Nightmares can be pretty freaky, but they’re also temporary. Some dangerous thought gets into your head during the night and ruins your sleep. You imagine something going horribly wrong, or you get killed, or something else that’s just too terrible to contemplate in real life…and then you wake up, and it’s gone.
DC’s Batman-centric Metal crossover is premised on a fun-if-creepy twist on Grant Morrison’s Multiversity. If the main DC Multiverse spins out of the imagination–a concept with The Multiversity played around with at its fringes–then the underlying “dark multiverse” clearly represents the nightmare aspect of the DC Universe. This is literally how the dark multiverse works: as we’re introduced to the horror spins on the DCU, we learn that each dark world is temporary in nature and destined to crumble away. It’s a delightfully chaotic concept, as Morrison took a funhouse look at the old saw that all DC stories are imaginary, and yet entire living, breathing worlds in their own right. The dark multiverse, then, is also made up of “real” worlds, but ones which slip away when the dream is over, so entire universes are, bitterly, dying off because of their nightmare nature.
The main story of Metal is playing out in the main, er, Metal title. But one of Metal‘s core concepts is that the DCU is being invaded by twisted versions of Batman who are amalgamated with his Justice League allies…so what we get are an evil Flash-Batman, a Cyborg-Batman, a Green Lantern Batman…and so forth. So far, each also represents something of a flip of an existing multiverse world. So, for example, Earth-32 is the home of the In Darkest Knight Batman who became a Green Lantern instead of a caped crusader. Metal‘s Earth- -32 (that’s a minus sign!) is also a Green Lantern Bruce Wayne, but one who used the ring for vengeance and war on Gotham’s criminals.
These dark-Batmen are all getting spotlighted in their own one-shots which aren’t necessary to the main story in Metal, though they do enhance it. But Metal seems to be about more than just freaky-twisted Batman amalgams. The books are a bit repetitive in that they introduce a dark Batman, show him getting recruited for the main Metal villain’s efforts, and then depositing him into the Metal storyline with no real resolution. But the fun of them is that they play off different aspects of Batman’s psyche, showing what bothers Bruce Wayne at his core.
Batman: The Red Death by the Flash team of Joshua Williamson and Carmine Di Giandomenico shows a world where Batman decided to fight crime by forcibly Firestorming himself with Barry Allen, sure. But it also shows a Batman who lost Tim, Jason, and Dick somewhere along the way, apparently leaving him with no heirs. The Flash team plays off certain elements of The Dark Knight Returns with Bruce getting old and his body failing him over time. Children allow us to carry on, so to speak, after we ourselves die. Hence, the Red Death Batman represents a Bruce Wayne who’s terrified of losing his kids.
Batman: The Murder Machine by Frank Tieri, James Tynion, and Riccardo Federici is a nanite-infused Batman who’s become a bleak robotic consciousness. The Murder Machine was born when Bruce tried to develop an A.I. duplicate of Alfred after his death, but the program went Skynet and killed Batman’s foes. So on a deeper level, the Murder Machine represents Batman’s fear of losing Alfred, and maybe in a twisted sense, Batman’s fear of becoming too dependent on him, a child who can never move on after losing his father.
Batman: The Dawnbreaker by Green Lantern’s Sam Humphries and Ethan van Scriver is an easy one, because it revisits the trauma of Bruce losing his parents–something he’s never gotten over. But it may also represent Bruce’s fear of simply losing his moral guidance. The GL-Batman of In Darkest Knight at least had all the training of Bruce Wayne right up to the moment where the bat almost flew through his window. This was a Bruce Wayne who was prepared, mind and body, to be a crimefighter: he just turned into a space cop instead of a bat. The Dawnbreaker is a corruption of Bruce in his earliest moments, when the pain of losing his parents was at its peak. With no chance to resolve the moral tension, young Bruce is twisted from his superheroic birth.
And this week sees Batman: The Drowned by the Aquaman team of Dan Abnett, Phillip Tan, and Tyler Kirkham. It’s a slight twist in that it’s about Bryce Wayne, a genderswap Batwoman playing off her lighter counterpart from Earth-11. The genderbend aside, The Drowned represents Batman’s fear of losing love, as Bryce is mourning the loss of her lover, Sylvester (unidentified, but clearly a genderswapped Catwoman, because of course a male Selina would be named Sylvester). This is pretty apt given that Batman is newly engaged to Catwoman in the main comics, so this is one more fear a married Batman is going to have to face: committing to love someone, but risking losing them someday.
As I said, there’s a downside to these comics in that they–like their theme–are temporary and unfinished. These are all incomplete nightmares, quick origin stories which have no clear resolution. They ultimately point back to Metal and have no real link beyond a thematic continuation of the last story. They’re clear optional reading for the reader who wants to go beyond Metal‘s eye candy. But I’ll say this: from a Halloween horror standpoint, they’re decent reading. Batman is a good guy, the man who’s committed to sacrifice all the good things in life to dedicate himself to his city. Seeing twisted takes on Batman based on his own worst fears is pretty freaky. The Dawnbreaker in particular is a really gruesome character who dispatches the Bat-rogue’s gallery in a way that’s undeserved.
These are temporary characters, and that’s a good thing. But sometimes a peek at the twisted domain of horror lets us remember why we like the macabre to be momentary.