Marvel's big thing is throwing big-universe changing events on a yearly basis implying vast universal changes but often do not change everything in the way they actually end up changing things with their corporate initiatives that are afraid to maintain a status quo for more than a year that lead to run-on sentences like this.
DC's current thing, on the other hand, is an obsession with obfuscating mysteries leading to questions and answers about things that really didn't need those questions and answers. Not everything needs to be connected. Not everything needs a mystery.
Neither one works in practice, and neither is as smart as it thinks it is in this regard.
My opinion of Dark Days: The Forge is not going to line up with critical and public consensus about this story. It's not even going to line up with other more glowing reviews on this very site. That doesn't mean I think the other opinions are wrong. Joe Glass and I actually had an interesting conversation about this right before I wrote this review. This is just what my hypercritical and, frankly, scathing opinion of Dark Days: The Forge is going to be.
I hated it.
From page one, I had a sinking feeling about this book. We start with bringing back the needlessly convoluted reincarnation backstory for Hawkman and Hawkgirl. We continue with Batman being a dick to everyone around him, and then we continue with the pointless mystery of this story.
I never wondered what the mystery behind the Mask of Fate, Aquaman's Trident, and Wonder Woman's Power Bracelets are. They're magic. That's okay. That exists in this universe, I'm fine with that. Doctor Fate, John Constantine, and Zatanna can all attest to that shit. Why are we making this a mystery with the metal they're made of? Why should I care?
Why do I get the sinking feeling we are going to somehow connect this to the Rings of the Lantern Corps? Why the hell has Batman kept this a mystery from all the people around him, including those who are probably more equipped to deal with this matter than his arrogant, brooding ass?
I'm going to put this out there as a disclaimer, though it will probably just be used to invalidate my opinion on this comic, but I really do not like the modern take on Batman. I used to love the Caped Crusader. Through oversaturation and something of a Mary Sue complex, that infatuation has turned to apathy. As that oversaturation and Mary Sue-ness has amped up, that apathy has turned to outright disdain.
The guy is a dick. He's arrogant. He thinks he knows better than literally everyone else. He's always so damned serious, without humor, and with an extra side of brooding.
Don't give me the dead parents line; that is not the catch-all for his bullshit. The origins of comic book characters are littered with dead family, and Batman is the only one who has turned out particularly like this.
I don't mind angry heroes. I like Hawkman, the Wolverines, the Hulks, the Punisher, and many other grim-faced heroes who are a dime a dozen around the Big Two. However, there is a passivity to Batman's aggressiveness that makes him just so unbearable. He doesn't really do anything more with his anger than Superman does with his boy scout persona. He just punches people with a frown. He's also quite boring, as his personality and MO seems to be eternally stuck at this place instead of developing in any meaningful way.
I do like previous iterations of the Batman character. I love the Bruce Timm version of the character in Batman: The Animated Series and the superior Justice League and Justice League: Unlimited cartoons. Who could not love the Adam West iteration of Batman in the old 60's series. I also thought Michael Keaton's portrayal of the character was very entertaining in Tim Burton's 1989 Batman film. I haven't really enjoyed him in more recent years though.
But I've let this turn into a hit piece about everyone's favorite super hero that isn't Deadpool (whom I also hate), so let's get back to Dark Days: The Forge.
The story, such as it is, centers around what one can assume are some of the archeological digs of Carter Hall, aka Hawkman, running in the background of Batman performing some sort of investigation involving the metals of various powerful artifacts around the world. For this investigation, Brucey Boy cooperates with Mister Terrific, Mister Miracle, Aquaman, and Superman.
Meanwhile, Green Lantern Hal Jordan is sent to Earth by Ganthet to investigate…something. We're not really told, but it takes him to the Batcave where he meets up with Duke Thomas. The two find a secret passageway in the cave that takes the two through a hall of the aforementioned artifacts, including Aquaman's Trident, Wonder Woman's Power Bracelets, and the Mask of Doctor Fate. They are taunted by a voice as they go deeper into the passageway, and Green Lantern's ring begins to malfunction.
That's as far as one can really go without moving into spoiler territory. I'll go ahead and throw up the spoiler warning here, because the rest of this discussion is going to have to go into some of the reveals here.
The one thing that makes this tale all the more frustrating is not only the endless teasing at mysteries but also the central plot point of the damn Batman withholding all details of this investigation from his comrades, including the Justice League and the Bat Family. He's even gone so far as to put a secret room in Superman's Fortress of Solitude with the caveat that even freaking Superman cannot investigate it.
On that note, it would have been really cool to see Mister Miracle pick the lock to that room instead of cutting away and just letting Miracle get inside without showing us how. That could have been a creative thing to come up with instead of relying on the principle of "it's Batman and Mister Miracle."
In that room, we have the Tower of the Anti-Monitor, most notably seen in the absolutely divine classic that is Crisis on Infinite Earths. Of course only the bleeding Batman would be foolish and arrogant enough to mess with that kind of power without telling anyone.
There's also a section on a Batcave on the moon—I'm just going to leave that one there and viciously roll my eyes—wherein the aforementioned appearance of Mister Terrific (one of my favorite DC characters) occurs, having worked this angle on Earth 2 for Batman. They talk about unleashing a character whose anatomy is apparently incredibly unstable. It appears to be Plastic Man, which leads to a whole other series of questions about Plastic Man that no one needs. He's a stretchy guy. That's fine. That's just like the Elongated Man who has already showed up in the most recent Secret Six series. Why does this need to be a whole other thing? Why has stretching his body made him a dangerous thing? What gives the damn Batman the right to unilaterally hold him prisoner like that? This is such a perfect microcosm of everything that is wrong with this story already.
The interaction between Batman and Aquaman is also teeth-grating. The two save the staff of a Wayne Enterprises Black Site that is being destroyed by a lava flow. Afterwards, Aquaman expresses displeasure about Batman having this secret site. Bruce counters with something that is apparently hidden under Atlantis. I'm not trying to be political, but this is a politically-adjacent point: countering your rhetorical opponent's pointing out of the shitty thing you did by pointing out something shitty they did does not wipe away the shitty thing you did, Batman. This is a fallacy that everyone should stop believing, and Batman looks like an extra special ass while doing it.
The big reveal at the end that it was the Joker hiding away in the heart of the passage Hal and Duke found is the icing on the cake of stupid. It's intentionally perplexing, and raises yet more questions that I never needed. It just feels like a shallow shock-tactic. So does Batman trust this murderous psychopath with this information? Did the Joker get in on his own, or did Bruce let him in?
The problem is, I don't care to get the answers of these questions because it's so obviously a shock-stinger that could not possibly have a satisfying answer.
This book has a very talented veteran artist trio with Jim Lee, John Romita Jr., and Andy Kubert. Any one of them could have made this at least a visually appealing book. However, it manages to bungle that by having all three put in their own artistic spin at randomly interspersed moments for seemingly no stylistic reason, giving it no cohesion. The book doesn't look bad at any one point, but the overall product has no congruence.
As previously stated, I am very aware that this book has already received a lot of praise from a lot of people. I take no umbrage with that. However, reading it, for me personally, was an arduous and frustrating task. It didn't work on any level, and it left me beyond unsatisfied and with no initiative to dive deeper into its perfunctory mystery. I cannot do anything but recommend passing on it.
The best I can say for it is that I hope its inclusion of Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Mister Terrific, Mister Miracle, and the Outsiders signal that they are going to return to DC Comics as regulars soon.
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