Back in early April, Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo and DC Comics co-publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio revealed that Snyder and Capullo would reunite for a DC Universe-wide event titled Dark Nights: Metal. The story, which launches this August, will be preceded by two introductory one-shots in June and July (Dark Days: The Forge and Dark Days: The Casting) and will officially kick off DC’s brand-new “Dark Matter” line, with five new titles spinning directly out of the events of Metal.
Although details surrounding the plot of Dark Nights: Metal have been scarce thus far, Snyder hasn’t shied away from the fact that the titular Metal isn’t just a reference to his description of the story as “a huge rock and roll party — if Frazetta and Jack Kirby had a baby to a heavy metal soundtrack.” As bizarre and exciting as that sounds, the Metal in question isn't music related. It's Nth Metal, a mysterious substance from the planet Thanagar that plays an integral role in the Hawkman/Hawkgirl mythos. While that much has been clear since April, though, it wasn’t until Snyder spoke with CBR about the upcoming rock ‘n’ roll epic that we finally got a semi-clear idea as to just how crucial Nth Metal will be to his narrative.
“I started to get really interested in [Nth Metal] because I was looking at Hawkman as a possible series to work on post-Batman,” Snyder explained. “I got really fascinated by the malleability and the mysterious nature of Nth Metal, where it did all these different things — it would allow you to be reincarnated over and over, or it’d let you fly, or let you heal, or give you super-strength, or you could have Doctor Fate’s mystical powers through it — it seemed almost like something that had more qualities than made any sense.” And while the enigma surrounding Nth Metal certainly adds a dynamic layer of intrigue to the story, it also raises some pretty compelling questions, which Snyder teases will be addressed in Metal, and will likely be instrumental in opening the doors to DC’s Dark Multiverse (“…is Nth Metal from our universe? Is it something conducting energy from far away? Is it the key to unlocking a whole new realm of the cosmology at DC?”).
Unfortunately, we probably won’t get any answers to these questions until Dark Nights: Metal is in full swing. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t look back at DC’s long and storied history to find our own answers regarding the mysterious element known as Nth Metal.
Created by Gardner Fox and Dennis Neville, Nth Metal (originally called "ninth metal") dates all the way back to the Golden Age, debuting in Flash Comics #1 in January 1940. It wasn’t in the main story, though, but rather in one of the back-up features, titled The Origin of Hawkman. As the name implies, this story is where we first meet Carter Hall, who fashions himself a belt and a set of wings made from a mysterious anti-gravity element and dubs himself Hawkman.
However, this wasn’t really Carter’s first encounter with Nth Metal. Long before, in ancient Egypt, the man that would eventually be known as Carter Hall was actually a Prince named Khufu, who discovered the wreckage of a Thanagarian spacecraft powered by the strange element. It was prolonged exposure to the metal that forced Prince Khufu and his betrothed, Chay-Ara, into an endless cycle of reincarnation, while also imprinting them with the collective knowledge of the world of Thanagar. It isn’t until the 20th century that Khufu is finally reincarnated as Carter Hall, at which time he uses the Nth Metal to become Hawkman and save the life of Chay-Ara, who had been reincarnated as Shiera Sanders (the original Hawkgirl).
Among its many abilities, Nth Metal has been shown to enhance its users’ strength, catalyze the healing of wounds, provide protection against the elements, and even allow wearers to regenerate missing limbs or long-forgotten physical attributes (such as the Thanagarians’ genetically-stunted wingspan). When Carter and Shiera’s son, Hector Hall, used Nth Metal to craft himself a suit of armor and join the ranks of Infinity, Inc. as Silver Scarab, the metal not only provided him with protection and granted him strength, it also gave him the ability to project massive blasts of solar energy.
In more recent continuity, Nth Metal has taken on more mystical properties, such as negating the intangibility of evil spirits, sharing a symbiotic bond with its host, and even reviving the recently deceased. Furthermore, its adaptive nature has proved useful in nullifying one’s opponents’ own regenerative abilities, opening the door for users to deliver fatal blows during battle. From a defensive perspective, the metal can sense and react whenever its host is in danger, creating a reinforced protective liquid metal armor to defend against certain impending attacks. It even managed to catch the interest of the mercenary Slade Wilson, AKA Deathstroke, who used a composite Nth Metal blend to construct the armor he wore during his run in the New 52.
The last notable appearance of Nth Metal in the DCU was in the miniseries The Death of Hawkman by Marc Andreyko and Aaron Lopresti, where the villainous Despero used a massive zeta-portal to fuse his body with the material, augmenting his already-immense physical and telepathic abilities. Although Hawkman was seemingly able to put an end to Despero’s nefarious schemes, it came at the cost of his life. And as for Despero, the bloodthirsty brute was able to reform from a single chunk of Nth Metal floating in the vast emptiness of space.
Despite everything we do know about Nth Metal, it’s believed that it still possesses many additional properties that have yet to be revealed. That being said, it’s probably safe to assume that some of those properties will finally come to light when Dark Nights: Metal begins to unfold this August.