Originally, the Greek prefix μετά meant nothing more than “after.” Thus, Aristotle’s tome on the nature of existence was so named because, in collections of his works, it occurred subsequent to his tome entitled “Physics.” It was quite literally and simply “after ‘Physics.’” But from this makeshift naming convention an entire branch of philosophy received its name, and later folk etymologists attempted to connect, not the merely books, but rather the fields themselves, suggesting that metaphysics were the existential underpinnings beyond physics. Thus, μετά came to have the connotation of “beyond.” Appropriately, either “after” or “beyond” work with respect to DC Comics’ generic term for super-powered individuals: metahumans (originally coined in 1986 by George R.R. Martin of Song of Ice and Fire fame). Metahumans could be thought of either as the emerging species and sub-species evolving subsequent to homo sapiens, or as anomalous specimens with abilities beyond those of base humans. In this week’s Dark Days: The Casting #1, Snyder and Tynion forward a far different official explanation as to the etymology of “metahuman.” Instead of deriving from the Greek prefix μετά, it instead is simply a shortened version of the English word “Metal.” On its own, this random factoid hardly constitutes a shocking revelation. But Snyder and Tyrion, in the course of a single issue, pull on dozens of similar threads from the works of earlier writers to weave a grand tapestry nearly unequaled in its ambition.
Another of these threads is Hawkman’s iconic Nth Metal, known originally, and sometimes still, as Ninth Metal. By a similar stroke of inspiration as when Johns derived a kaleidoscope of color-coded corps from the Green Lanterns, Snyder and Tynion introduce an idea which should have been overly obvious to their predecessors: if there’s a Ninth Metal, then surely there’s an Eight, and seven metals more as well, each with their own special significance. Indeed, the genius of building a grand narrative around a theme such as Metal (the name of DC’s next major event, to which The Forge and The Casting serve as preludes) is that it’s so elemental as to be ubiquitous across the pre-existing mythology with which they’re working. Aquaman’s Atlantean artifacts, the Amazons’ bracelets, Doctor Fate’s helm, Savage’s meteor, and more: they’re all made of metal; simply connect the dots, then color within the lines to get a cool picture.
Of course, Snyder’s contribution is more substantial than merely that of a wild conspiracy theorist whose crazy connections have become canon. From at least as early as the start of his run on Batman back at the beginning of the New 52, Snyder’s been laying down the bricks that have been building to Metal. The electrum-derived revivification of the Talons, the Dionysium which acted as the phlebotium for Joker’s return, and The Machine which brought back Batman anew at the cost of killing the amnesiac Bruce Wayne, all, in retrospect, were pointing to a (somehow) even more ambitious saga Snyder has been intending to tell all along. The Machine in particular seems to be of particular importance to Metal. It first appears in a superlative short story in the oversized “anniversary” issue of Detective Comics #27, and from the first it was an idea too inspired to relegate to a one-off. Batman is a member of the American pantheon, one of the Trinity itself, and as such it’s only fitting that he should be, like Superman and Wonder Woman, immortal, his fight never-ending.
The Machine was thankfully brought back in Snyder’s Superheavy arc, the climactic chapter of which, issue #49, seems to be the key to understanding The Casting. In it, Bruce Wayne experiences the lives of Batmen from worlds quite different from his own. In one, he’s an Iron Man-esq hero, power-armored and public facing, working closely alongside none other than Joe Chill and the Court of Owls. In another world, another life, he’s a Bat-suit clad Jim Gordon, working alongside a trench coat sporting Detective Wayne. In a third, a Bedouin Batman traverses desert dunes as the Arabian Knight. But no explanation was ever offered as to whether Bruce was experiencing mere simulations or the actual memories of Batmen from across the timeline or the multiverse. With this issue’s final page reveal of the Dark Knights, the later now seems likely.
Moreover, a cabal of evil Batmen might be the only the final challenge Bruce has yet to face, having defeated every other foe imaginable. Immediately before Snyder took over, his predecessor had Batman shot the Devil to death and then fight human history itself, and win. Snyder’s successor has his work cut out for him if he intends to up the ante even further.
Of course, as cool a concept as a pan-mutiversal posse of Caped Crusaders threating all of existence is, Snyder and Tynion know that grandiose stakes alone don’t make comics compelling. Rather, Snyder’s secret sauce, the one common element that elevates his works above so many others’ in the medium, is his love of history. Much more than Bruce Wayne was, the true protagonist of his Batman run was Gotham itself, dusty with the details of its past. Re-establishing Batman’s beginning in Zero Year, introducing the centuries-long secret of the Owls, even making Joker a seemingly ancient and immortal fixture upon Gotham, all evidence Snyder’s propensity for exploring the past as much if not more than the present. And what he did for Gotham in Batman Snyder is already starting to do for the entire DC Universe in Dark Days. The secrets Batman and Carter Hall are exploring are as old as the earth itself, and such, much like Eighth Metal and the meaning of metahuman, the whole of human history is itself another thread in Snyder and Tynion’s tapestry.
Between Final Crisis, Multiversity, and Rebirth, DC’s best books are often those that continue the overarching meta-story first begun in The Flash of Two Worlds and set forth in earnest with Crisis on Infinite Earths. Metal promises to be the next chapter in that storied saga, and based on the thoroughly excellent Dark Days, is likely to prove equally excellent.