For those of you who aren’t aware, DC comics has been absolutely killing the sales charts with its Metal story line (Diamond Comics Distributors, 2017). Steadily building over the course of 25 interconnected issues, spanning multiple titles yet existing apart from their core “Rebirth” continuity, this “Elseworlds” style arc, which began in June, outlined an intriguing mystery surrounding several unique metals. It explores their connection to ancient cults, alternate universes, and most importantly, Bruce Wayne’s lineage and his true destiny within the DC multiverse.
Among the biggest reveals of the arc has been the introduction of a group of villains named simply, the “Nightmare Batmen”. Which, as the name suggests, is a “what if” group of amalgam style characters that demonstrate what may have happen had Bruce Wayne gained similar abilities to those of other notable DC characters, and then, became corrupted by that power. For those of you who may be thinking “they’ve done the evil Batman before”, please note, these are not simply evil Batmen who talk the talk (here’s looking at you Owlman). These creations descend upon Earth-0 like a plague and take no prisoners.
So far, a large collaborative effort between several distinct creators, artists and editors has brought this dark story to life and over the course of the run, readers have been introduced to the Batman Who Laughs, the Red Death (Batman/Flash amalgam), the Murder Machine (Batman/Cyborg amalgam), the Drowned (female Batman/Aquaman amalgam), and most recently, the Merciless (Batman/Aries amalgam).
While most of these characters have demonstrated strong similarities to their DC counterparts, the Merciless was taken in a slightly more obtuse direction and bestowed with the power of Aries. This power has been further amplified through dark magic; making this Batman stronger than even the mightiest gods of Olympus and far deadlier than anything ever before confronted by the Justice League.
Batman: The Merciless is expertly crafted by Tomasi, introducing this new vision of the Dark Knight from the predominantly narrative perspective of the titular character; as he recounts the tale of his decent from hero to villain in highly plausible fashion. That is, he sees the utter destruction of the entire world at the hands of a hyper-powered Aries, to include his team mates and most importantly, his beloved Diana (Wonder Woman). Therefore, Bruce Wayne does what he must to avenge his friends and restore peace to the world. Only, the power overcomes him and he questions the very essence of peace by attempting to cleanse the world through war; literally becoming that which he sought to destroy.
This leads to a startling revelation provided by the master puppeteer of the entire Metal series thus far. And ultimately sets the stage from the union of this merciless Batman with the rest of the nightmare team of villains. As the story transitions between first and third person narrative, the reader witnesses the effects of the events which have transpired since Metal issue one. Specifically, from the perspective of the world’s most powerful defense organizations (i.e. S.H.A.D.E., the D.E.O., Task Force X, and the military). Which, although not required, calls for the reader to read four tie-in issues of Teen Titans, Suicide Squad, Night Wing, and Green Arrow to better appreciate the gravity of the situation.
The ability of the creative team behind Metal to craft such an interconnected story without inadvertently detracting from one or the other is a harken back to the early continuity of late silver to bronze age comics and really sets the stage of this intricate plot in which this stand-alone tale plays an integral part. In all honesty, this is a trait each of the Nightmare Batmen origin issues have in common and they continue to impress with each release.
The artwork provided by Manapul in this issue is fantastic and the character design for this doppelgänger is quite possibly the most “Metal” of the bunch; demonstrating its mythological roots while providing an ominous presence not seen in comics since Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer series. This Batman is truly the stuff of nightmares and his seeming invincibility coupled with his razor-sharp mind makes him a formidable foe for the foreseeable future. Although, there may be a glaring weakness to his omnipotence which is subtly hinted to in this issue.
Letter work displayed by Napolitano is expertly handled, provide each character with a distinct font style and speech pattern which feels organic and natural. For example, the red font and square bordered text boxes accentuate the nature of this Batman turned god through its rigidity coupled with his twisted sense of honor which justifies his actions. Although this style is undeniably evil and demonstrates his stark contrast to those of the human characters involved.
Lastly, this book is perfectly paced and does not oversell the plot. Subtle items are mentioned in passing, as if afterthoughts, have dynamic implications as to the nature of the characters involved, ESPECIALLY OUR MERCILESS BATMAN. Of rare mention in this review is the outstanding job of the editors (Berganza & Marino) to refine the story to make it feel complete yet provide enough nuggets of information toward the rest of the Metal narrative to entice readers to seek out the rest of the series.
This issue is on par with the rest of the Nightmare Batmen origin stories thus far, and if truth be told, remains second only to Red Death, specifically, due to the implications of this Batman’s actions as pertains to his character and the depths of depravity he would descend to in order to achieve his goals. Seldom does the backstory of a villain feel natural and highly plausible, but this outing succeeds in doing just that.
Bottom line, if you are not reading the DC’s Metal story line, you owe it to yourself to do so as soon as possible. While the premise of the narrative is outrageous by current comic standards, it is stories like these which stay with you as reader for the rest of your life. In that, Batman: The Merciless will provide you with a truly haunting vision of how bad things could become for the people of Earth-0 and generates a great deal of concern for the heroes of the story.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Enchanted Helms
Diamond Comics Distributors (September 30, 2017). Top 100 Comics: September 2017. Retrieved from: https://www.diamondcomics.com/Home/1/1/3/597?articleID=200837
Diamond Comics Distributors (August 31, 2017). Top 100 Comics: August 2017. Retrieved from: https://www.diamondcomics.com/Home/1/1/3/597?articleID=199507
Diamond Comics Distributors (July 31, 2017). Top 100 Comics: July 2017. Retrieved from: https://www.diamondcomics.com/Home/1/1/3/597?articleID=198415
Diamond Comics Distributors (June 30, 2017). Top 100 Comics: June 2017. Retrieved from: https://www.diamondcomics.com/Home/1/1/3/597?articleID=197110