After the initial reaction to my Dark Days: The Forge review, it only seemed prudent to take on the follow-up issue Dark Days: The Casting.
For those who don't want to read through the whole thing, I'm no fan of Batman (hence the title to this review). The Forge read like a fawning pinnacle of Batman's ego and boundless arrogance. From his trying to dress down Aquaman when the King of Atlantis challenged the Dark Knight on a hidden research facility near Atlantis, to Batman hiding some potentially world-changing knowledge from the people the information would be most relevant to, Batman came out of that comic looking like a very dangerous fool with too much power in his hands. Its attempts to somehow connect most of the powerful weapons and artifacts in the DC Universe through the metal they're made of came off like an idea that looks interesting on paper but only needlessly confuses in execution.
Add to that the seemingly random artist shifts between three industry legends and some frustratingly convoluted reveals, Dark Days: The Forge read like a really wrong-headed comic by a team of immensely talented people.
But at least it spotlighted and/or referenced the underused likes of Hawkman, Mister Terrific, Mister Miracle, the Blackhawks, and the Outsiders.
How does Dark Days: The Casting fare in comparison? Well, we'll get there.
Dark Days: The Casting picks up with the diary of Carter Hall, AKA Hawkman, and his searches for the metal and artifacts that have helped shape the world. These journal entries weave through the entire comic and are brought to life by artist Andy Kubert.
Batman is out in the world, continuing to search for these artifacts that may aid in his quest. He runs across the likes of Wonder Woman and Talia al Ghul in these sections, which are done up by John Romita Jr.
Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Batman associate Duke Thomas are still in Batman's cave, shocked by the presence of the Joker and attempting to parcel out how and why he is there. Eventually, Batman returns to his home to confront the situation. This part is mostly drawn by Jim Lee, but Kubert and Romita Jr. do add to parts of this section towards the finale.
I will go ahead and say that Dark Days: The Casting is a good bit better than The Forge. If you're in this for a yes-no, does it work or not evaluation, the answer is yes, somewhat.
It's still not brilliant and hasn't won me over, but it does improve on the previous issues with a tighter narrative through-line and a backstory to this whole affair that threatens to become actually interesting with a good dose of Lovecraftian themes in the same vein as the Centre from DC: The New Frontier. Three very talented artists did the pencils on this piece, and, though the constant art-style shifts still irk me in their incongruity, I would be lying if I said any one panel looked bad.
However, this is still a mess of questionably connected plot threads that are trying to pull together almost 80 years of history into a single overarching origin.
While both DC and Marvel have attempted this to varying degrees before, they both previously attempted to use metanarratives to explain some of this stuff. That was often smarter. Subtly referencing that there is an author to this whole affair, who may not necessarily exist in the same time and space as our heroes and villains, is one of the most logical options — and can even inject a bit of meaning into the whole thing.
That's not to discourage anyone from trying a new method, and, if nothing else, Dark Days has shown a lot of ambition so far. The creative team is trying something new and untested here. While I criticized The Forge for returning to the tired-and-true DC method of vague promises and attempts at tantalizing the audience with unnecessary mysteries, I'm not sure it's ever been tried on the same scale that Dark Days is trying it — with the possible exception of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Even then, Crisis was more into the multiversal implications of the DC Universe, attempting to unite all hero teams and groups, and it was also downright straightforward compared to Dark Days' intricate web of mysteries, plots, and sub-plots.
That's all I can talk about plot-wise without discussing spoilers. As such, here is your spoiler warning for the remainder of the review.
So, the "Metahuman" reveal. That wasn't necessary either. Assigning a meaning to "metahuman" beyond "different name for a superhuman" was always a questionable task. The previous definition, which was something along the lines of minor genetic abnormalities that make a person more receptive to superpowers through supernatural changes, was pretty dumb too. This new definition, which is a person who has superpowers due to that mythical unnamed metal in their being in their systems, isn't as dumb, but it still seems like adding unneeded explanation for the existence of superheroes in the DC Universe.
I'm not against giving Duke Thomas superpowers of some sort, but the explanation and the fact that Joker knew it was amazingly misguided.
The revelation that Batman has been keeping "a Joker" as a prisoner in his Batcave (which, by the way, the force field was not visible at the end of the previous issues, so my criticism of that shock reveal is still valid), does not help my negative opinion of this rich boy with a god complex.
Bruce's "Final Invention" that brings him back from the dead by cloning and memory downloading is something, I'm going to be honest, I was not aware of until I read Dark Days: The Casting. I had to inquire resident Batman-fan and fellow Bleeding Cool writer Joe Glass about this (he also reviewed this comic; check it out).
While it sounds like it added an interesting element to the "Superheavy" arc from whence it came, it still shows some immense arrogance on the part of Bruce Wayne. Also, he pretty much cured death. That seems worthy of discussion some point down the line. Well, in a Soma sort of sense, he cured death. Still, it seems like it's something that he should probably share with the world at some point. It seems really useful. Don't give me any of that "the world isn't ready" crap, either.
The final reveal, with there being some "True Father of Batman," is another questionable attempt at a mystery. Why is there another father of Batman? Why does their need to be some divine (or unholy) prophecy what decided that there must be a Batman? He's just a man; doesn't this go against his "lone mortal on the Justice League" appeal?
On that note, "the Bird vs. the Bat" thing is odd and unnecessary, adding more destiny explanations and prophesizing where none is needed. However, if it ends with Hawkman, Hawk and Dove, Hawkgirl, or any number of Robins kicking the tar out of Batman, I'm fine with it.
That being said, the Joker's motivations in this comic are actually interesting. He wants to go back to the relatively simple days of duking it out with Batman in the streets instead of all this talk of prophecies, Earth-changing metals, and gods. That's actually the perfect way to have the Joker handle this situation. It's interesting.
Dark Days: The Casting's Lovecraftian elements of there being an unknowable evil somewhere outside of perceivable reality and the cult of the Immortals were actually pretty cool additions. It had me pretty engaged at times. It's interesting, and I am actually pretty curious where they are going to take that part of the plot.
If it's a giant damn bat, though, I'm going to be mad.
Having Bruce actually admit that he might actually need Green Lantern's help was a nice moment. Showing some humility in this madman with a god complex actually helps to humanize him some.
All-in-all, Dark Days: The Casting wasn't genuinely bad like The Forge. Its story was more focused, the art didn't hop around as badly, and it introduced some interesting character moments and plot details. If you're into this story or are a die-hard Batman fan, this is for you. If you have any distaste for the character, it will probably only make that worse.