Prelude comics can be tricky biscuits. Say too much and their shadows loom larger than the event itself. Say too little and then, really, what’s the point? The perfect recipe is to leave just enough lasting impact to warrant a look back once the event proper starts cooking. So, is this work cast in iron or is it just waiting to be cast aside?
Dark Days: The Casting #1
Written by Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV
Illustrated by Jim Lee, Andy Kubert & John Romita, Jr.
Inked by Scott Williams, Klaus Janson & Danny Miki
Colored by Alex Sinclair & Jeremiah Skipper
Lettered by Steve Wands
The Joker’s surprise attack threatens to lay waste to all of Batman’s carefully laid plans. Will the Dark Knight be able to regain the trust of his closest allies, Green Lantern and Duke, and prevent the forces of darkness from consuming the DC Universe?! Will Hawkman’s warning stop our heroes from peering into the abyss? The great comics event of summer 2017 is on its way, courtesy of superstar writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV with art by a master class of comics artists: Andy Kubert, Jim Lee and John Romita Jr.!
I’m not shocked in the least to hear someone utter the C-word in “Dark Days: The Casting” #1. But I wasn’t really expecting Diana to be the one to say it.
“They believe a war is coming,” she confides to Bruce, after granting him access to the forge of Hephaestus. Where once towering flames would have powered the iron works of the fire god, John Romita, Jr. draws rust creeping up smelting vats and down the sides of wide tubs dangling from the ceiling. Cobwebs criss-cross the great machinery like caution tape. Batman and Wonder Woman stand before a giant hammer long since left on the ground as it was nothing more than useless slag. Not only are the flames extinguished, the entire pantheon has abandoned earth.
“A crisis,” Diana continues, “that will shake the very firmament and douse the light of creation.”
For a while now, it’s seemed apparent that Scott Snyder’s “Metal” was setting up to be a Crisis book in everything but name. If Diana’s words are a bit too subtle, then Snyder and co-writer James Tynion IV put the words right in the Joker’s mouth, so we can all understand how deadly, universally, publishing line-ally serious they are. “A dark crisis is coming,” he snarls, right as Batman, crouching at the cave entrance, makes his return to confront the clown for “Dark Days: The Casting” #1’s final third.
Snyder and Tynion IV nail the event-tease aspect of this book. There’s enough here to whet one’s appetite until we enter August’s starting blocks. And there’s one revelation in particular that will fan the fires of internet speculation until we hear that starter’s pistol – a certain name, and a certain symbol embossed on a certain dagger. As a preparatory piece, it’s a workhorse of efficiency. Hawkman’s position for the games to come isn’t exactly fixed, but we have a good idea how he fits. Same goes with Duke. Ditto Joker. Snyder and Tynion IV seemingly have all the pieces set and end with a tantalizing reveal of the shrouded faces of “Metal”‘s oncoming storm.
Tonally, “Dark Days: The Casting” #1 is a moodier, much more dour entry than last month’s counterpart. But losing the bounding, locale-hopping spiritedness of “Darks Days: The Forge” #1 doesn’t mean we wade into the trappings of rote, grim-and-gritty DC. Things are dark, yes – peep the title. There’s a severity to events, yes. There are Joker’s sinister intonations, frothing through clenched, teeth-baring grins, that he knows so much more about what’s going on.
But everything feels earned as Snyder and Tynion pay out the three narratives, which intertwine in ways that illuminate aspects of the others. Hawkman’s and Batman’s story seem to run in parallel with one another as both are consumed by their search for an elusive, mystical metal that’s just beyond their reach. When Hawkman’s quest, set in an unspecified past and narrated as excerpts from his journal, builds to an uncertain end, it sets ominous overtones for Batman, as he heads down largely the same path. All the while, Joker provides a sadistic mimicry of those overtones, “It’s happening again. No matter what I do. It just keeps coming. Everything is going backwards.” Time is a flat circle, I guess.Continued below
Andy Kubert illustrates Hawkman’s dealings in the past, John Romita Jr. follows Batman to Hephaestus’s forge, and Jim Lee handles some heavy lifting in the Batcave with Duke, Green Lantern and Joker – for the most part. Art duties in “Dark Days: The Casting” #1 start to bleed together towards the end, This actually seems to work effectively considering how the characters, plots and themes from each thread start to weave in and around each other. And there’s something of a brilliant narrative and artistic confluence as John Romita Jr. takes hold of Jim Lee’s thread while Hawkman’s narration, delivered by letterer Steve Wands as journal entries handwritten on scraps torn from a notebook, overlays the scene where Batman finally finds his answers. I’m always nervous when I see a stack of creator names ascend halfway up a book’s cover. But a scene like that really showcases the alchemy waiting to happen if multiple artists, inkers, and writers can really tie themselves together in the work.
True, there’s some nitpicking in the art department. Kubert’s lines may verge on muddy sometimes, but his classic bent is definitely the prudent choice for Hawkman’s flashbacks and earthen archaeology. And John Romita, Jr.’s batsuit looks far too rigid and inflexible, despite its original design. But overall, the action is clear and easy to follow. And that’s huge here, because “Dark Days: The Casting” #1 is a surprisingly dense read. Snyder and Tynion pack walls of dialog into these pages. Now, they’re well-written, sounding in-character while throwing out a type of pre-event exposition that still lands naturally. It’s just a lot to get through.
“Dark Days: The Casting” #1 is definitely not a cast off. There are hints, allusions and things left unsaid that will more than warrant a reread or three once DC starts playing “Metal” in August. And even if you don’t want to compare the foreshadowing you caught against what flew over your head, there’s actually an intricate little story to return to. There’s a parable of sorts regarding obsession leading down dark, destructive paths – and a warning that watching it happen again and again and again is enough to drive anyone mad.
Final Verdict: 8.5 – Originally an 8, but any comic that makes Hawkman name-dropping Challengers of the Unknown sound so resoundingly triumphant definitely deserves a bump.