In my review of Dark Days: The Casting, I praised Snyder for the passion for history which permeates all of his work. Dark Nights: Metal #1 evidences another passion of the writer’s, namely etymology, the history of words. In The Casting, Snyder weaved a new etymology for the term “meta-human,” deriving it as a contraction of “metal” (the theme of this latest event) and “human.” Here in Metal #1, Snyder first tips his hand as to the full significance of linguistics and words when, in the opening pages, the Justice League finds themselves fighting a squadron of Zords, each based not on prehistoric beasts but rather on the League members themselves. What at first appears to be a simple (but effective) play at the nostalgia of thirtysomethings like myself who grew up watching Power Rangers was instead a trojan horse (trojan megazord?) to introduce the importance of meaning as a main motif in Metal. The battle bots are named by Toyman the Fulcum Abominus, which Batman correctly exegetes to mean “Lock together as one in defiance.” It is not Superman’s strength, Green Lantern’s will, the Flash’s speed, or even Batman’s tactics which allow the League to claim victory. Rather, it is Bruce and Diana’s ability to parse the precise meaning of the threat. The appropriateness of this is made clear later in the issue, when the big bad of the event is revealed to be Barbatos, a curse word made manifest.
Barbatos was first introduced by Grant Morrison in the miniseries Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne. After the Caped Crusader had fatally shot Darkseid in the pages of Final Crisis #6, the god of Evil blasted Batman with the Omega Sanction, sending him through time hounded by the Hyper-adapter, a “concept-weapon… a hunter-killer metaphor.” As in various Platonist-influenced ontologies from the Form of the Good the emanates the Logos – the “Word” or “Message” – so too is the Hyper-adapter the anti-Logos that proceeds from the Platonic Form of Evil, Darkseid. Being a curse word made manifest, Barbatos’ origin is by definition etymological.
In The Return of Bruce Wayne the Hyper-adapter hunted an amnesiac Batman from the dawn of human history to the heat death of the universe, with Batman’s trap for the predatory idea being the last ever event before the end of time. Batman bonded his nervous system with that of an Archivist for the Vanishing Point station, allowing the Hyper-adapter infection to spread to it as well. Then he took a time-sphere through the singularity that closes the loop between the Big Freeze and the Big Bang, a black hole – an “emptiness shaped like god – made where Darkseid fell, killed by Batman’s bullet.
Returning to the Age of Superheroes, Batman scarified his life, stranding the Hyper-adapter in the husk of the Archivist, giving the curse physical form: that of a giant Bat. The Justice League, carrying out Bruce’s plan, then trapped it in the time-sphere, set to send it to the same moment that Batman arrived in the prehistoric period. Much as Doctor Strange did to Dormammu, Batman knew that the only way to defeat “a death-idea that never tires, never stops” is to subject its eternal existence to looped-time. The hyper-adapter – now fully incarnate as the demon Barbatos – hunted the house of Wayne in its Sisyphean attempt to destroy Bruce, eventually possessing on of his earliest ancestors, the first Thomas Wayne, who had himself in the days just before Batman faced Darkseid called down a curse upon Bruce.
Thus, from the Planck epoch to the decay of the final particle and at every significant event in between, there was Batman and there was Barbatos, the ultimate enemy and the greatest evidence as to just how expansive the Batman mythos extends.
Barbatos is a pre-existing demonic figure, taken by Morrison from the Ars Goetia in the Lesser Key of Solomon. Thought the name derives from the Latin “barbatus” meaning “bearded,” Morrison’s selection was undoubtedly due to the presence of “b-a-t” in the middle of the name. Snyder more imaginatively gives Barbatos a folk etymology as deriving from the Greek onomatope “βάρβαρος” (“foreigner,” from which we get “barbarian”), and the Latin “aes” (“copper,” “bronze,’ “brass,” which Snyder offers simply as “metal”). From this, Batman deduces “Barbatos” to signify “metal from a foreign multiverse.”
Alternatively, Snyder offers an accurate etymology for the surname “Wayne,” deriving such from the Old English “wægn” meaning “wagon.” And this is serendipitously appropriate, given that this curse as both Barbatos and before that the Hyper-adapter had used Waynes as wagons across time (Thomas and Bruce, respectively). Bob Kane could not have foreseen this significance when he first named the character in the late Thirties, but the seemingly arbitrary choice he made back then proved excellent material for such modern-day mythmakers as Morrison and Snyder.
All of the above is on account of but a few short panels from an oversized issue brimming with revels and revelations that caused me to audibly gasp aloud (like the like the last page entrance of Dream of the Endless!), as well as “rule-of-cool” comic book moments similar to the Justice League Megazord. DC has had some superlative events in the past, from Final Crisis to The Darkseid War, and Metal #1 is brimming with enough promise and potential that it might just prove their equal.