk-People get their powers from Nth (initially called Ninth) metal
- The Joker got covered in magic metal that made him not dead
That’s two out of five. Disappointing.
Said human doorway was a mystery, until Kendra noticed that there were references to a wagon that would carry the beast here, and you all know what a maker of wagons is called, right? A wainright. Wayne, right?
So Batman is bringing Barbatos here. Red Tornado flips out and attacks everyone, and Batman makes his escape on a velociraptor, because comics.
One last chunk of exposition before the outro sequence and a cool “one last thing!”
People getting visions of the coming of Barbatos because they’re attuned to Nth metal:
- Dr Fate: he’s DC Comics Dr. Strange; he has a cool mask made of Metal!; he got his powers alongside New 52 Earth 2 Hawkgirl.
- Steel: he’s DC Iron-Man who is also Superman. In 52 he was made of Metal!, then he wasn’t. Is he again now? Comics.
- Plastic Man: he’s DC Comics rubbish Reed Richards, who is also Deadpool. He is not Elongated Man, who is DC Comics not-rubbish Reed Richards, who is also a detective because DC Comics. Plastic Man is currently an egg, because he died preventing some DC Comics demons from unleashing the powers of actual Hell. Barbatos is also sort of a demon, so that’s some connective tissue. I hate Plastic Man, so let’s see how this goes, eh?
The outro. Carter Hall’s Journal:
“The end will begin with a shot fired from the dark, something to tear a hole in reality.”
Remember I said Batman broke his vow to never use guns to shoot Darkseid with his own time-bullet and save all of reality? That happened when all of reality had been consumed into a black hole, save one tiny singularity where Darkseid remained.
“…if Wayne has been prepared by the Judas Tribe…”
So there’s a Bird Tribe, and the Bat Tribe, and also a Bear Tribe and a Wolf Tribe. If we assume that this Judas Tribe must have betrayed the Birds, could they be the Batman villains that I’ve heard of but read no comics related to, the Court of Owls? Owls fly at night, like bats? I’m reaching here.
“…Barbatos has been after its target since the dawn of time. It first saw him in a Final moment of Crisis…”
[Sniff. Did I mention Final Crisis rules? I did, and it does]
Last, but not least, as Bruce realises that it’s indeed, all true, Daniel, a.k.a. Dream of the Endless a.k.a. The Sandman, appears to him. Only Nineties Kids will Know etc… This marks the first appearance of Dream in the New 52 continuity, and since Watchmen is now in DC continuity, represents the first volley in a combo of getting all your Nineties worthy-ass graphic novel titles into the mainstream DC Universe. More so, since this is Daniel, not Morpheus (the original Dream/Sandman, spoiler for a 30+ year old comic) we can assume that the events of the acclaimed and worthy-ass 90s comics series Sandman happened and as such are New 52 canon?
About 6 months after the release of this comic, DC Vertigo would close. Here’s to you Vertigo.
The Forge & The Casting – Will it help us understand what’s gone on before?
Can I find a way to make this fun but less long?
I think we need to discover 3 more magic Metal!s