I ended my review of Metal #2 with a vow to solve its mysterious meaning. Now, only an issue hence, Scott Snyder seems to have supplied sufficient clues for me to begin formulating a preliminary hypothesis. The answer was written in metal from the very first pages. I say that with respect to this issue in particular and to the miniseries as a whole.
Firstly, within the issue, in the opening panels the Super Sons are seen riffing a heavy metal rendition of the Batman ’66 theme song. Penciller Greg Capullo is careful here to include the musical notations, depicting a “D” chord followed by a “C” chord (the fact that the Batman music utilizes a simple chord progression, whereas John Williams’ Superman Main Theme would have requited a much more complex chord progression – and thus unsuitable to Snyder’s purpose here – is cleverly lamp-shaded by the characters even before the significance of the scene is shown). Later in the issue it is revealed that Bruce Clark, and Diana have long used an “Alphabetic Trinity” cypher” whereby they could communicate an encoded distress signal to one another by using words with letters corresponding to their own first names. Thus, Superman misinterprets Batman’s use of the phrase “carpe diem” in a dream as Bruce asking for Clark and Diana to come rescue him in the Dark Multiverse.
Of course, the dream-Bruce is just that – a dream, and nothing more; not even Dream of the Endless can travel between multiverses. But, beginning with Crisis on Infinite Earths and reasserted in Final Crisis, the importance of vibrations – specifically musical vibrations – as part of the multiversal medium has been well established. Thus Superman, despite his near-limitless physical powers, nevertheless missed the breadcrumb which Bruce had laid down, and which – more importantly – he himself would have been able to properly pick up: that the chords in the song of the dream – a “D” followed by a “C” – were alphabetically reversed, and thus per the code a signal to retreat, as opposed to come follow him. The solution to the problem of the issue was not Superman’s strength, but rather Batman’s brains.
Secondly, this pattern holds true for the Dark Nights series as a whole. In the preambulary pages of issue #1, where the League’s various meta-human abilities fail to foil Toyman’s Fulcum Abominus (itself a Voltronized version of the League’s powerset), Batman’s detective skills suffice. This motif of Batman being pitted against the powers of the Justice League is repeated twice within the second issue, first as he successfully evades capture by his colleagues, and secondly with the introduction of the Dark Knights, themselves each an amalgamation of Batman and one of his teammates (save for “the Batman Who Laughs”). As with the battle against the Fulcum Abominus, the tide of final battle in the coming issues will turn not on the superior superpowers of the Dark Knights, but on the prime Batman’s continued emphasis on his superlative skills as a detective and tactician.
This then is the thesis underlying Snyder’s Metal: Batman would not be made better by having legitimate superpowers, whether Wonder Woman’s godhood or Green Lantern’s light or the Flash’s super speed, but rather that such meta-human abilities would prove a crutch, over-reliance on which would cripple Bruce’s brilliance. This is underscored especially well by having each of the Dark Knights be Bruce Wayne, with all the same potential and motivation as the main Batman. It’s not merely that, as per Tower of Babel or Snyder’s own Endgame, that Batman could defeat the entire Justice League; it’s that being a mere mortal confers a kind of advantage against his meta-human allies and adversaries alike; that intelligence, ingenuity, and imagination ultimately trump heat vision and arctic breath.
But Snyder does more than extol the potency of these powers. On a more meta level, Metal trains readers in the very same skill set that the text of the series so greatly values. Each issue follows the same pattern of starting with subtle clues and then expositing their significance, such that readers intuitively understand that close observation and careful consideration of these clues will be rewarded. This positively reinforces playing the part of a detective. Dark Nights: Metal is a Batman story that works to make its readers themselves more Batman-like. Multiversal Batmen at war with one another may seem like a story in the mind a child smashing action figures together, but Snyder, per usual, has found a way to strike the perfect balance between satisfying the “rule of cool” and respecting the reader’s intelligence.