Mysterious Bat-demons have begun to emerge from the Dark Multiverse as a result of the events in Dark Nights: Metal, and so have the tie-ins that explain the exact nature of these demonic creatures. Joshua Williamson and Carmine Di Giandomenico’s Flash-centric Batman: The Red Death #1 is the first one-shot to materialize, providing the origin of the Dark Multiverse’s Bat-Flash figure who made his way to Earth with the other Dark Knights at the end of Metal #2. Both acknowledging and twisting elements of past DC Comics lore, Williamson and Di Giandomenico impressively lead off with the first true look at the newly unveiled flipside to the DC Universe, one that’s decidedly eerie in both its familiarity and subtle differences.
Williamson makes no apologies for the overall vibe of an issue that overtly evokes the introductory sequence to Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, and the issue’s leadoff line – “Stop me if you’ve heard this one” – serves as fair warning that what’s to come might seem a little familiar. Familiar, perhaps, but also decidedly fresh based on Williamson’s approach to take a classic sequence and totally and deliciously pervert it into something entirely new. Readers are familiar with this, yes, but like a tiresome and overplayed classic rock track, a remastered mix and restructured backbeat makes it one that they won’t want to stop listening to, even though they’ve heard it already. That opening line, along with Tom Napolitano’s creepily-rendered captioning, also provides a clue as to the identity of the issue’s unseen narrator.
Of course, Di Giandomenico plays an equally significant role in evoking the dark, contrary feel of the issue, capturing characters and sequences alike that are initially friendly in their apparent familiarity, but are quickly shown to possess a dark and distorted foundation. There’s a disturbingly appropriate distortion to Di Giandomenico’s art that supports the essence of the issue, as well as Metal itself – that everything inside this Dark Multiverse is rooted in darkness, and if there’s anything light or pleasing to be found, it isn’t going to last. Di Giandomenico readily pulls off artist Greg Capullo’s design for the characters, depicting them with the same sinister undertones as skillfully as Capullo has.
Crisis isn’t the only classic DC storyline that gets a nod – a key Alan Moore line from Batman: The Killing Joke as used by Williamson here is surprisingly relevant to the advancement of the Dark Knights and their place in the overall fabric of Metal. The notion behind the fondly remembered “Elseworlds” stories are given some relevance, as well – the stories collectively acknowledged as ones that “can’t, couldn’t, or shouldn’t exist” align nicely to a multiverse that, according to Williamson’s script, is “home to stories that should never be.”
Not stopping there with the homages, intentional or otherwise, Williamson’s exceptionally dark and violent Batman this issue seems to have stepped directly from the pages of Frank Miller and Jim Lee’s infamous All-Star Batman and Robin series from a decade ago, while one specific panel calls out to a classic moment from Miller and Klaus Janson’s Dark Knight Returns.
The dynamic between Batman and The Flash, logically enough, is diametrically opposed to that seen in the recent story arc “The Button,” which Williamson co-wrote with Batman scribe Tom King. Collectively, Williamson and Di Giandomenico do well here because the existing elements woven into the story aren’t just tributes – they’re acknowledgements that are upended and turned inside out, and they work wonderfully.
Batman: The Red Death #1 isn’t just another tie-in generated to pad out Dark Nights: Metal’s main event – it genuinely supports the primary story by keying into the same uncomfortable underside of the DC Universe that Metal has just begun to explore. It also serves as a critical addendum to the main story that sheds a light, albeit a dark one, onto the nature of the Dark Multiverse, and how and why Batman plays such a large role. More dark lights are shone on the Dark Knights in Batman: Murder Machine #1, on sale September 27. Dark Nights: Metal #3 goes on sale October 11.