The Speed Force is Co-opted by a Deranged Bruce Wayne in Batman: The Red Death #1

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Batman the Red Death

I've been following just enough of METAL to know a little about what's going on. That's enough to enjoy the tie-in books, especially the one that involves two of my favorite characters in the DC Universe, Batman and The Flash.

The story opens with a narrator echoing the words for the classic CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. "World will live. Worlds will die." But that narrative is prefaced by the introductory clause, "Stop me if you've heard this one..." There's only one person in the DC Multiverse who would open a book with that line, And by the time that narrator starts to talk about how "...all it takes is one bad day..." and you're certain that this is some dark mirror version of The Joker. The fact that one of the solicits for all these alternate Batman titles involves The Batman Who Laughs, and I think we know who our unreliable narrator is.

This particular story begins on Earth-52. Ah, the last of the 52 Earths, I hear you say. Well, not to get pedantic on all of you, but in the DC Multiverse, their are only 52 Earths, and they begin the numbering with 0.  (Don't take my word for it. Here's a checklist!)  Which means this is one of those Earths that shouldn't exist (as we're told and told...and told...throughout the story).  It finds Barry Allen, The Flash, running for his life while the skies turn red and bodies are inexplicably floating up into the sky. Barry is being pursued by Batman, who is equal parts modern day Batman and Frank Miller's THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS Batman. (There are even panel swipes of the latter.) This Batman has lost his family -- not just his parents but all his children as well -- and he's snapped. He wants the one thing that will help him keep one step ahead of the rot that is taking over Gotham and the rest of the world -- he wants Barry to give him the Speed Force. And he's not going to take "No" for an answer.

The result is a sort of Firestorm-esque Bat-Flash calling itself The Red Death. I refer to The Nuclear Man only because that hero was the merger of two minds--Ronnie Raymond and Martin Stein (hey, back off, I'm old school)--with Professor Stein's consciousness always speaking in the back of Ronnie's head when they were merged. In this instance, it's Barry Allen who takes the back seat, perpetually begging Bruce not to take the actions he's taking. But even after gaining his new powers, the Earth still crumbles. And that's when he gets the offer from Joker-Bats--an offer of a new world to conquer and make home.

And guess what Earth that is.

Yup. Of all the Earths in all the worlds in all the Multiverse, he walks into ours. Flash couldn't beat Batman in one telling; does he have a shot at beating a Batman who is merged with his doppelganger? The Red Death has already killed, and if METAL doesn't end up causing some kind of a reboot, then we've got some series-shaking deaths on our hands.

While I'm not too keen on the whole metal-related bit of the story--that is the Nth metal being responsible for superpowers world-wide--the idea of a mirror multiverse is a very interesting one. Fifty-two is a nice gimmicky way of keeping a record and confining things to a single multiverse, but finding out that there is even more room beyond really creates the potential for some dark and wild stories. (Yes, I'm intimating that perhaps the Elseworlds book, DARK JOKER: THE WILD might play a role here, but I know nothing for sure.)

Joshua Williamson hooked me from the first panel, and the story and action kept me breathless through right to the end of the book. The artwork from Carmine Di Giandomenico, on the other hand, was an uneven mess. In some panels it was fantastic, in others it was purely sketchy, and in yet others it was completely derivative of other books (you can even detect the stylistic changes carried across in the swipes). That's what keeps me from rating this book a full 5 out of 5. And yet, with all that, I loved reading this book, which owes almost entirely to Williamson's storytelling process and the overarching idea of the series. I'm definitely going to be checking out the rest of METAL from here on in.

4.0 / 5.0