SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Dark Nights: Metal #4 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, on sale now.
After a one-month hiatus, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s explosive, Batman-centric miniseries Dark Nights: Metal is back. Much like the previous three chapters, issue #4 is jam-packed with DC Comics lore and references ranging from the elite to the obscure. (Ar Rehon, anyone?) However, while we’ve already been introduced to seven evil iterations of the Caped Crusader, based on his own nightmare scenarios, in a series of one-shots, Metal #4 shows us that even the incorruptible Man of Steel has a dark side… or rather three dark sides.
Right after the opening page, we catch up with an aging Bruce Wayne, who’s been trapped in the Dark Multiverse since issue #2. He’s not alone, though, as the second panel shows us that the decrepit Dark Knight is in the custody of three alternate versions of Superman – two of whom look oddly familiar, and one whose appearance is unmistakable.
In the spirit of Metal, we’ll start with the two armor-clad Kal-Els. The one on the left, who reassures Bruce that they’ve come to save him, is sporting the green-and-purple battle armor made famous by the Man of Steel’s bald-headed billionaire baddie Lex Luthor.
In pre-Crisis continuity, Lex obtained this sophisticated battlesuit on the aptly named alien planet Lexor, where he resided shortly before it was destroyed. Post-Crisis, the origin of the armor was revised, and instead of being alien in nature, it was depicted as a LexCorp prototype. However, years later, during the infamous “President Luthor”-era, Lex obtained another battlesuit that was built on Apokolips, the homeworld of Darkseid.
Most recently, Lex used a Mother Box to create yet another battlesuit, this one inspired by the Man of Steel’s iconic red-and-blue costume. Like the other iterations of the armor, this one also gifts Lex with Superman-like abilities. Complete with a flowing red cape, Lex has been using this latest suit of armor to protect Metropolis as a Superman of sorts – a far more altruistic endeavor than we’re used to from the longtime villain.
The inspiration behind the Superman on the right isn’t quite as obvious as his green-and-purple counterpart. However, upon closer inspection, the faceplate, scalloped gauntlets, and giant, black bat on the chest make it apparent that this version of the Man of Steel is donning a variation of Batman’s armor from Frank Miller’s seminal 1986 limited series Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.
Set in a possible future, the story features a much older Bruce Wayne, who comes out of retirement to combat the growing threat of a violent gang called The Mutants. However, the resurgence of the Batman soon attracts the attention of Superman, who’s depicted as a government lapdog for President Ronald Reagan.
To combat the Man of Steel, who’s dispatched in order to stop Batman from undermining the U.S. government, the Caped Crusader suits up in powerful, weaponized armor that greatly augments his strength, in addition to providing protection from Superman’s blows. A similar version of this armor was worn by Ben Affleck in 2015’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
The final version of Superman, who’s standing just behind Bruce, is sure to appeal to the nostalgia of longtime readers. Referred to lovingly by fans as “Electric Blue Superman,” this version of the Man of Steel was designed by Dan Jurgens and made his debut in May 1997’s Superman #123.
Having developed new, energy-based abilities, the Last Son of Krypton was forced to adopt this blue and white containment suit to prevent the energy from dispersing. However, a trap set by Cyborg Superman caused Kal-El to split into two separate beings, each representing different aspects of his personality. The blue version preferred to use his mind as a weapon, tackling problems with not just his fists but with sound logic and critical thinking. Meanwhile, the red version was far more rash with his decisions, rarely stopping to think before he acted.
Prior to reemerging in Metal, the Electric Blue costume was spotted in a display case at the Fortress of Solitude in Action Comics #13 from the New 52. Then, more recently, in Superman Reborn, Superman Red and Superman Blue were referenced as a metaphor for the pre and post-New 52 versions of the character.
Given the Multiversal implications of Metal, it will be interesting to see whether different variations of other DC mainstays enter the fray before the event comes to a close. Perhaps even more intriguing is the possibility that maybe -- just maybe -- some of these characters might stick around in the DCU once Metal concludes.
Dark Nights: Metal #4, written by Scott Snyder with art by Greg Capullo, is on sale now. Dark Nights: Metal #5 hits stands January 31.