DC's big summer storyline has arrived. Its first installment, Dark Days: The Forge, was written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV; pencilled by Andy Kubert, Jim Lee and John Romita Jr.; inked by Scott Williams, Danny Miki and Klaus Janson and colored by Alex Sinclair. That's a lot of hands, but judging by the epic nature of this storyline – which literally digs deep to uncover the secret history of the DC Universe – there's a lot going on. In fact, we found clues and Easter eggs on just about every page of DD:TF.
Strap in and be warned: There will be MAJOR SPOILERS past this point. We're spelunking into the dark caverns of DC lore, trying to keep up with (if not get ahead of) this blockbuster's developments. Part 2 of our annotations can be read here.
QUICK NOTES ON THE PLOT(S)
The issue contains 30 pages of story and art and follows three main tracks. The first concerns Hawkman, who kinda-sorta just starred in the (spoiler!) accurately-titled Death of Hawkman miniseries. We think he's able to participate here because of reincarnation, but other than that, he's re-telling his backstory and tying it into a horrifying mystery which goes back to the beginnings of humanity. Not counting narrative captions which overlap other subplots, Hawkman's thread gets 6 pages. However, he knows the most about what's going on.
Next is Batman, who's off on another secret mission which he considers too dangerous for anyone not named Batman. He starts by escaping an erupting volcano in the Bermuda Triangle, checks in with a couple of colleagues on the Moon, and finishes up with an ominous Multiversal artifact hidden beneath the Fortress of Solitude. At 14 pages, it takes up the most space.
The third arc belongs to Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) and the codename-free Duke Thomas. When a Guardian asks GL to investigate a threat below Wayne Manor, Hal and Duke find a secret prison hidden in the Batcave itself. It gives GL's ring all kinds of interference, but the prisoner cackles that they're all just pieces of Batman's puzzle. This thread fills out the remaining 10 pages (counting a one-page look-in on Duke's mom).
BATMAN FOREVER? (COVER)
We begin with the issue's main cover, by Lee, Williams and Sinclair. It depicts a slightly off-model Batman (note the all-black symbol) contemplating what is presumably Gotham City gone horribly wrong. Since Dark Days involves the Multiverse, and this Batman wears a "utility garter" full of extra Bat-gear (a la the hyper-prepared Dark Knight Returns version), it's probably not "our" Batman or "our" Gotham. Regardless, he's looking at a huge Bat-statue sculpted to be extra-fierce, with added spikes and other pointy bits. Oh, and people tied to its legs with barbed wire. The statuary recalls Jeph Loeb and Carlos Pacheco's Superman/Batman arc (issues #14-18, January-April 2005) where the Legion of Super-Villains changed history so that the World's Finest Team became world conquerors. The cover of issue #14 had their heads on Mount Rushmore.
Otherwise, the Bat-droids on patrol recall 1996's Kingdom Come's more Deco-influenced Bat-bots in function if not form. Finally, the statue's busy Batsuit design is somewhat similar to Damian Wayne's future-Batman look, introduced in July 2007's Batman #666. Again, all of those stories were either parallel worlds or alternate timelines.
ANCIENT ASTRONAUTS (PAGES 1-2)
As mentioned above, our narrator is Carter "Hawkman" Hall, re-telling the story of how his previous incarnation Prince Khufu saw a Thanagarian starship crash in the deserts of ancient Egypt. This was originally told as part of the Return of Hawkman arc, from May-August 2001's JSA issues #22-25. It was written by David S. Goyer and Geoff Johns, pencilled by Rags Morales, Aldrin "Buzz" Aw and Stephen Sadowski, and inked by Michael Bair and a handful of others. Because it is definitely not the "savage Hawkman" of the New 52, that's our first clue that the pre-Flashpoint continuity has reasserted itself for someone other than Superman. The fact that it's Hawkman – a character notorious for continuity tangles – also seems like a sign that this creative team is willing to take on a real challenge.
Moreover, Carter presenting this as his "final journal" sounds ominous until you remember that he's lived countless lives. Death of Hawkman saw Katar Hol sacrifice himself to stop an Nth-metal-infused Despero. Since Carter Hall appears to be narrating the issue as it happens, we presume it takes place after DOH; but that's not nailed down. (Note: DOH is an unfortunate acronym for any miniseries, but especially for one featuring the star-crossed Hawkman.)
This account of the Thanagarian crash does differ from the JSA story in couple of ways. In JSA #22, Nabu (the future Doctor Fate) and Teth-Adam (the future Black Adam) were part of Khufu's court, and a time-traveling Jay Garrick came along soon afterward. The "Button" crossover in Batman and The Flash revealed Jay's fate, and Doctor Fate (created by Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman and debuting in May 1940's More Fun Comics #55) has been through a few different versions in the past several years. For his part, Teth-Adam's Egyptian background goes back to his first appearance, written by Otto Binder and drawn by C.C. Beck, from December 1945's Marvel Family #1.
In JSA #22, Teth-Adam and Nabu accompanied Khufu, who heard a few cryptic words from the ship's dying pilot. Khufu and company subsequently fashioned various items out of the ship's Nth metal, including a flight belt and the Claw of Horus melee weapon. For this version we don't know if that's still true, since here we only see the ship crashing in front of Khufu, his princess, his advisor and his guards.
DO YOU KNOW THIS VULCANOLOGIST? (PAGES 3-4)
Since the 1950s, the Bermuda Triangle has been the nexus of various strange incidents involving ships and planes. Having its points in or around Florida, Puerto Rico and Bermuda, naturally it's figured in a handful of DC stories. Specifically, the Bermuda Triangle contains a portal to the extradimensional realm of Xebel, which is Mera's home but generally not that friendly. The Bermuda Triangle was also the location of Paradise Island on the 1970s Wonder Woman TV show, as well as in contemporaneous comics like June-July 1976's Wonder Woman #224.
If not for a certain Young Animal series, there's a very good chance the scientist we meet on Page 3 would be Calvin "Cave" Carson, DC's go-to guy for adventures under the Earth. Regardless, "Dr. Madison" could still have a couple of DC ties. Christie Madison was one of Cave's longtime assistants, going all the way back to their shared first appearance in Brave and the Bold #31 (August-September 1960; written by Ed Herron and drawn by Bruno Premiani). Furthermore, Bruce Wayne's ex-fianceé was Julie Madison (introduced all the way back in September 1939's Detective Comics #31); and while we don't know for sure if she has male siblings or cousins, we wouldn't be surprised if Batman threw the Madison family a little extra business.
BAT-MECHA (PAGE 4)
Here is yet another suit of over-the-top Bat-armor to go along with the "Thrasher" which fought off the Court of Owls (June 2012's Batman #8); the "Hellbat" used on Apokolips (September 2014's Batman and Robin #33) and by Lois Lane against the Eradicator (October 2016's Superman #5); the "Justice Buster" which took on the Jokerized Justice League (December 2014's Batman #35); and Jim Gordon's Superheavy suit (August 2015's Batman #41). This one actually looks like a Kryptonian battlesuit (introduced in January 1988's World Of Krypton #2), which makes sense given where the issue takes Batman.
THE SEA KING ABIDES (PAGE 5)
Aquaman's beard and hair seem to indicate this story takes place sometime after the events of the current Aquaman storyline, where (spoilers!) he's replaced as King of Atlantis. There, he's clean-shaven and short-haired. Of course, the more rugged look is in line with Jason Momoa's appearance in the DCEU movies, which itself goes back to Peter David and Martin Egeland's 1994 Aquaman relaunch.
By the way, the "KraKaTow" sound effect isn't a comics reference, but it may well refer to the 1883 explosion of the volcanic island Krakatoa. Located near Indonesia, Krakatoa's explosion supposedly produced the loudest sound ever recorded, heard thousands of miles away. The resulting tsunamis killed over 36,000 people, and seismographs recorded shock waves for days afterwards.
WHAT'S UNDERNEATH ATLANTIS? (PAGE 6)
What's "locked underneath Atlantis" may be Xebel or something entirely new, but we're reminded of the JLA arc The Obsidian Age (July 2002-January 2003 's issues #66-75), wherein the Justice League traveled back in time to ancient Atlantis and was killed by its group of super-people. A group of last-resort League reserves including Nightwing, the Demon, Hawkgirl and the mysterious Faith helped rescue the League. If Batman's referring to that in his conversation with Aquaman, it's somewhat ironic, since that adventure also helped revive the Sea King after his own death in 2001's Our Worlds At War event.
THE BLACKHAWKS (PAGE 6)
The Blackhawks are named for their original leader, Janos "Blackhawk" Prohaska. Blackhawk and the Blackhawks were created by Chuck Cuidera (with help from Bob Powell and Will Eisner) and first appeared in August 1941's Military Comics #1. Starting as a paramilitary group of aviators who fought the Axis in World War II, the Blackhawks became mainstays of the DC Universe as the organization adapted to fit the times. There have been a few different Lady Blackhawks, but arguably the most prominent was Zinda Blake, who first appeared in a Dick Dillin-drawn story from February 1959's Blackhawk #133. A time-lost Zinda began appearing in Guy Gardner: Warrior starting in September 1994's issue #24, and joined the Birds of Prey in December 2004's BOP #75.
The island here may be related to Blackhawk Island, which at various points has been located in both the Atlantic and the Pacific. In fact, this could be the G.I. Joe-esque version of the Blackhawks which appeared in a very short-lived New 52 series (8 issues, November 2011-June 2012). Although the silhouette of the cloaked Blackhawk aircraft looks (appropriately enough) like an SR-71 Blackbird, it's so high-tech that it wouldn't be out of place for the New 52 edition.
GREEN AND YELLOW (PAGES 7-9, 20)
The Guardians of the Universe were created by John Broome and Gil Kane and first appeared in July-August 1960's Green Lantern #1. The Guardian called Ganthet was created by Larry Niven and John Byrne and first appeared in 1992's Green Lantern: Ganthet's Tale one-shot. Mogo was created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons and first appeared in May 1985's Green Lantern #188. Since the destruction of the planet Oa in December 2013's Green Lantern Corps #24, Mogo has served as the Corps' mobile headquarters. As it happens, the current Green Lanterns arc could tie rather neatly into this event, since it involves the forging of the seven original (and therefore ancient) power rings.
Duke Thomas was created by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo and first appeared in June 2014's Batman#30, as part of Batman's extended "Zero Year" origin epic. As a teenager in the present day he joined a group of freelance "Robins" (We Are Robin #1, August 2015) and eventually graduated to the main Bat-team. He received this yellow costume in August 2016's Batman: Rebirth special; but despite some fans calling him "Lark," still hasn't gotten a codename.
The Green Lantern power ring's yellow impurity goes back to the Silver Age GL's introduction in Showcase #22. The Golden Age Green Lantern's ring wouldn't work on wood, but the Silver Age version changed that to yellow, the color of fear. Many years later, in Green Lantern: Rebirth #3 (February 2005), writer Geoff Johns and artist Ethan Van Sciver explained that the yellow impurity was the result of trapping Parallax, the Fear Entity, inside the GL Corps' Central Power Battery. After Parallax was freed, the impurity remained, sort of; since rookie Lanterns had to learn to overcome it; thus, a GL ring will work on yellow "if you know what you're doing." Note that on page 20 Hal says he "doesn't get afraid"; but this isn't entirely true, since Green Lanterns have the ability to overcome great fear.
Before all that, though, Hal Jordan was beaten a couple of times by yellow-costumed Bat-folk. In February 1981's New Teen Titans #4, Robin wrapped his yellow cape around Hal's right arm, cutting off the ring's power and letting the Teen Wonder pop him in the jaw. Later, in April 2008's All-Star Batman & Robin #9, the Dynamic Duo beat GL by donning all-yellow costumes, painting their exposed skin yellow, and luring him into an all-yellow room. Lee, Williams and Sinclair also drew and colored that ASBAR issue, so in a sense they've come full circle.
DUKE'S MOM AND THE IMMORTAL MEN (PAGE 10)
Elaine Thomas was created by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo and first appeared in February 2015's Batman #37. She and her husband were infected with the Joker's "Endgame" virus in that issue, and their condition was deemed permanent in May 2016's Batman #50. As far as we can tell, this is the introduction of The Campus and the Immortal Men who tried to recruit Elaine.
The Immortal Man, singular, first appeared in a Jack Sparling-drawn story from June 1965's Strange Adventures #177. He only had a handful of Silver Age stories, but Marv Wolfman and Gil Kane revived him in February 1984's Action Comics #552. There, his group of Forgotten Heroes squared off against Vandal Savage. This renewed an eons-old battle between Immortal Man (f/k/a Klarn of the Bear Tribe) and Savage, who hailed from the Wolf Clan. We'll see the Wolf and Bear again in a few pages.
HAWKMAN RETURNS (PAGES 11-12)
This montage contains a pretty clear homage to Hawkman's first Silver Age appearance in The Brave and the Bold #34 (February-March 1961). As if that weren't enough, it also features Hawkman and Hawkgirl's previous lives (including Silent Knight and Nighthawk & Cinnamon) and possibly his classic foe the Shadow-Thief. Again, it indicates that the New 52-style "savage Hawkman" is giving way to the classic version.
Speaking of Brave and the Bold, that homage to issue #34 came right after Cave Carson's 3-issue tryout in issues #31-33; which itself followed the Justice League of America's inaugural run in issues #28-30. Not a bad run of comics, eh?
Page 12 contains another version of the cover's nightmare-Gotham, except without Batman. In context it's Hawkman's vision, and for the first time in the issue, we see Hawkman himself in what appears to be the present. Since Hawkman just died in Death of Hawkman, absent any timeline trickery we're thinking this is a reincarnated Carter Hall, not the Katar Hol of DOH. That may sound like a subtle distinction, but it could turn out to be important.
MOON BAT AND MISTER TERRIFIC (PAGES 13-14)
The Lunar Batcave is a very recent innovation, having debuted in October 2016's Superman #5. "Lucius" is Lucius Fox, created by Len Wein and John Calnan and appearing first in January 1979's Batman #307. Made most famous arguably by the Christopher Nolan Batman movies, basically he runs Wayne Enterprises in Bruce's absence.
Michael "Mister Terrific" Holt was created by John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake and appeared first in June 1997's The Spectre #54. He's based on the Golden Age original (Terry Sloane) created by Charles Reizenstein and E.E. Hibbard for January 1942's Sensation Comics #1. The current Mr. Terrific comes from the New 52's Earth-2, which has been through some pretty drastic changes in its brief existence. It's already seen two devastating Apokoliptian invasions, the last of which pretty much destroyed the planet (in 2014-15's weekly Earth 2: World's End miniseries) and forced the survivors into space to find a new home. This they did in 2016-17's just-concluded Earth 2: Society series. However, as part of an alternate near-future timeline (2014-15's weekly New 52: Futures End miniseries), Mr. Terrific and Batman collaborated disastrously on Brother Eye, a humanity-enslaving artificial intelligence. Therefore, it's not automatically good that they're working together.
That brings us to the halfway point of both the Dark Days: The Forge one-shot and our annotations; click here for our annotations of the one-shot's back-half!